Monday, February 23, 2009

Smell the Movie

One of the things that I keep thinking on and off is how technology that is very familiar to us will be in the future. Consider movies for instance. Conventional thinking suggests that movies of today have all the ingredients in terms of technology that one would want in a cinema experience. But there are certain critical elements that are missing. This is similar to asking cinema viewers in mid 20th century what more they wanted in a movie and they’d have looked askance and wondered what more they’d want. Then came along cinemascope and Technicolor. For a long time, that was the final frontier. There were moving (colour) pictures on screen, there was sound and music. Everything seemed to be great. Until somebody noticed that normal human vision is not 2-D, it’s 3-D.

Most often, technologies in films aim at imitating life as much as possible. The closer one gets to life, the better. Therefore, computer graphics and animation is judged by how close to everyday experiences or ‘realistic’ it is. We’ve had 3-D films for a while now, although it has never really taken off. Everything’s perfect, right? I was thinking so until I realized that one critical element of what a person experiences in life is missing in films – the sense of smell. Imagine smelling gunpowder when the guns go off in period films; imagine smelling roses and lilac while watching mushy romantic scenes; imagine smelling blood and rotting flesh in horror movies and thrillers. The sense of smell will add a new dimension to movies the way sound and later visual effects did. It will give a filmmaker new tools to convey his ideas to the viewer. Very soon, we will have an ‘olfactory effects team’ in addition to the sound and visual effects team in films.

I know that some research has been going into recreating a smell, but I don’t know how successful researchers have been in their efforts to record and play back smells the same way that they are able to do with sight and sound. Essentially there should be
a) a device which produces a chemical or physical change when exposed to the smell,
b) a way of preserving that change in a form that is portable or which can be encoded into specific formats (digital/magnetic, etc.)
c) a way in which these encoded information can be read later on.

Although it sounds uncomplicated enough, I’m sure it’s not that easy – otherwise we’d already have that technology. A quick and lazy search on Google threw up only a couple of useful/working links. Here and here.

Part of the difficulty is that while light and sound have been quantified in terms of frequencies, wavelengths and amplitudes in such a way that it can be reproduced exactly at another location without any loss of information, smell has not yet been completely quantified in terms of two or three variables with which we can completely define it. Once we identify say, the 10 different variables that define what smell is, all one needs to do is to combine x parts of variable 1 with y parts of variable 3 and z parts of variable 8 to generate the smell of the exquisite fish curry that the chef is making on his cookery show.

What made me think about this now? It’s seeing Jamal Malik run towards Amitabh Bachchan covered in shit. How much more effect would it have had if the stench reached the nostrils of people watching in room freshenered Inox?

6 comments:

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Touch, my friend! I'd rather be able to feel the touch of whatever I want by wearing 3-D glasses and extending my hand!

Badri said...

Let me do the logical extension...taste and touch....that is ultimate.....all those porn movies....I just can't imagine...er I hope you dont have family audiences for your blog!!

mathew said...

hahaha..yeah..even possibly if the device malfunction in a scene where the heroine is applying perfume..it can possibly get movie watchers escaping for their lives!!!

But I guess most theater's in my city already has this features..but its the stench!!

SidtheKid said...

Man Badri's comment is a laugh riot; I love the whole concept Badri.

Remember the time when my dad bought one magazine( AM/PM I guess). One of the ads in it had a smell sensation to it. I have thought about this idea and I am sure a lot other's have too. I am assuming its not very difficult to do it once we can recreate the smell causing chemicals in the labratory . But why is not that someone has done it ?

Philip said...

karthik: Do I sense naughty intentions here ;)

badri: You evil sleazy baster, hell bent on driving away my 'family audience' ;)

mathew: Never thought that our theatres are so advanced

sid: I guess it's because encoding smell is difficult. There's a lot of research happening in this area, though.

Badri said...

hmmmm.......seems true 'the family ones' havent commented..........and thnx sid