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Ladies and Gentlemen, This is MAGI Cinema
Find out about Douglas Trumbull's new digital MAGI Cinema process, and how it might change how you see films in the Cinema

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Thomas Hauerslev. Based on material supplied by Douglas Trumbull, Jim Slater, Cinema Technology, and various newspaper and magazine articles. Thanks to Paul Rayton Date: 01.11.2016
A bit of a warning for the weak-hearted and die-hard readers of in70mm.com. This text is about Douglas Trumbull's new digital process called MAGI Cinema. A process which may come to rival CINERAMA and Todd-AO where audience participation and sharp images are concerned. Something that should please CINERAMA and 70mm fans alike. Please try not to get a heart attack when I say, MAGI Cinema has the potential to be far better than any 7OMM system we know.

Please note: I have not yet personally SEEN this system in operation, and what I'm reporting here is based on Mr. Trumbull's assertions, along with reviews and opinions of others. It remains, for me, to be seen (literally and figuratively) if this MAGI lives up to its' promise -- and so I remain open-minded, while we venture into this new era of 'cinematic presentation experiences'... I'm very excited, and we can all hope this lives up to the hype! I still love 70mm film on film, but we must also be open to new developments in this age of technological revolution.

Here's how Doug Trumbull explains it:

"We are now in the digital age and my take on it is, it is now possible to make digital movies that are far superior to any film ever made on the planet, and part of the equation is the fact that digital cameras can operate easily at high frame rates, without any additional cost or any difficulty, and high frame rate gives you a quality that's impossible with film"

Douglas Trumbull, youtube interview

Under normal circumstances "Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk" would be a film which would get noticed on in70mm.com - provided it was filmed in 65mm or shown in 70mm. In this case, however, the filming and presentation of "Billy Lynn" is completely different from anything seen before in cinemas because it has been produced in something similar (but not the same as) to Douglas Trumbull's innovative High Impact MAGI Cinema digital 4K resolution, 120 frames per second, five times faster than usual, and 3D process. It is the first full length feature film made like this and it opens 11. November 2016. Doug Trumbull has said it almost like this:

"MAGI Cinema is a High-Impact cinema experience, specifically developed to show the motion picture industry what digital cinema REALLY can be, and it will show the audience what digital cinema REALLY means".

See "Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk" in full 120 fps / 4k / 3D at these cinemas:
• Cinerama Dome, Hollywood, USA
• AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, New York, USA
• 3 more cinemas in Asia

Films presented in MAGI is referred to, by people who have seen demonstrations, as being hyper-realistic, far brighter (up to 28 foot lamberts), sharper than anything seen previously, and in particular far better that any current 3D techniques. The screen simply disappears between the viewer and the action on the curved screen. The images you see appears REAL!

Films produced in MAGI, may well be the best match to classic 70mm film, and probably exceed it in sharpness and resolution. Potentially this could add a new dimension to the exhibition industry, and be a much needed leap ahead in audience immersivenes. It can change the way we experience motion pictures just like CINERAMA did in 1952, when films went from being almost square to very wide and with stereophonic sound.

“To me, it opens up this other new palette that isn’t virtual reality, and it isn’t a movie, either. It’s something else.”

Douglas Trumbull, bostonglobe.com, 31. jan. 2015

For nearly 90 years, almost every motion picture have been photographed with a speed of 24 frames per second. Every single second of a motion picture have been captured in the cameras with 24 individual pictures. The audience in the cinema have seen the same 24 pictures per second projected on the screen. Every film from "Gone with the Wind" to "Spectre" and 10.000s more, have been photographed like this. That is the way we see the world in the cinema and the standard by which we perceive the texture of "cinema". Doug Trumbull believes MAGI Cinema is the way forward for digital cinema, because MAGI takes full advantage of the capabilities of the digital projectors installed all over the world.

From the SONY web site:

Two-time Academy Award winner Ang Lee brings his extraordinary vision to "Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk", based on the widely-acclaimed, bestselling novel. The film is told from the point of view of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, the film reveals what really happened to the squad – contrasting the realities of the war with America’s perceptions. Lee used new technology, shooting at an ultra-high frame rate for the first time in film history, to create an immersive digital experience helping him dramatize war in a way never seen before.

