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Digital IMAX Projection at Celebration! Cinema Lansing

Steve Van WagonerBy Steve Van Wagoner
Vice President of Marketing

More than a billion people around the world have been spellbound by the force and beauty of The IMAX Experience. At Celebration! Cinema in Lansing, Michigan, movie goers have loved seeing classic IMAX movies as well as blockbuster movies on one of the biggest screens in the world. Now, Lansing’s famous IMAX theatre will be even better – beginning Friday, May 7th the Lansing IMAX theatre will be digital!

IMAX Logo

What does a digital IMAX theatre mean for Lansing’s movie goers at Celebration! Cinema? “The IMAX movie experience is unparalleled in our industry,” said J.D. Loeks, president and chief operating office for Celebration! Cinema. “The new digital projection system will allow us to make certain that the top IMAX movies are available to our guests so they can have that experience. And when they watch those movies, they will be getting the very best image and sound quality available.

IMAX Digital Projection

Photo from IMAX.com

When ‘Avatar’ opened last December and we could not get a print for the IMAX theatre, we knew something had to change. The new digital projection system means movie distributors can provide us with a digital hard drive at a tiny fraction of the cost of film print. That means we will be able to get the hottest IMAX titles available.

The IMAX Theatre DLP® digital projection system will join the rest of the Celebration! Cinema theatres in the complex that moved to DLP® digital cinema projection in 2007. The IMAX Theatre digital projection installation project will begin Monday, April 26th and be finished by May 7th.

A recent article in Film Journal International explains some of the technical specifications of this projection system:

IMAX Digital is built on all the previously developed IMAX technologies—3D, large-format feature-length content, and lower-cost theatre designs—with the intention of bringing the same immersive IMAX experience within the reach of mainstream exhibitors. By replacing the previous 15/70 film format with an all-new digital path including a custom-designed digital projection system based on the latest generation of Texas Instruments’ DLP Cinema technology, IMAX Digital provides the most cost-effective implementation yet.

IMAX Digital currently uses two Christie-manufactured DLP Cinema projectors, although the company plans to remain technology- and vendor-agnostic to allow progressive improvements as new technologies and products become available. The two projectors are used in a unique configuration: The two images are pre-processed and projected superimposed on each other in a way that increases the image’s fidelity and quality. The light levels are set to 22FL, considerably brighter than the 14FL used in conventional auditoriums.

The projectors are fitted with special IMAX-developed lenses. IMAX has developed a proprietary closed-loop alignment system using a camera that will automatically keep the projectors precisely aligned and balanced. IMAX Digital in 3D uses both projectors to continuously overlay the left and right eye images without the time-sequential triple-flashing required in single-projector solutions. IMAX digital 3D uses circular polarized passive glasses with a proprietary silver screen.

IMAX Digital, much like the 15/70 film version, is a complete end-to-end system, where each element, process and piece of equipment has been designed and optimized to deliver the large-screen IMAX experience.

Iron Man 2 in IMAX

The IMAX digital projection installation project will begin Monday, April 26th and be finished by May 7th, in time for first summer blockbuster “Iron Man 2” to fill the giant screen.  All theatres equipped with IMAX digital projection systems are capable of both IMAX and IMAX 3D presentations. Technically advanced and visually stunning, the IMAX Digital Experience is the world’s most powerful and immersive movie experience!

We’re Not (Just) a Movie Theatre!

Jeremy KressBy Jeremy Kress
Director of Marketing & Promotions

Ever since we transitioned to digital cinema nearly three years ago, we have redefined Celebration! Cinema as more than just a movie theatre – we are an entertainment destination. Consider this last weekend, for example: Besides taking a wild trip back to 1986 in the Hot Tub Time Machine and learning How to Train Your Dragon in amazing 3D, we also were proud to showcase the Metropolitan Opera’s live performance of Hamlet, and the live broadcast of UFC 111: St-Pierre vs. Hardy.

Concerts
Tonight (March 30th at 10:30pm) we will present our first ever live concert broadcast with the Black Eyed Peas: E-N-D World Tour live on the big screen. We’ve featured several concerts before (Iron Maiden, Beyonce, John Mayer, Eric Clapton, Hannah Montana, and many more), but this is the first one done live! Then, starting April 21st, we will also bringing Kenny Chesney to the big screen in 3D! Tickets to these events are a fraction of the cost of a concert ticket and presented in stunning DLP Digital Cinema.

