A question about the curved screens used in the King Kong 360 3-D stereoscopic installation at Universal Studios was raised by Rita Santos during class. This lead to a discussion about catenary curves and the history of multiple projector exhibition. I mentioned a conversation that I had been involved in with Peter Anderson after Serge Bromberg’s 3D Rareties presentation at the Linwood Dunn Theater in 2010. During that discussion Peter described an installation he had created where he employed gravity sagging in the construction of a curved screen. In response to Rita’s question I surmised that Peter had probably used a catenary curve for the Kong screens. I found a cord in the lab that I used to roughly demonstrate the general properties of the catenary (there is an interactive online catenary generator created in the Processing computer language with which you can experiment, plus an excellent paper describing the projects origin) I also spoke about Gaudí’s use of catenary curves in the design and construction of elements of La Sagrada Familia and other structures. The stereoscopic image below is a cross-eye floating window view of an exhibit of Gaudí’s weighted chain catenary curve models at La Sagrada Familia. I shot the images with a pocket camera in cha-cha mode and my horizontal shift was a bit too wide thus creating the extreme horizontal parallax.
Later I wrote Peter and asked him about the Kong screens. He replied that what he had been describing was the gravity sagging solution he had applied to the design of a 24 foot high by 36 foot wide screen for the LEGO Racers 4-D installation at LEGOLAND. The 187 foot wide by 40 foot high screens for King Kong 360 3-D were actually symmetrical hard surface silver screens based on toroidal sections. The 3-axis compound curves of the screens were designed to optimize light return from the projector positions to the multiple viewpoints of the tram guests while also minimizing screen crosstalk. The screens were fabricated by LA ProPoint (coincidentally the company that developed the giant wheel for the CalArts co-production “Prometheus Bound” in 2013 –and ten years earlier, the mechanical components of the REDCAT). Universal Studios created a 20 minute making-of promo for the King Kong 360 3-D experience which is available in four segments on YouTube [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ].
Following is an edited version of a message Peter sent me regarding gravity shaped screens:
The LEGOLAND project, “LEGO Racers 4D”, was installed into a re-purposed former live show attraction theater that had a very steep seating rake. This layout required the dual DLP 3-D projectors be mounted high in the venue. The screen I used was a custom non perforated Stewart vinyl silver (3-D) screen (approximately 22′ x 36′) mounted on a curved (concave) frame that was equal to the chord of the projectors’ throw. I set the vertical angle seven degrees tilted back in order to optimize the projector’s light return to the guest’s seating positions. To additionally increase the sweet spot, I then had the screen’s installers proportionally relax the tension on the top and bottom of the screen’s lacing until I achieved a proper amount of gravity driven screen sag which thus optimized both the high-low and the side-to-side viewing experiences. It was probably only slightly over a one foot additional vertical derivation centered around one third up from the screen’s bottom mount and proportional to the left right center, but this combination of the tilt back and the gravity driven concave vertical sag created around a 50% overall better venue viewing experience.
The “King Kong 360 3-D” and similar rides come out of a long tradition of spectacular illusions in motion. Media archeologist Erkki Huhtamo spent years of research on that history and produced the comprehensive book, “Illusions in Motion: Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles“. He has also performed illustrated lectures resurrecting the historic form. The image below right is from the cover of the book published by MIT Press –who provide this overview of the books focus:
“Beginning in the late eighteenth century, huge circular panoramas presented their audiences with resplendent representations that ranged from historic battles to exotic locations. Such panoramas were immersive but static. There were other panoramas that moved—hundreds, and probably thousands of them. Their history has been largely forgotten. In “Illusions in Motion”, Erkki Huhtamo excavates this neglected early manifestation of media culture in the making. The moving panorama was a long painting that unscrolled behind a “window” by means of a mechanical cranking system, accompanied by a lecture, music, and sometimes sound and light effects. Showmen exhibited such panoramas in venues that ranged from opera houses to church halls, creating a market for mediated realities in both city and country.”
