IMAX at Patriot Park Revisited – Part 2

As promised, we are going to take another behind the scenes look at the National Infantry Museum’s IMAX Theater, by returning to the theater’s projection booth.  We were there the first time a little over a year ago.

70mm IMAX film is fed from a revolving platter to the IMAX projector.

 One of the reasons that the IMAX pictures are so clear is that 70mm film is used, which is twice as large as the 35mm film used in non-IMAX theaters.  While digital projectors have gotten competitive with film quality, film still has the highest resolution.  The film is placed on platters and is strung over to the projectors.  We caught Wendy loading the documentary Fighter Pilot into the IMAX projector. 

Wendy Banks loading "Fighter Pilot" into one of the two National Infantry Museum's IMAX projectors.

It is a sophisticated device that costs a lot of money, a great deal more than conventional theater projectors. There are two in the booth. It takes one for a 2-D movie, but both for 3-D. IMAX just started playing the 3-D annimated How to Train Your Dragon. Projectionist Chris Joiner says once the How to Train Your Dragon film is loaded onto a platter it weighs 800 pounds.

Mark Torbett works on the reel unit that will feed the second projector for the 3-D movie "How to Train Your Dragon." 3-D requires both projectors to run at the same time.

   It takes two projectors for 3-D so we are talking about 1600 pounds of film for that movie.  (There is also a digital projector in the booth for showing conventional movies. Most of the films are IMAX, but on special occasions conventional movies are shown. )

 I asked the museum’s Executive Director Ben Williams about the price of the IMAX projectors. He said that IMAX leases equipment instead of selling it. “We lease the equipment from IMAX for $1.7 million over a ten year period,” he told me. That’s for the projectors, the sound system, and the  tall, wide screen.  For that amount, IMAX also is responsible for maintaining the equipment. 

The museum’s IMAX screen is 52 feet high, about as high as a five-story building, amd 70 feet wide.  That’s really big, but there are IMAX theaters with even larger screens.  The largest one, according to Wikipedia is “in the LG IMAX theatre in Sydney, New South Wales. It is approximately 8 stories high, with dimensions of 35.73 × 29.42 m (117.2 × 96.5 ft) and covers an area of more than 1,015 m2 (10,930 sq ft).”

In fact, there are three types of IMAX theaters.  The one at the museum is in the 300-seat and under group; it has 293 seats.  There is a second group for theaters that are more than 300-seats.  And you also have the dome theaters that have curved screens.  Chris tells me that the closest dome IMAX is in Birmingham.  He said the projection booth in that theater has glass walls so that patrons can see it in operation as they enter the theater.  The projector is on an elevator. Once loaded, it is raised 50 feet up into the dome. 

Dust cleaners that are part of the cleaning mechanism in the projectors

 Knowing that dust is an enemy of motion picture film, and that the film on the platter is exposed to whatever is in the air, I asked Wendy about that.  The film is dusted by a device that is inside the projector.  It consists of a piece of glass that moves up and down and moisturized tapes that remove dust.  

 When the theater first opened, regular Hollywood movies were shown on a daily basis, along with the shorter documentaries, but that practice was ended when the theater switched mainly to documentaries; however, some Hollywood movies are still shown. We’ll tell you why and take a look at how well IMAX in Columbus has fared in its first year in our next post.

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