LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future

COW Library : Cinematography : Douglas Trumbull : Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
CreativeCOW presents Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future -- Cinematography Feature

Douglas TrumbullDouglas Trumbull
Housatonic, Massachusetts
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


He first won acclaim with the visual effects for such groundbreaking features as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and his own Silent Running, but with the invention of Showscan in the late 1970s, Douglas Trumbull became the godfather of high-frame rate cinema.

Showscan was based on 65mm negative filmed at 60 frames per second, with 70mm prints from those negatives projected at 60 frames per second. Often projected onto screens at over 30 foot lamberts of brightness, the experience was tremendously immersive, for what viewers often described as "a window onto reality."

In 1993, Trumbull, Geoffrey Williamson, Robert Auguste and Edmund DiGiulio were awarded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Scientific and Engineering for the Showscan camera system.

Trumbull developed the feature film project Brainstorm to launch the ShowScan process but the project was stymied by studio politics and the death of its leading actress, Natalie Wood. This precipitated Trumbull's move from Hollywood to the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and the beginning of his career in simulation rides, starting with "Back to the Future: The Ride," for Steven Spielberg.



Trumbull directing Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood on the set of 1983's Brainstorm, courtesy MGM.


At the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition in October, Trumbull spoke about what it will take to make the moviegoing experience the best it can be, starting with higher framerates.

Earlier in the week, he spoke with Creative COW's Debra Kaufman about lessons learned from over 40 years of work with filmmaking and exhibition technology, as well as some hard lessons in the movie business. This is Part 1 of that conversation. Look for more at CreativeCOW.net.




I think there are a lot of opportunities for tremendous improvement in color saturation, frame rate, brightness, and the size of the screen so we can bring back spectacle and showmanship. It would get audiences back into theatres.

Exhibition quality has hit an all-time low and that really bothers me. Not that I don't admire what's been done to transform theatres with 3D and digital. But brightness, screen size, saturation are all in the low end, and it's turning people off.

They can't quite describe what's giving them the headache when they watch 3D, but it's not the 3D. It's the loss of brightness and it's also inadequate frame rates. The biggest complicating factor is that there is little qualitative difference between experiencing a movie in the theatre and in your own home.

Most young people today don't go to movie theatres any more. They've never seen Cinerama, nor do they understand the history of the curved or giant screens of the 1950s when the movie industry was terrified of TV. I think if we can bring that back into play so that the movie-going experience is distinctly more spectacular than anything you'll see on your iPad, we'll bring people back into theatres. It's not an either/or.

But a movie-going experience has got to be as good as going to Cirque de Soleil. The theatre has to be more than a rectangular box with a screen at one end. And all that is immediately feasible.


2001: A Space Odyssey. Courtesy Warner Bros. and Stanley Kubrick Productions
2001: A Space Odyssey. Courtesy Warner Bros./Stanley Kubrick Productions.


THE IMPACT OF FRAME RATES
When you spend $300 million on a blockbuster, the production value isn't getting to the audiences' eyes. It's limited by the medium itself. It doesn't matter what you pay the cast. If you simply increase frame rate, you can tremendously increase audience impact at almost no cost. That's why Peter Jackson is shooting The Hobbit at 48 fps and James Cameron has stated his plans to shoot Avatar 2 and 3 at 60 fps.

Higher frame rates give a strong sense immersion and realism, made possible by the tremendous reduction of blurring. Showscan was based on photographing 65mm film at 60 fps and then projecting it using 70mm prints at the same rate.

We had done laboratory tests to see the impact of high-frame rates images on viewers. Viewers were shown identical films shot and projected at 24, 36, 48, 60, 66 and 72 fps, and all of them were monitored with electromyogram, electroencephalogram, galvanic skin response and electrocardiogram. The results were conclusive that the 60 fps profoundly increased the viewers' visual stimulation.



DIGITAL CHANGES EVERYTHING
I was part of the team that bought IMAX [along with Richard Gelfond and Bradley Wexler, in 1994], merged it with Showscan and took it public, with the idea of bringing it into commercial filmmaking and make it part of the lexicon of filmmaking. But it was very expensive to get the high frame rate in 70mm when it was film. The raw stock and film lab cost twice as much and print costs were a big issue as well. I couldn't get traction for Showscan 30 years ago because it was prohibitively expensive.

