When Film Invades Your Brain: New Technologies Pushing the Cinematic Experience
Here on No Film School we're pretty divided about where we think the future of the theatrical experience is headed. Should we bother saving the popcorn and scratchy seats, or is a decent screen and speaker setup, where you can watch movies in the comfort of your underwear, all we need? In a new installment of Tribeca's The Future of Film, guest writer Andrei Severny takes a look at new technologies that reinvent the experience of film, and predicts that future theater-going may happen "in your mind." [Cue Phillip Glass and ethereal AE template.]
The title of filmmaker Andrei Severny's Tribecafilm.com guest post reads: "The Movie Theater of the Future Will Be In Your Mind". And he means it, literally. Severny goes over technologies that are being developed now, and how he thinks they will affect the form of filmmaking in the future. First, he says the old habit of watching Talkies at the Picture House is on its way out altogether:
Theaters will gradually move away from looking at a rectangle of light in a dark room and evolve into large-scale public attractions becoming urban theme parks, where cinema is only part of the experience.
Severny starts by pointing out technologies that are taking the traditional four wall experience to a new level, like with the pairing of SEGA and BBC Earth to create the Orbi in Yokohama, Japan. Here is a model of the new space (help with translation for the ending, please) that opened in August:
The BBC describes this fantastic looking place as a multi-sensory approach to a theater:
Spanning an incredible 40 metres across and eight metres high, the Main Theatre screen is uniquely curved to surround the audience with nature. A sophisticated 22 point sound system adds to the experience with 3D soundscapes that create the effect of polar bears stalking up behind the audience, birds soaring overhead and ocean waves crashing all around. The experience is completed with scent technology, wind, fog, strobe lighting and vibrations to create the ultimate nature film experience.
This looks like an amazing way to watch BBC Earth, and sharing the experience in a big museum-like space certainly would encourage one to get off the couch to see it. However, some of us have probably been on Disney's California Adventure ride -- the one where they pump orange smelling puffs into the audience as you sit a few feet off the ground, simulating flight over California orange groves -- and it didn't exactly alter cinema as we know it. Is the concept of being tethered to a screen itself the very thing that is holding us back from a higher form of film? Severny points to current technology that will take us beyond the one-way screen:
There will be a merging of gaming and movies. First, through technologies emerging today – ﬂexible screens, motion controls, haptic - or tactile - technology, smart glasses, virtual and augmented reality. The merging of real and projected worlds will produce a seamless experience – a complete illusion of being part of a ﬁlm.
Engadget highlighted two haptic display technologies that will be featured at this week's symposium on User Interface Systems and Technology, the first being Disney's new algorithm for 3D tactile features on live content:
The second comes from UltraHaptics, who are using high-frequency sound waves that don't require users to touch a screen at all:
There is still a screen present in both examples I've given, so how exactly would these technologies become the future of a screenless cinema? Skipping a few points, Severny ultimately feels that they will eventually bring the story experience to a cognitive level where it will replace our world with a virtual one:
A truly dramatic change will come once scientists discover a way to manipulate senses directly through the brain. That is when cinema will quite literally start to merge and replace real life. In the new, enhanced reality people will visit other planets, venture deep into the oceans and inside volcanoes, or travel in time, all from wherever they happen to be. Software and sometimes robots will explore the unreachable physical world instead of people to collect real-time data and feed human senses.
If you're imagining Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall right now, then that makes two of us.
While there is no doubt that technology is heading in the direction that would make these full-sensory virtual playgrounds possible, how much better will this be than current storytelling experiences? Which technologies are gimmicks, and which might actually elevate the human experience? I mean, there is already a technology that manipulates the brain into experiencing other planets, travels in time, and so on: reading a book.
Do you think a virtual inter-brain experience is the way forward for storytelling? Which technologies are actually elevating our experiences? And lastly, it may just be nostalgia, but isn't the 1990 Total Recall so much better than the remake?
Share your thoughts below!