How Lucasfilm got Sony to 24p

As part of the Great Frame-Rate Debate, Larry Thorpe told the story of how Lucasfilm persuaded Sony to support 24p

Well, it started in the 80's and the 90's when I was part of SMPTE and then the CCIO, and we were trying to make 60 fields a universal world-wide standard. [If you'd raised] 24p at that time, I would have shot you. I just wouldn't allow any discussion of 24.

Until the world decided "well we're not going to unite on 60," one region would remain 50, the other region would remain 60, we could agree on the spatial sampling, which is ultimately what we did. We got the world standard on the sampling, but not the field rate.

And then at about that time this was emerging, we were contacted by Lucasfilm, who had been working with Digital Betacam and they said "You know, we hadn't realized that digital imaging was advancing so fast, this is standard definition but it's quite incredible."

They had resurrected a Star Wars scene and shot it with Digital Betacam at 60 and converted it for film and put it up on the screen and said; "There's only three things missing; one is aspect ratio, two is 24 frame - the film look - and the other is resolution"

So they challenged us to consider a high definition digital betacam, and it happened that at the next NAB we were introducing the first HD cam, so we revealed that to them before anybody else, and they became very excited. They said "this is it, now if you'd just make the 24 frame."

Well that was a big discussion. I went back to Japan and said "Guess what? Lucasfilm said all we have to do is make it 24 frame." They said, "You're joking, television is 60 or 50." I spent a couple of years trying to explain to them that there can be a world of video that's 24.

Finally, in 1998, December, at Los Angeles, SMPTE brokered a big dinner between a whole horde of the technologists from Japan. Sony came, and I said to Lucas, "You've got to do the sell job, I failed."

Rick McCallum, George Lucas's producer, led the team from Lucasfilm and he gave the most marvelous explanation to all the engineers on why "if you build it, they will come; you will never get HD into the movie making world until you make 24 frame, and the day you do that they will come. "

And they were absolutely right.

So 24, while it was technically offensive to me, it was politically offensive to me, it was absolutely the only way that HD would have gone into movie making, and the march has never stopped.
- Larry Thorpe


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