Redefining authenticity in the movie theater experience has been a long progression of coupling fantastic ideas (stimulating scent, sight and sound) with technological limitations (poor timing, poor ventilation, lack of automated control). The rise of computer technology has given us many auditory and image enhancements but the nature of progression in technology and audience acceptance has limited our ability to deliver authentic scent effects.
How did we get here?
As with all stages of progression, there is an end and a beginning scattered with excellent ideas that are hindered by technological limitations along the way. Adding scent effects to the movie theater experience begins in Pennsylvania during a showing of the Rose Bowl. Wads of cotton were soaked with rose oil and placed in front of a fan that hung above the crowd. Hans Laube further advanced the scent effect when he launched Scent-O-Vision at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Pipes that were connected to the audience’s chairs carried appropriate odors to the audience while a control board managed by the projectionist timed the fragrance emissions with the production. Unfortunately, before the exposition merited a review, the police seized the technology stating a similar scent effect system already existed somewhere else in the US.
“The Battle of the Smellies”
Starting in 1959 and spilling over into 1960, Variety named the battle over perfecting the scent delivery system within the movies “the battle of the smellies” with two films Behind the Great Wall and The Scent of Mystery. Hans Laube and Michael Todd Jr. joined to deliver Smell-O-Vision (an updated version of Laube’s Scent-O-Vision) in The Scent of Mystery by a two-part process. First, perfume bottles awaited puncture from markers in the movie reel which were intended to optimize timing. After released from the bottles, the fragrances would travel from the projector’s room to the audience via pipes that snaked through the theater that ended in a ventilation vent residing underneath people’s feet.
Behind the Great Wall, produced by Walter Reade Jr. using Charlie Weiss’ concept used the theaters existing air conditioning system, a fan and an odor neutralizer to emit the appropriate fragrances and subsequently mask the next.
Poor timing and technological limitations put this journey down authenticity road on hold for the moment.
The Next Round of Scent Attempts
Beginning in the 80’s and on, the problems in the existing scent effect delivery process demanded a simpler method. In 1982, Polyester coined the term “Odorama” for a scratch n sniff card that coupled with number cues from the screen at the appropriate intervals, audience members were encouraged to scratch and sniff away. Overcoming the timing issue and nose fatigue had been conquered but the distraction of trying to see through the darkness and looking up from the screen and back down to the card left the audience wanting.
3D to 4D is Natural
Much like the history of scent effects in movie theaters, the history of 3D began in the early 20th century, waxed and waned with the technological limitations, cost of processes and demand from the public (things like WWII distracted the uses of 3D from an artistic purpose to a more utilitarian one). It wasn’t until the 80’s that IMAX was able to correct the eyestrain and fatigue by adjusting the geometric design of previous 3D collections. The use of HD cameras soon replaced the outdated 3D film, maturing the technology, which was used to shoot movies like Spy Kids and Aliens of Deep. During this time period, the demand for 3D went up drastically due to these technological advancements and now it is hard to find a movie that doesn’t release (or re-release) with a 3D version.
Both histories express the goal we’ve been working towards since the very beginning, creating a totally immersive movie theater reality that competes with our own sense of reality. As with the history of 3D, the progression to an even more engaging storytelling adventure is a natural transition.
Technological Advancements in Scent Effects
Throw the old scratch and sniff cards away. Instantaneous delivery, pre-programmed timing and intensities and thoughtfully designed integration standards have successfully given us the tools to transition our 3D movie world into the all-immersive 4D experience.
SensoryCo has optimized three scent delivery systems designed for the 4D theater, smaller interactive displays and even large, outdoor productions or live performances. A thoughtful graphic interface smoothes the control end of the process and a catalog of hundreds of scents allows for a large range of experience creation.
Scent effects in movie theaters have lived through a century of bumpy innovations coupled with cutting edge minds and an awaiting public devoutly married to authenticity. Updated technologies, time and experience has finally delivered the sweet smell of success we’ve been asking for since the turn of the century.