With digital technology, everything has changed. IMAX has been forced to transform into a digital company, because of the cost of 70mm prints and the weight of the cameras. Some exhibitors are making their own version of IMAX by buying the same cameras and putting larger screens and double projectors to create more light. Now, it's relatively easy to make these digital projectors run at a higher frame rate. Data is very cheap and that's all it is: extra data.



CINEMA REINVENTING ITSELF

When I developed Showscan, I really thought it would be a breakthrough in cinematic language.

I had some support at Paramount, which owned my company. That began the mandate to find a story that would launch Showscan [ed. note: Brainstorm, 1983] just as Jim Cameron used Avatar to launch 3D. But then all the Paramount executives were ousted and the mandate went away. The movie moved to MGM, but then Natalie Wood died, and I found out the studio didn't want the movie to be finished.

Ultimately it was made, but not in Showscan. It was a reprehensible conflict between the studio executives and me, and I decided I wasn't up for making movies in Hollywood. I moved to Massachusetts and decided not to even try to direct movies…and then the Back to the Future Ride came along.

The technology I'm developing now is a whole new exhibition experience. I'm developing several projects, working at 120fps, and it's stunning. It opens up a a whole new cinematic language. It's a different kind of cinema, all about immersive, participatory, first-person experiences. I'm going to use the virtual set technology to make a sci-fi movie in the epicenter of what people want to see: a big action-adventure movie. The audience sees what appears to be happening in real time. It would have been appropriate with Gone With the Wind, 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Wizard of Oz. It's not appropriate for love stories or crime dramas, which are story-driven.

It's very much akin to any number of sci-fi operas you can think of that have become successful. I'm in the sweet spot in that a visual effects-driven movie isn't dependent on star talent, and is attractive to a very wide audience demographic. I'll be shooting the film in 3D at 120fps, at high resolution and bit-depth.

I'm working with several camera companies to help develop the next-generation of 3D digital cameras, including Vision Research, which makes the Phantom camera. I've been shooting tests using the Vision Research Phantom 65 with a 3D lens adapter, which works great. Meduza Systems in Irvine is also making the first integrated 3D camera, with a single body that handles the sensors.

And I'm working with some of the projector manufacturers, doing experiments with 120 fps in 3D. Right now, I'm working most closely with Christie but I'm open to working with any of the projector manufacturers.

I'm also working with IRIDAS, which handles a lot of the 3D post production workflow, writing code to handle high frame rates so you can edit at 24 fps and make it match up to 120 fps.

At the projection end, I'm trying to demonstrate what it'll look like when you project at 50-foot lamberts on a giant curved screen at 120 fps in 3D.

When I pull all the pieces of the puzzle together, it'll be a mind-blowing new opportunity for the movie industry to reinvent itself.



Read Part Two of this interview from the November/December 2011 issue of Creative COW Magazine online.




Title graphic, Douglas Trumbull today.



Comments

Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Bruce Jacobs
Watch Doug in the Great Frame Rate Debate:
http://www.youtube.com/user/PBSQualityGroup

Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Peter Riedel
The century-old technology of movies shot on 35mm film at 24 frames per second, described in reverentially glowing terms is narrow-minded and ludicrous. I'm certain, if the technologies we have today had been available to film-makers of the early twentieth century, they would have made their movies with them. It is doubtful that color and stereo sound would have made Citizen Kane a better movie, for example, but it would surely have looked and sounded better that way. Here was a great achievement of story-telling, but within the limitations of black&white film an monophonic sound. Over eighty years ago, arguments against the introduction of sound and color to movies were just as foolish as those made today against the use of high-frame-rate, high-resolution 3D with multilevel surround-sound. How can grainy and blurred 2d images on a big cinema-screen with muddy sound be as immersive or "real" as what today's best technologies can offer?
Maybe those directors who only want to use film at 24 fps (and no 3D), are just afraid of "doing it differently" from their familiar methods. I applaud Douglas Trumbull, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, and Ridley Scott for looking ahead and embracing these new technologies for what they can provide to the art of movie-making and presentation.
Re: a Better Theatre-going Future
by Anthony Burokas
I agree and disagree at the same time.

I think the moviegoing experience can be improved. Higher frame rates increase the impression that the screen is a "window" to another world. It reduces motion judder & blurring to more closely resemble what our eye sees naturally.

Those who clutch fatalistically to their slow, dark, blurred images for the sake of "suspension of disbelief" need only read a book. No frame rate, no 3D yet it can be absolutely immersive if the story grips you. Remember, movie making is first and foremost story telling- and the movie is just the media. It isn't the story. Pioneering filmmakers didn't settle on 16 or 24 fps because it was the best at creating a dreamy, other-worldly storytime effect. Remember, when the early silents (at 16fps) had the train on the screen, people ran from the theatre because they thought it was real. 24 fps was selected for matching with audio, and keeping it cost effective for the studios.

