The audience finds itself inside a giant uterus. Or it flies around cathedral ruins. Or it is transported to a dark, lonely forest.
Such are the experiences offered by Satosphere, a new cinema with a massive dome screen in Montreal designed by the Society for Arts and Technology to provide spectators with a 360-degree view of art projections.
Eight video projectors splash images over the entire surface of the steel-framed shell, which juts from the roof of the building, while 157 speakers emit sounds, creating the world's first wholly immersive cinema.
So advanced is it that it allows for viewing art in three dimensions without 3D glasses.
Satosphere's first show in October, Marie-Claude Paulin and Martin Kusch's "Interior," tickled all the senses as guests also sampled fragrant tomatoes and Sichuan pepper drinks.
On screen, figures danced.
Satosphere, a scion of the Circle-Vision theater unveiled at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition's Bell Pavilion in Montreal, is "cinema for the 21st century," said its president Monique Savoie.
"In the beginning of cinema we hung a sheet in a room and arranged chairs in rows in front of it. And for 100 years that is how we have addressed the contents, like in a box.
"We said to ourselves that now we have a created a playground for the next century."
She added: "Today with the ability to take pictures from multiple viewpoints we can show someone an environment in 360 degrees or we can put that person inside the image.
"Or we can create something which allows us to project a person onto screens, more like mirrors, and allow us to have someone almost floating in the space right in the middle of the experience."
The Satosphere is both for showing today's most immediate multimedia works as well as a powerful digital tool for creating a new form of art.
Architects and developers might also use the cinema to present their ideas before starting construction of new buildings.
Even hospitals are interested in the technology that opens up vast new possibilities for creating pleasant virtual environments for recuperating patients.
In offices above the domed theater, teams of researchers are already working on a next generation of the technology. A six-lens camera that uses software to patch together images seamlessly to allow for the filming of 360-degree films.
"What makes the Satosphere unique is this idea of projecting something really from ceiling to floor," said production and development director Louis-Philippe St-Arnault.
"Unlike in stereoscope (or 3D) where using glasses you create a feeling of depth, here it is by really moving into the image that you can really feel this notion of three dimensions."
Another use of the satosphere promoted by Luc Courchesne, a digital art and interactive multimedia guru, would be bringing artists and the public together in a sort of virtual chat room.
Two or more people separated by thousands of kilometers (miles), he said, for example in Montreal and Paris, or Vancouver and Hong Kong, could come together in "mirror spaces."
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