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In his initial rebuff to critical opinion on the look of Hobbit footage screened at CinemaCon, Peter Jackson did not specifically address complaints that it appeared more like a behind-the-scenes-video than a finished film. I expected him to describe the post-production process, and thus reassure everyone that the “look” we have come to expect can be achieved after filming. Rather he came off sounding, if I may quote someone on TORn, “like an exasperated fish-monger”.  Fortunately, Jackson shares these crucial steps with us in the latest article from The Hollywood Reporter:

Jackson explained that his original The Lord of the Rings used various postproduction techniques to create a certain look for the movies, including “extensive” digital color grading, “added texture, and we took out highlights.”

“We’ll do the same with The Hobbit, to make it consistent and give it the feeling of otherworldliness – to get the mood, the tone, the feel of the different scenes,” he said. “We are certainly going to experiment with different finishing techniques to give the 48 frames a look that is more organic. But that work isn’t due to start until we wrap photography in July (both Hobbit films are being shot simultaneously).”

“Part of the digital grading will give those incredibly sharp pictures a texture and a feeling that we want the film to have. We haven’t done that yet. What you saw [at CinemaCon, in terms of “crispness”] is partly due to the lack of motion blur (from the high frame rate) and partly due to the camera (in terms of resolution).”

I think by showing this unfinished footage at CinemaCon, Jackson’s goal was to highlight its brightness and clarity as an argument for projector upgrades (which he succeeded in doing) but many in the audience expected the finished look of Lord of the Rings.  So why jump the gun and create all of this drama, instead of waiting until they had more finished footage?

Well for one, the upgrades need to be completed by December if anyone is going to see the film in 48 fps, so some type of demonstration was required in advance.  Jackson insists that it takes some getting used to, so the short clips from just the trailer are not enough to sell the effect.  Another issue was that Jackson could not predict the technical knowledge of all the attendees (especially the ones who immediately posted their reactions on Twitter).  From what I could gather, many were film buffs, and some are even stalwart fans of Jackson’s films, but they may not realize all the steps the footage will go through after this screening.  Replacing a greenscreen is obvious to everyone.  Color-grading, highlight reduction, and texturing is less obvious.  But it is all important to making The Hobbit into a world that is real, but distinctively different, than our own.

The screencaps shown here were taken from the highest resolution trailer (1080p) available on Apple's website (with contrast increased by me in Photoshop). Being from a 24 fps version, the trailer is still full of motion blur. There are also quite a few digital artifacts due to compression for a web broadcast. Despite all of this, the clarity and amount of detail presented is very good.