OTOH,
I think 3D is just wrong. As has been noted elsewhere, a natural human function fights with 3D movies- the focus point of our eyes. We focus our eyes closer or further away depending on the distance of the object we wish to track. 3D films try to give us objects near and far, but all the content is still on the flat plan of the screen- no closer or further away. Our eyes can't focus naturally. We have to "trick" our brains with shuttered or polarized glasses to have it "think" there's depth because there is actually NO depth to the image. It's fake.

Moreover, after seeing several 3D movies on the big screen, including two IMAX 3D films shot in space, I have come to strongly believe that 3D is completely unnecessary to the story being told. Camera motion, the movement of people and objects within the scene, allows our mind to build the 3D space- just as our minds do when we read books. We involve our brain in helping to tell the story instead of feeding it processed, synthesized baby mush.

Higher frame rates will reduce judder and other detrimental image artifacts in making movies. (Global shutter CMOS chips, or CCDs, would certainly help reduce image distortion too). 3D is unnecessary visual trickery that does not help our eyes or brain understand the characters, motivations, or story being told.

--

Anthony Burokas ~ http://IEBA.com
+1
@Anthony Burokas
by Anthony Burokas
And I'm surprised that there's no talk of higher resolution images, like 2k, 3k, 4k, etc., despite his years of experience shooting Showscan on 65mm film instead of 35mm or 16mm. He understands the importance of resolution of the big image, but there's no discussion about higher resolution digital imaging?

Anthony Burokas ~ http://IEBA.com
+1
Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Mark Job
I'm a BIG enthusiast for the return to shooting in the 5 perf 65 mm motion picture format. When 35 mm films are archived and put into vaults by the studios, they first enlarge them to 5 perf 65 mm negative, and this is what's actually put into the vault. This practice is followed even for films originated digitally. Why not simply originate in 65 mm ?
Digital media still has some serious archival issues in and of itself, which are hitherto unresolved to date. I don't think 3D adds anything whatsoever to the ultimate film going experience, except to introduce a grossly artificial reality designed to mimic what a pair of human eyes perceive. I reject the premise that a motion picture has to be photographed in 3D to enhance the audience participation effect. In fact, 3D is antipathetic to the story telling process of film making because it draws too much attention to itself and thus gets in the way of the suspension of disbelief at a subliminal and fundamental level. The *only* film I have ever seen which I considered to greatly enhance the audience participation factor by using 3D was "House of Wax," with Vincent Price. It was shot with a custom motion picture camera @ 24 fps and this film is utterly astounding in 3D ! The only drawback to 65 mm motion picture origination is its expense. However, 65 mm can easily by justified on a 300 million dollar epic production. Many projectors already are installed and exist in theatres across North America and Europe, only, they are currently setup to operate with 35 mm prints, but could easily be switched over to 5/70MM DTS. As an experienced projectionist, I must agree with Mr. Trumbull that showmanship of motion pictures at the cinema is at an all time low.
Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Donovan Caylor
A lot of televisions nowadays have the ability to play movies at higher frame-rates,(e.g. 60, 120 fps). I never use the feature as it makes the movie look like a live broadcast, completely pulling you out of an otherwise immersive movie experience. I don't like the way it looks on my television at home, I'll definitely not like the way it's going to look in the movie theater.
Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Chris Wright
another good reason to stick with 24fps, it hides bad acting. The higher the framerate, the better acting you need. Go ahead, record two different framerates 24,60, the 60fps acting will be poor.

