Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SBIFF
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SBIFF

Directors Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson are working together to end television motion-smoothing in order to retain their works’ intended format.

A recent post from Vanity Fair reports the Directors Guild of America received an opinionated email from Nolan and Anderson. The directors in the email outlined the problem that they and other filmmakers have to deal with when their work isn’t shown in the format they intended. The email also linked to a survey that would help create a new “reference mode” setting for TVs so movies and shows will be displayed in the format they were originally intended to be played in.

What is motion-smoothing?

You may have noticed this, but the majority of high-definition television add artificial frames to movies and shows. This essentially reduces the natural blurring in videos shot at 24 frames per second — which is the most common frame rate for cinematic movies and shows these days.

Many believe motion-smoothing leaves a “soap-opera effect.” Detractors say the effect causes video to look flat and distorts people’s bodies.

See it for yourself in the snippet from the movie Drive below. Make sure to play it in 720p/1080p:

The Fight Against Motion-smoothing

Nolan and Anderson are joining the likes of Rian Johnson, Chris McQuarrie, Edgar Wright and Reed Morano, who have all spoken out against motion-smoothing. They’ve been vocally against the practice and many of them have petitioned for an alternative setting. They also continue to remind the public they can turn off motion-smoothing on their TVs.

Though turning off motion-smoothing can be confusing, know that you can disable it.

Is this a big deal?

The consensus on this topic is mixed. Many believe motion-smoothing is fine; others believe it ruins the cinematic quality of the content it touches.

Regardless, the real issue here is that motion-smoothing is the default setting on most televisions. This means regardless of whether a director wanted their film or show to be smoothed, it’s going to be. To avoid this, the TV owner has to intentionally turn off the feature to see the show in the original format.

When it comes down to it, the way a videos look is important. Directors like Nolan and Anderson shoot their films the way they do for specific reasons. For television manufacturers to overlook the artistic intent and visually change content feels like a real disservice to anyone who spends lots of time making their films look the way they want them to.

But what do you think? Is motion-smoothing okay or annoying?

5 COMMENTS

  1. I absolutely hate motion smoothing. The first time I saw this on a tv was when “Burlesque” came out. We were visiting some friends in L.A., one of whom worked at Dramworks Studios. He was excited to show us an academy screener version of the film. A few minutes into the film I asked “Is this like a live, tv version of the movie? It doesnt look like film?”
    None of the parties present noticed what I noticed unfortunately.
    I hope people can be educated that motion smoothing makes everything look cheap and artificial looking!

  2. I’ve never seen a soap opera so I don’t know what that term means in this context. When I looked at the sample video, the one on the right was sharper. This was also apparent if you did a Pause and compared individual frames. Personally I think sharper is generally better, but if the directors were going for a soft-focus look to create some sort of dreamy or ethereal atmosphere then I could see why they would object.

  3. It’s the worst possible thing. Feels like my frontal lobe is dripping out of my nose when I see something @120… or anything about 60hz. A lot of newer televisions do NOT have an option to turn smoothing off. If I had a time machine…

    Bring forth the REFERENCE mode! Or get rid of something that bombards your brain with far-too fast imagery.

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