Trumbull Talks Frame Rates and 3-D


James Cameron and Peter Jackson aren’t the only directors on a crusade to usher in faster frame rates: VFX guru Doug Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who most recently consulted on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (, wants to go even further. He’s been experimenting with frame rates that go as high as 120 that would deliver the ultimate in hyper real spectacle, including vastly superior 3-D. At the same time, Trumbull wants to shed his guru image status and return to directing again (Brainstorm was his last feature in 1983).

“I spoke with [Cameron] recently when were at NAB and I’ve also been trying to get to Peter Jackson because he’s already committed to 48 frames [for The Hobbit]. I think it’s the very small steps of a larger movement because I’m convinced there’s a whole other world of exceedingly higher frame rates that’s in the pipeline. I just shot a test using the Phantom 65 with a Zepar 3-D adapter on it, shooting at 120 frames. And we’re posting it now at 120 frames. And I’ve got a projector that’ll show it at 120 frames. And so we’re going to be able to show footage at 120, 60, 48, 30, 24.”

Trumbull made a “very simple, elegant” discovery that with a digital camera you can shoot with a 360 shutter, which allows you to blend any two or three frames together to recover the blurring you need if you want to go to a slower frame rate. That means when you increase the frame rate without the blur, you increase the impact of action sequences that are suddenly more vivid.

Trumbull has made a test reel showing off his experiments titled Showscan Digital (an update of his legendary breakthrough with 60 frames for large-format film exhibition in the mid-’80s that proved too cost-prohibitive except for theme park rides).


As for 3-D, Trumbull has a simple solution for the brightness issue that has so many in an uproar: better screens. He recently met with Stewart Filmscreen, the premier project-screen manufacturer, and tried to convince them to return to the era of super high gain silver Torus screens.

“You need silver for 3-D if you’re using any kind of polarization,” Trumbull observes. “It’s a screen built into a frame that has a vacuum behind it so the screen takes on a curvature that reflects the light back to the audience, rather than allow the light to just bounce back up into the ceiling or into the walls, or down to the floor. It’s a way of recovering two or three times the amount of light that’s been lost, which is what you need to do in 3-D. I’m trying to remind the industry out there that there’s a product that’s well-tested and works great and you can get 3-D with much brighter imagery if you just put in a better screen.”

From Trumbull’s lips…


Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Movies, Tech, VFX

One Response to Trumbull Talks Frame Rates and 3-D

  1. Peter Riedel

    As Showscan and IMAX-HD demonstrated decades ago, a high frame-rate is the way movies should be shot and shown, and now the old 24 fps standard can be retired without any prohibitive increased cost. Aside from sharper images in both 3D & 2D movies, the concept of flexible frame-rate synthesis for artistic effect is another benefit of high frame-rate cinematography.

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