Future of Film: Even Bigger Screens and, Yep, Cinema Selfies

9:00 AM PST 09/02/2014 by Carolyn Giardina

A panoramic theater opens in L.A. on Sept. 19 as other new tech includes live audience interaction onscreen

This story first appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

As exhibitors try to fend off competition from ever-bigger home theater systems, movie houses may soon take their cues from the '50s. Back then, to counter the arrival of TV, Hollywood retaliated by offering bigger — and wider — images onscreen, culminating in Cinerama. That panoramic theater configuration, which faded out by the end of the '60s, left behind the landmark Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard. But a new generation of even more ambitious theaters — possibly even including cinema's first holodeck — is waiting in the wings.

Barco, the Belgian digital cinema projector manufacturer, already has unveiled what it calls "Escape," a configuration that uses a digital cinema screen in front of an audience with two more screens on the sides of a theater to create one wrap-around image. The first Escape theaters — which will include the Cinemark 18 & XD at the Promenade at the Howard Hughes Center in Los Angeles — will open Sept. 19, showing a special edition of Fox's new young adult thriller The Maze Runner. Though no movie has yet been shot to take full advantage of Escape's three-screen setup, Escape theaters showing The Maze Runner will project the live-action movie on to the center screen, and the side screens will feature additional visual effects — extending the reach of the movie's maze, for example.

"We believe entertainment needs to continue to evolve with a more immersive experience," says Ted Schilowitz, who bills himself as Barco's "CinemaVangelist" and also works as a futurist for Fox. "The home experience is getting good; very often people might not want to go out of the house. Cinema needs to show a difference and create a feeling that's magic."

Movie screens will continue to morph into ever-wider configurations as well, predicts The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, a German research firm. "There will be more panorama screens; it's already happening in Germany," says Siegfried Foessel, who oversees the company's moving-picture technologies department, which is developing a 360-degree camera system that was used to shoot the final of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. That footage will be shown in a special 360-degree OmniCam theater installation planned for the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich. Meanwhile, startup Jaunt is developing a 360-degree camera for use in virtual reality.

High-tech interactivity also may play a role in the next generation of theaters. Avatron Development USA is creating special venues, comprised of high-tech attractions, that could begin arriving in cities across the country as early as 2017. They would include a theater where a 3D movie is projected onto a 360-degree dome-shaped screen and real-time facial replacement would be used to project audience members into the action.

"You'd have a wristband that identifies who you are, and if you elect to, your body and face can be scanned, allowing the attractions to include you in them and allow you to interact with them," explains Academy-Award winning VFX supervisor Joel Hynek, who is heading the creative team working on the project."It will be the closest we'll come to being on the holodeck."

Read more from The Hollywood Reporter's "Future of Film" special report:

Studios Will Have to Take Their Cues From TV Networks

Producers Opt for Foreign Talent, Far-Flung Locations to Boost Box Office

4 Experts Predict How Moviegoing Will Change in 10 Years

VFX Legend Douglas Trumbull's Plan to Save the Movies

Why Oculus Rift Was Worth $2B to Facebook

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