SMPTE President Wendy Alysworth—who is SVP Technology at Warner Bros. Technical Operations—kicked off a discussion of high frame rates by describing the effort to get theaters ready to project Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at 48fps.
She related that when Jackson revealed his decision in April 2011 to make his Hobbit films at a HFR, the projection equipment didn’t exist to support the frame rate. Software and hardware upgrades would be needed.
Following much work, the months before the film’s debut involved a busy schedule of installations, testing, and certification of the 4,000 auditoriums that would be ready for the December release. The screens ranged in brightness between 4.5-7 foot lamberts in 3D (and two at 10fL).
Odeon & UCI Cinemas, Europe’s biggest cinema chain, converted 100 screens—including 45 in the UK, and 36 in Spain—to accommodate HFRs for The Hobbit in seven weeks.
“We did 3D theaters because it was the only way to monetize this,” explained EVP of digital development Drew Kaza. “Clearly there’s no way to go out and charge extra, so we only have the 3D premium. We branded HFRs with 3D.”
He reported that box office performance was “excellent,” but not HFR driven. For instance 57% of the box office for The Hobbit was 3D in UK, but 70-85% were Imax or premium large format auditoriums.
Joe Miraglia of ArcLight/Pacific Theatres similarly changed a premium for 3D, not for HFRs. He reported that 49% of the chain's Hobbit gross came from 3D and 73% of that was HFR.
Audience reactions to 48fps were mixed, Kaza said, though he believes this to be generation to some degree. Response from movie goers under 25 was more favorable, while older audience members were generally not keen. “I think it was largely age driven,” Kaza said.
Emphasizing that he believes Jackson is right, Kaza asserted, “This is the beginning of a new format. That means committing fully and marketing it passionately.”