michael naimark
Cycloramas Re-Imagined

reality rooms done right

posted Nov 2013

Imagine walking down a long hallway then up a spiral staircase onto a large circular platform where you're entirely surrounded by state-of-the-art, industrial strength, stereoscopic motion picture projection, showing synchronized imagery of an actual place, complete with surround sound and perhaps some degree of interactivity. It could conceivably be live.

Of course, the imagery doesn't need to be only realworld, but the concept of such a space has a good hundred years of history to learn from. These spaces were called Cycloramas, and the hundred years were throughout the 19th Century. Cycloramas were among the most popular forms of entertainment through much of the modern world until the birth of cinema.

So how would it be done today?

This is an early-stage proposal to simultaneously develop the camera system, the display environment, and content. (Please see the most recent slideshows below.)

I have a particular interest in the camera system. There's a joke that it's easy to find experts in cinema cameras, panoramic cameras, and stereoscopic cameras, but the number of experienced folks with stereo-panoramic cinema cameras can be counted on one hand (and many of us are currently talking!). I'm of the school that there's no one-size-fits-all solution for VR cameras, but have some ideas about what might work best for public-scale environments.

I also have some ideas about the display environment, based in part on what can be learned from the rich history of special-venue cinema, as well as on my own public space immersion experience (more here).

BTW, I don't believe that cycloramas re-imagined can really be "reality rooms done right." The history of "just like being there" media has always been a cat-and-mouse game between what the audience knows and what the technology can deliver, going back to the audience ducking at the Lumiere brother's film of an oncoming train, and earlier. But right now the bar is particularly low compared to what can be done, thus creating a unique opportunity for a spectacular new way to convey appreciation of place and its inhabitants.


Sep 2014: "VR Cinematography" slideshow online.

May 2014: Keynote, First International Symposium on Immersive Creativity, Montreal.

Apr 2014: Invited talk: "Cycloramas Re-Imagined", Institute for Creative Technology, USC. (PDF of slideshow)

Jan 2014: Invited Speaker at Environmental Visions Conference, Nanyang Technological University, School of Art, Design and Media, Singapore.

Dec 2013: New slideshow prepared for Cinegrid 2013, UC San Diego. (best viewed in Safari).

Nov 2013: Draft slideshow.