The funnest thing you’ve never heard of

The Electronic Theatre is one of the highlights of SIGGRAPH – artists and animators submit clips, and the best of them are picked by a panel for a 90-minute animation fest. Amazing, amazing stuff!

But the funnest thing you’ve never heard of was just the warmup to that event: Cinematrix!

So on the way into the theater they hand us these “wands” that have a red reflector on one side, and a green reflector on the other.

We pick seats in the theater. There’s big music playing loud, and this funny display on the movie screen:


We figure out pretty quickly that each big pixel is one of us! You hold up your wand, and it lights up according to which side you have turned toward the screen. All kinds of fun emergent things happened as people played with the display, waiting for the show to start.

When the show started, our MC divided the theatre down the middle into two teams, and warmed us up by getting the sides to go all red, then all green, etc… We were all having fun and paying attention by this point.

Next was a version of pong called Dog and Cat, with fun animations and sound effects:

Cinematrix Dog and Cat

Basically, green made your team’s paddle go up, red made your team’s paddle go down. This was a whole lot of fun for everyone, and had the entire theatre (hundreds on each team) playing and hollering and laughing. My team got the clue first about shouting out the direction the paddle needed to go – but the way the game works even that wasn’t completely reliable. If everyone turned their wand at the same time, the paddle could definitely overshoot the mark. Note that no one was able to talk with anyone more than a couple seats away from them, and even so, somehow the communication and coordination of hundred of us just sort of spontaneously worked.

The last fun example was apparently our collective chance to be part of a Guinness Book of World Records record: the largest Etch-a-Sketch in history! This was done with encouragement from the Ohio Game Company (makers of the toy). The right side of the theater controlled the right nob and the left side of the theater controlled the left nob.

Our MC stepped us through drawing a square, then a triangle, then a circle. Mostly it was hilarious – you can imagine how difficult and unlikely it is for a theater full of us to collectively do this very well. But it was honest amazing how well we did once we got to the last couple of drawings. They ended with SIGGRAPH’s favorite image – the outline of a teapot. I hope someone got that on film – the teaspout turned out amazingly like a teaspout, considering. It’s even more amazing in retrospect now that I think about it, lol.

It’s difficult to exaggerate how engaging, fun and fascinating this was for all of us sitting in the theater.

So here’s an interesting thing about this, which I didn’t discover until I started blogging it this morning: They’ve been around since 1992!

Food for thought in that: why have we not heard of them? Turns out they do have a few permanent installations, and they apparently do events a lot, like festivals and conferences. The business model is worth thinking about: How would they make money? Who would pay for the installation of the system, and its use? How could they possibly get a theater to stop showing the captive-audience-ads that they currently show before movies start?

I don’t know about the company or it’s goals, but check out the bios on the two inventors/founders. Impressive! My guess is this is just a fun hobby project for them, given the rest of what they’re doing (Senior Scientist at PIXAR Animation Studios – nice!). But I have to think those business model questions I asked above are part of this equation, too.
Cinematrix Dog and Cat


One thought on “The funnest thing you’ve never heard of

  1. […] Posted by theschwartz on February 28th, 2007 The article in the International Herald Tribune is about new hybrid movie theaters in Madrid.  I think, as they themselves describe this, it’s very early, still being worked out, and we don’t yet know how this might (or might not) work as a business.  But I’m glad they’re working on it!  One of my favorite things from SIGGRAPH last year was a similarly fun theatre experience, which I blogged about here: The funnest thing you’ve never heard of […]

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