Features





Moving pictures: An in-depth look at enhanced '4D' experiences

Aug 16, 2013

-By Andreas Fuchs


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1382898-4D_Md.jpg
Film was once called “the language of sight and sound.” And that’s all that was needed creatively for “the seventh art,” as the French like to think of cinema. As of late, however, audiences are engaging all five senses at the movies and exhibitors have had to use their sixth sense to figure out what’s next.
 
As we enter the fourth dimension, Film Journal International is here to help, as always, and has collected detailed information and insightful advice from the key players in the area of “4D experiences.” Personally, this author prefers to call them “enhanced experiences” and our system experts are using words like tactile, immersive and augmented in describing their offerings. “Movement makes the movie more appealing, it adds another sensory experience,” explains Robert Desautels from D-BOX. “We strive to enhance that experience and leave customers always wanting more.”

As if virtually unlimited sound, 3D and higher frame rates of 48 fps (and more) were not enough, the latest cinema technologies are shaking seats and giving moviegoers sonic kicks in the butt. They blow water and wind into their faces, and scents to their noses. Smell-O-Vision and Rocky Horror all around.

“If bigger was once better, then enveloping all of our five senses is the next frontier,” opines Bruce Greenberg of CJ 4DXPlex. “Enhanced experiences are the next logical step in bringing back what was once lost and creating an atmosphere only available in theatres.” Alison Jamele of MediaMation X4D agrees that “theatres will continue to do whatever they can” by providing additional incentives to see movies in cinemas “as long as it shows a positive return. 4D is proving to be a powerful ally in that regard with higher attendance, longer runs, and increased revenue that is directly attributed to the up-charge in the ticket sales.”

“On average, three out of four people,” research at Guitammer confirms, “would pay more for a ButtKicker enhanced experience.” While the company’s Mark Luden knows that “my parents, who are in their early 80s, would not choose a ButtKicker theatre, nor a 3D or large-format venue for that matter, the 18-to-35 age group, and even 25-to-54 audiences who want a bigger, immersive movie, rate the ButtKicker experience even higher.”

The last word before signing over to the experts goes to the latest exhibitor to get on the ride, enhancing several multiplexes across Croatia and the former Yugoslavia with CJ 4DXPlex technology. “Blitz-CineStar continuously invests in the installment of the most up-to-date technology in all of its theatre complexes,” assures member of the company board Damir Milinić. “We were the first in the region to introduce digital 3D, eXtreme theatres, Auro 11.1 3D sound, IMAX and Gold Class formats. 4DX is another great cinematic experience that will indulge our customers, and give our theatres another exclusive and exciting note.”


Thinking Inside the (D-)Box

“D-BOX stands for Digital Box, as our server is the “brain” of our system and we are compatible only with digital movies.” Robert Desautels, senior VP of marketing at D-BOX Technologies, explains how the Canadian designer and manufacturer of motion systems for the entertainment and simulation industries came up with the name. “Movement makes the movie more appealing, it adds another sensory experience,” he elaborates. “D-BOX makes it so real, you’ll have a complete experience. Sitting in our motion effects [MFX] seats, you are right alongside your favorite characters: If Vin Diesel revs his car, you feel as if your own car is revving; if Sylvester Stallone shoots a round of ammo, each bullet, each shot and impact is felt. Even the subtlest of movements—the flit of a bee, the low rumble of a train—each movement makes the experience that much closer to reality.”

Key theatrical titles coded in D-BOX include Inception, The Expendables, The Hunger Games, Marvel’s The Avengers and Iron Man 3. Coming up in September and October are Riddick, Rush and, even more fittingly perhaps, Gravity. More than 200 theatres from key exhibitor partners such as Cineplex Entertainment, Cobb, Muvico, Cineworld and Odeon have installed D-BOX. In addition to North America and the United Kingdom, D-BOX MFX seating is available in Peru, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Slovakia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. “And counting,” Desautels assures.

How do you describe the D-BOX experience?
D-BOX provides an unmatched and realistic immersive experience. Our technology allows you to “feel” exactly what’s happening onscreen, as if you were part of the scene. We aim to replicate reality, without the gimmicks. The motion is so precise, the moviegoer will forget he’s sitting in a theatre! The D-BOX experience is a truly unique one, in that it provides the missing element to the cinematic experience. While some have tried to break the last barrier of the cinematic viewing process by adding gimmicks that can sometimes distract and take away from the movie, at D-BOX we add our motion seamlessly and do not distract from the film. We strive to enhance the experience and leave customers always wanting more.

What makes D-BOX special?
The precision of the movements. We really make you feel as if you’re in the car alongside your heroes in a Fast & Furious, for example, or as if you’re jumping out of a plane. We provide movements and vibrations so you can feel all the textures in the movie. D-BOX adds motion to the movie experience by artistically and logically creating MFX effects throughout the film. Our motion coders invest much time and creative energy to ensure the best possible experience for all customers and a motion experience of the utmost quality.

How do you work with the filmmakers on determining the activity levels and timing of effects? On average, how many movements/effects are chosen? And does any particularly effective film come to mind?

We work with the post-production team of the studio. We only put motion where the movie calls for it. Usually a two-hour film will have about 30 to 40 minutes of motion. We don’t want to distract from the movie, we want to immerse. So when scenes call for action (fight, races, etc.) we put the motion from subtle to intense, depending on the scene.

Generally, our motion coders provide the information as number of MFX events, MFX total time and MFX percentage. But it is hard to say which title that we have completed had the most effects or most diverse mix. But it is safe to say that classic chase scenes, gunshots, fight scenes, explosions, natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornados, storms, etc. all lend themselves for fantastic possible MFXs.

What is the basic technical backbone of the system and how does it work?
The backbone of our system is our proprietary software with which we encode movies, called “D-BOX Motion Code.” We are part of the movie tracks, after audio and visual. Each movement and vibration is created on a separate track and precisely linked to the audio and visual tracks. It is then packaged and put on the d-cinema server. The code is read by our motion controller, the “brain” of the system, which than sends the signal to each individual seat. All that in milliseconds, so that the moviegoer feels the movement precisely when it’s happening. Each seat is also equipped with a control that allows the moviegoer to set the intensity level, from high, to medium, to low, to none. It makes the experience totally personalized and individual.

Can theatres be retrofitted? What does it take?

Theatres can be easily retrofitted. Our model calls for usually two rows in the auditorium, so the theatre does not have to change all the seats of the auditorium. Our D-BOX seats are VIP seats and are in the prime location within the theatre. Therefore, we do not do full theatre installation, as this would hinder the VIP quality and specialty feel of the D-BOX seats.

We can install a theatre within two to three days, so there’s very low disruption for the exhibitor. At D-BOX we have our own installation team, which guarantees quality and service. We also give training on the server and provide marketing tools and training to help exhibitors sell their new acquisition quickly and efficiently.

