Oct. 17, 2011
by Mark Ollig
Remember those paper scratch-and-sniff stickers?
The 1981 movie “Polyester” featured numbered scratch-and-sniff cards which allowed the viewer (when prompted by a card number) to smell what was being shown on the movie screen.
It was promoted as Odorama.
Placing a fragrance coating on a piece of paper or cardboard is one thing; however, I had no idea of the long history of inventive devices used in dispersing smells while watching a movie.
Hans Laube and Michael Todd were involved in the creation of a device called The Smell-O-Vision.
Laube went on to build a machine that discharged a variety of odors, scents, and smells which would coincide with the events happening during a theater movie or stage play.
Hans Laube was issued US Patent number 2,813,452 titled MOTION PICTURES WITH SYNCHRONIZED ODOR EMISSION Nov. 19, 1957.
Laube’s device would disperse various mixtures and dilutions of liquid scented perfumes, and included one scent neutralizer.
Todd is credited with calling this device Smell-O-Vision.
“Scent of Mystery” was a 1960 movie using an updated version of Laube’s device that circulated up to 30 different smells into theater seats when prompted via specific signal markers on the movie’s film.
Disappointingly, this did not work very well, and as such, no future movies were shown using the Smell-O-Vision device.
The one scent I fondly recall as a youngster while seated inside my hometown’s local theater, was the addicting aroma that drifted in from the popcorn machine in the front lobby.
One of the earliest attempts at combining a motion picture film and smells goes back to 1906, when Samuel Lionel Rothafel, working at The Family Theater in the mining town of Forest City, PA., came up with an idea.
While a motion picture newsreel film of what is believed to have been the 1906 Rose Bowl parade was being shown inside the theater, Rothafel took a wad of cotton wool soaked with rose oil, and placed it in front of an electric fan. This caused the smell of roses to be wafted throughout the theater and amongst the seated patrons.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
It is interesting to note Samuel Lionel Rothafel was born right here in Minnesota, in the city of Stillwater in 1882.
An in-theater “smell system” was installed in Paramount’s Rialto Theater on Broadway in 1933. Blowers released various smells during the movie, but proved unpopular as it took hours (sometimes days) for the scent to finally clear out of the theater building.
There is quite a variety of aromas in this world – and countless opinions on the number of unique scents the human nose can distinguish.
Trygg Engen, a Brown University psychologist, wrote in 1982 that an untrained person can identify 2,000 odors, and an expert, 10,000.
“The human nose can detect and differentiate 350,000 smells; it’s just that we shouldn’t smell them at the same time because you get anosmia – nose fatigue,” according to Sue Phillips, a fragrance expert.
In the book, “The Future of the Body,” Michael Murphy cites his source as saying a real expert (smelling expert, I would assume) “must distinguish at least thirty thousand nuances of scent.”
Ernest Crocker, a chemical engineer and MIT graduate, used a mathematical rating system and came up with 10,000 as being the number of recognizable odors a human can detect.
Mixing smells with your favorite movies, gaming, and television programs is becoming a reality through a French company called Olf-Action.
No doubt the company name is a play on the word “olfactory” which relates to the recognition of smell.
Olf-Action uses Odoravision.
Odoravision is a copyrighted term used to describe the concept for the delivery of odors, or particular scents, in combination with motion picture films viewed in movie theaters.
This method of odor-delivery has also been called: smell-synchronization.
Olf-Action’s Odoravision System can administer 128 scents with three simultaneous odors over the course of one motion picture film.
One aroma diffuser I saw connected a video source to Olf-Action’s Olfahome model 4045 scent dispenser device.
The model 4045 is a 44-pound rectangular, box-like device which was attached to the ceiling approximately 10 feet in front of, and above, the movie viewers.
The diagram for the Olfacine/Olfahome model 4045 showed 40 individual, open-air nozzles.
The scents are stored inside cartridges.
Some of the scents listed included: cakes, gasoline, flowers, roses, wood, sea water, smoke, candies, fabrics, trees, polluted city smells, and one I like; the smell of freshly cut grass.
Olf-Action listed several movie film titles available in Odoravision, including one many would like to see and smell: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
My concern is when we watch an Odoravision movie and tell people it stinks, they won’t know whether we meant the movie’s plot or the smells in it.
I can’t wait until Apple’s App Store starts selling the “iSmell” application.
Then we will be able to watch people sniffing their iPhones while they watch videos on them.
Do I hear laughter from some of my readers?
Folks, you just can’t make this stuff up.
About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.