In 1970, at the World's Fair in Osaka, Japan, a Canadian-developed technology - IMAX - was introduced to the world. Featuring an image that is ten times the size of conventional 35mm photography IMAX proved to be an instant success. (The word “IMAX” was derived from “Maximum Image” )For almost four decades IMAX audiences have been transported from the yawning depths of our oceans to the infinity of outer space and to everything in-between. They have traveled down the Nile and up the Amazon, climbed to the summits of Everest and Kilimanjaro and explored the ancient pyramids of both the Egyptians and the Maya. They have been in the company of Harry Potter, Jane Goodall, Michael Jordan, Spiderman and Ernest Hemingway. Confronted by lions and tigers, crocodiles and sharks, desolation and devastation, they have survived hurricanes and tornados, blizzards, drifting sand and white-water rapids. An American Astronaut's exclamation “It's the next best thing to being there” became a slogan for the large format industry and an indication of the adventure and excitement to be found in virtually every film.
It was the dream of the IMAX founders, all Canadians, to develop a fully-integrated technology - theatres, cameras, projectors, sound systems - that would deliver a totally immersive experience and turn audiences into vicarious participants. Key to the system was a massive screen and a crystal-clear image that would fill every inch of it. Actually, over time, two types of screens evolved. The first, the IMAX flat screen, was six to seven storeys tall and as wide as the theatre itself. It can be compared to a flat-bottomed glass boat through which you can see a complete undersea world. The second screen, originally called OMNIMAX and now called IMAX Dome looks like the top half of a huge (24 m, 77 ft. diameter) tennis ball. The audience sits inside the dome and looks at imagery projected on its interior surface. It can be compared to being a scuba diver and seeing the undersea world all around you.
Each screen type has its own fans. Those who like the dome appreciate the feeling of being surrounded by the unfolding scenes even if every image is not as crisp as it is on the flat screen. Fans of the flat screen admire the image sharpness and film resolution only that screen can deliver. In recent years 3D IMAX theatres have become the fastest-growing segment of the large format market although the supply of 3D films is not yet as extensive as many would wish.
In conventional film projectors the celluloid is transported vertically, claws reaching into sprocket holes and pulling the film frames upwards and in front of the projection lens. In the IMAX technology the film frame is pushed horizontally by a “rolling loop” technology in front of a light source that is bright enough to be seen as far away as the moon. Three 70mm film frames (each with five sprocket holes) are melded into one IMAX film frame with fifteen sprocket or perforation holes (which is why it is also called the 15 perf 70 format.) When projected the image is startlingly clear and pristine making viewers feel that they are virtually there.
The IMAX film frame is big and since one needs a minimum of 24 of those to project every second, it is not surprising that the IMAX camera is huge and heavy. (about 84 lbs, 38 kg) The usual film magazine just holds enough to shoot about three minutes. If the filmmakers need to shoot a helicopter aerial deep in the jungle (e.g. Mystery of the Maya) it may take several hours just to shoot a minute of film. In recent years great advances have been made in the art of aerial cinematography and in the use of smaller, lightweight cameras to capture film footage. In addition, most IMAX films are now taking advantage of innovations in computer animation with results rivaling that of the best Hollywood productions.