[ISEA94] Paper: Erkki Huhtamo (curator) – Phantom Train to Technopia

Abstract

The ride film is a remarkable instance of the cyclical processes underneath the “progressing” surface of the moving image culture. Hailed as a major new audiovisual genre, it is actually one of the oldest. The early film audiences of the late 1890’s enjoyed the impression of rushing straight into the screen world, as if carried by a “phantom”  train. According to a contemporary observer, writing in 1897, the spectator of such a film “was not an outsider watching from safety the rush of the cars. He was a passenger on a phantom train ride that whirled him through space..”.

Phantom ride films, shot from the “cowcatcher” in front of the engine combined the experience of “virtual voyaging” (well known from stereoscopic photographs and panoramas) to the dizzying sensations provided by mechanical amusement parks attractions, such as the roller-coaster. The parallel between the development of early film culture and the amusement park “ride” went even further: in Hale’s Tours and Scenes of the World, an extremely popular film-based attraction which debuted at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904, the “phantom train” was materialized as a stationary railway carriage, which was used as a theatre for projecting phantom ride films. Additional sensory stimulation – mechanically produced sound simulating the clacking of the railroad tracks, rocking of the carriage, even gusts of wind – was used to provide a total simulation of an actual train ride. Actually, such a system had been patented much earlier in England by film pioneer Robert W. Paul, who wanted to build a multi-sensory simulator attraction based on H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine (1894). Even though Paul’s time travel project never materialized, it can be considered as the conceptual prototype for all subsequent motion simulator attractions, long before Douglas Trumbull appeared on the stage.                                                                                                                                                            The phantom ride film, now simply called the ride film, is currently undergoing a major revival coupled with the motion simulator, a speciality theater with hydraulically moving audience  space. Pioneered by special effects master Douglas Trumbull in the 1970’s and (re-)introduced in the context of the theme park in the 1980’s, the motion simulator is currently entering the  urban public space as a distinct attraction or as an essential part of new kind of entertainment centers, such as Iwerks Entertainment’s Cinetropolis. It is even becoming “nomadic” in the form of the mobile simulation theatre, such as Rediffusion Simulation’s Venturer and Iwerks’ Reactor.  The ride film has become a growing industry. Major computer graphics and special effects companies, such as Trumbull’s Ridefilm Corporation (now part of IMAX Corporation), Industrial Light and Magic, Boss Film Studios, Rhythm & Hues and Ex Machina have produced high quality rides. Some companies, such as Showscan Corporation and Iwerks Entertainment, have created a vertical product line designing, producing, marketing and exhibiting simulator-based attractions as their main business.

The Ride of your Life or the Ride Film Phenomenon. Curated by Erkki Huhtamo with Machiko
Kusahara. The program has been made possible by the collaboration of Angel Studios, Boss Film Studios, IMAX Corporation, Iwerks Entertainment, Links Corporation, Mega Productions, Rhythm & Hues, Ridefilm Corporation, Sega Enterprises Japan and Showscan Corporation. Total length: 87 minutes.

  • Erkki Huhtamo was born in Helsinki, Finland 1958. He is currently acting professor of media studies at the University of Lappland, Rovaniemi, Finland. He has lectured widely in Finland and abroad and published essays and studies in nine languages. His publications
    include the first book on virtual reality in Finnish (1991). He has curated several international exhibitions of video art and interactive computer art. In 1994 he was a quest curator of the Australian International Video Symposium, Sydney. Professor Huhtamo also maintains E.M.M.I., his ever-growing (virtual) museum of audiovisuality.

Full text p.206-207