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Dead medium: Sensorama
From: (Aaron Marcus)

Source(s): personal notes

(Editor's note: The following Dead Media note is, perhaps, less authoritative than some previous posts. It9s a personal recollection, reconstructed from Aaron Marcus's notes. Since it concerns a meeting with Morton Heilig, the mind behind "Sensorama, " we thought that it would be a valuable Dead Media entry for our readers.-RK)

At the National Computer Graphics Association conference in Los Angeles, CA, on 22 March 1990, I attended a special (informal) session about Virtual Reality. I forget who organized the session. I checked the proceedings, and it does not appear in Vol. 1. Mr. Ted Nelson, noted inventor of Hypertext, was the first speaker. The second was Mr. Mort Heilig, or Los Angeles, who presented the history of his efforts to create Sensorama in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His contact data on his business card at the time were these:

Mr. Mort Heilig, Cinematographer
855 Galloway Street
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Tel: 213-459-2162, 213-459-5622

The following is based on my notes at the time:

Mr. Heilig was a Hollywood cinematographer who was experimenting with new media. He commented that the old cycle of Hollywood cinema was this: conception

emotion > action, and observation > integration > expression. He was looking for a new approach. With computers, he thought a new concept could come into being that he called "atomic intellect" or "atomic body". He thought art and design could help create a new concept: "atomic heart." Traditional art (painting, music) implied one mind and one person creating in one sensory medium a permanent statement. "Combined art" dealt with the totality, e.g., theater, ballet, and opera, which provided a multi-sensory, more complex use of materials that was not concrete or permanent. Now, cinema was the first machine art to create and capture and control experience through one person's efforts. He was trying to create an art of consciousness, not just vision.

He showed something he called the Periodic Table of the Senses, a diagram. He showed examples of Smellorama.

In 1955: he invented or showed a spherical room, a total environmental television. He also showed and explained a Telesphere Mask.

In 1960: he patented 3D Stereosound and smell using special glasses. He tried to show his invention to select groups to get it funded for mass production. He wanted to create a kind of kiosk multi-sensory experience. The typical reaction was rejection. RCA ignored him (I believe he meant RCA Labs in New Jersey).

Investors could not imagine what it would be like, so he built a prototype. I believe he said he still had examples of this equipment in his basement or garage.

His demonstration prototype (he showed slides and films of the prototype, I believe) used four magnetic tracks to control the sensory displays and nine blowers to create a sense of air movement. He filmed a motorcycle ride through New York City, which he showed parts of. He also showed, I believe, a belly dancer.

I recall that he also showed some documents of an exhibit and/or a publication from South America somewhere that had published extensive images and diagrams and text about his work and ideas. I believe he felt a little annoyed that no one in the USA had ever given him such attention. I recall that he seemed to be pleased that this event had given him an opportunity to present a brief history of his work. Unfortunately, no audio or videotape documentation of the event was made.