What’s your five-sentence sales pitch to cinema operators?
D-BOX is a great differentiating asset for exhibitors. It caters to the need of their clientele in an innovative way: It offers moviegoers an unmatched, realistic, immersive experience and assigned seating, increasing advance ticket sales and online reservations. We also offer a steady flow of content with blockbuster movies from the biggest Hollywood studios.

How about the audience? What do moviegoers say?
We conducted multiple surveys with the independent firm IPSOS (formerly OTX) and are very proud of the guest satisfaction rate. Ninety-one percent of our customers would recommend D-BOX to a friend and feel that D-BOX has a positive price/value correlation. Those numbers speak high of us. Once moviegoers have tried D-BOX, they’re usually hooked!


Kick-Ass Too

“Well, of course, the cinema experience is always being enhanced to make it as special and enjoyable as possible,” agrees Mark Luden, president of Ohio-based Guitammer Company. “That is what filmmakers, theatre owners and operators and especially the public want: the best possible experience!” As a leader in low-frequency sound products and makers of the ButtKicker transducer technology, that very experience is all about sound vibration for Luden. “Unfortunately, subwoofers can be limited in their usefulness,” he reasons. “At certain levels required to fully bring out the soundtrack, it may become too loud for some. It might even be felt or heard in another auditorium in the same complex. Sound vibration or a more ‘tactile’ experience is a great solution…to best serve the film’s audience.”

In addition to Alamo Drafthouse, IMAX and Digiplex Destinations in Solon, Ohio, kicking some audience butts, Lumière Pavilions just secured its ninth and tenth cinema installations as well as expanding an existing ButtKicker screen. At the new sites, the Beijing, China-based operator is enabling almost 500 seats as part of its LD-branded auditorium model, which account for 11% and 18% of total seating capacity per complex. Luden relays what Lumière has lauded as “the accurate effect” produced by the transducers. “Their affordability and their ability to be added to any and all types of seating—without having to purchase specialty seats—make them an attractive and profitable addition to their theatres and an integral part of their customers’ overall experience. It is also important to note that Lumière is able to charge one-and-a-half times their 3D ticket price [approx. US$18] for their 4D experience that includes the ButtKicker.”

In total, over 10,000 seats at more than 86 entertainment locations in 11 countries are now ButtKicker-enabled, including movie theatres in the U.S., Russia, South Korea and China. “We also have a sizable pipeline of prospective theatre installations around the world that we are working towards securing this year,” Luden assures. “The design of the product should not be overlooked, as it gives the audience the great experience that the theatre operators are wanting to provide. It does not fail nor does it need to be maintained. Our total cost of ownership is very, very affordable now and over the long term.” Luden offers more details in the following Q&A.

How do you describe the ButtKicker experience? What makes it special?
It is like a silent subwoofer that allows you to feel the bass—low end—without the excessive volume and sound pressure level a subwoofer produces. It is accurate, nuanced and, most importantly, does not stand apart from the rest of the movie experience. ButtKicker brand products are special because they are musically accurate, powerful, virtually indestructible and follow the soundtrack with absolute precision automatically.

How did you come up with the name?

The company’s founder, Ken McCaw, and a drummer friend of his were searching for a way to feel the low-end notes from the drums and bass without making the stage monitors so loud. They just want to “get their butts kicked” and the name ButtKicker was born. We tried to give it a more politically correct name, but everyone simply referred to the final consumer product as a ButtKicker, so we smiled and decided to use that name, which is now a registered trademark.

What is the basic technical backbone of the system and how does it work?
The backbone of the system is audio from the cinema system itself, along with amplifiers that send this low-end audio signal to the ButtKicker units. Affixed to the seats themselves or to the stanchions, one unit typically shakes either one or two seats. Very little configuration—Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and level setting—is required, and it works with every movie. Additionally, no maintenance is required and the ButtKicker units do not harm or loosen the seats in any way. We’ve had large commercial installations running for almost ten years now without a single failure in any part of the system.

Do you recommend select rows or the entire auditorium?
Because the entire auditorium is a special experience for the audience, our customers and partners install the system so that every seat is ButtKicker-enabled… To install an entire 300-seat auditorium with our system costs less than one or two rows of motion-based systems, as the ButtKicker set-up costs less than 10% to 20% of those other systems. It is an incredibly affordable enhancement, and especially so when compared to the other solutions out there. It supports a higher ticket price if the operator so desires. And, of course, it is much simpler to manage.

How easily can theatres/seats be retrofitted? What does it take and how long on average?
Most every type of seat can be retrofitted with our product set as we offer three different sizes of the ButtKicker transducer. We can also develop and help to get fabricated any specialized mounting brackets that might be needed. Low-voltage speaker wire runs from the amplifiers in the control room or projection area to the ButtKicker units underneath the auditorium and then along the back of each riser in wire molding. The connection to the cinema system is literally one wire and our engineers can help explain which channels should be given to the ButtKicker system, what the DSP settings should be and how to set the overall ButtKicker system levels.

Older sloped auditoriums can be retrofitted as well, but they are not as easy as those with stadium-style seating. On average, once the mounting is determined and all parts are secured, a 300-seat auditorium can be installed in two to three weeks without having to be shut down.

And working with filmmakers and studios is easy too?
No additional approval is necessary, as we are exactly like a subwoofer in reproducing the Hollywood soundtrack…when the filmmaker wanted it to be experienced. Because ButtKicker’s products accurately reproduce the effect of each movie’s existing .1 LFE (Low Frequency Effect) and bass soundtrack, with no special processing or coding requirements, they can be used with all types of movies that will run in the auditorium. That is one of our best selling points.

What’s your five-sentence sales pitch to cinema operators?
We only need four sentences. 4D theatres powered by ButtKicker can increase attendance and profits by enabling the operator to have a significantly lower cost of ownership for comparable immersive experiences; have the ability to retrofit existing theatres, making their ROI equation compelling with or without an increase in ticket prices; and the ability to partake in recurring revenue sharing that can increase profitability.


5 Senses, 4DX Experience

“We are privileged to be able to help our exhibitor partners create a place where movies can go beyond the screens,” says Bruce Greenberg, the Hollywood-based senior VP of CJ 4DPlex. Launched in 2009 by South Korea’s CJ CGV, one of the largest theatre chains in Asia, “we are on target to grow to more than 100 screens by the end of this year, providing the 4DX experience to more than one million filmgoers a week.” 4DX is an immersive cinematic experience that uses seat motion and environment effects like wind, water, fog, lighting and even scent-based special effects.

