360° and Immersive Cinema Systems

Arg blogging is hard you guys! Over the past few months I have moved across the country to live in the Centre of the Universe, but I’m still sending some love out the Prairies. The blog is now a national film journey as opposed to a Regin-inan one specifically, but I’ll continue on sporadically as if nothing has happened. I’ll just have access to some sweet films and art exhibitions to include in my blog if I ever get my butt in gear. I already have a backlog of some reviews from TIFF, so hopefully those get posted over the next little while, but in the meantime, I’m working on an Expanded Cinema course where I’ll be writing (semi) short histories and create case studies for two works on each topic.

Here is #1! 360° and Immersive Cinema Systems. Enjoy!


Along with single-screen, 360° and immersive cinema and systems developed out of the tradition of panoramic painting. As noted by Söke Dinkla, the panorama was an illusionistic painting, encompassing the spectator’s entire field of vision (28). It was a space designed to immerse the spectator into a simulation of nature, as if they had experienced the real thing, which in its time, shifted traditional the boundaries between real and fictional spaces. This blurred boundary was further dissolved with the invention of photography as a medium which captured seemingly perfect reality and time. Although cinema’s spatial and social designs primarily utilized historic traditions of painting and theatre, a few inventors attempted to recapture the immersive reality of the panorama within a cinematic form. The first example was the Cinéorama, designed by Raoul Grimoin-Sanson for the 1900 Paris World Fair (360 Workshop). ImageThis structure consisted of 10 interlinked 70mm projectors arranged in 360° around a viewing platform which simulated a hot-air balloon platform. Although the Cinéorama installation was never repeated, other novelty formats such as the Cinerama, invented by Fred Waller, which utilized three 35mm projectors, projected onto a curved screen rather than a cylindrical one. This arced screen was based on the natural arc of human vision, and placed the viewer in the centre of the scene, however had issues for viewers not placed in ideal perspectives (Belton). Cinerama has gone through a variety of incarnations, and exists today in the curved format of some theatre screens as well as that of IMAX. Other panoramic installations of cinema included Disney’s Circarama as well as Circlevision Spacearium. This format intriguingly seems most used in exhibition and theme-park situations throughout its history, therefore one might also be able to consider 3D screenings of the past and present as part of the historical lineage of immersive cinema practices.

Oliver Grau describes the assimilation of the panorama into visual arts practices, proceeding through painting (Monet’s large-scale abstracted landscapes) and Futurism manipulations of scenography in order to blend “the observer and mechanodynamic image space” (145). In the 1960’s artists began break up the cinematic system which had stagnated with “commercialization, monopolization and industrialization” (Blunck 54). In order to shake up the passive cinema viewer, artists sought means of embodiment and active participation, using a variety of means to disrupt the restrictions of traditional mediums (not only cinema, but painting, sculpture etc). This led to an integration of art forms and a type of interdisciplinary practice that developed into “expanded cinema” and installation art. In an attempt to understand the world in a different way, they used a montage of mediums and practices to engage a more fractured and multiplicitous perspective. Peter Weibel writes that “For the first time, the subjective response to the world was not pressed into a constructed, falsely objective style, but instead formally presented in the same diffuse and fragmentary way in which it was experienced” (43).

Key Features

Oliver Grau describes the essential requirement of virtual art as an “enclosure of the observer within the image space…” (238). The 360° panorama certainly fills this requirement, however I would argue that the term “image” might contain some flexibility. Although many of the examples of immersive cinema do rely on still and moving images, there are a selection which incorporate or exclusively activate other the senses like sound, touch, taste and smell. These should also be considered under the requirements for immersive art.

As noted by Volker Kuchelweister et al in their articles on their iCinema projects, other features might include: spectator embodiment, spectator tracking for optimal experience, interfaces for interactivity, space for multiple users in a social situation, room for physical activity and un-interrupted simulation of experience (Kuchelweister).

These installations usually require specially structures like domes, stereo-sound, panoramic film or video as well as computer interfaces and software to operate. In addition, these installations generally create an illusion of a new reality, however they also engage the viewer’s body in the space and the action, heightening awareness of the spectatorial role rather than pacifying it.

Realms of Influence

As mentioned previously, 360° and Immersive cinema are influenced by the history of cinema and its application to entertainment and Expo situations, where it operated as part of a spectacle. Much of the early “expanded cinema” work in the 1960’s onward reacted to the commercial and restrictive capitalist aspects of cinema as spectacle, and therefore worked to create new ways of engaging with the history of the medium.

Stan VanDerBeek, Movie-Drome, Stony Point, New York, 1963-1965.Stan Vanderbeek’s Movie-Drome and his publication Expanded Cinema (1970) is generally acknowledged as pivotal in the history of expanded cinema, which both draw on R. Buckminster Fuller’s work on geodesic domes as stable,lightweight and portable structures, and also as a metaphysical metaphor for energy and the connectedness of the world (Fuller).

More recently, many of these works are engaged with other discourses around virtual art, virtual reality, interactivity, the sociality of spectatorship, embodiment, net art and media architectures.