More in 70mm reading:

Thoughts about 120 fps / 4K / 3D
Douglas Trumbull - A Conversation
High impact immersive widescreen filmmaking with Douglas Trumbull

A High Impact Experience in 70mm
The Best 70mm I have ever seen
The Future is Now
Showscan Films
"New Magic" in Showscan
The Impact of Showscan

PDF: The Brave New World of Cinema by Mark Trompeteler

Internet link:

"Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk"
nofilmschool.com #1
nofilmschool.com #2

PDF: Christie RGB Laser Brochure


"Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk"  - Immersive
Pushing the Limits of Cinema

Douglas Trumbull

Douglas Trumbull at work next to a camera at his Trumbull Studios in Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts.

Douglas Trumbull (b. 1942) is an American film director, special effects supervisor, inventor, innovator, and has been involved with motion pictures since the early 1960s. At the age of 25, he designed and photographed the Star Gate sequence of Stanley Kubrick's "2OO1: A Space Odyssey". Since "2OO1" he has directed "Silent Running", "Brainstom" and Universal Pictures' IMAX special-venue film "Back to the Future: The Ride". He has created visual effects for Steven Spieberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life", and the development of the revolutionary high frame rate Showscan process, for which he recieved the Academy's Scientific and Engineering Award in 1993.

"I think we should lift the quality of movies to a higher level of spectacle"

Douglas Trumbull

Stanley Kubrick wanted to make "2OO1" a first-person experience. Put the audience into space. Give them a feeling of being weightless, which is why he filmed in Super Panavision to get maximum resolution and detail, and had the film presented on huge curved CINERAMA screens. Flat screen does not work at all if you want to involve the audience. Young Douglas Trumbull was intrigued by this idea of audience participation and Stanley's vision. Stanley Kubrick was frustrated by the limitations of 24 frames pr second, as it ruined the illusion of space, when the stars would flicker if the cameras went by too fast. Doug Trumbull became interested in fast frame rates during the making of "2OO1" when he noticed some extremely odd things, when he was working on the editing machines. The machines could go very fast forward and in reverse with a much higher frame rate than the standard 24. The image changed, but he didn't investigate it until 10 years later by the mid '70s.

By the end of the 1970s Doug Trumbull had invented and patented the 60 frames per second 70mm process called Showscan and was planning to produce and direct "Brainstorm", the first feature film in the process. Showscan, however, was caught in a catch 22. The cinema loved it, but didn't want to install the equipment, since there were no films to show. The film companies loved it too, but they didn't want to produce any films, since there were no cinemas which could show it. "Brainstorm" fell through as a Showscan production and instead became Super Panavision 70mm for the hyper real sequences, and normal 1,66:1 35mm film for the rest. Instead Showscan went into the EXPO, theme park and ride business, and quite a lot of beautiful short films were made in the process.

Since the mid '80 he has lived in Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts, where he has sat up Trumbull Studios to work independently of Hollywood. In the early '90, Doug Trumbull joined IMAX Corporation, and helped them go public and develop "The IMAX Experience" we have today. He financed his studio with capital from IMAX Corporation, when he left that company. Trumbull Studios, "...our laboratory for the future of cinema", as he calls it, is a complete production facility to develop and demonstrate MAGI Cinema and the ultimate goal is to "create movie experiences more immersive than regular 3-D and and restore the joy of going out to the movies."

MAGI Cinema

UFOTOG Trailer
Magi Cinema Presentastion
Trumbull interview #1
Trumbull Interview #2

Press release: UFOTOG, an experimental sci-fi adventure in MAGI

Trumbull Studios
227 New Marlboro-Southfield Road
New Marlborough
MA 01230

42.111639, -73.238078

The Magi Cinema Experience

The Magi process is also compatible with Premium Large Format theaters, whether or not they have the latest 4K HFR and HDR capable dual laser projection systems such as those being offered by Christie, Dolby, Barco, and others.

