Trumbull had first come to the public's attention for his work on the ground-breaking special effects in movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He also directed 1972's Silent Running, widely considered a classic of 1970s film science fiction.
The Showscan Film process was developed in the late '70s and early '80s by Trumbull, when he became interested in increasing the fidelity or definition of movies. Similar to the quality issues addressed later by high-definition television, the then-state of the art of movies suffered from the limitations of the medium. When projected onto a large screen, the film grain of 35 mm film stock is often quite visible, which reduces the quality of the displayed image, a problem further exacerbated by the larger grain used in the fast film stock often used to capture high-speed action. Trumbull chose a 65 mm film stock for his new process to address this, providing a higher resolution image.
Trumbull also did research into frame rate, running a series of tests with 35 mm stock filmed and projected at various speeds, shown to audiences who were instrumented to biometrically test their responses. He found that as the frame rate increased, so did the viewer's emotional reaction.
Trumbull discovered that although viewers see smooth motion from film displayed at 24 frames per second (fps), the standard in motion pictures for decades, they are subconsciously still aware of the flicker. This awareness reduces the emotional impact of the film. As the speed of projection ramped up, so did the emotional response.
The 1983 feature film Brainstorm was intended to be the first Showscan film, but plans fell through. Since then, Showscan has been used mostly for short ride films in conjunction with powered motion simulator seats.
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