Additionally, the “intermedia event’ HPSCHD by John Cage, Lejaren Hiller and Ronald Nameth plays large role in the development of immersive cinema. This work took place over five hours, and encompassed thousands of slides and hundreds of films, projected onto a circular, hanging screen structure (Blunck 60). This combination of performance, cinema, sculpture and other visuals is a key illustration of the multi-disciplinary approach to many immersive cinema installations.

Significant Practitioners

Jeffrey Shaw
Toni Dove
Maurice Benayoun
Charlotte Davies
Peter Weibel & Valie Export
Michael Bielicky and Bernd Lintermann (Room with a View, 2000)
Michael Naimark
Jackie Cassen and Rudi Stern (Theater of Light, 1964)
Yukihisa Isobe (Floating Theatre, 1969)*noted in Vanderbeek’s Expanded Cinema.
Zoe Beloff
Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller
Anthony McCall
Stan Vanderbeek

Important Exhibitions:

The Cinematic Imaginary after Film – Curated by Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel; Karlsruhe, Germany. 16 November 2002 – 30 March 2003
1967 International and Universal Exposition (Expo 67) – Montreal, Canada. April 27 – October 29, 1967

Important Texts

Belton, John. “The Curved Screen”. Film History. 16.3, 2004. 277-285. ACM. Web. 9 September 2013.
Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion. Cambridge: MIT P., 2003. Web. <http://issuu.com/piker77/docs/virtual_art_from_illusion_to_immers – Oliver Grau>
iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research. ICinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research. University of New South Wales. 2013. Web. 11 September 2013. <http://www.icinema.unsw.edu.au/&gt;
MacLeod, Douglas, and Mary Anne Moser, eds. Immersed in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT P., 2001. Print.
Media Art History. Media Art History. 2013. Web. 11 September 2013. <http://www.mediaarthistory.org&gt;
Reiser, Martin and Andrea Zapp eds. New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. London: BFI, 2002. Print.
Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, The New Media Reader. Boston: MIT Press, 2003.
Weibel, Peter and Christiane Reidel eds. ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsuhe. Karlruhe: ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, 2010. Print.
ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. 2013. Web. 11 September 2013. <http://on1.zkm.de/zkm/e/&gt;
Youngblood, Gene. “Introduction”. Expanded Cinema. New York: P. Dutton., 1970. Web. 11 September 2013. <http://www.vasulka.org/Kitchen/PDF_ExpandedCinema/book.pdf&gt;

Important Centres

iCinema Center for Interactive Cinema Research – Associated with the University of New South Wales; an interdisciplinary art, engineering and science centre to research immersion, interactivity, interface and more. Jeffery Shaw with a team of other researchers have collaborated with ZKM on the PanoramaScreen & software on behalf of iCinemawith. http://www.icinema.unsw.edu.au/
ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe – a major cultural institution in Karlsruhe, Germany, which specializes in media art. They host exhibitions, research, publications, events and an archive of obsolete technology. They maintain a collection of Panorama Technology for artist’s use, including the PanoramaScreen, Software and Camera, as well as the ZKM_Klangdom or Sound Dome, which creates a dome of sound with stereo speakers and specialized software to manipulate the movement of audio around a space. http://on1.zkm.de/zkm/e/
Into Light – German Design Studio; Works on commercial and artistic interactive immersion projects. http://www.intolight.de/en/projects/sensescapes
Works Cited:

Belton, John. “The Curved Screen”. Film History. 16.3, 2004. 277-285. ACM. Web. 9 September 2013.
Blunck, Annika. “Towards Meaningful Spaces”. Reiser, Martin and Andrea Zapp eds. New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. London: BFI, 2002. 54-63. Print.
Dinkla, Söke. “The Art of Narrative – Towards a Floating Work of Art”. Reiser, Martin and Andrea Zapp eds. New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. London: BFI, 2002. 27-41. Print.
Fuller, R. Buckminster. “Introduction”. Expanded Cinema. Gene Youngblood. New York: P. Dutton., 1970. Web. 11 September 2013. <http://www.vasulka.org/Kitchen/PDF_ExpandedCinema/book.pdf&gt;
Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion. Cambridge: MIT P., 2003. Web. <http://issuu.com/piker77/docs/virtual_art_from_illusion_to_immers – Oliver Grau>
Kuchelmeister, Volker, Jeffrey Shaw et al. “AVIE: A Versatile Multi-User Stereo 360° Interactive VR Theatre”. iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema. iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema. Web. 11 September 2013. <http://www.icinema.unsw.edu.au/publications/papers/&gt;
Kuchelmeister, Volker, Jeffrey Shaw et al. “Immersive Mixed Media Augmented Reality Applications and Technology”. iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema. iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema. Web. 11 September 2013. <http://www.icinema.unsw.edu.au/publications/papers/&gt;
Reyes, Pedro Calero. Screening Surroundings an Experimental 360° Workshop. Pedro Calero Reyes. Web. 11 September 2013. <http://360workshop.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/22/&gt;
Weibel, Peter. “Narrated Theory: Multiple Projection and Multiple Narration (Past and Future)”. Reiser, Martin and Andrea Zapp eds. New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. London: BFI, 2002. 42-53. Print.


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