Since the late 1920's, when sound was introduced on film, film speed has been set at 24 frames pr second in motion pictures and it has not changed since. That was OK in 1927, and the absolute minimum with which sound could be played without too much distortion. Below 22 fps, flicker and strobing are introduced, especially in bright scenes. To smooth out this unwanted effect, the film projector is showing each frame twice, giving the audience a pseudo impression of 48 frames pr. second. When fast action is photographed, a lot of motion blur is also introduced with loss of detail, and the illusion of reality is completely lost. This is particular bothersome in 3D, as it causes eyestrain. "3D is simply not very good", he says. All digital projectors are aligned for the ANSI/SMPTE standard of 16 Ffl +/-2 and are only half as bright as MAGI. In 3D it is even worse, since filters in the projector takes about half the light, and then again the glasses takes another half, leaving only 3 to 4 foot lamberts of light to the audience.

Apart from film speed, almost every other aspect of film has been improved the past 90 years. When the exhibition industry jumped to digital, film speed remained the same. With the introduction of digital cinema, quality was generally lowered compared to 35mm film. Agreed, presentation looks very good in 2k. There are no scratches, no jump or weave, splices, broken or scratched films etc. But the 2k quality is much lower compared to old fashioned 35mm film, let alone 70mm quality. There was one advantage of digital projectors, however: In 2009 Doug Trumbull realised that almost all modern digital projectors run at 144 frames pr. second by default. Unlike 35mm film, digital projectors flashes each film frame 5-6 times. Doug Trumbull decided to investigate if this technology could be used for a more immersive cinema experience. "We can now do Showscan without the limitations we used to have, and at twice the speed!". Doug Trumbull decided to go for 120 frames pr. second and a very bright screen, twice the speed of Showscan, to create a totally different sensation for the audience. Doug Trumbull was stunned at the result when he saw their first test footage. The screen went away entirely, and the 3D was perfect and all the problems of normal 3D were eliminated with the high frame rate, increased resolution and a very bright screen.

"What we try to do here is to create a whole new viewing experience. An experience where people are not just viewing the movie but being a part of it."

Dougas Trumbull, berkshireeagle.com, 11. March, 2016

"UFOTOG" demo film demonstrates what the Magi process is all about. Digital photographic and projection technology that can be used in new or existing theaters. Conventionally configured theaters, regardless of seat number or screen size, do not offer an experience that compares to the MAGI Pod.

He made a 10 minute short film in MAGI called "UFOTOG", which demonstrates all that can be done with high frame rate, 4K resolution, a very bright screen and 3D. The response has been overwhelming, and several of Hollywood's directors and producers have already found their way to New Marlborough to see what Doug Trumbull is working on. "My main objective, is to show to the industry what is possible to do with MAGI", he says. "MAGI isn't for all films, like 3D isn't for all films, however, if you have a story that requires the audience to get a feeling of participation, MAGI's hyper-reality is the way forward". The 3D is exceptional, almost to the point of perfect, and many say it is the best they have ever seen. At 120 fps, blur is completely gone. "Blur makes it difficult for our visual systems to fuse the images, which can cause eyestrain", according to Tim J. Smith, a visual scientist at Birkbeck, University of London.

It has always been Doug Trumbull's personal ambition to involve the audience much more in the action on the screen. He wants to enhance cinema going and involve the viewer in the action. He, like his mentor Kubrick before him, wants it to be a first person experience. Audience participation is the ultimate goal for any film maker. Doug Trumbull developed MAGI for this purpose, and he feels this is something the motion picture production and exhibition industry must consider to implement to survive. The cinemas are not selling enough tickets for various reasons.

"There is every reason to understand why the audience is turning away, cause it [3D] gives you a headache, it gives you eye strain, it's hard to watch, you can't see the detail. You are struggling to watch this movie. If you watch it at home, it's gonna be much better, because every computer, every smart phone and every tablet is at about 50 foot lamberts of brightness. It's a much better experience in many ways. The color saturation is greater. The sharpness is greater. The brightness is greater, so you can see reasons why the audience are defecting from theatres to see things more comfortably, more conveniently, at a lower cost streaming them at home. The quality is just too low".

Douglas Trumbull, youtube conversation

The industry has to think beyond 24 frames pr second and reinvent exhibition. The audience is going away, cinemas are suffering and they mostly make their money on popcorn and Coca Cola. The audience can get high quality pictures and entertainment almost anywhere. 4K streaming is available over the internet directly to peoples homes. In 2020 the Olympics from Tokyo will be broadcast in 8K! There is every reason the industry should try to add something new to the palette of tools. MAGI Cinema offers a new level of digital cinema, and new possibilities with 120 fps. It is bigger, brighter, clearer and with greater depth-of-field than anything ever seen in a cinema before. The almost hyper-real image quality of MAGI Cinema's 120 fps, 3D and 4K resolution also ensures it is NOT something the audience can get at home - yet! MAGI is an immersive experience they can only get in cinemas.