With premium large-format screens, 3D, higher frame rates and immersive sound already stretching technology and budgets, why should we take the cinema experience even further? “If bigger was once better, then enveloping all of our five senses is the next frontier. More and more people are starting to prefer the comforts of their own home and the essence of going to a movie has slowly been lost. Enhanced experiences are the next logical step in bringing back what was once lost and creating an atmosphere only available in theatres.” Greenberg also reminds us that “all cinematic experiences are about gathering around a fire to hear a story, just like our ancestors did tens of thousands of year ago. With each passing year we have evolved and it only makes sense to move forward and create a new way of storytelling that brings joy to audiences everywhere.”

And indeed, nine different exhibitors—Blitz CineStar, CJ CGV, Cinépolis, Major Cineplex, CinemaCity, CinemaPark, Korona World, Vieshow Cinemas and Cine Hoyts—operate 58 screens with nearly 11,000 seats in more than 17 countries (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Israel, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and the former Yugoslavia region, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Chile). “Our newest site in Chile with our partner Cine Hoyts marks the southernmost point our 4DX theatres have reached. Russia is our northernmost point, creating a nearly 10,000-mile [16,093 km] difference between our two farthest points. Between the two, 4DX is available to nearly one billion people. 4DX is expanding consistently with market size and developing aggressively around the world.”

4DX theaters have shown more than 120 films since Avatar became the first in 2009, with an average of three to four available each month. Other key titles are Marvel’s The Avengers, Pacific Rim, The Amazing Spider-Man, Titanic, How to Train Your Dragon, and Greenberg’s personal favorite in 4DX. “There are far too many to have to choose. Every movie we work on, we do our best to make sure that the audience will enjoy their experience. If I have to name one, I’d say Iron Man 3.” In addition to these blockbusters, “we are constantly striving to have local as well as alternative content available in 4DX,” he says. “As 4DX grows each year, our total number of available films grows as well... So far this year, we have released more than 30 titles in 4DX, with more to come throughout the remainder of the year.” Greenberg elaborates in the following Q&A.

How do you describe the 4DX experience? How did you come up with the name?

2D allows audiences to watch the movie, 3D allows them to really see the movie, but 4D now allows them to be immersed with the movie. But “4D” alone did not give enough merit to our name. The “X” signifies an extreme and, with our advanced technologies and unprecedented ability to create an immersive experience, “4DX” was born.

4DX has taken the cinematic encounter to the next step by allowing audiences to “live the experience.” Now, each visit to the theatre can bring a new level of excitement, transforming the movie into a multisensory interaction. We are going beyond the screen and creating a unique moviegoing experience only available in 4DX theatres.

What makes 4DX special?

We are the industry leader in multiple points of cinema immersion as well as provide a communal experience for moviegoers. Instead of a technology, we come from a creative standpoint, working to stimulate audiences beyond the audiovisual limits of an average movie theatre.

Multiple effects are really just multiple ways to communicate with the audience. Each effect creates an additional layer of character perception onscreen as well as enhances the dramatic nature of the environments these characters are engaged in. 4DX continuously develops diverse 4D effects to engage audiences to the next level of the cinematic experience.

How do you work with the filmmakers on determining the activity levels and timing of effects?
Our challenge is timing. By the time we are engaged in a movie, we are under 30 days to opening deadline. Sometimes our creative teams are working round the clock. Each of our distribution partners has a method of working with talent on our projects. We prepare our version of the movie for our distributors to go through a quality-control screening. During that Q/C screening, the post-production supervisor and director will provide comment and feedback. We will make those changes and then have a follow-up showing.

Do you have detailed numbers on how many movements/effects there are in a given movie? And do any particularly effective films come to mind?
There is no magic number on how many chair movements or how many environmental effects must be included or not included in a movie. Our editors have the creative freedom to craft what will enhance the movie and not take way from the storyline.

The title with the most effects was probably Man of Steel. The movie had a lot of flying, fighting and action overall, creating a large blank canvas for our editors. Animation films in general allow for the most diverse mix because they leave more to the imagination. Despicable Me 2 was the most diverse and our editors say they had a lot of fun working on the movie as well.

What is the basic technical backbone of the system and how does it work?
Our system works like linear digital editing. We obtain the time code from the motion picture and create a “pegged” event at a specific time in the movie. As we use multiple devices for creating our effects, including the chair movement, each of these devices is told when to move and how much. It’s the “when” and “how much” that creates the creative nuance. Our software gives our editors a great deal of freedom to express a wide range of physical and atmospheric effects. We are regularly coming up with new effects to implement with our systems and currently we are on the fourth version of our system in just over two years.

For movement and system reasons we have found a grouping of seats works best. These groups may be in a row, but they are not just stiffly moving together. It’s more like a concert of animatronics. 4DX always tries to target larger auditoriums in order to provide the maximum absolute cinema experience. However, each auditorium is different and in turn has different needs. At the moment, our largest auditorium is in Mexico with 300 seats. Our busiest site would be in Japan with record occupancy rates of 90% and upwards for many blockbusters.

Can theatres be retrofitted? What does it take? Do you have any recommendations?
It all depends on the condition of the theatre and 4DX fulfills them to the best of their needs. Each case is different, but both new construction and retrofitting are feasible options. In fact, the majority of our sites are retrofits.

We have a dedicated installation and maintenance team that travels worldwide to provide our services. As we are opening up approximately a site and a half a week, this team is pretty busy and local construction help is involved as well. It usually takes about two months once blueprints and materials are signed off on.

What’s your five-sentence sales pitch to cinema operators?
Paid entertainment is everywhere, but with advancements in technology, more and more people are choosing to stay home and watch a movie with the comforts of their couches. In order to bring audiences back, 4DX has created a unique value proposition that cannot be duplicated at home, work or online. 4DX creates an immersive experience that can only be shared within the walls of the auditorium. With 4DX, each time a patron visits the theatre he can live through an immersive cinematic experience that creates a different memory associated with each movie. 4DX is the future for the moviegoing experience.

How about the audience? What do moviegoers say?
We’ve done some audience research with a few of our exhibition partners. We are looking at commissioning a study later this year across different markets through various channels to help improve and further the development of our 4DX effects.

Insight from previous research shows that preferences on 4DX effects vary depending on region and culture. For instance, Mexico prefers a stronger 4DX impact, while on the other hand Japan prefers a more moderate impact. However, across the board audiences enjoyed similar genres such as action and adventure like Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel.

CJ 4DX will continue to focus on customizing physical effects editing depending on each locality and, moving forward, we hope to continue to provide an enjoyable 4DX experience around the world. We anticipate that our growing filmmaker partnerships will also be greatly contributing to the success of these storytelling elements and resonate with their fans worldwide.


