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BBC Research and Development: The Challenges of Filming High Frame Rate Video

Alia Sheikh


Production Labs Shoot: High Frame Rate Capture for BBC Research & Development tests.


I’m a filmmaker and R&D engineer at BBC Research and Development. I run the Production Labs project, creating bespoke production experiments to evaluate and improve novel software and hardware tools for BBC production environments.

One of my roles is to work with high frame rate and high dynamic range formats as required by our R&D projects. I produce and direct films that investigate the technical impact of these formats on production workflow as well as the pitfalls and possibilities they represent for creative storytelling.

The brief in this case was to film up to a minute of material (at 600 frames per second) which told a short but coherent story, incorporating various types of interesting motion. The result: a fight over a sandwich in an engine house.

As mentioned in our 2008 and 2011 whitepapers "The frame and field rates that have been used for television since the 1930's cause problems for motion portrayal, which are increasingly evident on the large, high-resolution television displays that are now common. BBC Research and Development has been investigating the effect on human perception of material which is played back at higher frame rates."

This work is ongoing, and has included tests at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Our most recent white paper on the subject is a fascinating study which takes into account human perception and the movements of the human eye when assessing the perception of motion in video.

This film at the top of this post shows the process of gathering high frame rate material for some tests BBC R&D did last year.

Television is currently transmitted at 50 fields (that is 50 interlaced half-frames) per second. For testing, we're interested in playing back exactly the same material at a variety of different frame rates (50 full frames per second, 100, 150, 200, 300 and even 600 frames per second).  This means we need to capture this material at the highest of the frame rates we want to play back. Filming at even higher frame rates than these is commonplace for effects shots which are designed to be viewed in slow motion.

However it is incredibly rare for anyone to to attempt to film entire sequences at high frame rates, with the intention of playing those sequences back at full-speed. As the video shows, every aspect of the production is affected - from the huge amount of data we have to be able to handle, the amount of light we have to throw onto the scene and even how the crew interact with each other.

The results of this work were published in the SMPTE journal  and you can see behind-the-scenes photos from this shoot on this Flickr account.

On location - see more pictures on Flickr

Photo by Peter Mills, BBC R&D

We’d be very interested in your comments on the possibilities of this work so please do leave them below.

Alia Sheilkh is an engineer at BBC R&D

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