Tag: Douglas Trumbull

VFX Legend Douglas Trumbull talks about the Future of Film … and Kubrick.

From the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Trumbull drives me a short distance from his home to a full-size soundstage and escorts me into a screening room that he has constructed to meet his ideal specifications: a wide wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling curved screen, with surround sound, steeply rigged stadium seating and a 4K high-resolution projector. As I put on specially designed 3D glasses and settle into stadium seating, he tells me, with an unmistakable hint of nervousness, “You’re one of the first people on the planet to see this movie.”

Ten minutes later, the lights come back up and I sit in stunned silence. The short that I have just seen, UFOTOG (a blending of the words “UFO” and “fotog,” the latter slang for press photographer), is stunning not because of its story — we’ve all seen movies about UFOs — but because it shows, as it was designed to do, what movies can look like if theaters, studios and filmmakers embrace the MAGI process through which Trumbull brought it to the screen: bigger, brighter, clearer and with greater depth-of-field than anything ever seen in a cinema before.

All of the aforementioned conditions are part of the MAGI equation, but the most essential element is the rate of frames per second at which a film is projected. In the beginning, the Lumiere brothers projected films at 18 fps, slow enough to result in the appearance of flickering —  hence the early nickname for the movies, “the flickers” or “the flicks.” That figure eventually increased to 24 fps, and has remained there, for the most part, ever since.

In 2012, Peter Jackson dared to release The Hobbit‘s first installment at 48 fps, which was supposed to create a heightened sense of realism, but which instead struck many as strange-looking and some even as nauseating. Many deemed the experiment a failure. Trumbull disagreed. He felt that if a digitally shot film was projected even faster — markedly faster, as in 120 fps, via a bright projector and onto a big screen — then the movie screen itself would seemingly disappear and serve effectively as a window into a world on the other side that would appear as real as the world in which one sits.

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To the Moon and Beyond featured a 70 mm circular image projected onto a dome screen and took viewers on a journey “from the Big Bang to the microcosm in 15 minutes.” Two of the thousands who saw it were Stanley Kubrick, the filmmaker, and Arthur C. Clarke, the writer, who came away from it convinced that an A-level sci-fi film — which eventually became 2001: A Space Odyssey — was possible. Kubrick contracted Graphic Films to produce conceptual designs for the project, but, once it got off the ground, moved it to London, at which point 23-year-old Trumbull cold-called the director and got a job on the film. His greatest contribution to it was devising a way to create a believable “Star Gate” effect, representing “the transformation of a character through time and space to another dimension.” Even though Kubrick alone claimed screen credit and an Oscar for the film’s VFX, Trumbull instantly became a name in the business.

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A few years later, he made his directorial debut with Silent Running (1972), a well-received film that landed him deals at Fox, MGM and Warner Bros. — but all of them “unraveled for stupid reasons.” By 1975, “desperate because you can’t live on development deals,” he and Richard Yuricich proposed the creation of the Future General Corporation, through which they would try to identify ways to improve the technology used to make films. Paramount agreed to sponsor the endeavor — which, to them, was a tax write-off — in return for 80 percent ownership. Within the first nine months of its existence, Trumbull says, “We invented Showscan [a manner of projecting films at 60 fps]. We invented the first simulator ride. We invented the 3D interactive videogame. And we invented the Magicam process [by which actors can perform in front of a blue screen, onto which nonexistent locations can be projected to create virtual realities].” And yet, in the end, Paramount “saw no future in the future of movies” and failed to support their efforts, devastating Trumbull, who was under exclusive contract to the studio for the next six years. (The studio’s one gesture that he did appreciate: loaning him out to Columbia to do the special effects for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)

Trumbull got out of his Paramount contract in 1979 thanks to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The original effects team that had been engaged for the highly anticipated film couldn’t handle the job, something the studio realized only six months before its long-scheduled Christmas release date. The studio begged Trumbull to take over, and he agreed to do so — provided he was paid a considerable fee and released from his contract. He got what he requested and, to the detriment of his health, also got the job done on time.

