Stepping beyond the usual visual and aural limits, a South Korean company offers movie-goers a more immersive experience in a new stage of cinema evolution. Joe Young reports.
Film buffs are rather fond of the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’.
It refers to viewers accepting the unbelievable to immerse themselves in the enjoyment of a film. Ideally, movie-goers forget where they are and become swept away with the happenings on the screen.
The first silent, monochrome flickering films made it hard for people to truly immerse themselves in a film. However, advances in image quality and the addition of sound made the experience more realistic and aided the process.
Now the South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX has added motion, environmental effects and scent to the film experience so that movie-goers feel more immersed in a movie and will be more inclined to suspend their disbelief. This presentation is called 4DX.
Adding environmental effects, physical motion and scents to film are not original concepts. In our last issue we covered D-Box’s motion seating. At Disney World there is a Bug’s Life exhibit in which the audience is sprayed with water and fog while the show plays. In the 1960s there was even Smell-O-Vision.
However, 4DX has scent, motion seating and environmental effects in the one cinematic experience – and on a large scale. So what exactly is involved?
In a dedicated 4DX auditorium the actuator-enabled chairs are equipped with three base movements: heave (up and down), roll (left and right) and pitch (backwards and forwards), used in endless combinations to mimic the actions of flying, driving and more.
There is also a leg tickler and vibrations helping audience members to feel as though they are zipping down a dirt track with all the bumps, slides and turns to go with it.
Then there are environmental effects of wind, bubbles, lightning, fog, air, water, rain, snow and scent – and this is where 4DX differentiates itself from competitors such as D-Box.
It’s self-explanatory, but when it rains in the film, it ‘rains’ in the auditorium, and so on. If there’s a cafe scene, the coffee aroma will waft through.
4DX senior marketing manager Rosa Choi says that when it all comes together the viewers feel as though they are in the middle of a scene.
The 4DX editors (with probably the best job in the film world) have the task of watching films and designing the timing and combination of the environmental, movement and scent effects to create the most immersive and realistic experience. The effects are then coded into the digital cinema package, or DCP, so that they operate automatically in a 4DX cinema.
The 4DX system was commercially introduced to the public in 2009 in Seoul, South Korea, with the release of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The film Avatar was next to get the 4DX treatment and, with its success, 4DX expanded throughout South Korea.
As mentioned, the company is operating on a large scale, the experience is available for almost all Hollywood blockbusters and the system was viewed by 30 million people in 2015. The technology is losing the ‘gimmicky’ tag and is now available in 39 countries.
“We’re in discussion with multiple major exhibitors in Australia, but no contracts have been signed yet,” Rosa says.
“I believe Australia will have 4DX in the near future.”
But don’t get any ideas about applying this system to the home theatre, because it isn’t designed for that market. Rosa says it was developed to lure people away from their couches and out to the movies.
“The Dolby sound systems and the big high-res screens have made it possible for people to experience cinema quality at home. We’re aiming to help exhibitors bring back audiences by providing something that people can’t experience at home.”
Transforming an auditorium for 4DX is quite involved. Structural changes are required for the extra-large seats and movement. Steps need to be bigger, and the distance between chairs must be greater. Additional electrical wiring and signal cabling is needed to host environmental effects such as lighting and wind fans.
Rosa says the whole system is monitored by CJ 4DPLEX using a network operation centre.
“The systems are monitored 24/7, 365 days a year, so if something goes wrong, we alert our exhibitors immediately. That way we stay on top of any maintenance issues.”
Without wanting to give away too much, Rosa says the company is looking into developing the technology for use with computers and virtual reality.
With 4DX technology and virtual reality technology combined, I may be able to avoid the 16-hour holiday flight to New York and just experience it in a 4DX cinema in Melbourne. In the meantime, 4DX is already an extraordinary experience.