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 dot life Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 10:32 GMT
Movie posters learn to talk
A night at the pictures is about more than what's happening on the big screen. In US cinema lobbies, movie posters which talk at passers-by are emerging as the latest invention to spice up the evening's entertainment.
Just imagine you're standing in line buying popcorn when out of the corner of your eye Halle Berry winks at you. It's many young male's fantasy of course, but she does it again.

You walk up to the poster just for curiosity and Halle Berry and James Bond's Pierce Brosnan leap into a full-motion, fist flying fury with a pulsating stereo soundtrack in the background.

Behind you the noise of planes buzzing catches your ear. You turn around and the next thing you know they jump from poster to poster and right out the front door of the cinema.

This is American movie-going of the 21st Century kind.

Minority Report starring Tom Cruise
Talking posters? Minority Report again predicts the future?
The old-fashioned paper and ink posters that adorned the walls of cinemas, and were largely ignored by the film going public, are now leaping into life. And it's mostly down to Stephan Fitch, the head of Thinking Pictures.

For five years the New York based company has been toiling away recasting movie posters from their boring two dimensional style into something that is very much alive and kicking.

Mr Fitch, an independent film maker with an advanced degree from MIT, told BBC News Online: "If you are going to distribute 'one sheets', or posters, you should be able to do something exciting with them. It's about delivering a message in a creative, interesting and enticing way."

Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry
Playing in a cinema foyer near you soon
Digital and internet-based technology is at the heart of ThinkPix's motion posters which are loaded with radar-like sensors or detectors that recognize when a person approaches.

Each "smart display" is actually a flat plasma screen coupled with custom-made computers and some off-the-shelf PC speakers. The poster is linked to the theatre's server which hooks up via broadband back to Mr Fitch's company where the display's content is developed and distributed.

"There are a number of ways you can make a thing think," says Mr Fitch about the technology driving this new phenomenon. "One way to give these posters perception is to install an ultra sonic sensor that operates like a bat. It has a focused but narrow distance from which it can perceive objects in front of it and when it's triggered in some way, it causes the content or something to happen on the screen or the poster."

The big challenge is that on the desktop you have one person to appeal to whereas at the movie theatre there could be any number of people

Paul Rosenbloom
Paul Rosenbloom, associate director of the Information Services Institute at the University of Southern California, says this application is really an extension of what is done on desktops with pop-up windows. "The big challenge is that on the desktop you have one person to appeal to whereas at the movie theatre there could be any number of people."

The major studios agree but Stephan Fitch says that until now no-one has been able to say if people pay much attention to the old fashioned movie posters and exhibits.

Old film posters
Two dimensional posters can have their attractions
With ThinkPix he maintains he can tell studios how many times their trailers and posters are shown, how many people walk up to have a look, how long they stay there and even how close and personal they get.

"Everyone can benefit from this," says Mr Fitch who is developing smartcard applications to allow users to change the displays so they can view trailers or adverts for films or products that interest them.

"It can't just be about the advertiser shoving ads down the movie-goers' throats. The movie-goer has to want to see what's happening on the screen. We have to think of them first and about how this enhances the film-going experience."

With people spending between 20 and 45 minutes in cinema lobbies, it's a captive audience everyone wants to reach. And Mr Fitch's innovation certainly seems to be creating something of a buzz as it spreads from 30 to 100 interactive displays in the coming weeks.

The movie-goer has to want to see what's happening on the screen

Stephan Fitch
Now the world's largest shower of films, the Regal Entertainment Group, which has nearly 6,000 screens, has embarked on an aggressive campaign to set up a digital network linking its cinemas to a delivery system for electronic adverts and promotions on lobby screens.

Europe is also set to jump on the bandwagon and at the end of the month, Mr Fitch heads to London to do some wheeling and dealing in the belief that ThinkPix will be coming to a cinema near you, soon.


Is this a good use of technology? Let us know your views, by using the form below.

This is fantastic! It's only a matter of time before we have digital projectors in cinemas and electronic distribution of films. So why not have electronic distribution of adverts too? This could mean that cinemas show a wider range of films and if a show proves to be particularly popular, they can increase the number of auditoriums that are showing it at a moment's notice as all the films and posters are stored in its central server. It could be the biggest culture change in the cinema since talking pictures was introduced!
Martin Randall, UK

A good use of technology? Hmmmm. Probably a better use than all those annoying popup ads on websites, but ultimately it won't persuade me to go to any film I wasn't going to see anyway.
Guy Chapman, UK

Now this looks like something straight out of the pages of Harry Potter! I look forward to seeing these in all cinema lobbies.
Simon Heighes, England

As long as it doesn't put up the price of cinemagoing in the short term (as many studios own their multiplexes and may want to recover costs that way), then it's a good alternative to the overhead TV screens which, if they're only 14inches, can be hard to see (but not hear).
Flynn, England

Although rather frivolous it will be a great test bed for this sort of technology. Interactive, touch sensitive, posters would revolutionise scientific or medical conferences, where experimental data is typically displayed as a series of static graphs or photographs.
Paul Gitsham, England

I don't mind them advertising in the cinema, just as long as they don't escape onto the street. Otherwise we'll end up with the nightmare from the Minority Report.
David, UK

Sounds almost as intrusive as pop up ads or people in the street trying to sell you stuff, though a bit easier to ignore. Problem is, what's next? Vending machines on wheels that can detect parents with screaming children then scoot over to try and sell them sweets and chocolate?
Stuart, UK

Good use of technology? Of course not - it's just going to be as annoying as those motion-detecting Father Christmasses that are put on display in tacky shops, and the shop-owners very soon dread customers walking down that aisle. Spare a thought for a moment for the people who have to work in the cinemas and who would have to put up with such a nuisance.
Andrew, UK

To Stuart, UK. Copyright your idea quick!
David, UK

Wouldn't it be better to spend money on making better and more diverse films? Surely that would be a much better way to encourage people to watch a film. A very good film I hear about via word of mouth will have a much bigger effect on me than seeing an average film promoted this way in a cinema.
Stephen, England

Another pointless intrusion into our daily lives. And for what? Just to sell a few more tickets. If it were up to me I'd prefer more visual stimulation in the things that matter, cars, buildings, tables, clothes. But it's not, so here's hoping they do something genuinely interesting with it. I'm sure we could all do with a less bland world.
Jawad, UK

Just as they axe 'Tomorrow's World' up comes along some decent material for the show!
Scott Wills, US

I am currently writing my final year dissertation at university on the topic of film posters. I think this development is a novel means of advertising within the cinema, but would enjoy seeing it in more unexpected areas such a bus stops. I believe, however,that vintage posters remain works of art, and that the 2D poster remains an accessible art form for all today.
Jenny Collins, England

If you think talking posters are annoying, wait until "paper power" allows the packaging of everyday goods to start flashing and yammering at you from the store shelves.
Dave, US

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