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by dr andrew cousins

Dr Hymen Tabernacle: A Vision of the Future

Although it often seems to us as though film has been around forever, it is in fact only just over a hundred years old. For most of that time technology has had remarkably little impact on the way that films are made. We may now have stereo surround sound and widescreen colour pictures but the underlying photochemical processes at the heart of film making haven’t changed much at all. All this is changing as digital technology begins to make things possible that the early film pioneers could only have dreamt of. Dr Hymen Tabernacle is a "future technologist". He works with the research and development departments of Sony, Panavision, Technicolor and many others on the cutting edge of film making science. What Hymen imagines today could be revolutionising cinema tomorrow.
In your book "Son of the Magic Lantern: The Future of Cinema", you say that in terms of film making technology "we’ve only just discovered how to make fire". What do you mean by that?
When I say, "we’ve only just discovered fire" I am, of course, not suggesting that we have literally just discovered fire. I am simply using it as an analogy of how far we have progressed in terms of the technology of filmmaking. Answer – not very far at all. Okay, we’ve got sound and colour pictures but the film stock is still basically a cocktail of photosensitive chemicals on a base made out of cow’s hooves. It’s all actually quite primitive. If the Lumiere brothers were here today they would still be able to recognise most of the camera equipment we use today. As long as it was all labelled in French.

But that’s beginning to change isn’t it?
It certainly is. It’s happening rapidly too. Faster then many people are aware of in fact. By the end of this century, I predict that films and filmmaking will be very different to what we see today. Digital production and projection methods are going to make monumental changes to the industry.

We hear a lot about so-called "Digital Cinema" but nobody ever seems to be able to tell us the sort of changes that we can expect to see. Can you enlighten us?
Well at the moment we are merely seeing the tip of the iceberg. The new high definition cameras are expensive at the moment but as their image quality improves and they become an industry standard then the costs will fall. They have many advantages. They are lighter and less bulky then film cameras for example. Also they are much, much quieter during filming. A typical film camera will emit a noise level roughly on a par with two mating rhinos at the height of pleasure when it is running. A hi-def camera outputs a noise level equivalent to a hummingbird in flight. Also the director and cinematographer will be able to see exactly what they are filming as they are doing it. They won’t have to wait for the next day to see the rushes. The whole process is speeding up.

Combined with digital projection systems the costs of making and distributing films will be much cheaper then ever before. There will be no need for prints to be struck, as films will be up-loaded to cinemas over the Internet. Also pornography will have much higher production values then before.

I’m sorry?
Traditionally pornography is always the first industry to properly exploit any new technological advance. They did it with photography, with early cinema, with premium rate phone calls and with the Internet. I see no reason why the trend shouldn’t continue. In thirty years time pornographic films will have the same production values as mainstream cinema. This will lead to a social revolution where pornography will be come publicly acceptable. Eventually, you’ll be able to find "Buttmaster’s Lady and the Tramp II" on the same shelf as "Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp II"

Of course hi-definition, cinema quality video is only the start of the changes that will happen to film making.

In what way?
Smellovision will make a comeback. The original was a failure simply because of the crudity of its nature which involved audiences scratching and sniffing chemically impregnated cards. However at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we’ve been working extensively on the whole aspect of smells and smelling. The problem is that the human nose is incredibly sensitive and can distinguish the differences between millions of different smells. However we’ve recently been able to create a computer sensor that is almost as sensitive. It is still at the prototype stage. The production version will be superior to the human olfactory system by around thirty percent. But from this we have been able to work backwards and create an artificial device that is capable of synthesising smells. It is fairly crude at the moment and is only able to produce strong, rather simplistic smells like stale sweat, baking bread, petrol and most of Calvin Klein’s range of perfumes and aftershaves. Once perfected the system can be installed alongside the cinema air-conditioning system to add another sensory level to the movie experience. A portable version will be available for home cinema systems.

But surely there’s a limit to the level of realism that the cinema experience can offer?
Exactly. That’s why the next advance will be in the area of virtual reality. Sony is currently developing a system which is provisionally titled "Total Immersion Theatre: Interactive Experience Simulation" or TITIES for short. This will provide a completely realistic simulated environment. At the moment the system is limited by the fact that the user has to wear a bodysuit and hi-resolution goggles in order to use it. Eventually we’ll be able to tap the visual and sensory cortexes of the brain directly, at which point we will be able to make it a truly lifelike experience. Imagine actually being a physical part of the film that you are watching. We like to call it "Virtual Cinema" It will lead to an entirely new way of filmmaking. Again, I expect TITIES will be very popular in pornography.

Presumably ‘Virtual Cinema’ means virtual actors as well?
Indeed. A lot of work is all ready being done in this field. James Cameron has been working steadily towards creating a totally realistic computer-generated human being. He sees virtual actors as a great advantage in the film making process. They would never complain. They would never get tired. They would never demand more money. He could shout at them as much as he wanted and they wouldn’t cry. He put a lot of effort into the project. He’s got a lot further down the road then most people realise. In fact at his effects company, Digital Domain, they’ve succeeded in creating an artificially intelligent computer generated actor. They’ve named him "Sypher". Unfortunately there have been one or two glitches. Cameron originally wanted to use Sypher as the lead in Titanic. However, after two days of shooting Sypher refused to boot-up, saying he had "issues with the script". He and Cameron sent a whole load of e-mails back and forth but they couldn’t resolve their differences. Jim had no choice but to fire him and hire DeCaprio instead. He refuses even to talk about the project. I believe Sypher has his own agent now. He had a small part in ‘Toy Story 2", I believe.

Dr Hymen Tabernacle – it’s been an education. Thank you.

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