MediaMation Motion

In today’s entertainment marketplace, exhibitors “are competing with home theatres, computer streaming, Blu-ray/DVD, and increasingly sophisticated entertainment options for every age group,” says Alison Jamele, president of MediaMation, the Torrance, Calif.-based systems integrator specializing in interactive attractions technology. “Isn’t it time you added something to your theatres,” she asks our readers, “that not only sets you apart from the others, but provides you with an ROI that is directly attributed to that investment?” Equipped with MediaMation’s motion EFX cinema seating, “full X4D theatres offer you, the exhibitor, a new and vibrant market attraction that simply cannot be had at home. Unlike upgraded audio or projection systems, X4D is a tangible addition in the general public’s viewpoint. MediaMation’s state-of-the-art X4D Motion EFX theatre seating is the next wave in the cinema entertainment experience and it’s available now. Increased occupancy, higher attendance overall, extra revenue, and the truly thrilling and immersive X4D technology will make your theatre the place to go for all of the latest blockbuster hits. Which side of this growing wave do you want be on?”

With Cinemex coming on board in January with plans for many more full auditorium installs, MediaMation has programmed a total of eight titles already, including “most of the big movies,” such as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which was the launch title, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim and The Wolverine. The company is currently working on a new film every two to four weeks “as the studios and our clients require,” with six to eight scheduled for the remainder of 2013. “As our X4D seats are not a home-theatre product,” Jamele assures, “our target is really only current first-run films at this point. We had our seats and demo theatre approved by most of the major studios and see no roadblocks on any available movie at this time.”

Although MediaMation has been working with, building and installing motion simulators and 3D/4D theatres for over 20 years in the theme park and attraction industry, “our foray into the cinema market is a relatively new program,” she explains. “But because of the mature and quality product lines, it has been a success. Our initial rollout for Cinemex—with theatres ranging in size from 160 to 280 seats—is going well. We are currently in negotiations with many other theatre chains and anticipate growth at a very fast pace. We see no sign of slowing down and moved into a larger facility near Los Angeles this year… With our new production capabilities here in California, we are proud of our ‘Made in USA’ standard and the quality product we deliver. We feel blessed with our success so far in the cinema market.” Dan Jamele, VP and chief technology officer of MediaMation, offers further details below.

How do you describe the X4D experience? How did the name come about?

The name came from our experience being “Extreme 4D” compared to what was offered by others, and we shortened it to X4D, which is a registered trademark of the brand.

Our X4D Motion EFX seats immerse the viewer into the picture in an exciting and artistic manner that augments the movie-watching experience like never before. As the scene moves, so do you; when explosions happen, you feel them; when the car chase swerves and bumps, you swerve and bump with it. With full servo motion, 4D effects, and audio transducers in each seat, the subtleties and the “not so subtle” scenes in each movie are enhanced by the X4D Motion EFX seats to create an experience that truly draws the viewer into the movie.

What makes X4D special?

Super-smooth motion, digital-controlled servos, three full degrees of motion, and a greater range of motion, as well as the full range of built-in 4D effects and in-theatre atmospheric effects. Everything from super-smooth sailing to thrilling action sequences can be realized easily.

How do you work with the filmmakers on determining the activity levels and timing of effects?
Our programmers are very creative with backgrounds in music and film. They initially go through and program the movie based upon their experience as well as knowing the preferences of the studio personnel/producer. If there are specific or even general directions, we implement those as well while programming. Once programmed, the studio or producer comes to our secure DCI demo theatre and goes through the movie and 4D motion and EFX. Since our system allows real-time control, editing, drag-and-drop and random access in the movie, this process is usually less than two hours and changes are made on the spot. We have yet to need a follow-up Q/C session [Quality Control], as all of the studio personnel have been extremely pleased with our motion and EFX programming.

What is the basic technical backbone of the system and how does it work?
X4D Motion EFX seating differs from the rest as we have perfected the use of pneumatics to move the seats. It is not only far more energy-efficient than electric options, but requires far less infrastructure in the theatre. Air also allows for a smooth or active motion as it delivers so much more power when called upon. Because there is no high voltage or motors in the theatre, there are no problems with spilled drinks or risk of motor burnout from stress or weight limits. Pneumatics are an extremely mature and standard technology that uses readily available parts from major companies that can be had virtually anywhere on the planet if needed.

Each bench of four X4D seats is connected to MediaMation’s exclusive Digital Servo Controller. This allows us to not only control each bench in real time via a simple Ethernet connection, but also to remotely access each one of them from our office if needed for diagnostics, calibration, and auto-reporting of potential problems before they happen.
In the projection booth, our Motion Profile player sits outside of the DCI server. A simple “cue” in the server’s playlist is all that is needed from the exhibitor’s team. We upload all the motion files remotely, the moment the theatre is given the okay by the studios.

How easily can theatres be retrofitted?
Theatres can be done within about four weeks. It takes about half of that time for the old seats to be removed and to prepare the auditorium for installation. This typically includes running the cables, air and water lines, as well as mounting the truss bars for the wind fans and strobes. We require about two weeks of install and training to have the theatre up and running.

We work closely with the local crews to provide the fastest and most economical installation, but our technicians and programmers make sure that everything is up to our standards and specifications. Since we fabricate the X4D seats ourselves, we have intimate knowledge and full control over every aspect of the seats and make sure that things are done right on-site.

All X4D Motion EFX seats are surface-mounted to make retrofitting as easy as possible. They simply bolt to the existing flooring. No high-voltage lines or new panels need to be installed in the theatre, just an Ethernet cable along with low-voltage signal runs. Any plumber can install air and water lines to each bench, or can single-run to the row and be daisy-chained to other benches in that row. Because we utilize our seat transducers for the higher-frequency effects, we shake the person rather than the seating. That greatly reduces the floor-loading transmission to other theatres and floors below.

Normally, we install a small rack with the electronic gear in the projector room where there is ample electric power and access to the DCI server. The main air compressor, that generates only 60-70dBA of noise, can also be mounted there, or in the most convenient and economical location, virtually anywhere within 100 feet of the theatre.

Do you recommend entire auditoriums or sections within?
We recommend that whole auditoriums be retrofitted. Since we come from the themed attraction industry, we found that people want to share in the experience with others around them. It is difficult to do so if there are only one or two rows of moving seats, which can also be a distraction to others around them. If a theatre owner wants to do part of the auditorium, we recommend the back half so as not to distract the other patrons in front. There are business reasons as well. With only a few seats, there is such a small uptick in revenue per theatre that neither the studios nor the exhibitor has much incentive to really push the experience. With a full theatre, each showing produces a significant revenue increase for all involved.

How about the audience? What do moviegoers say?

So far the response has been very positive. We have not done specific audience surveys on-site yet. However, we have been getting a tremendous amount of almost all positive feedback through our theatre Facebook pages. There we get the most honest comments. The response from our clients is also very positive and manifests itself by their continuing expansion of the X4D theatres into their chain.


