The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Everybody knows that high definition makes sports look amazing, while also bringing out uncomfortable facial imperfections in local news anchors. What we might not appreciate is how all that extra resolution has complicated life for property masters–the people who make all of the stuff that actors use in movies, when they aren’t using the real thing. Bloomberg Business is taking examining the craft behind the objects we can all take a closer look at, thanks to 48 frames per second of HD.

The article begins, appropriately, with discussion of the original release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which was filmed at 48 fps, and created a bit of controversy. The high frame rate was distractingly real, while exposing the manufactured origin of many of the props. Writer Alexander D’Aloia suggested that, “Gandalf’s staff resembles a hunk of brown plastic, and not a length of wood.”

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Of course, industry veterans remember that in the good old days, regular definition meant there was less need to be so exacting to sell the illusion. “We used to say, if it’s not bigger than a two-inch circle, you’re not going to see it on film,” says prop master David Marais.

Today, prop warehouses are expansive, and single props take hours of painstaking molding, sculpting, and painting to achieve believability. And props take on special meaning, such as the white gloves from On The Waterfront, or the golden idol in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Other times, they have to be intentionally vague, such as “greeking” out brand names. Greeking out logos is another practice that was once relatively easy to weave into the illusion, but has become laborious in an age where every pixel of the screen is in crisp detail.

After all, a movie can have a thousand successfully convincing props, but it only takes one rubber knife or a single bill of unrecognizable currency to pull a viewer out of the experience.

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The full Bloomberg Business article can be read here.