The image below left is from the cover of September 29, 1900 edition of the Scientific American weekly and features a cut-away view of the Mareorama, an attraction at the 1900 Paris Exhibition. The cut-aways show the water bearings that spun long painted scrolls (one for starboard and one for port) that wrapped around a large motion platform in the form of a 230 foot long steamship. Up to 700 spectators stood upon the deck of the rolling and pitching ship as the scrolls slowing wound them along a voyage from Marseille to Yokohama. Blowing fans, lighting effects, steam whistles, motor sounds, scents, and actors serving as busy crew members contributed to the illusion.
“World’s Fairs have traditionally been the place to show off culture and technology, particularly largescale media technology. The Paris Exposition of 1900, just five years after the birth of projected cinema, hosted not only a giant rectangular screen film 53 by 70 feet produced by the Lumiere brothers, but also a ten-screen 330 foot circumference cylindrical movie by Raoul Grimoin-Sanson. The first largescale dome projection premiered at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. At the 1964 New York World’s Fair, filmmakers Francis Thompson, Sasha Hammid, and Buckminster Fuller produced a multi-screen short film entitled “To Be Alive,” which became the first specialized-format production to win an Academy Award. Consequently, the next world’s fair, EXPO ’67 in Montreal, was the largest forum ever for largescale and specialized media theaters. Since then, several enhanced-format systems have evolved into standards (such as Imax and Omnimax, CircleVision, and Showscan).”
“Cinéorama was an early film experiment and amusement ride at the 1900 Paris Exposition devised by Raoul Grimoin-Sanson, that simulated a ride in a hot air balloon over Paris. It represented a union of the earlier technology of panoramic paintings and the recently invented technology of cinema. Grimoin-Sanson began experimenting with movie cameras and projectors in 1895, and was in contact with other early researchers such as Étienne-Jules Marey. He patented the Cinéorama on 27 November 1897. Cinéorama consisted of 10 synchronized 70 mm movie projectors, projecting onto 10 9×9 metre screens arranged in a full 360° circle around the viewing platform. The platform was a large balloon basket, capable of holding 200 viewers, with rigging, ballast, and the lower part of a huge gas bag. The film to be shown was made by locking together 10 cameras with a single central drive, putting them in an actual balloon, and filming the flight as the balloon rose 400 metres above the Tuileries Gardens. On projecting the film, the experience was completed by showing the same film backwards, to simulate a descent. Some references describe a much longer experience, involving a trip to England, Spain, and the Sahara, but it is unclear whether the complete plan was realized. Cinéorama lasted only three days at the Exposition. On the fourth day it was shut down by the police for safety reasons. Extreme heat from the projectors’ arc lights, in the booth below the audience, had caused one workman to faint, and the authorities were worried about the possibility of a deadly fire. Cinéorama was never shown again, but a modern version Circarama —later known as Circle-Vision 360°, was introduced at Disneyland in 1955 and continues in use today.”
The three camera, three projector system of Cinerama was given its name from the same roots words as that of Cinéorama. From the Wikipedia entry on Cinerama:
“Cinerama was invented by Fred Waller (1886-1954) and commercially developed by Waller and Merian C. Cooper. It was the outgrowth of many years of development. A forerunner was the triple-screen final sequence in the silent Napoléon made in 1927 by Abel Gance; Gance’s classic was considered lost in the 1950s, however, known of only by hearsay, and Waller could not have actually seen it. Waller had earlier developed an 11-projector system called “Vitarama” at the Petroleum Industry exhibit in the 1939 New York World’s Fair. A five-camera version, the Waller Gunnery Trainer, was used during the Second World War. The word “Cinerama” combines cinema with panorama, the origin of all the “-orama” neologisms (the word “panorama” comes from the Greek words “pan”, meaning all, and “orama”, which translates into that which is seen, a sight, or a spectacle). The photographic system used three interlocked 35 mm cameras equipped with 27 mm lenses, approximately the focal length of the human eye. Each camera photographed one third of the picture shooting in a crisscross pattern, the right camera shooting the left part of the image, the left camera shooting the right part of the image and the center camera shooting straight ahead. The three cameras were mounted as one unit, set at 48 degrees to each other. A single rotating shutter in front of the three lenses assured simultaneous exposure on each of the films. The three angled cameras photographed an image that was not only three times as wide as a standard film but covered 146 degrees of arc, close to the human field of vision, including peripheral vision. The image was photographed six sprocket holes high, rather than the usual four used in other 35 mm processes. The picture was photographed and projected at 26 frames per second rather than the usual 24″
