Restoration guru Robert Harris and I spent most of today (Friday, 8.10) visiting the legendary Douglas Trumbull — special-effects designer and innovator (Close Encounters, Blade Runner, Tree of Life), director of Brainstorm and Silent Running, the Thomas A. Edison of knockout movie concepts and visuals — on his sprawling estate in Southfield, Mass.
The highlight was experiencing (watching sounds too bland) Trumbull’s Magi, a mindblowing digital 3D projection system that delivers images at 120 frames per second and hefty woofer shake under your seat, and which turns you around in a way that feels pretty damn unique.
Douglas Trumbull, Robert Harris outside Magi projection facility.
Harris picked me up this morning at the new Danbury train station. (The old train station, located 150 feet to the east, is where Robert Walker‘s Bruno Antony disembarked in “Metcalf” in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Strangers on a Train.) We drove up interstate 84, over to Route 8, northwest on 44 and then due north on 272.
We pulled into Southfield a little after noon. We stopped at the Southfield Store for a rest and a light lunch, and arrived at the huge Trumbull compound (four or five large residences, a “mad genius” workshed, a couple of soundstages, a projection facility, a couple of garages, meadows with grazing donkeys and goats and towering trees all around) at 12:45 pm, give or take.
The Trumbull compound seemed larger than George Lucas‘s Skywalker Sound facility in northern Marin County. Try 50 acres. It’s homey and at the same time a kind of high-tech village. You need to drive to get from one end to the other.
Full of energy and sharp as a tack, Trumbull led us over to a “Magi pod” theatre, which seats 60 and uses a large, curved concave screen. He explained that Magi integrates virtual reality and augmented reality (seat rumblings), and that it’s the kind of thing that could re-energize moviegoing in an era of fading cinema attendance.
Boilerplate: Magi captures and projects images in 3D, 4K HD and 120 frames per second. Trumbull has developed a prefabricated “Magi Pod” theater, as most theatres are incapable of delivering the right stuff. Magi Pods can be shipped and assembled in a week. Each seat faces the center of a 36-foot-wide by 17-foot-tall screen. A 32-channel, surround-sound system provides strong, needle-sharp audio. The system produces a picture that’s way more immersive than regular 3D or IMAX.
Trumbull and a collaborator are writing a script called Lightship. I didn’t grill him on the specifics, but it’s some kind of high-tech, high-dynamic, eyeball-popping hair-raiser. Trumbull intends to direct Lightship with most of the principal photography to be captured in the compound.
Harris and I pushed on a little after 3 pm, and were both back at our respective homes less than three hours later.
Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train, right outside what is currently known as the “old” Danbury train station, sometime in ’50 or ’51.