Newly a free agent, Trumbull continued to take on special effects jobs for others — for instance, Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner (1982) — but his primary focus was on directing a film of his own that would demonstrate the capabilities of Showscan. For the project, which he called Brainstorm, he secured a top-notch cast, led by Natalie Wood, and a major distributor, MGM. Production got underway and was almost completed when, on Nov. 29, 1981, tragedy struck: Wood drowned under circumstances that remain mysterious to this day. Since Wood had only a few small scenes left to shoot, Trumbull felt that he could easily finish the film, but MGM, which was in dire financial straits, filed what he deemed a “fraudulent insurance claim” because “they wanted to get out of it.”

Doug Trumbull on motion simulator base for “In Search of the Obelisk” (1993) VistaVision ridefilm at the Luxor Las Vegas.
Doug Trumbull on motion simulator base for “In Search of the Obelisk” (1993) VistaVision ridefilm at the Luxor Las Vegas.

Photo courtesy of Mice Chat.

Then, in 1990, he was approached about making a Back to the Future ride for Universal Studios venues in Florida, Hollywood and Japan. Others had been unable to conquer it, but he made it happen — and in a groundbreaking way: “It took you out of your seat and put you into the movie. You were in a DeLorean car. You became Marty McFly. You became a participant in the movie. The movie was all around you.” It ran for 15 years, he says, but was “dismissed as a theme park amusement.” He felt it was something more. “This was a moment where, for the first time in history, you went inside a movie.” Even though others failed to see larger possibilities, he says, “That kinda kept me going for a long time because it validated that we could be here in the Berkshires and make breakthroughs that no one else was able to do in Hollywood or anywhere else.”

In 2009, James Cameron‘s Avatar, a digitally shot 3D production that grossed a record $2.8 billion worldwide, changed everything. Its success spurred, at long last, filmmakers to transition en masse to digital photography and theaters to transition en masse to digital projection — at which point Trumbull made a crucial discovery. He realized that digital projectors run at 144 fps — twice as fast as Showscan had been able to — but films were still being made at 24 fps, with each frame just flashing multiple times. “Could we do a new frame every flash?” he wondered. If so, he reasoned, it might just give people a reason to put down their smartphones, tablets and laptops and actually buy a ticket to see a movie in a theater.

After years of work on his farm, Trumbull is finally ready to unveil UFOTOG. Its first public presentation will take place on Sept. 11 as part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Future of Cinema conference (at which Trumbull will also give a keynote address), and it will also screen days later at the IBC Conference in Amsterdam. At both venues, he says, his message will be rather straightforward: “It’s not rocket science, guys. It’s just a different shape, a different size, a different brightness and a different frame rate. Abandon all that crud that’s leftover from 1927. We’re in the digital age. Get with it.”

The cost of these changes, he insists, will be rather negligible: projectors are already equipped to handle faster frame rates, and would require only slightly more data time and render time; theaters are already adopting brighter projectors that employ laser illumination, which uses a longer-lasting bulb to produce twice the amount of light; and theaters, he believes, will soon recognize that they are in the “real estate business” and that it is in their interest to have fewer total screens but more big screens, for which the public has demonstrated a willingness to pay a premium.

Trumbull’s main objective, though, is “to show the industry what it is possible to do” with MAGI. He says he’s “dying to show” UFOTOG to filmmakers such as Jackson, Cameron and Christopher Nolan, whom he regards as kindred souls. But mostly, he wants to challenge the industry one more time, warning it, “If you want people to come to theaters, you better do something different.”


UFOTOG, a new film by Douglas Trumbull

I have always been a great admirer of Douglas Trumbull. Here is the press release about his newest project.

SEATTLE, April 30, 2014 — Academy Award winner Douglas Trumbull, announced today his forward-looking ten-minute demonstration movie UFOTOG. Produced at TRUMBULL STUDIOS in western Massachusetts, the experimental sci-fi adventure written and directed by Trumbull in 4K 3D at 120 frames per second, demonstrates his new process called MAGI, which explores a new cinematic language that invites the audience to experience a powerful sense of immersion and impact that is not possible using conventional 24 fps or 3D standards.

