A Moving Experience: Creating the sensations of 4D and motion seating
Film Journal International asked 4D leaders 4DX and MediaMation and motion-effects pioneer D-BOX to talk about their creative and philosophical approaches in bringing that extra dimension to today’s cinema experience, truly putting the motion in motion pictures.
The Language of 4DX
by Daniel Yi
Art Director, 4DX
The Lumière brothers debuted the Cinématographe in 1895 with Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, a scene of mass exodus from a factory. It was a fixed camera shot with little to no story—merely a demonstration of the medium’s technological capabilities. Even with Georges Méliès’ clever camera tricks (e.g., Trip to the Moon), films would continue to be shot in the static tableau vivant style until almost ten years later when Edwin S. Porter introduced one of the first real examples of film editing in The Great Train Robbery. Filmmakers, slowly but surely, began to develop language for the uncharted world of cinema.
A couple of months ago, I found myself tasked with watching an older 4DX film, one produced by an earlier pioneering generation of 4DX editors. Initially, I found it frustrating, confusing, and even nonsensical at times. The vibrations were inconsistent, the motion designs felt generic, and there were glaringly missing effects. About halfway into the film, it dawned on me—we were evolving as a format.
4DX was new for all of us. It took time for the editors to experiment with the possibilities. In the beginning, editors tried to express the film exclusively through one character’s perspective, but they quickly found that this fell flat, as stories are told through different viewpoints. The vibrations felt textbook and monotonous. The seat motions were simple and mechanical. It was all too straightforward.
Naturally, with innovation came challenges, ones that forced us to look deeper into what 4DX editing could mean for storytelling. If two characters are fighting, whose perspective should the seats convey? If a boat takes a left turn, should the chair move left to match the point of view? Should it reverse direction and go camera right? Like Méliès, who had moved entire sets but never thought to move the camera, the editors overlooked fundamental concepts they had yet to grasp.
As we worked through nearly every genre of film, we discovered that slowly tilting the chair forward can add tension to a suspenseful scene and exaggerated movements in animation can play up humor. Our action scenes matured from simple punch movements to mimicking complex martial-arts moves that leap, dance and strike with precision.
In Jurassic Park, when little Tim notices the ripples in the glass of water, the chairs subtly emit vibrations, alerting the audience of impending danger. In Doctor Strange, when the Ancient One takes Stephen Strange on a psychedelic foray into the astral plane, the 4DX experience is so visceral, you really feel it with the entirety of your senses. The perfect 4DX moment can suspend disbelief, and it is incredibly nuanced and tedious to achieve.
The 4DX editing process is an uphill battle from start to finish. On average, a film editor might have 10 weeks to prepare the director’s cut. In contrast, we generally have two weeks to deliver a finished product. In lesser time, the project must be divided between editors, creating a conflict of creative styles. Try drawing an elephant in one minute instead of an hour and every few strokes pass off the marker to someone else.
It’s a struggle of endless trial and error, but we’re constantly learning and engineering. As a child develops, his/her vocabulary expands and matures. We learn to ask for our mashed peas and carrots one word at a time until one day we are ordering a venti two-pump, breve, extra-hot, no-whip, toasted white mocha. 4DX editors find themselves in a similar trajectory. We are figuring out how to be subtle, how to align ourselves with the director’s vision, and how to find our seat at the table through developing our own language. We are learning to communicate emotions through this new medium, but we aren’t there yet.
Fifty-seven years. From The Great Train Robbery (1903) to Breathless (1960), it took 57 years to break the mold of classical continuity editing and to usher in a new era of impressionistic storytelling. It’s a sobering fact in the grand scheme of things as we still have a ways to go, but it’s just as exciting to see how radically 4DX might change as we learn to command the ever-evolving language of 4DX editing.
Keeping It Accurate and Subtle
By Kirk Miller
Director of Media Programming
The biggest challenge in programming movies to the MX4D format is making sure the motion is accurate and subtle.
Here is our perfect MX4D recipe:
1) Never step on the emotions in the film. We respect the tone and mood and only utilize effects to enhance action portions of films.
2) Don’t overshadow the story. We want to maintain viewer captivity while being tasteful.
3) Be character-focused. When the camera is pointed at a specific character, our central focus is the actions of that person. This can change in a split second.
4) Timing is everything. We pore through every frame to ensure our effects are timed perfectly. By doing this, we can create that amazing marriage between what’s happening on the screen and what the viewer feels in the theatre.
Our programming department is divided into two teams that work hand-in-hand. One group focuses on the motion and in-theatre effects while the other perfects the transducer (seat rumble), which can emulate anything on the screen including engines and explosions. Together, the process takes about a week per movie.
Once we program a film, a representative from the studio will do a Quality Check (QC) of the film and effect pairing. While the process typically does not involve the filmmaker, we have worked with directors before. We pride ourselves on being super-accurate and immersive, and love showing our work to the creative teams involved.
A Unique Canvas
By Violaine Boucher
Director of Communications
D-BOX Technologies Inc.
D-BOX was founded 20 years ago by a passionate team of musicians, motion designers and engineers and specifically designed for the home market. Once a technology pioneer company and now a true entertainment world leader, D-BOX has solidified its presence worldwide. Coming from our musical background, we have made a clear connection that the inner-ear system cannot be fooled when it comes to precision and vibration believability. It comes from high-fidelity motion cues that are intimately synchronized with sound and picture.
For the past 10 years, we have established recipes and combinations of audio waves that our body cannot hear or see. All ofour motion designers have musical background expertise. It’s a matter of blending and precision delivered by our hardware and software tools. Each piece of content is considered a uniquecanvas on which they are capable of creating specific layers of motion. This has given us the knowledge to create our own textures and color palette to support audio and video content. From the original inception we have designed our experience with individual customers in mind. From a single-seat motion-system design, this has led us to integrate motion volume in each individual unit to serve better our moviegoers. This means delivering a truly personalized experience. This strategy has opened up the door to provide our immersive motion system in a theatre dining environment. Our adaptability allows us to embed our motion technology as part of a valuable premium experience to support the recliner wave hitting the cinema market worldwide. This high-fidelity motion-cueing system is also very attractive for the alternative-content industry such as racing, VR, etc.
The capability of our IMS gives our motion designers inspiration to create from a variety of different creative perspectives. Again, each piece of content is for them a unique canvas on which they are capable of creating personalized layers of immersive motion and vibration appreciated by millions of people. It’s something to be proud of.