On Frames Per Second, Hyperreality, and the Dangers of Perfectionism

“The Machine” is the latest of a handful of brick animations that blur the line between stop-motion and live action. According to the animator, it was filmed at 25 frames per second (FPS), and had motion blur added in post-production to make it ever smoother. The short is worth a quick watch for the great cinematography and the inspired animation of the eponymous machine, but I’m mostly using it to launch into a larger discussion of FPS.

Choosing an FPS is an important part of making an animation, there is a constant balancing act between the smoothness of the animation and time required to make it. An animation set at 5 FPS is bound to look jumpy, but it can still be engaging (this is the frame rate I recommend for beginners). As the FPS increases (10, 12, 15, 20, 24, 30), the animation gets smoother, but the time investment to create it rises steeply. Many brick animators settle at 15 FPS as a good balance between smoothness and amount of time invested, but there are a few that venture into those high ranges.

The best cautionary tale in this respect is “Dr. Jobs and his Scary Laboratory.” While the single completed episode of this series features some of the smoothest animation I’ve ever seen in a brick animation, the incompleteness of the remaining segments stands as a testament to the dangers of independent animators pursuing hyper-real frame rates. But let’s pretend for a minute that time is not an obstacle, what would the optimal frame rate for brick animations be? Is super-smooth, life-like animation the end-all be-all?

Personally, I think very high frame rate animations can feel sterile, and I find attempts to perfectly simulate real motion in animation to be uncanny. I am reminded of Jean Baudrillard’s essay on Simulacra and Science Fiction:

There is no more fiction… it is the real which has become our true utopia… presented with transparent precision, but totally lacking substance, having been derealized and hyperrealized.

What do you think? The more frames per second the better? Or is the charm and art of animation precisely in the frames an animator chooses to include (and which to exclude)?

“The Machine” on Youtube

“Dr. Jobs and his Scary Laboratory” on YouTube

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