Moving pictures: An in-depth look at enhanced '4D' experiences

Aug 16, 2013

-By Andreas Fuchs


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1382898-4D_Md.jpg

Film was once called “the language of sight and sound.” And that’s all that was needed creatively for “the seventh art,” as the French like to think of cinema. As of late, however, audiences are engaging all five senses at the movies and exhibitors have had to use their sixth sense to figure out what’s next.
 
As we enter the fourth dimension, Film Journal International is here to help, as always, and has collected detailed information and insightful advice from the key players in the area of “4D experiences.” Personally, this author prefers to call them “enhanced experiences” and our system experts are using words like tactile, immersive and augmented in describing their offerings. “Movement makes the movie more appealing, it adds another sensory experience,” explains Robert Desautels from D-BOX. “We strive to enhance that experience and leave customers always wanting more.”

As if virtually unlimited sound, 3D and higher frame rates of 48 fps (and more) were not enough, the latest cinema technologies are shaking seats and giving moviegoers sonic kicks in the butt. They blow water and wind into their faces, and scents to their noses. Smell-O-Vision and Rocky Horror all around.

“If bigger was once better, then enveloping all of our five senses is the next frontier,” opines Bruce Greenberg of CJ 4DXPlex. “Enhanced experiences are the next logical step in bringing back what was once lost and creating an atmosphere only available in theatres.” Alison Jamele of MediaMation X4D agrees that “theatres will continue to do whatever they can” by providing additional incentives to see movies in cinemas “as long as it shows a positive return. 4D is proving to be a powerful ally in that regard with higher attendance, longer runs, and increased revenue that is directly attributed to the up-charge in the ticket sales.”

“On average, three out of four people,” research at Guitammer confirms, “would pay more for a ButtKicker enhanced experience.” While the company’s Mark Luden knows that “my parents, who are in their early 80s, would not choose a ButtKicker theatre, nor a 3D or large-format venue for that matter, the 18-to-35 age group, and even 25-to-54 audiences who want a bigger, immersive movie, rate the ButtKicker experience even higher.”

The last word before signing over to the experts goes to the latest exhibitor to get on the ride, enhancing several multiplexes across Croatia and the former Yugoslavia with CJ 4DXPlex technology. “Blitz-CineStar continuously invests in the installment of the most up-to-date technology in all of its theatre complexes,” assures member of the company board Damir Milinić. “We were the first in the region to introduce digital 3D, eXtreme theatres, Auro 11.1 3D sound, IMAX and Gold Class formats. 4DX is another great cinematic experience that will indulge our customers, and give our theatres another exclusive and exciting note.”


Thinking Inside the (D-)Box

“D-BOX stands for Digital Box, as our server is the “brain” of our system and we are compatible only with digital movies.” Robert Desautels, senior VP of marketing at D-BOX Technologies, explains how the Canadian designer and manufacturer of motion systems for the entertainment and simulation industries came up with the name. “Movement makes the movie more appealing, it adds another sensory experience,” he elaborates. “D-BOX makes it so real, you’ll have a complete experience. Sitting in our motion effects [MFX] seats, you are right alongside your favorite characters: If Vin Diesel revs his car, you feel as if your own car is revving; if Sylvester Stallone shoots a round of ammo, each bullet, each shot and impact is felt. Even the subtlest of movements—the flit of a bee, the low rumble of a train—each movement makes the experience that much closer to reality.”

Key theatrical titles coded in D-BOX include Inception, The Expendables, The Hunger Games, Marvel’s The Avengers and Iron Man 3. Coming up in September and October are Riddick, Rush and, even more fittingly perhaps, Gravity. More than 200 theatres from key exhibitor partners such as Cineplex Entertainment, Cobb, Muvico, Cineworld and Odeon have installed D-BOX. In addition to North America and the United Kingdom, D-BOX MFX seating is available in Peru, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Slovakia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. “And counting,” Desautels assures.

How do you describe the D-BOX experience?
D-BOX provides an unmatched and realistic immersive experience. Our technology allows you to “feel” exactly what’s happening onscreen, as if you were part of the scene. We aim to replicate reality, without the gimmicks. The motion is so precise, the moviegoer will forget he’s sitting in a theatre! The D-BOX experience is a truly unique one, in that it provides the missing element to the cinematic experience. While some have tried to break the last barrier of the cinematic viewing process by adding gimmicks that can sometimes distract and take away from the movie, at D-BOX we add our motion seamlessly and do not distract from the film. We strive to enhance the experience and leave customers always wanting more.

What makes D-BOX special?
The precision of the movements. We really make you feel as if you’re in the car alongside your heroes in a Fast & Furious, for example, or as if you’re jumping out of a plane. We provide movements and vibrations so you can feel all the textures in the movie. D-BOX adds motion to the movie experience by artistically and logically creating MFX effects throughout the film. Our motion coders invest much time and creative energy to ensure the best possible experience for all customers and a motion experience of the utmost quality.

How do you work with the filmmakers on determining the activity levels and timing of effects? On average, how many movements/effects are chosen? And does any particularly effective film come to mind?

We work with the post-production team of the studio. We only put motion where the movie calls for it. Usually a two-hour film will have about 30 to 40 minutes of motion. We don’t want to distract from the movie, we want to immerse. So when scenes call for action (fight, races, etc.) we put the motion from subtle to intense, depending on the scene.

Generally, our motion coders provide the information as number of MFX events, MFX total time and MFX percentage. But it is hard to say which title that we have completed had the most effects or most diverse mix. But it is safe to say that classic chase scenes, gunshots, fight scenes, explosions, natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornados, storms, etc. all lend themselves for fantastic possible MFXs.

What is the basic technical backbone of the system and how does it work?
The backbone of our system is our proprietary software with which we encode movies, called “D-BOX Motion Code.” We are part of the movie tracks, after audio and visual. Each movement and vibration is created on a separate track and precisely linked to the audio and visual tracks. It is then packaged and put on the d-cinema server. The code is read by our motion controller, the “brain” of the system, which than sends the signal to each individual seat. All that in milliseconds, so that the moviegoer feels the movement precisely when it’s happening. Each seat is also equipped with a control that allows the moviegoer to set the intensity level, from high, to medium, to low, to none. It makes the experience totally personalized and individual.

Can theatres be retrofitted? What does it take?

Theatres can be easily retrofitted. Our model calls for usually two rows in the auditorium, so the theatre does not have to change all the seats of the auditorium. Our D-BOX seats are VIP seats and are in the prime location within the theatre. Therefore, we do not do full theatre installation, as this would hinder the VIP quality and specialty feel of the D-BOX seats.

We can install a theatre within two to three days, so there’s very low disruption for the exhibitor. At D-BOX we have our own installation team, which guarantees quality and service. We also give training on the server and provide marketing tools and training to help exhibitors sell their new acquisition quickly and efficiently.

