The promise of new technologies

Columns

In an exclusive interview in the March 2012 edition of FJI, Peter Ludé, president of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, talks with exhibition editor Andreas Fuchs about developments in motion picture technology that promise to make the cinema experience even more vivid and thrilling for tomorrow’s audiences.

Ludé, who is also senior VP of Sony Solutions Engineering, is currently helping prepare the April Technology Summit for Cinema (formerly known as the Digital Cinema Summit), a two-day program coinciding with the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual show in Las Vegas. The cinema-broadcasting link is a longstanding one. As Ludé notes, “Cinema technology has historically been in the forefront of motion-imaging invention. Over the years, revolutionary new technologies were first tested and proven in the movie theatre, only later to become mainstream in television broadcast or gaming.”

Needless to say, two of the hot topics at the Summit will be moviemaking with higher frame rates, and the coming of laser projection. “All of this is exciting to us technologists,” Ludé declares. “I spend a lot of time talking to exhibitors and they have confirmed their interest in all of these possibilities as well.”

Ludé, who wears a third hat as chairman of the Laser Illuminated Projection Association (LIPA), sees tremendous potential benefits in laser-based equipment. “A laser projector designed from the ground up will enable the use of different optics and overall system design, which would have advantages in brightness efficiency, contrast ratio, lower costs and smaller size,” he predicts. “It will also facilitate a greener environment—with less power consumption, fewer cooling vents and less carbon emission.” Not to mention the artistic possibilities of an expanded color gamut enabling audiences “to see something on the screen that has not been possible before.” Or course, new standards will need to be sorted out by the technology community before all this can happen.

The Society’s president is also intrigued by the campaign of top filmmakers James Cameron and Peter Jackson to implement higher frame rates in their productions. “Technologists as well have been noting for years that the use of 48 or 60 frames per second, especially for 3D, provides a very perceivable benefit, such as less eyestrain and more fluid 3D motion,” he says. “I think audiences will be excited about both of those [benefits].”

Ludé cites pioneering studies by Showscan inventor Douglas Trumbull of the effect of higher-frame-rate images on the typical viewer. Trumbull measured “people’s perspiration, heart rates, EKG while they watch movies to gauge their emotional reaction… His results indicated that the human visual system and brain respond incrementally as you raise the frame rate up somewhere in the mid-60s.”

Though Ludé’s purview encompasses the whole realm of visual media, he believes “cinema is the gold standard in terms of imaging technology. It is, in fact, the highest standard. Cinema is used for the most important stories told by the biggest-budget producers.

“It is a very exciting age for cinema now,” he concludes. “I think the whole movie experience is going to continue to evolve.”

Remembering Two Pioneers
Within a 72-hour time span in January, the movie business lost two respected pioneers. On Jan. 23, Bingham Ray, the newly appointed executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, died after suffering a series of strokes while in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. Ray was a key player in the renaissance of independent film in the 1990s, having co-founded October Films (the seed for today’s Focus Features) and masterminding the success of acclaimed features like Secrets & Lies and Breaking the Waves. From 2001 to 2004, he headed United Artists and assembled a slate including Hotel Rwanda and Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. An outspoken risk-taker, Ray was one of the most revered figures on the independent scene, as the flood of tributes from both colleagues and leading film critics attests.

Two days later, the exhibition community suffered the loss of one of its most familiar faces. Herb Burton served as executive director of the leading industry convention ShoWest for nearly two decades. He was there at the very beginning, when Robert Selig recruited him in 1974 to help organize a gathering of theatre owners from 13 Western states dubbed “Exhibitors West.” That show, now aligned with the National Association of Theatre Owners, officially became ShoWest in 1982, and Burton served as executive director from 1984 to 2000. ShoWest had a 28-year run as the premier convention of the motion picture theatre industry and evolved into today’s CinemaCon. Herb Burton’s leadership is a huge part of that legacy.