As for the Hobbit, take LOTR, conform with cinema tools,to 48,60fps and judge for yourself how bad it is.
Re: Article: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Mike Cohen
This issue of the COW magazine is perhaps the best yet. Trumbull's work inspired many of us to get into media production and inspired the directors who we all admire. There used to be other film related magazines which are now out of business. Happy to see our little bovine attracting such big names.
Mike Cohen
Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Thomas Wall
At the SMPTE conference Trumbull discussed the pros as well as the cons of 24 fps 14 foot-lambert projection. As he mentions above, he clearly understands that there is a place for dimly-lit, un-sharp images being shown in a dark theater, and that this environment fosters a kind of mental state that helps us to feel as if we are part of the story being told on screen. But he also understands that it doesn't work well for 3D -- you lose the stereoscopic effect when subject or camera movement results in a blurred image, which is why Cameron and Jackson are shooting at higher frame rates. And he also understands that it makes VFX work much harder when you have to match up a CGI image or matte with a moving blur on the live-action plate. The added impact and realism is also why some sports telecasts are now broadcasting at 50 or 60fps. In fact, he suggested that we probably should be using variable frame rates, to further enhance the mood of a given scene. Think of the impact of going from a romantic scene at 24 fps and 14 foot-lamberts suddenly interrupted by alien robots at 120 fps with 60 foot-lambert specular highlights and raygun blasts - like looking out a window at the real world. Being able to experience those kinds of effects is what he hopes will get people to pay money to come to theaters.
Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Terry O'Brien
While I share the appreciation of the the "Filmic" look as an artistic tool, high framerate Showscan is/was definitely something different. It's another tool that, when paired with the right content, can create something special. Having seen a Showscan movie projected at their screening facility, it was very immersive, even without the motion platform. It's a kind of high when viewing action movies.

Besides, using high frame rates as an artistic tool is no different than projecting 70mm was for films like "Days of Heaven", "Lawrence of Arabia", "The Right Stuff" or "Close Encounters". I've seen all of these films projected in 35mm and 70mm and there is no comparison to the experience of seeing the silky smooth flow of 70mm vs 35mm.

Ditto for high frame rates. It's just about using the right tools for the right stories.

So pardon me while I go back to editing my HDV corporate video.
+1
Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Mike Prosser
I get that the brightness of some projectors puts a damper on the 3D experience (which I enjoy when it's the right movie... LION KING conversion? What was the point? It's a 2D cartoon and I think better viewed in 2D).

But removing the blurring effect of 24 fps removes the artistic other-worldliness that draws us in to the fantasy of movies. Why do you think everyone objected to 30 frame video and cameras with 23.976 fps options became normal? BECAUSE 30 frames on up looks like cable access... it looks too real and unglamorous. Granted I have yet to see what showscan or the Hobbit in 48 fps looks like. Maybe I will love it... but based on how 30 frame video looks... I am not optimistic.

I don't want movies to be more real... I want to believe in the fantasy... because it is all fantasy unless it is a documentary.

Not to mention higher frame rates and HD have made it more difficult for film artists such as set designers and make-up effects technicians to get their craft to look as real as it used to. The old standard frame rates and clarity helped to mask imperfections and make you believe more in the presentations.

I like the more handcrafted and artistic feel of 24 frame film. It will be missed when it is gone.

- Mike Prosser
Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Mario Rodriguez
In this thinks I'm quite all school. I think the technology should be secondary, important, but secondary.

One of the best movies all times is Citizen Kane... B&W, 24fps, no 3D, no Hi-Tech what so ever, all about a good story, photography, direction... It is not the camera what makes a good picture it is photographer and so it is the same everywhere.

For me, all this stuff are steps on the wrong direction. Most of this US$ 300 Million blockbusters (not all) are sinless movies, full of hi tech actions with very poor stories. Hi tech won't give you good stories, good photographers, won't give you creativity, which is what you need when you want to make passionate movies.

Blade Runner was made with all school hand made effects, no computer graphics, no 3D, no 60 fps, for me, best Science Fiction movie all times and movies made in 3D with poor creativity won't make better movies. If all that money was invested on the right place, movies would be much better...

Thanks anyway and congratulations for your work...
Re: Douglas Trumbull Sees a Better Filmgoing Future
by Kip Kiener
As a projectionist with engineering background I would like to say to Mr. Trumbull good show. This "good enough" attitude that the executive end of the stick has keeps projects like his on the ground and stymies advances in film and video. This has always gone against my grain. My industry usually has to wait for broadcast to go in a technological direction before we can follow and adapt it to our needs since convention and industrial doesn't wield the money that broadcast does.
I hope that you will also make sure that the stream to the projectors stays true and that the switching and processing doesn't compromise the end result. Nothing like being on a show where the time it took to develope HD content is crushed by some piece of gear that can't process it in the correct fashion. Keep going, can't wait to see it in a theatre near me.


