- Brian Snyder/Reuters
- Facebook has revealed the “flick,” a unit of time equivalent to precisely one 705,600,000th of a second.
- It’s meant to be useful to special effects artists and anybody else working in film or virtual reality – “flicks” cleanly divide each frame in a movie, TV show, or video game in an easy-to-read, easy-to-use number.
Facebook has invented a new unit of time: The “flick,” equivalent to precisely one 705,600,000th of a second – larger than a nanosecond, and smaller than a microsecond.
It’s short for “frame tick,” hinting at its cinematic origins, writes original inventor Christopher Horvath on GitHub.
As for why Facebook needs a new unit of time, it goes back to the social network’s Oculus VR subsidiary and its larger bet on virtual reality. And for Horvath, formerly of the cinematic world at firms like Pixar, Weta Digital, and Industrial Light & Magic, it seems to have been something of a passion project.
In film, video games, and any other kind of visual, screen-based medium, creators have to think in split-seconds. Most movies, for instance, are shot at 24 frames per second, which means that the film displays 24 still images every second in a rapid sequence to give the illusion of motion.
The problem, as described by Horvath, is that the math gets messy when you try to work on one frame at a time. At 24 frames per second, or FPS, each frame is approximately .04166666667 seconds long, or 41666666.669 nanoseconds. Those numbers are inelegant, with endlessly repeating decimals. In turn, that can make life difficult for programmers and artists who are trying to work precisely at these scales.
That’s where the Facebook flick comes in. It can represent a single frame at a nice, even number, at a whole variety of framerates. For instance, at the 24 FPS of most movies, each frame is 29,400,000 flicks. At 60 FPS, seen as a desirable framerate for action-packed video games, each frame is 11,760,000 flicks long. It’s a clean number that can easily be divided or added up, without worrying about decimal points.
Facebook has actually released its documentation for the creation and use of flicks as open source, meaning that anybody can download it and add support for the unit into their own software. That, in turn, means that flicks could become a standard unit of time – if not on your wristwatch, then in the visual arts.