Mayweather vs. Mosley at Celebration! CinemaSports
We have also been able to increase the range of sporting events on the big screen. Last year we showed our guests the BCS National Championship Football Game and NBA All Star Saturday Night events both in live 3D. They keep coming – this upcoming weekend we have three more sporting events:

  • On Saturday, April 3rd we will show the MSU Spartans vs.the Butler Bulldogs in the NCAA Final Four in live 3D (6:00pm)
  • That same night we have the Hopkins vs. Jones boxing match presented live (9:00pm) from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
  • Just 2 days later (Monday, April 5th – 9:00pm), we will bring the NCAA Championship Game to the big screen – live and in 3D! Come join us at Celebration! Grand Rapids North to see how March Madness will come to an end!

Looking further ahead, we will also show the Mayweather vs. Mosley boxing match on Saturday, May 1st at six of our theatres.

Cheech and Chong's Hey Watch This Movie at Celebration! CinemaSomething for Everyone
The versatility offered by our digital projection systems means we can showcase a wide range of features for our Big Screen Events:

  • We have had great success with the Metropolitan Opera, and will close the MET season with “Armida” on Saturday, May 1st.
  • We’ve also shown great events like “Spirit of the Marathon,” “Prairie Home Companion,” and Drum Corps International. We will bring back DCI with the DCI Classic Countdown on Thursday, May 13 in select theatres.
  • Other guest favorites like Glenn Beck and “This American Life” have sold out auditoriums and we expect them to return with other events later this year.

We also have some great new events hitting the big screen in the coming weeks that we are excited about:

  • Cheech and Chong reunite after 25 years for Watch This on Friday, April 16th, Saturday, April 17th & Tuesday, April 20th, that will highlight their successful reunion tour – Cheech & Chong: Light Up America.
  • On Tuesday, May 18th we will bring Sons of the Fallen: A Live Tribute to our Military Heroes to the big screen just prior to Memorial Day. This event is hosted by country music star Clint Black, and tells the story of 25 boys who gather to honor their fathers that paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country.
  • The final event that we currently have scheduled (Thursday, May 20th – 8:00pm) is Times Talks Live: LOST. This is a live presentation from New York Times Entertainment Editor Lorne Manely as he talks to the creators of LOST for an in-depth discussion about the show’s creation, its six years on air, and the highly anticipated series finale on May 23rd.

I Love That Movie at Celebration! CinemaIn addition to all these great events, we will continue with our ever popular Celebrating The Classics Series, and just launched a new Classic Movie Program called “I Love That Movie!” at Celebration! Woodland. These, combined with our great movie releases, special IMAX and 3D programming, and special watch parties of televisions shows and sports presentations, mean there’s always something exciting going on at Celebration! Cinema.

To stay up to date on all of the great Big Screen Events, visit the Big Screen Events page at Celebration! Cinema.

Jeremy Kress is the Director of Marketing at Celebration! Cinema.

The Evolution of Projection Technology

January 29, 2010 4 comments

By Matthew Rick
Director/Digital Projectionist

LMS System

LMS System at Celebration! Lansing

If you have been to any one of our digitally equipped theaters or visited our website lately, you have probably seen some signs, or the DLP tag that plays before a movie, informing you of our new digital projection technology. You may have asked yourself  “What is digital projection? How does it work? How is it different?”

Projection technology has made many advances over the years that have changed the roles of theatre projectionists and the design of theatre booths while aiming to create the best possible experience for the moviegoer.

When Film Was King

My dad was a projectionist at a number of drive-in theaters in Saginaw during the late ‘60s. In those days, the light source use was a carbon-arc lamp. This consisted of two carbon rods through which a massive amount of DC electrical current passed, causing the electricity to ‘arc’ between the two, resulting in a massive amount of light, as well as heat, in a process similar to that used by welders. The ‘carbons’ would burn-down over the course of 20-minutes, and would need several replacements each show.

Projection Booth at Alpine

Alpine theatre projection booth

The film came on 20-minute reels, so each screen required two projectors to show a full length movie. The film fed into the projector from the reel of film placed on top of the projector. The projectionist threaded the film through the projector, and it would be taken up on another reel below. Each film print has what are called ‘changeover cues’ for this reason. When a reel of film reaches its end, a little circle, dot or ‘X’ appears in the upper right-hand corner of the picture. This tells the projectionist to start the motor on the next projector. Eight seconds later, another cue flashes, which is when the projectionist flips a lever or presses a foot-pedal, shutting down the first projector and changing-over to the second projector. If properly executed, the audience does not notice. If the projectionist’s timing is off, the audience notices a little jump-cut in the action of the film. If the projectionist accidentally threads the reels out of order or miss a changeover altogether – well, that would be very, very bad.

The projectionist then changed the carbons in the first projector, threaded up the next reel for the next changeover, and rewound the first reel of film. Projection booths were often hot and dirty places with little to no automation of any kind. My dad once told me about when a cooling line to one of the projectors burst, rendering it inoperative. He had to interrupt the movie over the drive-in’s loudspeaker to announce a brief intermission between reels. Every 20 minutes, he had to hurriedly re-thread the one working projector as all of the cars in the drive-in impatiently honked their horns.

