Rockin' good time: D-Box Motion Technology off to 'Fast & Furious' start


Universal Pictures’ Fast & Furious re-ignited the car-racing franchise on April 3 with a high-energy production that delivered all the thrills that fans were craving. But in two theatres in the U.S., the action audience enjoyed an extra sensation: motion effects carefully orchestrated to the movie, courtesy of Montreal-based D-Box Technologies.

The D-Box motion system made its public debut with special Fast & Furious engagements at the historic Mann Chinese 6 in Hollywood, CA, and the UltraStar Surprise Pointe 14 in Surprise, AZ. A patented precision encoding system creates a custom motion track for the film, and patrons sit in specially equipped seats which rock, jerk and vibrate in synch with the motion of the picture in front of them.

D-Box director of marketing Guy Marcoux explains the genesis of the concept: “About 15 years ago, D-Box was a higher-end speaker company. Some customers would add one, two or three subwoofers around their chairs while watching a movie, to get more immersed. So the idea came about: How can we bring this to another level?”

Marcoux advises, “The effects are very refined, very subtle. Under the seat we have three motion actuators, electromechanical pistons that can generate all this precise movement… How do we create all those motion effects? We have a motion designer who will sit in front of the movie and encode it frame by frame. He does that in two phases. All of the movements are based on the visual part of the movie, and all the intelligent vibrations are based on the audio track. Combined, he created for Fast & Furious about 5,000 different motion effects which are about 34 minutes of the movie.”

Damon Rubio, executive VP of operations at UltraStar, says he was the very first person to sit down in D-Box’s demo chair at ShoWest 2008. Initially skeptical, he was sold on the technology after D-Box execs told him to close his eyes during some audio of moving water. “I thought I was on a boat,” he recalls.

Rubio reports that UltraStar’s D-Box screenings have been “a huge success.” For the first two weeks of Fast & Furious, the 22 D-Box seats at his Surprise theatre sold out five shows a day at an $8 higher ticket price. Subsequently, capacity remained in the 60 to 70% range, he notes, a much higher retention rate than for the conventional seats. Patrons gave the rockin’ ride a 97% approval rating.

Rubio says the age range of customers for the D-Box seats runs “across the gamut.” The Surprise cinema is located near the Sun City retirement community, and the D-Box treatment of Fast & Furious attracted a number of older and retired car aficionados. “They really enjoyed it,” Rubio says.

Both the Surprise theatre and the Mann Chinese promote the D-Box experience with demo chairs in their lobbies, synched with movie clips and trailers. Rubio expects UltraStar to expand its D-Box program, and is looking forward to the next D-Box attraction, Warner Bros.’ Terminator Salvation. For that engagement, D-Box will be adding two new locations: the Mall of America in Minnesota and the Galaxy Theatre in Austin, Texas.

D-Box designs its chairs with a local manufacturer in Montreal. “We’re not a seat manufacturer, we’re a motion system company,” Marcoux notes. “But going forward, we may be looking at alternatives, where a seat manufacturer could accommodate their seating for D-Box.”

Rubio attests that D-Box is a “tried-and-true” technology, with its Motion Code already available on more than 850 home-video titles and now being included in Blu-Ray releases.
With the success of its first engagements in cinemas, D-Box now intends to bring extra meaning to the words “motion picture.”