Could 'Avatar' Sequels Be First Features to Use Douglas Trumbull's High Frame Rate 4K 3D System?

Douglas Trumbull Headshot - P 2013

Douglas Trumbull Headshot - P 2013

Could James Cameron's Avatar sequels become the first features to be produced and exhibited using Douglas Trumbull's developing system for 4K 3D at 120 frames per second (fps)?

Trumbull told The Hollywood Reporter he has talked with Avatar producer Jon Landau about viewing the short film UFOTOG, which is a showcase for Trumbull's patented process, dubbed MAGI, for capturing and displaying images at 120 frames per second in 4K and 3D on giant screens using conventional digital projectors.

“I know that Cameron admired Showscan [Trumbull's earlier invention of a large-format high-frame rate projection system] and that he is a huge advocate of high frame rates [HFRs],” Trumbull said. “The use of HFRs for Avatar would be very appropriate and very successful."

He added: “I don't know if Cameron is interested [in using MAGI for the Avatar sequels]. He's in seclusion writing the screenplay for Avatar. I am talking to Jon Landau, and we plan to have a screening [of UFOTOG] soon.”

But during his keynote at the IBC Convention in Amsterdam on Monday, Trumbull indicated that he has already talked with additional directors "who are very interested in this, and this will be driven by the directors. If directors like Cameron, J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson want this, then I think we’ll start getting some traction."

MAGI is a technique that involves shooting 4K 3D, shooting 60 fps with alternate shutter speeds. This alignment means that when played back through a standard 3D theatrical projector, the picture is delivered in sync with the system's alternating left eye, right eye cadence.

“It delivers extreme fluidity of motion and amazing clarity with no strobing, no double flickering and a viewing experience that far exceeds conventional movie quality," said Trumbull.

He also got a laugh from the audience when he joked that if MAGI is accepted, “Michael Bay is going to make an even worse Transformers movie because there won’t be any motion blur.”

During his IBC keynote, Trumbull said he is starting to sense interest from studios and exhibitors. Trumbull admitted that he embarked on creating MAGI on his own because he “never found support from studios to change the medium because they didn’t want to upset the apple cart. ... I personally don’t feel we should limit the impact of what we can do as filmmakers just to milk a market.”

But he sees things changing. Noting that digital cinema companies Christie and Dolby are also working on improving cinema and are talking to stakeholders, he said studios have been “eager to embrace [new types premium projection] because of the fall off [in this year’s box office]. I think there will be some sell-through.”

He also believes that if MAGI becomes a “destination attraction, films can actually last much longer in a theatrical run. I’d love to see that happen. In the days of 2001: A Space Odyssey, movies ran one or two years.”

At IBC, segments of UFOTOG were screened for delegates in 2K resolution at 120 fps using dual Christie laser projectors and Dolby 3D projection systems (this is not MAGI's complete plan). It was also shown with Dolby Atmos sound.

HFRs gained its most mainstream release with Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy filmed at 48 fps, but detractors argued that it created an unappealing video look. “The Hobbit fell victim to the 'uncanny valley'," said Trumbull. "But when you dramatically increase the frame rate to 120 fps you jump over the valley to a whole new territory.” (MAGI is also capable of accommodating the looks of variable frame rates in the same film).

Trumbull added that he sees MAGI as a niche market, and “a convention movie — i.e. a love story — is a beautiful thing. We shouldn't mess with it. … What we are talking about is a different art form.”

Asked whether the emerging technology of virtual reality might supercede his goals for immersive entertainment, Trumbull said: “VR is trying to satisfy the desire for an interactive immersive experience which is much more controlled from the user's point of view. It's a one person at a time experience in some kind of virtual world that could possibly be the same as in a movie. There's no reason why you can't have a movie called Avatar and a VR world called Pandora. The experiences are different but they might share the same intellectual property.”