Douglas Trumbull knows a little bit about movie visual effects. In his mid-20s, he worked with Stanley Kubrick to create the look and feel of the final frontier in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He later helped craft the effects for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the gorgeous futuristic visuals of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Last year, after nearly 30 years away from the Hollywood business, he collaborated with Terrence Malick for the symphonic visuals in The Tree of Life.
Trumbull has always been an innovator. For decades, he’s been tinkering with technology to enhance the audience experience, and he knows all about the recent hubbub over frame-rate after Peter Jackson unveiled the first extended footage of The Hobbit — An Unexpected Journey last week at CinemaCon. Jackson is shooting his Lord of the Ring prequels at 48 frames per second, twice the industry standard since the advent of talkies. But when audiences expressed skepticism about the new viewing platform — complaining of a glossy “TV soap opera” effect — one of Hollywood’s surest things suddenly found its Oscar-winning director asking for some faith and patience.
Trumbull must be chuckling a little to himself. Back in the early 1980s, he developed the Showscan system that filmed movies at 60 frames per second. Imagine if the CinemaCon crowd knew he was now plotting his own movie — a giant 3-D space epic shot digitally at 120 frames per second! The Oscar winning effects guru recently chatted with EW about his friend Peter Jackson’s ambitious movie, his own filmmaking, and the future of movies.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve been wrangling with these frame-rate debates for decades. Why did you initially look in this direction and what did you learn?
DOUGLAS TRUMBULL: I got hooked on immersive cinema when I worked on 2001, which was initially shown on these Cinerama screens, which were all 90 feet wide and deeply curved. It was a spectacle that we don’t see today at all, even in IMAX. I was just an impressionable kid, and Kubrick was doing these lengthy sequences of pure visual effects — they called it the ultimate trip because it abandoned conventional cinematic wisdom in favor of a pure experience. That profoundly effected me, and I’m saying, “Holy sh–, this is so cool. I want to make movies like this, and I want to explore this cinematic language.” READ FULL STORY