What’s your five-sentence sales pitch to cinema operators?
D-BOX is a great differentiating asset for exhibitors. It caters to the need of their clientele in an innovative way: It offers moviegoers an unmatched, realistic, immersive experience and assigned seating, increasing advance ticket sales and online reservations. We also offer a steady flow of content with blockbuster movies from the biggest Hollywood studios.

How about the audience? What do moviegoers say?
We conducted multiple surveys with the independent firm IPSOS (formerly OTX) and are very proud of the guest satisfaction rate. Ninety-one percent of our customers would recommend D-BOX to a friend and feel that D-BOX has a positive price/value correlation. Those numbers speak high of us. Once moviegoers have tried D-BOX, they’re usually hooked!


Kick-Ass Too

“Well, of course, the cinema experience is always being enhanced to make it as special and enjoyable as possible,” agrees Mark Luden, president of Ohio-based Guitammer Company. “That is what filmmakers, theatre owners and operators and especially the public want: the best possible experience!” As a leader in low-frequency sound products and makers of the ButtKicker transducer technology, that very experience is all about sound vibration for Luden. “Unfortunately, subwoofers can be limited in their usefulness,” he reasons. “At certain levels required to fully bring out the soundtrack, it may become too loud for some. It might even be felt or heard in another auditorium in the same complex. Sound vibration or a more ‘tactile’ experience is a great solution…to best serve the film’s audience.”

In addition to Alamo Drafthouse, IMAX and Digiplex Destinations in Solon, Ohio, kicking some audience butts, Lumière Pavilions just secured its ninth and tenth cinema installations as well as expanding an existing ButtKicker screen. At the new sites, the Beijing, China-based operator is enabling almost 500 seats as part of its LD-branded auditorium model, which account for 11% and 18% of total seating capacity per complex. Luden relays what Lumière has lauded as “the accurate effect” produced by the transducers. “Their affordability and their ability to be added to any and all types of seating—without having to purchase specialty seats—make them an attractive and profitable addition to their theatres and an integral part of their customers’ overall experience. It is also important to note that Lumière is able to charge one-and-a-half times their 3D ticket price [approx. US$18] for their 4D experience that includes the ButtKicker.”

In total, over 10,000 seats at more than 86 entertainment locations in 11 countries are now ButtKicker-enabled, including movie theatres in the U.S., Russia, South Korea and China. “We also have a sizable pipeline of prospective theatre installations around the world that we are working towards securing this year,” Luden assures. “The design of the product should not be overlooked, as it gives the audience the great experience that the theatre operators are wanting to provide. It does not fail nor does it need to be maintained. Our total cost of ownership is very, very affordable now and over the long term.” Luden offers more details in the following Q&A.

How do you describe the ButtKicker experience? What makes it special?
It is like a silent subwoofer that allows you to feel the bass—low end—without the excessive volume and sound pressure level a subwoofer produces. It is accurate, nuanced and, most importantly, does not stand apart from the rest of the movie experience. ButtKicker brand products are special because they are musically accurate, powerful, virtually indestructible and follow the soundtrack with absolute precision automatically.

How did you come up with the name?

The company’s founder, Ken McCaw, and a drummer friend of his were searching for a way to feel the low-end notes from the drums and bass without making the stage monitors so loud. They just want to “get their butts kicked” and the name ButtKicker was born. We tried to give it a more politically correct name, but everyone simply referred to the final consumer product as a ButtKicker, so we smiled and decided to use that name, which is now a registered trademark.

What is the basic technical backbone of the system and how does it work?
The backbone of the system is audio from the cinema system itself, along with amplifiers that send this low-end audio signal to the ButtKicker units. Affixed to the seats themselves or to the stanchions, one unit typically shakes either one or two seats. Very little configuration—Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and level setting—is required, and it works with every movie. Additionally, no maintenance is required and the ButtKicker units do not harm or loosen the seats in any way. We’ve had large commercial installations running for almost ten years now without a single failure in any part of the system.

Do you recommend select rows or the entire auditorium?
Because the entire auditorium is a special experience for the audience, our customers and partners install the system so that every seat is ButtKicker-enabled… To install an entire 300-seat auditorium with our system costs less than one or two rows of motion-based systems, as the ButtKicker set-up costs less than 10% to 20% of those other systems. It is an incredibly affordable enhancement, and especially so when compared to the other solutions out there. It supports a higher ticket price if the operator so desires. And, of course, it is much simpler to manage.

How easily can theatres/seats be retrofitted? What does it take and how long on average?
Most every type of seat can be retrofitted with our product set as we offer three different sizes of the ButtKicker transducer. We can also develop and help to get fabricated any specialized mounting brackets that might be needed. Low-voltage speaker wire runs from the amplifiers in the control room or projection area to the ButtKicker units underneath the auditorium and then along the back of each riser in wire molding. The connection to the cinema system is literally one wire and our engineers can help explain which channels should be given to the ButtKicker system, what the DSP settings should be and how to set the overall ButtKicker system levels.

Older sloped auditoriums can be retrofitted as well, but they are not as easy as those with stadium-style seating. On average, once the mounting is determined and all parts are secured, a 300-seat auditorium can be installed in two to three weeks without having to be shut down.

And working with filmmakers and studios is easy too?
No additional approval is necessary, as we are exactly like a subwoofer in reproducing the Hollywood soundtrack…when the filmmaker wanted it to be experienced. Because ButtKicker’s products accurately reproduce the effect of each movie’s existing .1 LFE (Low Frequency Effect) and bass soundtrack, with no special processing or coding requirements, they can be used with all types of movies that will run in the auditorium. That is one of our best selling points.

What’s your five-sentence sales pitch to cinema operators?
We only need four sentences. 4D theatres powered by ButtKicker can increase attendance and profits by enabling the operator to have a significantly lower cost of ownership for comparable immersive experiences; have the ability to retrofit existing theatres, making their ROI equation compelling with or without an increase in ticket prices; and the ability to partake in recurring revenue sharing that can increase profitability.


5 Senses, 4DX Experience

“We are privileged to be able to help our exhibitor partners create a place where movies can go beyond the screens,” says Bruce Greenberg, the Hollywood-based senior VP of CJ 4DPlex. Launched in 2009 by South Korea’s CJ CGV, one of the largest theatre chains in Asia, “we are on target to grow to more than 100 screens by the end of this year, providing the 4DX experience to more than one million filmgoers a week.” 4DX is an immersive cinematic experience that uses seat motion and environment effects like wind, water, fog, lighting and even scent-based special effects.

