01 February 2008

Making Sensorama

I’m obsessed with Morton Heilig lately. He’s called “the father of virtual reality” with good reason.

When TV sucked the life out of the cinema in the 1950s, the cinema fought back with gimmicks like Cinerama, 3-D and Smell-O-Vision. Heilig, who was working as a Hollywood cinematographer, wanted to take the illusion of cinematic immersion one step further.

His Sensorama machine, patented in 1962, was a hot-bed of cutting-edge technology. The experience was essentially riding a motorbike through the streets, complete with stereo images (for which he invented a new camera and projector) and sound, smells (wafts of hibiscus and jasmine), bumps and shakes through the seat and handlebars and the wind in your hair. All senses covered.

Great idea but, as he said himself, “Sensorama may have been too revolutionary for its time.” It was a commercial flop.

That didn't deter him, however. In 1969 he patented the Experience Theatre, a version of the Sensorama for a larger audience. It was a theatre with a large semi-spherical screen showing 3D motion pictures, with peripheral imagery, directional sounds, scents, wind, temperature variations and body tilting in the seat. The audience was seated in the focus point in arena seating. It didn't take off either, but the Walt Disney Company soon patented a similar system, called Thrillerama.

1 comment:

Frank said...

An Experience Theatre sounds almost like a description of an Imax Theatre, but with smell & wind. Not sure if adding either of those to Beowulf would be a good thing, and I sure as hell don't want either if I go see U2 in 3D!