Related Articles / Tutorials:
Cinematography
All Eyes on IBC 2016 for Cameras and Lenses Galore

All Eyes on IBC 2016 for Cameras and Lenses Galore

What’s that you say? An IBC that’s not only relevant, but downright exhilarating? This used to not be news, of course. However, in recent years, IBC has too often become simply an opportunity for European audiences to see products already announced at NAB. In 2016, however, the focus swings sharply to Amsterdam, especially when it comes to cameras and lenses. IBC 2016 is shaping up to be one of the most dramatic trade shows for cinematographers, broadcasters, and videographers in years. Join Creative COW Editor-in-Chief Tim Wilson for a speedy overview of some of the highlights.

Feature
Tim Wilson
Cinematography
Depth of Field: Gregg Toland, Citizen Kane and Beyond

Depth of Field: Gregg Toland, Citizen Kane and Beyond

Whenever somebody equates "shallow depth of field" and "cinematic look," it's important to remember that the opposite is also sometimes true. Creative COW Editor-in-Chief Tim Wilson celebrates the work of Gregg Toland, ASC, born this week in 1904 -- the first master of extreme depth of field in movies like Citizen Kane and The Grapes of Wrath that forever changed what is possible for humans to do with cameras. This reprise of a classic article from the Creative COW Archives also offers a look at what Toland's approach to cinematic composition can mean for YOUR shooting.

Editorial, Feature
Tim Wilson
Cinematography
New Trends and Technology at Cine Gear Expo 2016

New Trends and Technology at Cine Gear Expo 2016

Cine Gear Expo 2016 exhibits open Friday June 3 and 4, at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California with major screenings, filmmaker panel discussions, groundbreaking techniques and new equipment premiers that are sure to influence the filmmaking industry. Catering to the world’s top motion picture, video and new media visual artists, Paramount’s prestigious back lot is the ideal setting for professionals to meet with colleagues and nearly 300 top equipment vendors to see live demos and get their hands on the latest gear. Take a look at how this year's hottest trends are shaping up.

Feature
Susan Lewis
Cinematography
School, Teachers, Italian Neorealism & a Few Soviet Films

School, Teachers, Italian Neorealism & a Few Soviet Films

In this exclusive interview, generously granted to Creative COW by the Gamma and Density Journal, during his lifetime, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, sat down with Yuri Neyman, ASC to talk about his life as a cinematographer. We remember the genius.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Yuri Neyman
Cinematography
Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, 1930 - 2016 - Remembering the Genius

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, 1930 - 2016 - Remembering the Genius

Winner of an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the long list of official accolades for Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC doesn't begin to illustrate the impact his work has had on generations of artists around the world. Friend, colleague, and Global Cinematography Institute co-founder Yuri Neyman, ASC shares some of his memories with us.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Yuri Neyman, ASC
Cinematography
Stepping into the Surgeon's Eyes

Stepping into the Surgeon's Eyes

Take advantage of years worth of Greg Ondera's surgical cinematography experience for cleaner, tighter shots and a better outcome.

Feature
Greg Ondera
Cinematography
Panasonic Makes 4K Handheld with AG-DVX200 Camcorder

Panasonic Makes 4K Handheld with AG-DVX200 Camcorder

Panasonic has announced a new large sensor 4K handheld camcorder with the same filmic quality of the VariCam, which also saw updates at this year's NAB Show.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Kylee Peña
Cinematography
Cinematographer-in-Residence: Mandy Walker ASC at UCLA

Cinematographer-in-Residence: Mandy Walker ASC at UCLA

Cinematographer Mandy Walker joins UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television as a Kodak Cinematographer in Residence, teaching the next generation of film students what it means to be a successful director of photography.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Kylee Peña
Cinematography
Adventures in 6K with Jackson, Wyoming's Brain Farm Cinema

Adventures in 6K with Jackson, Wyoming's Brain Farm Cinema

Staffed with outdoor sport enthusiasts and and fortified with the latest in 6K cameras and post production technology, Wyoming-based Brain Farm Cinema is taking wild leaps into the next level of production capabilities and working through challenges in media and infrastructure along the way.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Kylee Peña
Cinematography
The NASA IMAX Project with Cinematographer James Neihouse

The NASA IMAX Project with Cinematographer James Neihouse

James Neihouse, the large format cinematographer renowned for his work on projects from shuttle launches to volcanic eruptions, and newly-minted Academy member, finds himself working around the globe, literally, shooting the IMAX 3D film, Earth 2.0 (working title) co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures and NASA. In this feature, Neihouse reflects on experiences working with astronauts, race cars, and rocket launches, and how important choosing the best equipment is in extreme production.

Feature, People / Interview
Creative COW
MORE
© 2016 CreativeCOW.net All Rights Reserved
[TOP]