It all began when a small group of Canadian experimental filmmakers came together to produce a multi-screen film installation at EXPO ‘67 in Montreal. The installation was part of a competition to create the first truly large-screen film experience. The filmmakers did it by syncing nine projectors together. It was a huge technological challenge. And as they pulled it off, the ambitious team that would one day start the company to be known as IMAX® was faced with another question: wasn't there a better way?
The answer, of course, was yes – but there would be many challenges to overcome before getting there. Over the next three years, IMAX® technology was born, and its epic camera, projector and domed screen system premiered at the Fuji Pavilion at EXPO '70 in Osaka, Japan.
IMAX®’s initial introduction to the public was targeted at a fairly niche set of venues. Purpose-built theatres were designed and placed in museums, science centers and some iconic commercial destinations. The first permanent IMAX® projection system was installed at Ontario Place's Cinesphere in Toronto in 1971, where it remains in operation – showing a film about the history of the city. Other locations would show films that matched the nature of the venue – a Grand Canyon exploration, a deep dive under the sea or even a trip into space. Never a stagnant company, IMAX® soon expanded further, with the invention of new technology including the IMAX® Dome and IMAX® 3D.
IMAX® went public in 1994, which was around the same time the company began to see the growth potential in Hollywood content. IfIMAX® could make documentaries of such extraordinary power, why couldn’t it do the same for live-action films? Dipping a toe in, the company built a few theatres in multiplexes across North America (including the first in New York City’s Lincoln Square), but the ambitious new business model soon ran into trouble. Graeme Ferguson and Roman Kroitor, two of the IMAX® founders, were still producing a majority of the films being shown on IMAX® screens. They and the small handful of other IMAX® producers could not make enough IMAX® movies to fill all of the available slots in the multiplexes. Meanwhile, Hollywood wouldn’t make IMAX® movies until more theatres were built. IMAX® faced a classic "chicken and egg" problem.
To solve it, IMAX® headed back to the lab and invented a revolutionary new technology called DMR – or Digital Re-mastering. This is the process of turning an already powerful Hollywood movie into a breathtaking IMAX® blockbuster. It allowed IMAX® to work with directors on dozens of ways to enhance a movie and to change the saturation, contrast, brightness and a score of other variables in virtually every frame. It meant the studios could transform their most exciting movies into even more exciting IMAX® movies. The first film to employ this technique was Apollo 13, and it met with tremendous acclaim many months after the movie's original release. After that, Hollywood's romance with IMAX® blossomed.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today, IMAX® has expanded all over the globe. Its new digital projection and sound systems - combined with a growing blockbuster film slate - are fueling the rapid expansion of the IMAX® network in established markets like North America, Western Europe and Japan, as well as emerging markets such as China and Russia. IMAX® now works with directors like Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Tim Burton and Michael Bay to launch movies like Avatar, The Dark Knight Rises, Alice in Wonderland and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
The IMAX® Experience
It is going to the theatre to forget you’re at the movies. Sitting there, without the slightest doubt, convinced you’re someplace else. Going, in the space of minutes, to a place that’s frightening, intense, heart-rending, altogether magical – a place you’ve never been before.
IMAX® grabs your senses. Visually, there is no frame. The picture’s bigger, higher, wider than your field of view. You’re no longer at the window peeking out; you’re outside among the stars. And that sensation is intensified by the sound. It’s all around you and it’s real – so much so that the whole experience is visceral. You don’t just hear and see an IMAX® movie. You feel it in your bones.
There’s a complex web of high technology and architecture that makes an IMAX® movie real – and it’s largely stuff that IMAX® invented. We had to, because we are committed to pushing the boundaries and doing things no one in cinema has ever done before.
The highest-resolution cameras in the world. Projection lights so bright you can see them from the moon. A sound system so precise you can hear a pin drop from across the room and know exactly where it fell. And every IMAX® theatre is customized with our patented screen and seating design to ensure you’re always in the center of the action – no matter where you’re sitting.
IMAX® is so special that the most ambitious and accomplished filmmakers vie for the chance to make an IMAX® picture: Christopher Nolan and Brad Bird; James Cameron and J. J. Abrams. In fact today, for every IMAX® movie that we make, we turn down five or six.
And there’s a world of collaboration, too, that’s unique to IMAX® : hours, weeks and months spent on location and in the editing room with the director and technical teams of each film– planning the shots, re-mixing the sound, endlessly adjusting the saturation, contrast, brightness and hundreds of details in virtually every frame in an enhancement process we developed called [Digital Re-mastering, or DMR]
It’s all fascinating in its own right, but once the lights go out it doesn’t matter anymore. IMAX® isn’t about the hardware. It’s not about production.
IMAX® Is Believing
The IMAX® Movies
An IMAX® movie takes you someplace you dream of going and may never reach. It’s surprising. It stretches your imagination. It can inspire you to see the world a different way.
You can easily conjure up these worlds, but they are orders of magnitude more difficult to put on film. And that challenge is why Hollywood’s most ambitious, most accomplished filmmakers – Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott; Tim Burton and Michael Bay – increasingly insist on making IMAX® movies. It’s why actors compete to be in them. It’s why studios all over the world are willing to invest in the extra preparation and thought and resources to make them. And it’s why the film community is pushing the envelope to make even more transporting IMAX® pictures.
And, not incidentally, that is why we currently turn down half a dozen film proposals for every IMAX® movie that we make. So we get to be choosier about the films we think will resonate most with our global audience – films that our fans will show up to see at midnight, films that make people say, “now that is something I’ll have to see in IMAX® .” IMAX® produces three kinds of films – all IMAX® and all spectacular.