With premium large-format screens, 3D, higher frame rates and immersive sound already stretching technology and budgets, why should we take the cinema experience even further? “If bigger was once better, then enveloping all of our five senses is the next frontier. More and more people are starting to prefer the comforts of their own home and the essence of going to a movie has slowly been lost. Enhanced experiences are the next logical step in bringing back what was once lost and creating an atmosphere only available in theatres.” Greenberg also reminds us that “all cinematic experiences are about gathering around a fire to hear a story, just like our ancestors did tens of thousands of year ago. With each passing year we have evolved and it only makes sense to move forward and create a new way of storytelling that brings joy to audiences everywhere.”

And indeed, nine different exhibitors—Blitz CineStar, CJ CGV, Cinépolis, Major Cineplex, CinemaCity, CinemaPark, Korona World, Vieshow Cinemas and Cine Hoyts—operate 58 screens with nearly 11,000 seats in more than 17 countries (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Israel, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and the former Yugoslavia region, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Chile). “Our newest site in Chile with our partner Cine Hoyts marks the southernmost point our 4DX theatres have reached. Russia is our northernmost point, creating a nearly 10,000-mile [16,093 km] difference between our two farthest points. Between the two, 4DX is available to nearly one billion people. 4DX is expanding consistently with market size and developing aggressively around the world.”

4DX theaters have shown more than 120 films since Avatar became the first in 2009, with an average of three to four available each month. Other key titles are Marvel’s The Avengers, Pacific Rim, The Amazing Spider-Man, Titanic, How to Train Your Dragon, and Greenberg’s personal favorite in 4DX. “There are far too many to have to choose. Every movie we work on, we do our best to make sure that the audience will enjoy their experience. If I have to name one, I’d say Iron Man 3.” In addition to these blockbusters, “we are constantly striving to have local as well as alternative content available in 4DX,” he says. “As 4DX grows each year, our total number of available films grows as well... So far this year, we have released more than 30 titles in 4DX, with more to come throughout the remainder of the year.” Greenberg elaborates in the following Q&A.

How do you describe the 4DX experience? How did you come up with the name?

2D allows audiences to watch the movie, 3D allows them to really see the movie, but 4D now allows them to be immersed with the movie. But “4D” alone did not give enough merit to our name. The “X” signifies an extreme and, with our advanced technologies and unprecedented ability to create an immersive experience, “4DX” was born.

4DX has taken the cinematic encounter to the next step by allowing audiences to “live the experience.” Now, each visit to the theatre can bring a new level of excitement, transforming the movie into a multisensory interaction. We are going beyond the screen and creating a unique moviegoing experience only available in 4DX theatres.

What makes 4DX special?

We are the industry leader in multiple points of cinema immersion as well as provide a communal experience for moviegoers. Instead of a technology, we come from a creative standpoint, working to stimulate audiences beyond the audiovisual limits of an average movie theatre.

Multiple effects are really just multiple ways to communicate with the audience. Each effect creates an additional layer of character perception onscreen as well as enhances the dramatic nature of the environments these characters are engaged in. 4DX continuously develops diverse 4D effects to engage audiences to the next level of the cinematic experience.

How do you work with the filmmakers on determining the activity levels and timing of effects?
Our challenge is timing. By the time we are engaged in a movie, we are under 30 days to opening deadline. Sometimes our creative teams are working round the clock. Each of our distribution partners has a method of working with talent on our projects. We prepare our version of the movie for our distributors to go through a quality-control screening. During that Q/C screening, the post-production supervisor and director will provide comment and feedback. We will make those changes and then have a follow-up showing.

Do you have detailed numbers on how many movements/effects there are in a given movie? And do any particularly effective films come to mind?
There is no magic number on how many chair movements or how many environmental effects must be included or not included in a movie. Our editors have the creative freedom to craft what will enhance the movie and not take way from the storyline.

The title with the most effects was probably Man of Steel. The movie had a lot of flying, fighting and action overall, creating a large blank canvas for our editors. Animation films in general allow for the most diverse mix because they leave more to the imagination. Despicable Me 2 was the most diverse and our editors say they had a lot of fun working on the movie as well.

What is the basic technical backbone of the system and how does it work?
Our system works like linear digital editing. We obtain the time code from the motion picture and create a “pegged” event at a specific time in the movie. As we use multiple devices for creating our effects, including the chair movement, each of these devices is told when to move and how much. It’s the “when” and “how much” that creates the creative nuance. Our software gives our editors a great deal of freedom to express a wide range of physical and atmospheric effects. We are regularly coming up with new effects to implement with our systems and currently we are on the fourth version of our system in just over two years.

For movement and system reasons we have found a grouping of seats works best. These groups may be in a row, but they are not just stiffly moving together. It’s more like a concert of animatronics. 4DX always tries to target larger auditoriums in order to provide the maximum absolute cinema experience. However, each auditorium is different and in turn has different needs. At the moment, our largest auditorium is in Mexico with 300 seats. Our busiest site would be in Japan with record occupancy rates of 90% and upwards for many blockbusters.

Can theatres be retrofitted? What does it take? Do you have any recommendations?
It all depends on the condition of the theatre and 4DX fulfills them to the best of their needs. Each case is different, but both new construction and retrofitting are feasible options. In fact, the majority of our sites are retrofits.

We have a dedicated installation and maintenance team that travels worldwide to provide our services. As we are opening up approximately a site and a half a week, this team is pretty busy and local construction help is involved as well. It usually takes about two months once blueprints and materials are signed off on.

What’s your five-sentence sales pitch to cinema operators?
Paid entertainment is everywhere, but with advancements in technology, more and more people are choosing to stay home and watch a movie with the comforts of their couches. In order to bring audiences back, 4DX has created a unique value proposition that cannot be duplicated at home, work or online. 4DX creates an immersive experience that can only be shared within the walls of the auditorium. With 4DX, each time a patron visits the theatre he can live through an immersive cinematic experience that creates a different memory associated with each movie. 4DX is the future for the moviegoing experience.

How about the audience? What do moviegoers say?
We’ve done some audience research with a few of our exhibition partners. We are looking at commissioning a study later this year across different markets through various channels to help improve and further the development of our 4DX effects.

Insight from previous research shows that preferences on 4DX effects vary depending on region and culture. For instance, Mexico prefers a stronger 4DX impact, while on the other hand Japan prefers a more moderate impact. However, across the board audiences enjoyed similar genres such as action and adventure like Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel.

CJ 4DX will continue to focus on customizing physical effects editing depending on each locality and, moving forward, we hope to continue to provide an enjoyable 4DX experience around the world. We anticipate that our growing filmmaker partnerships will also be greatly contributing to the success of these storytelling elements and resonate with their fans worldwide.


