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If Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Looks Weird to You, Blame the Guy Who Created Oakley Sunglasses

The Hobbit was shot on a RED camera developed by sunglass mogle Jim Jannard

Image: Tim Sackton

You might have heard that The Hobbit looks kind of weird. The movie was shot with a special camera developed by the founder of Oakley sunglasses (weirdly enough), at 48 frames per second (fps). That frame rate seem to make people generally unhappy.Here’s The Village Voice:

Available for viewing only in select cinemas in major cities (the rest will feature a standard 24-frame presentation), this “high-frame rate” Hobbit features exceptionally sharp, plasticine images the likes of which we might never have seen on a movie screen before….Whereas video-shot “films” have labored for years to approximate the look of celluloid, Jackson goes whole hog in the opposite direction, the idea being that this acute video quality comes closer to the way the human eye perceives reality. Fair enough, but the reality Jackson conjures isn’t quite the one he intends: Instead of feeling like we’ve been transported to Middle-earth, it’s as if we’ve dropped in on Jackson’s New Zealand set, trapped in an endless “making of” documentary, waiting for the real movie to start.

Others loved it. Wired says:

In the 48-frames-per-second version of Hobbit, Middle-earth in 3D looks so crisp it’s like stepping into the foreground of an insanely gorgeous diorama. The film will also be released at the standard 24 fps, but Jackson sees the high-speed format as the “premium version” of his vision because it essentially doubles the amount of visual data projected onto the screen. At 48 fps, images appear more precise and 3D action becomes smoother, without the blur that can occur when the camera pans too quickly or objects move rapidly across the frame.

Peter Jackson isn’t that worried about it. He says:

I’m fascinated by reactions. I’m tending to see that anyone under the age of 20 or so doesn’t really care and thinks it looks cool, not that they understand it but they often just say that 3D looks really cool. I think 3D at 24 frames is interesting, but it’s the 48 that actually allows 3D to almost achieve the potential that it can achieve because it’s less eye strain and you have a sharper picture which creates more of the 3-dimensional world.

The camera that Jackson used to shoot the entire movie was developed by Jim Jannard, the founder of Oakley. Forbes spoke with Jackson about it:

It seemed like the major camera-makers–the big companies–were not really providing the sort of image quality; They were heavy, and they were very, very expensive. And so suddenly RED shows up, with Jim Jannard, and he’s got some very interesting revolutionary ideas about how to improve the picture quality, make the cameras light and small, and bring their price down. And so that sort of appealed to me–it’s a maverick approach. It’s the sort of approach in which things advance–by somebody like Jim Jannard coming along to do that, and forcing the big companies to basically pick up their game.

As tends to be the case when two extremely wealthy people meet and want to do something, the rest was easy. And so the 48 fps adventure began and ended on your screen.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Hobbit You Grew Up With Isn’t Quite the Same As the Original, Published 75 Years Ago Today
The Residents of Tolkien’s Middle Earth Are 81 Percent Male

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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