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What's So Great About 24P?

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24P means 24 frames per second, which is the traditional frame rate for film. It's lower than modern video but many videomakers choose to use it because they like the effect.

If, like me, you wonder why anyone would purposely downgrade their video in this manner, you might like to watch this video from in which respected filmmaker Stu Maschwitz makes the case for 24P. It takes him a long 10 minutes but it's very eloquent and one of the best explanations I've ever heard. In essence he's saying it's an artistic choice similar to other techniques that involve removing information. He wants the audience to work to experience the narrative, and he feels that providing "too much information" is undesirable.

It's a compelling argument but I don't buy it.

First of all I'll quickly address the test audiences cited by Stu: I'd like to see the same tests done with randomized audiences in a genuine double-blind test where people are immune to group-think (would you cheer a film in a room full of filmmakers who were booing it?). These anecdotal examples don't convince me of anything.

To be honest I've always had a bit of a smug attitude about 24P. I can't help thinking the real attraction is nostalgia - 24P looks like the films you loved as a child. It's also a way for film students to pretend they have some special artistic insight that lets them appreciate film in ways that normal people can't.

Sure there are cases where 24P looks great, in the same way that some films work well in black and white. That doesn't mean that all films should be B&W, or that B&W is inherently more artistic than colour.

My strongest reaction to 24P was in the first scene of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I had two reactions to that scene: The first was the enormity of the world Peter Jackson had created. The second was that I couldn't follow the action for all the flickering. I was almost overcome with sympathy for filmmakers restricted by this archaic frame rate. I was trying my best to immerse myself in Middle Earth but I kept getting pulled back to reality by the horrible stuttering pseudo-motion of 24fps.

To me it's important to feel that I'm part of a movie. A lot of effort goes towards achieving that effect, from continuity specialists to colour-correctors all working to keep the illusion intact. When I watch a film the cinema has a big screen, the room is dark, the sound surrounds me, other people (should) stay quiet, and the whole thing is set up to keep me in the alternate reality.

Anything that yanks me from the world of the movie to the real world is annoying, and 24P does exactly that - it reminds me that I'm watching a film and this isn't real. It's like seeing a boom mic in shot.

Stu Maschwitz feels that super-smooth motion is too much information, and that films shouldn't be too realistic. I say that if the same logic was used by all filmmakers, we'd still be watching 16fps, 4x3 black & white movies with no sound.

Filmmakers would generally agree that for most projects, creating a realistic-looking environment is desirable. We have the technology to do it. Let's not deny ourselves the opportunity by staying stuck in the past. Many people thought that "talkies" heralded the end of artistic filmmaking. They were wrong, and so are those who resist better frame rates.

60P for me thanks!

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  1. SC358's Avatar
    Just curious Dave, have you seen LOTR on Blu-Ray yet? If you had, I'm assuming you had lost that flicker effect.

    Although all movies (no matter what flavor) is subjective, 24P is truly universal, technically. Several years ago, cross-conversion equipment was much more costlier. Imho, when technology opened the door to 24P it was widely accepted of those in video niches which put them on par with the film industry. Post-houses easily went from 24fps to any video format. Now video could be centralized at 24P and go the same route (to any format) rather than be locked into one particular television format.

    Many, many years ago, whatever technology and software SFX (special effects) there was, were great for video. To do it for film was so costly (and now detectable and crappy looking). Today, SFX resolution can approach film resolution, to a seamless degree, the Digital Intermediate makes 24P highly desirable and professionally acceptable.

    I remember discussions with engineers during the 80's, of creating a universal/international format, so that countries were not locked into their respective tv formats. The thought was, broadcasters would do more international content and anybody could view it no matter where they were. HD meant to change that but it all came back to the 50/60 Hz issue. Unfortunately, politics & businesses of the day wouldn't want to lose their footholds of those areas (such small thinking). Imo, if greed was not part of this, all countries would have slowly merged into a universal tv/theatrical realm, similar to where we are today but with mature technology.

    Many of us saw the dream but didn't know how or have the means to get there. (Sigh... I'm really showing my age here...)
  2. Dave's Avatar
    Wouldn't it be nice if all the decision-makers in the world actually made decisions that worked towards the common good rather than the good of their own commercial interests? We can continue to dream.

    I haven't seen LOTR on Blu-ray yet but I'm planning to buy it soon (I'm still trying to decide which is more urgent - LOTR or the remastered Star Trek original series). I know what you mean though, the flicker effect isn't nearly as bad on my TV. Still, I do find 25fps to be the most annoying thing about living in a PAL country. PAL is nice and traditionally I've preferred it to NTSC, but in these days of digital delivery I find myself becoming more envious of NTSC's higher frame rate. I get frustrated by the attention high-resolution gets while everyone ignores "temporal resolution".
  3. Guest's Avatar
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