"Sensurround"

American Cinematographer, November 1974 | Go to article overview

"Sensurround"


Unique and exciting new system developed specially for the presentation of "EARTHQUAKE" adds an extra emotional dimension to viewing of film by surrounding the audience with the full fury of nature's violent cataclysm

Universal's new SENSURROUND system, developed by MCA/Universal, is a revolutionary development that adds the sense of feeling to sight and hearing in motion picture theatres.

The SENSURROUND system is being introduced for the first time in many theatres exhibiting Universal's large-scale production of "EARTHQUAKE" and adds the dramatic and powerful illusion of audience participation to the total moviegoing experience.

Augmenting normal sight and hearing enjoyment of motion pictures, SENSURROUND, a derivation of the words "sense" and "surround", permits the audience literally to feel low-frequency sound and air vibrations generated by powerful electro-acoustic traducer horns placed near the screen and in the rear of theatres.

The physical-audible effects, hitherto impossible to produce on theatre sound systems, give the viewers of "EARTHQUAKE" the sense of being in the epicenter of a rumbling, violent temblor as well as being an eye-witness as the Hollywood Dam breaks and the surging water washes away people and buildings.

Development of the SENSURROUND system was sparked when Jennings Lang, Universal vice-president and executive producer of "EARTHQUAKE", asked the MCA/Universal' technical experts to devise some new dimension in film exhibition to make this motion picture a special event, one that could not be duplicated on television.

After many meetings with the studio creative technical experts, studio general manager Joseph Hiatt assigned responsibility for developing a new system to W. O. Watson, former studio sound director and now a special consultant, and Dick Stumpf, studio sound director.

Several months later, the day before producer-director Mark Robson began filming "EARTHQUAKE", Watson and Stumpf and their crew of technical experts had completed the preliminary working model of SENSURROUND.

A special "EARTHQUAKE" demonstration reel, with some of the first footage from the picfure, was constructed by editorial supervisor Phil Scott, and this was screened with the SENSURROUND system for more than three months for several thousand tourists visiting the studio.

These experimental screenings and enthusiastic reactions from the audiences enabled these experts to refine the SENSURROUND system, a new sense-sound dimension in motion picture that will be adapted to future films when appropriate.

For the technical-minded, SENSURROUND is designed to surround and engulf an audience with special audible and sub-audible effects, below the human hearing range, not possible to record or reproduce on present theatre sound systems.

The audience experiences the illusion of participation by feeling the air movement, generated by powerful electroacoustic traducer SENSURROUND horns, which vibrate against a person's body and ears with a sound pressure waveform comparable to that of an actual earthquake. As the vibrating sensation is airborne rather structure-shaking, there is no physical danger to an audience.

In the United States, the SENSURROUND system initially will be installed and maintained by RCA, under contract to MCA, in those theatres exhibiting "EARTHQUAKE" with SENSURROUND. The equipment will be supplied to MCA by Cerwin-Vega, Inc., manufacturer of high-fidelity speaker systems and electronics.

In the following interview, W.O. Watson talks about SENSURROUND and explains how and why it works:

QUESTION: Can you give me some background on how SENSURROUND came to be developed?

WA TSON: It was back in January that we first heard about the "EARTHQUAKE" script and I was interested because I had been in on an earlier adventure with an earthquake picture. We made one at Republic years ago and it was a good earthquake picture, but we failed to get the effect that we're getting now with SENSURROUND because there was no equipment available at the time that could accomplish it. …

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