By default, high definition television sets – and I assume 4K TVs too – come out of the box set to interpolate motion. On most TVs this setting can be turned off but doing so can be as challenging as setting the clock was on videocassette recorders. DP and now director Reed Morano wants manufacturers to leave it up to users to choose motion interpolation or not, and she is campaigning via a Change.org petition.
The motion interpolation function aka smooth motion appears in most of not all televisions sets made nowadays but under a variety of names – motion flow, motion smoothing, true motion, auto motion, clear frame and the like. Different names, same function – countering motion blur on big high def TVs that have refresh rates of 120hz or 240hz.
Motion interpolation is a good thing, some experts believe, when watching sports and especially high speed sports at that. But applying the setting to cinematic content like movies and high quality television productions cheapens them by making them look like soap operas, according to Ms Morano and her supporters.
Worse, smooth motion “is ruining the theatrical experience that you are supposedly paying for when you purchase these expensive HDTVs”, she writes in her petition. She offers TV manufacturers a simple solution, a button labelled ‘sports look’ and another named ‘cinema look’. That makes sense – the motion interpolation setting is usually buried deep within the settings menus and never with a decent explanation of what it is for.
I am with Reed Morano. A top level menu item on my TV set making it easy to turn motion interpolation on if and when I want it instead of ramming it down my throat by default seems like a great idea.
I elect to shoot movies at 24fps and I want to view them at the same frame rate after tailoring the rest of the production around that look and feel. I do not believe that there is something inherently natural, right and unassailable about 24p though, just that it is my default at the moment.
I may choose differently in future productions as Peter Jackson did when he shot The Hobbit at 48p for projection at 48fps. As some pundits opine, higher frame rates can make the production feel more real by reminding us that what you are watching is not reality itself.
I am not concerned that my viewers will somehow be tricked into confusing reality with fantasy though – I have more respect for them than that. But I do want to be able to make frame rate choices based on the story I want to tell and how I wish to tell it.
And I don’t want TV set makers interfering with that by imposing no apparent choice on viewers. They should be made aware of the possibility of selecting smooth motion or not via two clear and obvious options – two buttons or top level menu items. Let them try out both, then make an informed decision having seen the evidence in action.
What do you think? If you care about the smooth motion issue as Reed Morano and I do, then may I suggest adding your name to the petition?
Cinematographer Reed Morano on the Fight Against TV’s “Smooth Motion” Setting
Stop motion interpolation!” is the call on a Change.org petition urging TV manufacturers to disable the default “smooth motion” setting on new televisions. As the petition explains, “Motion Interpolation was an effect that was created to reduce motion blur on HDTVs but a very unfortunate side effect of using this function is that is takes something shot at 24 fps or shot on film and makes it look like it was shot on video at 60i. In short, it takes the cinematic look out of any image and makes it look like soap opera shot on a cheap video camera.” Below, in a guest editorial, cinematographer Reed Morano (Frozen River, The Skeleton Twins, Shut Up and Play the Hits) explains why this issue should be important to all film lovers. — SM
This issue is really important to me because even though it’s a visual issue — it affects my narrative experience as a viewer because it’s so distracting. I don’t know if it’s just that I “know too much,” but I can see the difference right away when “smooth motion” is on a TV: it turns me off. It cheapens the look of anything shot at 24fps.
With that in mind, I can’t enjoy any film or TV show when that setting is on. It feels too real. I know it’s not the look the filmmaker intended. Add to that, I’m a filmmaker and a cinematographer.
If you took a photocopy of a painting and hung it up in a museum, trying to pass it off as a real painting, it would look cheap and lack texture. That’s what motion interpolation does to the moving image.
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(cover photo credit: snap from Filmmaker Magazine)