This year’s IBC gave me an opportunity to experience two very different kinds of 3D projection. One was Douglas Trumbull’s short movie “Ufotog”, and another the projection of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” on 6P Christie laser projector and Dolby Atmos sound system.
I have been exposed to Trumbull’s ideas about the immersiveness of the high framerate projection for a few years. Even though he is on a personal quest to convince everyone that the best 3D is the one shown at 60 or even 120 fps, his idea seems to be considered controversial most of the time. Its greatest resurgence was around the time the first trailer of Hobbit was shown at 48 fps, and later it kind of died down again.
Trumbull had given a keynote speech at this year’s IBC, reiterating his journey and key message. Then we were shown his “Ufotog” in 3D at 120 fps. In itself it’s just another short movie, which did not really appeal to me that much, kind of contrasting with the director’s statement that “telling the story is the easiest part”. The main point of the presentation was however the feeling that the high framerate evoked.
Was it immersive? Yes, in a specific way. There was a sense of hyper-reality to it, that was absent from any other movie that I’ve seen so far. It did remind me of the immersiveness that one experiences when playing a good video game. Everything was crisp and clear. And like quite a few people before me I must say – unfortunately. The problem with this clarity was that it allowed me to see every detail of the props and sets, and left nothing to my imagination. I saw every flaw and this made me painfully aware of the low budget of the production. This sensation did not allow me to lose myself in the movie, and only compounded the weakness of the story.
What Trumbull proposes is a completely different esthetic experience. Is it more immersive? Diffucult to say. I can certainly see how the high frame rate projection can be used for making great installations in museums and places where such hyper-reality can be appreciated in full. Whether it’s a way to create a compelling movie, I’m not sure. I guess I will have to wait for the second part of Avatar, because the first Hobbit failed to grasp me as well.
To be fair, the main issue I had with Hobbit was that at the place where I saw it, it was utterly dark. I don’t know how bright the projection was, but it must have been something like 1.5 foot-lamberts or even less (if possible at all). I simply could not enjoy the movie which I could not see, and the high frame rate did really nothing for me there.
And this is the place where my second IBC experience comes in. The latest pre-sequel of the Planet of the Apes was shown at 14 foot-lamberts, using the newest Christie 6-primary laser projectors on a white screen in Dolby 3D. And it was awesome.
Let me now break down the tech-speak for you. Foot-lambert is an American unit of luminance, meaning how bright the white is on screen. 14 foot-lamberts is equivalent of roughly 48 candelas per square meter (the corresponding SI unit), meaning it’s as bright, as the brightest 2D projections. There really was no difference in the brightness that I could feel.
A white screen (as opposed to a silver screen) means that the illumination is uniform, and there are no hot-spots. The reason silver screens are used in 3D projections is strictly due to their better effectiveness of light reflection, but they always have the non-uniform brightness, as more light is reflected from the portion of the screen facing the viewer directly. Therefore sitting on a side when watching a movie on a silver screen might produce a suboptimal experience, shadowing the very middle, where the action is happening, and putting focus on the sidelines. This does not happen with white screens.
Finally, Dolby 3D is the way of projecting 3D in such a way that both pictures are on screen at the same time, and no polarized light is used, both of which can cause unpleasant experiences like nausea or headache. Dolby 3D indeed seems the easiest to watch and the best way to project 3D. It’s main problem was a very low light efficiency, thus the need for brighter projectors – and Christie did solve this issue in a great way. The overall effect was enhanced by Dolby Atmos sound system.
But, perhaps most importantly, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was a good movie with stunning visual effects. Premium 3D projection only added to the overall experience. 24 fps did not bother me at all. I felt immersed well enough. And I found out, that 3D movies can be fun to watch after all.