The big picture: how IMAX is offering cinema audiences even greater thrills than ever

It was almost 50 years ago that a group of Canadian experimental film-makers got together at EXPO 67 to create what was the first large screen cinema by syncing together nine cinema projectors. It was such a success that, over the next three years, it prompted the development of IMAX technology.

Technological innovation, combined with artistic creativity, lies at the heart of what IMAX is all about

Ever since, IMAX has gripped and thrilled audiences around the world with its cutting-edge projection and sound systems. However, with cinema-goers demanding evermore exciting experiences, the market leader in cinema technology, which has developed proprietary technology, software and unique architecture, is not resting on its laurels.

“Film fans are always looking for something new and even more exciting with each blockbuster movie release, and we enjoy trying to exceed the challenge that it sets us,” says Andrew Cripps, president of IMAX in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “Technological innovation, combined with artistic creativity, lies at the heart of what IMAX is all about.”

In the last few months, the company has unveiled its next-generation projection and sound system called IMAX with laser. The result of the largest research and development investment in its history, IMAX describes it as “the re-imagination of the movie theatre experience”. Designed from the ground up for its largest screens, 75 feet or greater in width, the dual 4K laser projection system is equipped with a new optical engine and a suite of proprietary IMAX technologies.

A laser light source provides substantially more brightness than a xenon bulb, and allows IMAX to fill its largest screens with even sharper and more lifelike images. This is particularly important for 3D movies as 3D glasses have a dimming effect.

As well as improved contrast, IMAX with laser allows film-makers to explore and expand their use of colours by providing a wider palate and more vivid, lifelike images. The technology also includes a next-generation sound system that features 12 discrete channels plus sub-bass. Whether they’re hearing a pin drop or a volcano explode, IMAX with laser gives audiences a whole new visceral sound experience.

IMAX has already signed more than 71 laser deals around the world at some of the most prestigious commercial theatres, museums and science centres such as Empire, Leicester Square in London.

The company also works closely with many of today’s leading directors, such as Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, J.J. Abrams, Zack Snyder and Michael Bay, to create enhanced IMAX versions of their films.

For starters, every Hollywood film that is presented in the IMAX format goes through a proprietary remastering process called IMAX DMR. In this process, IMAX’s team of image and sound specialists work with the film-makers to enhance the saturation, contrast, brightness and a score of other variables in virtually every frame, as well as to remix the soundtrack to optimise it for IMAX’s custom sound system.

“Working directly with such incredibly talented film-makers has opened the door to a whole new world of visual and audio artistry, and these technological and creative collaborations have enabled us to offer cinema-goers something above and beyond anything they’ve experienced before,” says Greg Foster, senior executive vice president of IMAX Corp. and chief executive of IMAX Entertainment.

Another increasingly popular trend is for these film-makers to shoot sequences of their movies with special IMAX cameras. These cameras are renowned for being the highest-resolution cameras in the world and they allow the film-maker to not only display unparalleled image quality, but also make use of the entire floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall IMAX screen.

Exclusively in IMAX, sequences shot with the IMAX camera will expand to fill the entire screen, allowing movie-goers to see up to approximately 40 per cent more of the image with unprecedented crispness, clarity and colour saturation.

Recently Star Wars director Abrams used IMAX cameras to film the key action sequence, tweeting a photo of the IMAX camera on location with the hashtag #bestformatever.

“Star Wars and IMAX are an ideal match,” says Mr Foster. “The film-making team has worked closely with us to deliver the definitive version of the film, including the brightest, sharpest and clearest images on the legendary IMAX screens and a remixed soundtrack that somehow even takes John Williams’ score to another level.”

IMAX says it has no plans to deter its focus on innovation, and will continue to work with film-makers to try and push the envelope when it comes to providing an immersive cinematic environment.

The challenge of creating new experiences in the cinema that engage and thrill audiences has never been greater, but it’s also something the technology experts at IMAX clearly relish.