The cost of the three strip Cinerama process eventually lead to a single strip system using the Ultra Panavision 70 system which while spectacular did not allow for the 146 degree field of view of the original Cinerama. The next big change to sweep theatrical distribution would be the development of the CinemaScope system. From the Wikipedia entry on CinemaScope:
“A French inventor named Professor Henri Chrétien developed and patented a new film process that he called Anamorphoscope in 1926. It was this process that would later form the basis for CinemaScope. Chrétien’s process was based on lenses that employed an optical trick which produced an image twice as wide as that produced with conventional lenses, using an optical system called Hypergonar, compressing (at shoot time) and dilating (at projection time) the image laterally. He attempted to interest the motion picture industry in his invention, but at the time the industry showed no interest. But by 1950 cinema audiences were declining due largely to competition from the new rival – television. However Cinerama and the early 3D films, both launched in 1952, were defying this trend and seeing success at the box-office. This persuaded Spyros Skouras, the head of Twentieth Century-Fox, that technical innovation could help to meet the challenge. Skouras tasked Earl Sponable, head of Fox’s research department, with coming up with a new, impressive, projection system, but something that, unlike Cinerama, could be retrofitted to existing theatres at a relatively modest cost – and then Herbert Brag, Sponable’s assistant, remembered Chrétien’s “hypergonar” lens“
The text and image below are from Martin B. Hart’s American WideScreen Museum site:
“A somewhat exaggerated promotional picture advertising The Robe and CinemaScope. Note how the picture attempts to demonstrate CinemaScope’s similarity to both Cinerama and 3-D. And Fox weren’t by themselves in trying to equate CinemaScope to 3-D. Reviewers and optical gurus all around the world tried to explain how this new process could be 3-D without projecting two images and wearing glasses. Are you ready for this boys and girls? The explanation was that since the new CinemaScope screens were curved, (a really, really slight curve), each eye saw the image in a slightly different dimension, thus creating the three dimensional effect. Of course that’s absolute nonsense but we’re just here to tell the history of this stuff. The square made of broken lines is to demonstrate what the old screen looked like. Yeah, sure.” –Martin B. Hart
A plethora of large format film systems have been used throughout history. The widescreen film formats to follow on from Cinerama (2.65:1 aspect ratio) and CinemaScope (2.39:1 aspect ratio) eventually fell away for event films as the widespread adoption of the non-widescreen (1.43:1 aspect ratio) IMAX format made it the most successful large screen format in history (as of this writing there are 689 IMAX theaters including the controversial smaller screen digital IMAX installations located in multiplex’s). IMAX was a horizontal 15 perf 70mm largescreen format developed by Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor, Robert Kerr, and William C. Shaw in order to eliminate the problems that been encountered with the large multi-projector multi-screen systems that were utilized by Kroitor and Ferguson at Expo 67 in Montreal. They debuted the IMAX system at Expo 70 in Osaka and set up the first permanent IMAX exhibition space at the Cinesphere theatre in Toronto in 1971. The Cinesphere building was constructed in the form of spherical triodetic dome, however the IMAX screen was not in the form of a dome screen, but a slightly curved 80 feet wide by 60 feet high flat screen. In 1973 the IMAX corporation followed up on their essentially flat large screen format with with a tilted hemisphere format called OMNIMAX (since renamed IMAX Dome). From the Wikipedia entry:
“In the late 1960s the San Diego Hall of Science (now known as the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center) began searching North America for a large-format film system to project on the dome of their planned 23.16 m (76.0 ft) tilted dome planetarium. The standard IMAX projector was unsuitable for use inside a dome because it had a 3.65 m (12.0 ft) tall lamp house on top. IMAX Corporation redesigned its system, adding an elevator to lift the projector to the center of the dome from the projection booth below. Spectra Physics designed a suitable lamphouse that took smaller, 46 cm (18 in) lamps and placed the bulb behind the lens instead of above the projector. In 1970, Ernst Leitz Canada, Ltd. (now ELCAN Optical Technologies) won a contract to develop and manufacture a fisheye lens projection system optimized to project an image onto a dome instead of a flat screen. The dome system, which the San Diego Hall of Science called OMNIMAX, uses films shot with a camera equipped with a fisheye lens on the camera that squeezes a highly distorted 180° field of view onto the 65 mm IMAX film. The lens is aligned below the center of the frame and most of the bottom half of the circular field falls beyond the edge of the film. The part of the field that would fall below the edge of the dome is masked. When filming, the camera is aimed upward at an angle that matches the tilt of the dome. When projected through a matching fisheye lens onto a dome, the original panoramic view is recreated. OMNIMAX wraps 180° horizontally, 100° above the horizon and 22° below the horizon for a viewer at the center of the dome. OMNIMAX premiered in 1973 showing Voyage to the Outer Planets (produced by Graphic Films) and Garden Isle (by Roger Tilton Films) on a double bill.”
