When Artists Have to Explain Their Art

I recently came across an article about the anxiously anticipated follow-up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. But the article wasn’t about the movie per se. It was about the warning/explanation that will accompany many of the 3D showings of the movie. It’s an explanation about why the film may look “different.”

Below is “The Hobbit” HFR 3D FAQ. HFR stands for high frame rate. As many of you may know, Peter Jackson has filmed The Hobbit at 48 frames per second. That is twice the usual frame rate of 24 fps. Ostensibly this is because the higher frame rate is better for the 3D technology Jackson is using. However, that frame rate renders a more video-like, “realistic” look more akin to soap operas than the soft, tactile look of 24 fps film. Here’s the FAQ:

Not A Good Sign

IMHO, it’s never a good sign when an artist has to explain his or her art. It’s one thing if you have some kind of ambiguous storyline that is designed for people to have their own personal interpretation. In situations like that, you may offer yourexplanation

for the meaning of the story. That’s different. What we have here is an artist who has chosen a particular kind of technology for a particular reason, and because the technology could be off-putting or confusing, an explanation is accompanying it.

Any choices an artists makes should serve the story. I don’t care if it’s effects, frame rate, shutter speed, aperture setting, use of cranes and dollies, whatever. If an artistic decision isn’t serving the story, worse, if it detracts from the story, then one must seriously question the use of said technology.

I have no idea if it was Jackson’s idea to include these explanations, the Studio, or the theater chain. Regardless, it doesn’t bode well.

Faith in the Filmmaker

I seriously doubt I will watch the film in 3D. I strongly dislike 3D (I’m just shy of actually hating it). I hate having to wear those glasses and the effects do little to add to the story. I wasn’t even too crazy about it on Avatar (which many have claimed was an effective use of the controversial technology).

All this being said, I also have faith and confidence in Jackson’s ability as a craftsman. I am confident that the rest of the movie will more than make up for any “soap opera-like look caused by the higher frame rate. I also know that great artists take risks and push boundaries. For that, I deeply respect Jackson’s gamble to spend so much money on  such an important franchise. I guess this December we’ll find out if the gamble pays off.

Have you ever found yourself having to explain your art?

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8 Responses to “When Artists Have to Explain Their Art”

  1. Brandon "within Immaculate Ways" Dawson November 13, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Good discussion. Helpful thoughts to frame one’s thinking about these new tech.s I will first see it in 2D. I have also heard it rumored that PJ has done something to this version to make it appear “more normal” Either way Jackson is definitely forging ahead other film makers.

  2. I really don’t think 3D is controversial, perhaps in a minor technical side of things. If you like peter Jackson and you don’t go see it in 3D that is an offense to the film maker. Unless it makes you sick or gives you vertigo it enhances the visuals. A good story is a good story. A visual enhancement adds to the story. Film makers will get better at telling stories in 3D. If it was a fad it would have been gone a long time ago.

    I think that art with out an explanation can be disastrous to an artist. In the art world it is common to create an artist statement so that one can understand the ‘why’ for the art medium and context.

    Because this will be the first film done this way I think it deserves an explanation. As a film maker I can go into it now knowing what it is. If I had not read the information I would have gone in saying ‘WTF is going on?’

    I guarantee when good 3D is a readily available technology for all budgets everybody will be on board.

    There is nothing wrong with having to explain your art.

    • Thanks for the comment “Sparks.” “Controversial” may be too strong a word. 3D is controversial in as much that many people debate whether it really adds to the story telling experience. Why I don’t think it’s a “fad,” for me personally I don’t like having to deal with the glasses. Since I wear glasses, having to wear 3D glasses over my regular glasses is a pain. And frankly, most of the time it doesn’t really do much. It understand it’s a personal preference. I definitely don’t think NOT watching it in 3D is an offense to the filmmaker.

      As far as explaining your art, there’s a difference between explaining “why” you made a particular piece of art, and explaining why a particular piece of art looks weird. If you have to explain it, it’s not serving the story. If it serves the story, you shouldn’t have to explain it. For example, when I watch a “found footage” movie like “Chronicle” or “The Blair Witch Project” you don’t need to explain to me why it looks like crappy video. That’s the point. I undertand that look and why and how it’s used. It works for the story. If “The Hobbit” looks a little “off,” and there’s no inherent or obvious reason for that look as it relates to the story, and it’s so bad you need to write a FAQ and post it in a theater, IMHO, that just doesn’t work.

      But, as I said in the blog post, I trust PJ and I have no doubt the 2D experience will be terrific.

  3. Sounds like the studio did this as I don’t think PJ would do this. But only they know. I am with you on the 3D thing and I don’t agree with it being an offence to the film maker. I honestly believe that it’s the studios that force it on most directors because they make more money from it. I will also only see it in 2D for a couple of reasons. 1. I also wear glasses and find this is an issue with 3D glassed, I seem to get more headaches and I have heard this is because of wearing 2 sets of glasses. 2. I really don’t think it adds to the story line, and if it does, it’s because it’s a gimmick. Really though, it’s not 3D, the objects are not 3 Dimensional, they are still 2D, but they stand out from their environment, it’s a trick for the eye and I heard it’s not good for the eye either. If it was true 3D, then you could move left or right and see a different angle. Anyway, I agree that having to explain what this tech they are using is bad. But I get it. They don’t want people going to the ticket booth and complaining at the end of the movie because it looked funny.

  4. This really smacks of being a disclaimer from the studio, so when people complain they can say “We told you it would look different because it’s so cutting edge” and not look like they’re making excuses after-the-fact. (They’re just making excuses before-the-fact.) :-)

    I agree with your comments on 3D, even though I don’t wear glasses. It just feels like a gimmick, and rarely adds anything to the story. I do think it’s a fad, though: it was a fad in the ’70s, and it went away, and I think it’s a fad now, and will go away eventually.

  5. Just a reminder … all films are projected at 48 frames per second. They are shot at 24 fps but each frame is projected twice.

    I remember as a kid thinking how I didn’t like the stuttery look of films when the camera panned. Then I knew nothing of the technology. Now that I do, I still don’t like that look. I hope higher frame rates catch on and the new aesthetic is adopted.

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    [...] Jim Cameron and Peter Jackson are both famous for doing this (and no, I’m not talking about shooting in 48 frames per second. I’m talking about the innovations they’ve done on past [...]

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