The space shuttle towers above you, gleaming white in the early morning sunshine. The familiar calm voice of the NASA announcer counts down the final seconds to launch. Billowing white steam and smoke explode around you, and as the shuttle majestically rises on a brilliant pillar of flame the thunder of the rockets shakes… the theatre.
You may feel like you’re pad-side at Cape Canaveral, but “it ain’t necessarily so.” You’re just viewing an IMAX film– and this spring you can view it in Regina at the Saskatchewan Science Centre’s Kramer IMAX Theatre.
IMAX films are, in a word, big. In four words, they’re really, really, really big. They’re projected on a giant screen typically more than 14 metres tall and 17 metres wide, and yet they boast incredible picture quality. Viewing one is an unforgettable experience.
The huge, crystal-clear image engulfs peripheral vision, causing viewers to “fall into” the picture. Speeding down a mountain road in an IMAX film can make you dizzy. Flying over the Grand Canyon can make you airsick. And going into orbit on the space shuttle is literally an “out-of-this-world” experience.
The enormous IMAX picture comes with equally enormous sound in six-track stereo– four screen channels and two surround channels. (In fact, audiences are often as impressed with the sound as with the giant image.)
IMAX grew out of large-screen, multiple-projection systems developed for Expo ’67 in Montreal. Audiences loved the large images, but the technology was cumbersome.
In mid-1967 Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor and Robert Kerr formed Multiscreen Corporation, the precursor to today’s IMAX Systems Corporation, in an effort to achieve the same extra-large effects using a single camera and a projector. They created the world’s largest film format, one in which each frame has 10 times the area of a standard 35-millimetre frame. It ‘s the enormous information-carrying capability of this huge film that makes it possible to project a crystal-clear image on a four-story screen.
Unfortunately, giant film created giant problems. Those huge frames still had to move past the projector’s shutter at 24 frames per second– so fast that the perforations (15 per frame) kept ripping.
That problem was solved by the Rolling Loop, a film-transport mechanism invented by Ron Jones of Australia (who sold the invention outright for the cost of building a retirement cottage– complete with a well-stocked machine shop– in the mountains).
The Rolling Loop advances the film horizontally in a smooth, wave-like motion. Each frame is positioned on fixed registration pins, and held firmly against the rear element of the lens by a vacuum, producing picture and focus steadiness far above normal standards.
The shutter used in the IMAX projector also transmits one-third more light than the shutter in conventional projectors.
The IMAX system premiered at the World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan, in 1970, and was a huge (what else?) success. The first permanent theatre capable of showing IMAX films was the Cinesphere in Toronto’s Ontario Place, built in 1971; IMAX films proved so popular that by the third year they were all the Cinesphere was showing.
Today there are more than 70 IMAX and OMNIMAX (a domed-screen version) theatres operating in more than two dozen countries, with many more on the way. (Seven new ones opened recently or are opening soon in the U.S. alone.) More than 18 million people worldwide see IMAX/OMNIMAX films each year.
There are currently about 60 IMAX and OMNIMAX films available, and more than a dozen new ones on their way, including Mountain Gorilla and Tropical Rainforest. Other coming films include a whimsical animated symphony for 2,000 timepieces, a look at the continent of Antarctica and an eye-and-ear-popping record of The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle concert in Wembley Stadium. As well, the National Geographic Society has signed an agreement to begin developing IMAX/OMNIMAX films.
The Kramer IMAX theatre is a particularly fitting addition to the Saskatchewan ScienceCentre because it meshes so well with the Science Centre’s goals, the first of which is to make science more accessible to the public, to remove its stigma as something taught only in dusty classrooms and smelly laboratories and create the more accurate image of science as an exciting, creative, even entertaining human endeavour, on a par with music and art.
The Saskatchewan Science Centre’s theme is “To see what everyone sees and to think what no one has thought.” IMAX film-makers have given us unique perspectives on subjects as diverse as beavers, volcanoes and ants. Their work, presented in the powerful IMAX format, batters down the walls that people build between themselves and the world’s wonders. Every IMAX film, whatever its subject, is a celebration of the beauty and diversity of Earth and the living creatures on it– including humanity. The Saskatchewan Science Centre encourages people to take a fresh look at the world around us; IMAX films ARE a fresh look at the world around us.
Finally, IMAX is Canadian technology, and the Science Centre seeks to send the message that it is possible to excel in the fields of science and technology in this country and province; IMAX is a perfect example. (IMAX theatres are constructed so that visitors can view the complex projector, making it an exhibit in its own right.)
The Kramer IMAX Theatre opens in just over 10 days, so hold onto your hats: the Saskatchewan Science Centre is about to bring you a bigger show than even Ed Sullivan ever dreamed of.