HFR: the future of cinema?

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Legendary filmmaker and special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull is convinced that High Frame Rate technology is the “next frontier of movie making”. Could this be the answer to dwindling movie theater audiences?

Special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull is convinced that HFR is the next step in the evolution of cinema and that this technology could encourage audiences to return to theaters.

Trumbull, who is best known for creating the special effects for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, believes that Hollywood will have to embrace this technology for good if it wants to entice people away from streaming services and back into theaters. In an interview with RedSharkNews, the director, producer and writer stated that high frame rates can provide viewers with “hyper outer body experience [qui] takes you beyond the limits of a TV screen and becomes totally immersive”.

The tech wizard has given his full support to the creation of a new high frame rate format called Magi that captures in 4K resolution, stereo 3D and frame rates up to 160fps. To put that in context, most modern movies use the standard 24 frames per second. Hollywood directors have started to use HFR, but we are still in the early stages of this technology. The most publicized movies to date are Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy (48fps) and Ang Lee’s Gemini Man (120fps).

Filmed at 120fps, Ang Lee’s Gemini Man is one of the most well-known HFR films to date.

High frame rates are said to provide viewers with the most vivid and realistic images. But while this technology is suitable for watching sports programs, some critics say that removing the traditional cinematic motion blur makes high frame rate movies look too much like video games. Director James Cameron recently called 120fps “distracting”.

According to Douglas Trumbull, the solution would be to make digital HFR images look like film. To that end, the Magi format introduces a “flicker” that claims to replicate the authentic look of film. “[Flicker] is what differentiates movies from television,” Trumbull explains. “So if you introduce digital flicker into 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 can dynamically change the frame rate throughout the projection, which means that scenes can be shot at 24, 120 and 160 frames per second and assembled during editing. The idea is to give directors the ability to use high frame rates when it makes sense for a given scene.

The special effects pioneer hopes to set up a Magi demonstration center in Los Angeles so that Hollywood decision-makers, notably production managers, cinematographers and directors, can learn about these new technologies. “Kubrick was trying to pave the way for a new form of immersive cinema and most people didn’t realize it. I’m trying to do it again.”


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