The Magi Pod

The MAGI Pod demo cinema  located at the Trumbull Studios with Christie's Mirage 4KLH projectors which delivers 65 fl on the screen. 60 seats, a curved MAGI screen, and curved seating.

To get the full advantage of MAGI, Doug Trumbull is proposing to build a new kind of cinema called the MAGI Pod. A relatively small high-impact mini cinema with 60 seats, a 11 x 5 m curved MAGI screen, and curved seating to ensure everyone is looking at the center of the screen. The screen is curved to reflect three times as much light to the audience. It is a new kind of cinema optimized for the MAGI experience with a field of view lager than most cinemas have today. The MAGI Pod can be prefabricated and sent to the cinemas, and set up in a week. It's almost Showscan specs, with a wide wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling curved screen, 32-channels of Dolby Atmos surround sound, stadium seating, but with the added advantage of a 4K high-resolution projector.

"I am fundamentally against flat screens. If you want a flat screen, stay home and watch television"

Douglas Trumbull, youtube interview

Ideally "Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk" will be presented in some MAGI Pod cinemas, with Christie's Mirage 4KLH projectors which delivers 65 fl on the screen, with 28 fl behind Dolby's 3D glasses, but those projectors are not available yet, except for the trade shows and festival screenings so far. And there is only one prototype MAGI Pod cinema, and it's located at the Trumbull Studios. It is expected that only very few conventional cinemas will show “Billy Lynn” entirely as intended by the film makers.

Sony is planning a limited release of “Billy Lynn” in New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Taiwan in full 3D / 4K / 120 versions. The sound is formatted for 32 channels of Dolby Atmos. The amount of data needed for 120 fps/4K/3D is staggering too. About 40 times the data compared to normal 2D / 24 fps / 2K image. For general release SONY has also indicated three preferred formats, all prepared by director Ang Lee in 2D / 120 fps / 2K, 3D / 60 fps / 2K and 2D / 60 fps / 2K. All of which can all be run on a single series II projector. "24 frames plus" versions edited down from 120 fps might also be available, and will give the audience more details than any standard 24 fps motion picture.

Magi is completely compatible with the existing global exhibition business, although when down-converted to a lower brightness or smaller screen, the impact is greatly reduced. This assures full penetration into all markets, including television, streaming, and downloading – although the Magi 3D impact will be lost.

Sony is planning to release Billy Lynn in three preferred formats - all in SMPTE-DCP (Type A):

• 3D60-2K (250Mb/s)
• 2D60-2K (250Mb/s)
• 2D120-2K (250Mb/s)

The Magi screen is much wider and more deeply curved. Every seat faces the screen, in steeply raked stadium style, with no distortion, no bright or dim spots, and no uncomfortable viewing angles. The sound system and acoustics are unique as well – offering sound quality and low frequencies that do not exist anywhere else.

• Patented single projector process delivering 4K 3D at 120 fps
• 5x frame rate, 4x resolution, 4x brighter, 4x larger field of view
• Less expensive per seat than any other Premium Large Format (PLF) offering
• Unprecedented 3x gain hemispherically curved “torus” screen offers very wide 3D
• Thundering 32 channel surround sound with frequency response of 1 Hz - 20 kHz

Douglas Trumbull feels the weak link is exhibition and that presentation of films can be improved a lot. He wanted to make the audience feel they are entering the holo-deck of Star Trek, or a time machine when they go in to see a film produced in MAGI. He tried to make the theatre itself an object of interest, unlike modern multiplexes, which he feels are boring. He had to design a new theatre built of modular pre-fabricated elements. A complete theatre, with incredible Dolby Atmos sound system and acoustics. It's an oval object, and looks like an easter egg with a deeply curved high gain screen, great sight lines, and curved stadium seating. It's unlike any theatre you have ever been in. It's not rectangular, it does not have flat walls or a flat screen. The MAGI Pod arrives in your multiplex in a 40" container, like a mobile home, when a crew of 5-6 men assemble it in a week, and then you are up and running with this completely new cinematic experience.

