We consider the problem of constructing a wave extrapolation operator in a variable and possibly anisotropic medium. Our construction involves Fourier transforms in space combined with the help of a lowrank approximation of the space-wavenumber wave-propagator matrix. A lowrank approximation implies selecting a small set of representative spatial locations and a small set of representative wavenumbers. We present a mathematical derivation of this method, a description of the lowrank approximation algorithm and numerical examples that confirm the validity of the proposed approach. Wave extrapolation using lowrank approximation can be applied to seismic imaging by reverse-time migration in 3D heterogeneous isotropic or anisotropic media. © 2012 European Association of Geoscientists & Engineers.