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The Hobbit, Vision, and Sickness

MovieQuoter and other media outlets reported last month that the visual effects in the new movie The Hobbit are making people sick. Some of the symptoms reported are nausea, migraines, dizziness, motion sickness, and feeling like you’re going to vomit. Why is that?

As media outlets have also reported, the production of The Hobbit was videotaped and is being projected in theatres at the rate of 48 fps (frames per second). This rate is twice as fast as film, whose frames per second rate is 24 ever since the first films were made in the 1920s. While 3D movies add an extra dimension to the viewing experience, the 48 fps rate doubles the amount of visual information the eyes, brain, and the rest of the body must process – twice as fast, which may be overwhelming the human visual-processing ability.

hobbit screens resized 600The Hobbit director Peter Jackson explains on his Facebook page why 48 fps is better than 24. But I have been hard-pressed to find anyone who has ever had a visual problem watching 24 fps. The “problem,” specifically, may be posed as a question such as: “While you have been watching any film, have you ever noticed any blank spaces, dark spaces, white spaces between frames?” One frame of film is what is used in a film camera you might use to snap a photo of a bird, a cathedral, something while you are on vacation, etc. That’s what I mean by “one frame.” In a roll of film negatives you can see the individual separate frames – there’s a short space between each one. When a film reel is rolling in a film projector at 24 fps, you don’t notice those spaces between frames while you are watching a movie.

So maybe the way photography was invented and then cinematography, was in a sense God-given, in that it’s innocuous to human vision per se. Doubling the frame-rate of movies doubles the amount of visual information that must be processed. Even supporters of the faster frame-rate have admitted that it took them one hour into The Hobbit to get used to it – substantially longer than the 10 minutes as advertised – while some movie critics never got used to it. (See http://slate.me/Y1tQ81; listen to http://slate.me/VLgLLp).

An even more extreme edge of visual effects and sickness is the Japanese cartoon Pok

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