MediaMation Motion

In today’s entertainment marketplace, exhibitors “are competing with home theatres, computer streaming, Blu-ray/DVD, and increasingly sophisticated entertainment options for every age group,” says Alison Jamele, president of MediaMation, the Torrance, Calif.-based systems integrator specializing in interactive attractions technology. “Isn’t it time you added something to your theatres,” she asks our readers, “that not only sets you apart from the others, but provides you with an ROI that is directly attributed to that investment?” Equipped with MediaMation’s motion EFX cinema seating, “full X4D theatres offer you, the exhibitor, a new and vibrant market attraction that simply cannot be had at home. Unlike upgraded audio or projection systems, X4D is a tangible addition in the general public’s viewpoint. MediaMation’s state-of-the-art X4D Motion EFX theatre seating is the next wave in the cinema entertainment experience and it’s available now. Increased occupancy, higher attendance overall, extra revenue, and the truly thrilling and immersive X4D technology will make your theatre the place to go for all of the latest blockbuster hits. Which side of this growing wave do you want be on?”

With Cinemex coming on board in January with plans for many more full auditorium installs, MediaMation has programmed a total of eight titles already, including “most of the big movies,” such as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which was the launch title, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim and The Wolverine. The company is currently working on a new film every two to four weeks “as the studios and our clients require,” with six to eight scheduled for the remainder of 2013. “As our X4D seats are not a home-theatre product,” Jamele assures, “our target is really only current first-run films at this point. We had our seats and demo theatre approved by most of the major studios and see no roadblocks on any available movie at this time.”

Although MediaMation has been working with, building and installing motion simulators and 3D/4D theatres for over 20 years in the theme park and attraction industry, “our foray into the cinema market is a relatively new program,” she explains. “But because of the mature and quality product lines, it has been a success. Our initial rollout for Cinemex—with theatres ranging in size from 160 to 280 seats—is going well. We are currently in negotiations with many other theatre chains and anticipate growth at a very fast pace. We see no sign of slowing down and moved into a larger facility near Los Angeles this year… With our new production capabilities here in California, we are proud of our ‘Made in USA’ standard and the quality product we deliver. We feel blessed with our success so far in the cinema market.” Dan Jamele, VP and chief technology officer of MediaMation, offers further details below.

How do you describe the X4D experience? How did the name come about?

The name came from our experience being “Extreme 4D” compared to what was offered by others, and we shortened it to X4D, which is a registered trademark of the brand.

Our X4D Motion EFX seats immerse the viewer into the picture in an exciting and artistic manner that augments the movie-watching experience like never before. As the scene moves, so do you; when explosions happen, you feel them; when the car chase swerves and bumps, you swerve and bump with it. With full servo motion, 4D effects, and audio transducers in each seat, the subtleties and the “not so subtle” scenes in each movie are enhanced by the X4D Motion EFX seats to create an experience that truly draws the viewer into the movie.

What makes X4D special?

Super-smooth motion, digital-controlled servos, three full degrees of motion, and a greater range of motion, as well as the full range of built-in 4D effects and in-theatre atmospheric effects. Everything from super-smooth sailing to thrilling action sequences can be realized easily.

How do you work with the filmmakers on determining the activity levels and timing of effects?
Our programmers are very creative with backgrounds in music and film. They initially go through and program the movie based upon their experience as well as knowing the preferences of the studio personnel/producer. If there are specific or even general directions, we implement those as well while programming. Once programmed, the studio or producer comes to our secure DCI demo theatre and goes through the movie and 4D motion and EFX. Since our system allows real-time control, editing, drag-and-drop and random access in the movie, this process is usually less than two hours and changes are made on the spot. We have yet to need a follow-up Q/C session [Quality Control], as all of the studio personnel have been extremely pleased with our motion and EFX programming.

What is the basic technical backbone of the system and how does it work?
X4D Motion EFX seating differs from the rest as we have perfected the use of pneumatics to move the seats. It is not only far more energy-efficient than electric options, but requires far less infrastructure in the theatre. Air also allows for a smooth or active motion as it delivers so much more power when called upon. Because there is no high voltage or motors in the theatre, there are no problems with spilled drinks or risk of motor burnout from stress or weight limits. Pneumatics are an extremely mature and standard technology that uses readily available parts from major companies that can be had virtually anywhere on the planet if needed.

Each bench of four X4D seats is connected to MediaMation’s exclusive Digital Servo Controller. This allows us to not only control each bench in real time via a simple Ethernet connection, but also to remotely access each one of them from our office if needed for diagnostics, calibration, and auto-reporting of potential problems before they happen.
In the projection booth, our Motion Profile player sits outside of the DCI server. A simple “cue” in the server’s playlist is all that is needed from the exhibitor’s team. We upload all the motion files remotely, the moment the theatre is given the okay by the studios.

How easily can theatres be retrofitted?
Theatres can be done within about four weeks. It takes about half of that time for the old seats to be removed and to prepare the auditorium for installation. This typically includes running the cables, air and water lines, as well as mounting the truss bars for the wind fans and strobes. We require about two weeks of install and training to have the theatre up and running.

We work closely with the local crews to provide the fastest and most economical installation, but our technicians and programmers make sure that everything is up to our standards and specifications. Since we fabricate the X4D seats ourselves, we have intimate knowledge and full control over every aspect of the seats and make sure that things are done right on-site.

All X4D Motion EFX seats are surface-mounted to make retrofitting as easy as possible. They simply bolt to the existing flooring. No high-voltage lines or new panels need to be installed in the theatre, just an Ethernet cable along with low-voltage signal runs. Any plumber can install air and water lines to each bench, or can single-run to the row and be daisy-chained to other benches in that row. Because we utilize our seat transducers for the higher-frequency effects, we shake the person rather than the seating. That greatly reduces the floor-loading transmission to other theatres and floors below.

Normally, we install a small rack with the electronic gear in the projector room where there is ample electric power and access to the DCI server. The main air compressor, that generates only 60-70dBA of noise, can also be mounted there, or in the most convenient and economical location, virtually anywhere within 100 feet of the theatre.

Do you recommend entire auditoriums or sections within?
We recommend that whole auditoriums be retrofitted. Since we come from the themed attraction industry, we found that people want to share in the experience with others around them. It is difficult to do so if there are only one or two rows of moving seats, which can also be a distraction to others around them. If a theatre owner wants to do part of the auditorium, we recommend the back half so as not to distract the other patrons in front. There are business reasons as well. With only a few seats, there is such a small uptick in revenue per theatre that neither the studios nor the exhibitor has much incentive to really push the experience. With a full theatre, each showing produces a significant revenue increase for all involved.

How about the audience? What do moviegoers say?

So far the response has been very positive. We have not done specific audience surveys on-site yet. However, we have been getting a tremendous amount of almost all positive feedback through our theatre Facebook pages. There we get the most honest comments. The response from our clients is also very positive and manifests itself by their continuing expansion of the X4D theatres into their chain.
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