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Doug Trumbull says high frame rates really are the future of cinema

Doug Trumbull says high frame rates are the future of cinema
(Image credit: MGM)

Special effects legend Doug Trumbull is convinced that high frame rates are "the next frontier of movie making". 

Trumbull, best known for creating the effects for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, believes Hollywood will have to embrace the tech if it's to tempt people away from streaming services and back into cinemas.

In an interview with RedSharkNews, the cinema visionary claimed that high frame rates have the ability to provide audiences with a “hyper outer body experience [that] takes you beyond the limits of a TV screen and becomes totally immersive”.  

The technical wizard has thrown his weight behind a next generation high frame rate format called Magi, which captures in 4K resolution, stereo 3D and frame rates up to 160fps.

To put that in context, most modern movies use the standard rate of 24 frames per second (fps). Hollywood directors have begun to experiment with HFR but it's early days. The most high-profile films to date have been Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy (48fps) and Ang Lee's Gemini Man (120fps). 

High frame rates are said to bring the most vivid, realistic pictures to audiences. But while the tech suits fast-moving sports, critics argue that the loss of traditional cinematic motion-blur makes high frame rate films look too much like video games. Titanic director James Cameron recently branded 120fps "distracting".

The solution, according to Trumbull, is to render digital high frame rate footage in such a way that it replicates film. To that end, the Magi format introduces a 'flicker' that claims to replicate the authentic look and feel of film. 

"[Flicker] is what differentiates movies from TV," says Trumbull. "So, if you introduce digital flicker in the projection of the film [actually in the DCP file] it can look fully cinematic even if you raise the frame rate to 120 or 160."

In addition, Magi has the ability to dynamically change the frame rate throughout projection, meaning that scenes can be shot in 24, 120 and 160fps and edited together. The idea is to give directors the option to use high frame rates when it makes sense within a specific scene.

Trumbull hopes to set up a Magi demonstration centre in LA to get new technology seen by Hollywood decision makers including production heads, cinematographers and directors.

"Kubrick was trying to pave the way for a new form of immersive cinema and most people didn’t realise it. I’m trying to do it again."       

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Tom has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Men's Health, ShortList, The Sun, The Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include mobile tech, electric cars and video streaming.