SMPTE 2012: Douglas Trumbull Urges 'Experience-Creating' Cinema

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“Most people rightly think movies are a storytelling medium, but for me it is an experience-creating medium,” said filmmaker and inventor Douglas Trumbull, Monday in a keynote at the Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood. “I’m very passionate about the idea of creating movies that are powerfully immersive.”

The Academy Award winner spoke on Monday about maintaining cinema quality, high frame rates, his “tremendous disappointment,” and being “back in the saddle” during a high frame rate symposium hosted by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, which opened the organization’s annual conference taking place this week at Loews Hollywood Hotel.

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Trumbull—who developed the Showscan system that incorporated 65mm film at 60 frames per second (fps)—admitted to “tremendous disappointment” when years ago his large format system didn’t get off the ground.

But he predicted that today there is an opportunity to create an immersive new cinema experience with larger and brighter screens, 3D and high frame rates.

His key message was to protect the future of exhibition by improving it. “For movies to survive as a business, we have to make it better; It is just not good enough when the multiplex is [also available in one’s] pocket.”

He asserted that digital cinema screens are too dim. “This is not going to cut it. This is one reason I think we are seeing a falloff [in theater attendance]. It's at a 20 year low.

“It is now possible to make movie experiences that will be tremedously lifelike,” Trumbull said of the use of high frame rates, adding that this would be appropriate for use with the “types of content that IMAX has explored over the years. … such as being on board the space station. I would also like see dance, opera, Cirque du Soleil.”

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But he emphasized that the tool need to fit the story. “You can’t globally apply one frame rate to all movies,” he asserted. “24 frames per second looks great for dramatic performances. [Higher frame rates might be applied] to giant screens, hyper-reality, [viewer] participation in the movie.”

Trumbull is aiming to provide an aesthetic choice by developing a system that effectively allows filmmakers to embed high frame rates such as 48 or 60fps into a standard 24 fps movie. He refers to this system as Showscan Digital.

He is currently planning to make a movie at 120fps, using virtual sets at his Massachusetts studio. "I'm thrilled to be back in the saddle," he said.

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