Multiplexes and Automation

35mm Film

35mm movie ready to start

In the 1970s, technological advances introduced many systems still in use today. Rather than having two projectors at each auditorium, there was just one. The film still came in 20-minute reels to accommodate theaters that still use a two-projector changeover system, but we began to connect them all using a technique called “splicing” into one giant reel of film.

The reel sits on a circular table called a ‘platter’, is fed through a series of rollers, threaded through the projector, and taken up on another platter. For the next show, the projectionist can then thread the film from the second platter without rewinding anything. See this in action in the photo to the left.

The light source changed, too. Instead of carbon rods, projectors began to use high-tech bulbs that pass electricity between two pieces of tungsten encased in a bulb of xenon gas. They can run for thousands of hours before needing changing, and are air-cooled.

As theater owners started building ‘multiplexes’ with multiple screens – some with eight or more – surely each would need a platoon of projectionists! Fortunately, More automation freed projectionists to work on multiple screens simultaneously. The projectionists could now use ‘cue tape’ to mark points the film for the projector to dim the house lights down or up. The projector can turn itself off when the film is through or sound an alarm if it detects something wrong with the film. The projectionist just threads the projector when it is through, starts it up at showtime and stops by periodically to check on focus and sound. This allows one projectionist to singlehandedly run a dozen screens.

Modern Projection Booths
Today, projection booths are climate- controlled to keep the computerized equipment cool, and clean to keep dirt and dust from getting to the film. They tend to appear more institutional, with cinderblock walls and tile floors – though the digital/35mm projection team in Lansing has been working to make our booth a more lively place to work (we seem to have a very ‘eclectic’ decorating style between the nine of us).

The Digital Revolution
Playing film is a deleterious process. Similar to how playing a vinyl record eventually wears the record out from the friction of the needle, passing film through a very hot projector at 24 frames per second over and over causes wear and tear. When played on properly maintained equipment by a competent projectionist, a brand new 35mm film print can look pretty close to perfect. Over time, however, the film will develop small scratches and dust (even in the cleanest of projection booths), will shed little bits of itself, and start to look less-than-sharp.

DLP Projector

DLP Digital Projector

Digital projection suffers none of these issues. A digitally projected picture looks perfect the first time it is run, the last time it is run, and each time in between, because there is no film, and far fewer moving parts. It’s clean, durable, and reliable. Instead of coming to us on a bulky film reel and requiring splicing, the movie comes on a digitally encrypted hard drive, or sometimes via satellite.

The Current Process
When a movie arrives at the theater on a hard drive, we load it into our building’s Library Management Server – or LMS for short. This is called ‘ingesting’ the movie. Once it is ingested into our LMS, we can piece the feature together with whatever coming attractions, trailers, or advertisements we are to play during pre-show. We also input cues to control the dimming and raising of house lights, among other things. We can even use one complete movie file to show a movie on multiple screens – in fact, with the midnight showings for New Moon, we were showing the same movie on 18 screens at the same time – something impossible with film!

We now input showtimes into the computer system beforehand, so each auditorium knows when its next show is. If everything is working perfectly, a theatre shows preshow ads, then runs the pre-show and the entire movie with minimal intervention from a projectionist. Digital cinema is still a relatively new and complicated technology, though, so a projectionist still has to check on each movie to make sure that everything is running perfectly. Occasionally a computerized component malfunctions, which is why we still ALWAYS have a projectionist on-duty.

In addition to a flawless picture, increased automation and improved scheduling options, it is also a very flexible technology.  Because some movies are still only available on film – particularly independent movies and documentaries – we have several auditoriums equipped for both digital and film presentations. In the case of a show on film, the digital projector will play the pre-show and trailers, then will hand-off to the film projector, which a projectionist will adjust for focus and framing.

Digital projectors allow us to offer a lot of alternative content options to our guests. We can show DVDs and Blu-Ray discs for our ‘Celebrating the Classics’ series; we can show live sporting events in HD; we can partner with NCM Fathom to receive events via satellite – anything from the Metropolitan Opera to A Prairie Home Companion to rock concerts with a crystal-clear picture through our digital projectors.

We also have the ability to display specially-released movies in 3D, which itself is a technology worthy of its own blog post [editor’s note: coming soon!].

The Future
Digital cinema is still a new technology, which continues to develop and expand. As more theaters make the digital conversion, more programming options will be become available, so we can truly show something that will fit anybody’s interests.

What do you think the future holds for movie projection? Let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments!

Matthew Rick is a Director and Digital Projectionist at Celebration! Cinema Lansing.