The MAGI Pod is not only an idea for cinemas, but also for an almost unlimited number of theme parks, zoos, planetariums, cruise ships, universities, museums, etc. It can go in anywhere. The only prototype and demo theatre yet built is at Trumbull Studios in Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts.


".......(I) was astonished to be completely ‘blown away’ by the clip from Billy Lynn. Without any doubt at all these were the best 3D cinema images I have ever seen - sharp, clear, with enormous depth of field when appropriate - yes, in many ways it was like looking out of a window onto a very bright outdoor scene."

Jim Slater, Cinema Technology

"It was an overwhelmingly realistic and intimate, immersive, first-person experience"

Martin Howe, blooloop.com

"... the images in “Billy Lynn” have an astonishing clarity and physical presence".

Variety's review 14.10.2016

"When I left this incredible experience at NAB, I was trembling and terrified, as though I was actually in that experience. We saw the future, and I am enormously grateful that Ang Lee made this happen for us all"

Bill Desowitz, indiewire.com


High Expectations

Years ago in Bradford I attended a lecture by John Belton (Author "Widescreen Cinema" (1992) & Professor of English and Film at Rutgers University). One of his key messages about digital cinema was "Digital does not add anything new to the cinema experience". Digital simply tries to be like film with 24 frames per second. Earlier cinematic process developments, like CinemaScope, Cinerama, VistaVision, Todd-AO etc, were all designed to involved the audience in the action and give them a more immersive experience with larger negatives, bigger screens, stereo sound and higher frame rate. Digital cinema offers no new innovations to give the audience a new experience or a more immersive experience.

I am a big fan of high frame rate and the experience of how realistic things get, when the frame rate goes up. I have seen both Todd-AO at 30 fps, Cinerama at 26 fps, and the best of all, 70mm Showscan projected at a staggering 60 frames pr. second. Showscan is by far the best, most realistic, and most impressive motion picture system I have ever seen. Unfortunately it did not go anywhere with dramatic films. My memory of 60 fps has stayed with me for 25 years and I recently became excited when I saw the news about Mr. Lee's new film photographed at 120 fps. 120 fps will ensure more detail and brightness - something I miss in 3D, which I why I almost never see 3D. It's too dark with current technology, and doesn't add anything to the cinema experience for me.

MAGI Cinema sets new standards for the movie makers, they have to unlearn all they know, and go boldly into new territories. Actors must learn new ways to act, set decoration must be much better, cinematographers must learn how to shoot dramas at 120 fps. etc, etc. Cinema audience must appreciate this as something all new and embrace it as a new form of entertainment, which is very different from ordinary cinema.

"The horrifying thing for filmmakers is that maybe you're not good enough for the medium. Maybe it's better than you are."

Ang Lee, nofilmschool.com, 20. October 2016

Being a former projectionist, the immersive experience and picture quality on the curved screen has always been my interest. For me 7OMM film has always been the best, and it has thrilled me for nearly 40 years. Now it seems, there is something that can match it, and maybe even do it better. My feeling is that MAGI Cinema is a totally new concept of movie going, so unlike anything we have seen previously. It is a look into what is possible with audience participation and technology. I certainly welcome "movies without filter". MAGI is not cinema as I know it. It's a new experience which sounds far better, because at 120 fps, everything is suddenly visible. The 4th wall disappears and you are fooled to believe what you see is real. Exactly like when a theatre curtain goes up in a live theatre and you see the stage and actors. The scene is real and you understand that. MAGI Cinema is like looking at the real world, only this is an illusion of reality, where the illusion seems entirely real. I am very exited by this, and I can't wait to see it. Doug Trumbull's MAGI Cinema endeavour reminds me a little bit about Fred Waller who envisioned CINERAMA, and Mike Todd who envisioned Todd-AO 60+ years ago, and they both changed the way we see films. This is 21st century and like Lowell Thomas once introduced CINERAMA, someone ought to say "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THIS IS MAGI CINEMA!"

See "Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk" in full 120 fps / 4k / 3D at these cinemas:
• Cinerama Dome, Hollywood, USA
• AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, New York, USA

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Updated 21-01-24