In 1986 Roman Kroiter produced the first IMAX stereoscopic 3D film (in anaglyph mode), We Are Born of Stars, and in 1985, co-produced the first full-color OMNIMAX 3D film, Echoes of the Sun, 1990 (in active LCD shutter glass mode). As of this writing, the IMAX Solido stereoscopic 3D film, Sea Monsters, is being shown on a 9,700 square foot hemispherical screen at Futuroscope, Poiters, France, using what is claimed to be the most powerful double projector system in the world. Gizmodo’s A Rare Tour of IMAX Cameras by Mark Wilson provides a look at the various versions and configurations of the IMAX acquisition technology.
The history of projecting images on a domed screen can be traced to 1922 when Walther Baursfeld, an engineer for Carl Zeiss optical company, developed and patented the worlds first reinforced concrete dome to house the planetarium projector he had designed. The steel reinforcing grid for the dome is structured on the same sub-divided icosahedron principles independently realized by Buckminster Fuller in his geodesic dome work in 1949. Fuller’s dome designs were subsequently developed as a screen surface support for numerous dome projection theaters and are often used in creating mobile full dome theaters today. One such theater is the Vortex Dome located at Los Angeles Studios which is scheduled to be the site of STATE OF THE ARTS 2013: The Future of Fulldome on 12 December 2013.
The Vortex Dome is named in honor of the legendary Vortex Concerts which William Moritz wrote about in the History of Experimental Animation section of the partially archived website Absolut Panushka:
“In 1957 the composer Henry Jacobs convinced the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco to let him use their newly renovated four-track surround-sound system for a series of concerts. Jacobs commissioned new pieces of electronic music from international composers and asked Jordan Belson to prepare visual imagery that could be projected on the dome during each number. Having access to the planetarium “starscape” projectors, as well as conventional film and slide projectors, opened for Belson the possibility of rivaling Thomas Wilfred’s light projections, which had impressed him years earlier in New York. Belson used filmed footage of his own, as well as that of his friends Hy Hirsh and James Whitney and his wife at the time, Jane Conger. Belson linked Whitney’s film Yantra to a composition by the Dutchman Henk Badings called “Cain and Abel,” and the match worked so well that Whitney had it printed on the film for distribution. Whitney also animated a short visual accompaniment to Pierre Henry’s “High Voltage.” Belson himself filmed long scroll paintings through a kaleidoscope to produce dazzling flows of richly textured imagery, some of which he issued separately as the film Raga. Conger’s cut-out mandalas also formed the basis for a film for Henry Jacobs’ music Logos.”
More on the Vortex Concerts can be found in Scott MacDonald’s A Critical Cinema 3: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers (pp. 71-76), and Jordan D. Marché’s Theaters of Time and Space: American Planetaria, 1930-1970
Between 1965 and 1967, at Stony Point, New York, Stan VanDerBeek constructed his 31-foot-high Movie-Drome, which he constructed from a mail-order grain silo cap mounted on a lofted wooden platform. He outfitted the inside of the dome with sound and projection equipment for audience members to take in while lying on the floor. He saw this as a prototype for a future network of domes to be erected around the world, with images transmitted among them via satellite as described in Culture Intercom: A Proposal and Manifesto which was published in the November 1966 edition of Film Culture (which influenced my sense what the social function of my work with the multimedia ensemble, Single Wing Turquoise Bird, could become).
