Have you ever watched The Young and the Restless and thought it looked like a Stanley Kubrick film? Of course not, and only part of that has to do with the direction itself. There’s a distinct visual difference between movies shot on film and TV shows shot on video, but TV manufacturers are perfectly fine having you believe that isn’t the case, thanks to the defaults for modern televisions’ “smooth motion” settings. One filmmaker in particular is pissed off at this ongoing manufacturer trend, and she’s rallying the troops to try and change that.
Cinematographer Reed Morano has worked on films such as Frozen River, Kill Your Darlings and the recent dramatic comedy The Skeleton Twins, and her staunch stance is that motion interpolation, the technical term for the reduction of motion blurring on HDTVs, is doing its part to ruin the cinematic experience for home audiences. How? Because newer TVs tend to make the “smooth motion” setting, or whatever it happens to be called on your own TV, the default option, something that average viewers don’t even know about, and something that they might mistake for being the “new” way movies are supposed to look. Wrong!
Morano wrote an enjoyable one-sided essay for Filmmaker Magazine, in which she explains her views in full. She’s even started up a Change.org petition to convince TV manufacturers to stop creating their own “smooth motion” defaults and to leave everything as it would be without that option there. Here’s how it goes in her words.
I remember the first time I saw my work affected by motion interpolation. A friend of mine had gotten a new HDTV and he called me in to the living room, he was watching my film on DVD, Frozen River. Well, I was shocked to see the film on the TV when I came in the room — the 24 fps effect had been totally wiped out, and it looked like I was watching an episode of General Hospital.
If you’re having trouble picturing how the “smooth motion” setting affects things, think back to the kerfuffle that happened after Peter Jackson announced that The Hobbit was being presented in theaters at 48 frames-per-second, which reduced the film’s actual film look. With every bit of blur, noise and grain absent from the images, it just looks like an expensively produced home video.
Does motion interpolation bother you as much as it bothers me and Reed Morano, or are you okay with the unnatural crispness that the smoothness presents?