Features and Columns · Movies

Why a Higher Frame Rate Doesn’t Automatically Make Animation Better

Sometimes less is more.
Spider Man Into The Spider Verse animation frame rate
Sony Pictures Animation
By  · Published on May 3rd, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about why, in animation, a smoother frame rate is not necessarily a good thing.

To paraphrase a wise man, sometimes people are so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they don’t stop to think if they should. Recently, a video showed up on my YouTube home page titled “What If Jason and the Argonauts Had Smoother Stop-Motion?” The video runs Ray Harryhausen‘s iconic stop-motion sequences through an algorithm that uses artificial intelligence to “animate” more frames.

The process is known as motion interpolation. And it is, effectively, a perceived increase in frame rate. In the “updated” segments, the clunky movements of the Colossus of Rhodes appear fluid. The jerky joints of the sword-wielding skeletons are all lubed up. But is it an improvement?

As another video essay — shared below — explains, “smoother” animation, via increase in frame rate, isn’t necessarily “good” animation. Coming from the perspective of an animator, the essay offers a pointed response towards videos like the Jason and the Argonauts one I came across. As the essay underlines, applying the process retroactively to existing animation is a bit… problematic.

To be clear: there is nothing wrong with animation with a higher frame rate, let alone using interpolating software during the animation process, as some animation studios are starting to do. But problems arise when you apply interpolation to an existing work of art, especially when the application itself is marred with a superior sense of the process of “enhancing” the original footage.

Originally created for live-action footage, interpolation ignores many of the core principles of animation (especially timing and easing). But that is, as they say, just the tip of the iceberg.

Watch “Smoother animation ≠ Better animation“:

Who made this?

This video on animation frame rates is by Noodle, a YouTuber, animator, and essayist based in the United States. Their videos span a range of subjects, from the ups and downs of virtual reality to what makes the 1995 film Hackers a good (bad) movie. You can subscribe to Noodle on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).