The desire to increase the visual impact of film has a long history. Film formats such as Cinemascope and Vistavision developed the image and in the late 1960s there were attempts at multi-projector systems. While impressive, the system was cumbersome, difficult to set up and the joins between the screens were difficult to hide.
The IMAX (IMage MaXimum) system was developed by three Canadians: Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor and Robert Kerr. It uses a special 70mm film stock (called "15/70" film) which is three times the size of conventional 70mm stock. The "15" in the designation refers to the number of perforations (sprocket holes) per frame, three times the 5 perforations for standard 70mm stock. IMAX film is also stronger than standard 70mm film, has a more square aspect ratio, and does not carry a sound track. IMAX film also differs from conventional film types in that it moves through the projector horizontally rather than vertically (that is, the perforations are on the top and bottom of the frame).
Drawing the large-format film through the projector was a difficult technical problem to solve; conventional 70mm systems simply tore the film apart and were unable to hold the large film frames flat to the projection lens. IMAX projection involved a number of innovations. As the film runs horizontally through the projector tension is eliminated using a ripple technique called rolling loop: the film moves in a wave with each frame being held flat onto the projection elements by a vacuum device known as a "field flattener". The projector's shutter is also open for around 20% longer than in conventional equipment and the light source is brighter and requires water-cooling. An IMAX projector is therefore a substantial piece of equipment, weighing up to 1.8 tonnes. Further improvements and variations on IMAX include a dome projection option (OMNIMAX), several 3-D presentation methods, and the possibility of a faster 48 frames per second rate.
Since IMAX film does not include a soundtrack the IMAX system specifies a separate six-channel digital sound system synchronized to the film presentation. This development presaged conventional theatrical multichannel sound systems such as Dolby Digital and DTS.
IMAX theater construction also differs significantly from conventional theaters. The increased resolution allows the audience to be much closer to the screen and the rows of theater seats are set at a steep angle so that the audience is facing the screen directly.
For the viewer, these technical differences result in a much more immersive, engaging experience than conventional film projection. The large screen and close seating mean that much of the viewer's field of vision is filled with the image, and the high resolution and positional stability of the film format imparts a sense of reality and detail. IMAX film can be overwhelming at times, with some viewers experiencing motion sickness during scenes with significant motion.
The first IMAX film was demonstrated at EXPO '70 in Japan. The first permanent IMAX system was set up in Toronto in 1971. As of May 2003, there are 230 IMAX theatres in 34 countries around the world. Half of these are commercial theaters and half are in educational venues.
Although IMAX is an impressive format from a technical perspective, its popularity as a motion picture format has traditionally been limited. The expense and logistics of producing and presenting IMAX films has dictated a shorter running time compared to conventional movies for most presentations (typically around 40 minutes). The majority of films in this format tend to be documentaries ideally suited for institutional venues such as museums and science centers. IMAX cameras have been taken into space aboard the Space Shuttle, to Mount Everest and the Antarctic to film such documentaries.
Some IMAX theaters had shown conventional films (using conventional projection equipment) as a sideline to the native-IMAX presentations. In the late 1990s there was a wave of interest in broadening the use of IMAX as an entertainment format. A few pure-entertainment IMAX short films have been created, notably T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous which had a successful run in 1998 and Haunted Castle, released in 2001 (both of these were IMAX 3-D films). In 1999, Disney produced Fantasia 2000, the first full-length animated feature released exclusively in the IMAX format (the film would later have a conventional-theatrical release). In the fall of 2002, IMAX and Universal Studios released a new IMAX version of the 1995 theatrical film Apollo 13. This release marked the first use of the IMAX-proprietary "DMR" re-mastering process that allowed conventional films to be converted into IMAX format. Other theatrically-released films, including a Star Wars installment, would subsequently be re-released at IMAX venues using the DMR process.
In 2003 a notable IMAX re-release was The Matrix Reloaded. The forthcoming sequel Matrix Revolutions is expected to be the first feature film to be released simultaneously in IMAX and conventional theaters. Noted feature film director James Cameron filmed a movie on the Titanic in 3D IMAX format, Ghosts of the Abyss. In December of 2003 Disney is expected to release The Young Black Stallion, the first live-action feature film to be produced in native IMAX format.
Up to 2002, eight IMAX format films have received Academy Awards nomination with one win, the animated short, The Old Man and The Sea in 2000.
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2 A List of Feature Films Released on IMAX Screens
3 External links
A list of notable IMAX films
A List of Feature Films Released on IMAX Screens