UFOTOG is a dramatic short story about a lone man attempting to photograph UFOs. Trumbull felt that it would be ideal to premiere UFOTOG at Paul Allen’s iconic Seattle Cinerama Theater as the headlining event at the annual Science Fiction Film Festival Sunday May 11, 2014, in conjunction with special screenings of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, both of which have alien contact stories. In addition, Trumbull will introduce his movie BRAINSTORM, on Friday, May 9, which marked the beginning of his quest for immersive cinema.

Trumbull has embarked on a project to write, produce, and direct using the MAGI technology for the production of his own feature films at Trumbull Studios. Through his comprehensive understanding of the needed technological advances, Trumbull has constructed a laboratory/stage/studio where he can shoot 120 fps 4K 3D live action within virtual environments, and see the results on the large screen adjacent to the shooting space. Trumbull announced: “This way, we can explore and discover a new landscape of audience excitement, and do it inexpensively and quickly – we are pushing the envelope to condense movie production time, intending to make films at a fraction of current blockbuster costs, yet with a much more powerful result on the screen.”

Trumbull Studios partnered with Christie to explore the potential of 3D 4K 120 fps projection, using the latest Christie Mirage 4K35 projection system. A special Mirage system will be installed in the Seattle Cinerama Theater for the premiere of UFOTOG, and the theater will soon offer the first public installation of Christie’s new laser illumination system in the fall of this year.

Trumbull Studios is committed to Eyeon Software, which has enabled the production of UFOTOG with the unheard-of impact of 3D in 4K at 120 fps, using Eyeon Fusion, Generation, Connection, and Dimension.

Trumbull’s pioneering work also included his Academy Award winning 70mm 60 frames per second SHOWSCAN process, which was widely acclaimed by industry professionals, and that led to the development of the film BRAINSTORM, which was to debut the process worldwide, with Trumbull directing. Yet in the days of celluloid film and the attendant high 70mm print costs and projector upgrades, the process did not get traction. Now, with digital projectors regularly operating at 144 frames per second for 3D, implementing much higher frame rates and increasing resolution is proving to be a cost-effective way to improve movie impact and profitability.

One objective of Trumbull’s initiative is to demonstrate to the film industry that the successful future of the movie-going experience needs to be a “special event” on larger screens, at high brightness, and with ultra-high frame rate 2K and 4K presentations that cannot be emulated on television, laptops, tablets, or smartphones. “Today, the multiplex is in your pocket…” says Trumbull, “…so younger audiences are enjoying the benefits of low cost and convenience via downloading and streaming, causing tidal shifts in the entertainment industry, and particularly in theatrical exhibition. Theaters must offer an experience that is so powerful and overwhelming that people will see the reward of going out to a movie.”

Trumbull is legendary for his ground-breaking visual effects work on films such as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and BLADE RUNNER, as well as his directorial achievements on SILENT RUNNING and BRAINSTORM and special venue projects such as BACK TO THE FUTURE – THE RIDE, and a trilogy of giant screen high frame rate attractions at the Luxor Pyramid in Las Vegas. Trumbull has more recently been pursuing what he believes can usher in a powerful transformation of cinema itself. At a time when the major studios have embarked on a business model to produce only tent pole-franchise-superhero-comic book action films, theater attendance is in decline. Trumbull believes that a jolt of high technology energy is needed to improve the impact of these expensive productions via photographic and exhibition technology that fully delivers the production value that is presently being throttled down by 24 fps, 2K resolution identical to television, and low brightness 3D on small screens.

Trumbull Studios includes equipment provided by Christie, Dolby Laboratories, RealD, Eyeon, Stewart Filmscreen, Composite Components, Abel Cine, Vision Research, nVidia, 3Ality Technica, Codex, Motion Analysis, Virident, Limelight Productions, and many more. Facilities include a shooting stage, production offices, multiple workshops, screening rooms, editorial, compositing, and sound mixing.

UFOTOG was written and directed by Douglas Trumbull, produced by Julia Hobart Trumbull and Steve Roberts, executive producers Donald Rosenfeld and Andreas Roald, starring Ryan Winkles, director of photography Richard Sands, original music by Claes Nystrom, produced at Trumbull Studios, with special production services provided by Eyeon.

RELATED LINKS
http://www.douglastrumbull.com

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