“It is imperative that we [the world’s artists] invent a new world language, that we invent a non-verbal international picture-language. I propose the following: * The establishment of audio-visual research centers, preferably on an international scale. These centers to explore the existing audio-visual hardware. The development of new image-making devices (the storage and transfer of image materials, motion pictures, television, computers, videotape, etc.) * The immediate research and development of image-events and performances in the Movie-Drome. I shall call these prototype presentations: Movie Murals, Ethos-Cinema, Newsreel of Dreams, Feedback, Image Libraries. * When I talk of the movie-dromes as image libraries, it is understood that such life-theatres would use some of the coming techniques…and thus be real communication and storage centers, that is, by satellite, each dome could receive its image from a world wide library source, store them and program a feedback presentation to the local community that lived near the center, this newsreel feedback, could authentically review the total world image ‹reality› in an hour-long show. * Intra-communitronics, or dialogues with other centers would be likely, and instant reference material via transmission television and telephone would be called for and received at 186,000 m.p.s., from anywhere in the world. Thus I call this presentation,a newsreel of ideas, of dreams, a movie-mural. An image library, a culture de-compression chamber, a culture inter-com.”
Exhibitions of VanDerBeek’s work and ideas at The MIT List Visual Arts Center and the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston in 2011, and the New Museum in 2012 have shown the prophetic nature of his vision, particularly in light of the intercom of current social media enabled by the internet.
Ed Lanz, the President and CTO of Vortex Immersion Media Inc., has published a very informative set of slides from his comprehensive talks on the continuing development of fulldome and other immersive media:
A number of companies sell fulldome services or turnkey solutions into what appears to be an expanding market. The DIY approach taken by artists like Stan VanDerBeek is flourishing with free tools and advice on how to create stereoscopic fulldome fisheye projection. The Stereo Domemaster shader is a free open source solution for stereoscopic fulldome projection. The following five part posts written by Roberto Ziche, Aaron Bradbury, and Andrew Hazelden, provide a comprehensive look at the conceptual development and use of the shader. Reading all five parts will give you an invaluable understanding of the issues and solutions involved with that art of creating fulldome media. Two fixed cameras with a wide field view lose the 3D effects on the sides a the points of view align.
- Fulldome 3D for Everyone – Part 1 / 5
- Fulldome 3D for Everyone – Part 2 / 5
- Fulldome 3D for Everyone – Part 3 / 5
- Fulldome 3D for Everyone – Part 4 / 5
- Fulldome 3D for Everyone – Part 5 / 5
Andrew Hazelden’ Domemaster3D Stereoscopic Shader for Autodesk Maya and 3DS Max is a powerful tool-set for creating stereoscopic fulldome projections.
In what can be considered to be a continuation of the cylindrical panorama multi-camera / multi-projector work of Raoul Grimoin-Sanson’s Cinéorama of 1900 (ten 70mm movie cameras) and Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks‘ Circarama of 1955 (eleven 16mm movie cameras), cylindrical arrays of wide angle digital cameras such as the Jaunt ONE (sixteen custom light-field cameras, and the GoPro Odyssey (sixteen GoPro Hero 4 cameras) have emerged in 2015. The images from these cylindrical array’s of digital movie cameras may be projected with a similar array of digital projectors. However in the most predominant use, the individual camera images are warped and stitched together into a single digital movie file which is then virtually projected as a 360º image space to be viewed with head mounted or hand held display devices such as the Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard. Image stitching software allows for image retouching to blend seams and remove visible camera support hardware captured at the image nadir. A 360º x 180º image file may also be sliced into segments to be projected by multiple projectors (typically from 3 to 6) arrayed around the perimeter of a hemispheric dome. The images slices on each projector must be carefully registered and blended at the edges to achieve the immersive fulldome effect.
GoPro Odyssey on the Google I/O 2015 show floor: