By Bob Brown
In early May, the Celebration! Cinema Lansing IMAX theatre switched from the traditional film-based projection format to the latest IMAX digital format. The transformation took about two weeks to complete. All of the old equipment had to be removed; new projection port windows installed and new sub speakers had to be set.
The main reason behind this transition is to better serve our Lansing guest in assuring that Lansing will be showing the latest IMAX releases. In December, Lansing was not able to receive a film print of AVATAR. This situation made it clear to J.D. Loeks, President of Loeks Theatres, Inc. that a change needed to be made.
About the New Technology
The Digital IMAX system is based on using two 2k Christie digital projectors. IMAX has “souped up” these projectors with their proprietary image enhancing real-time monitoring system. This system relies on a camera that monitors the screen at all times and makes any necessary corrections to the image that you see on the screen, assuring that the show is always the best it can be.
Along with the new projectors, we upgraded the sound system by installing new amps, upgrading the current speakers with new crossovers to better reproduce the sound, and installed 16 new sub speakers. After the speakers where upgraded, a sound engineer from IMAX “re-tuned” the speakers to the auditorium to ensure the absolute best sound reproduction for our guests.
What about the old projectors?
During the installation, the old projectors were taken out. However, during the install installation in 2003, these projectors were dropped in the booth through the ceiling using a huge crane. We thought that we could remove these projectors, which weigh 1500 pounds using a furniture mover and lots and lots of manpower. After some struggles, we managed to get them down from the booth and transported them to Grand Rapids where they will be used for training, a source of parts, and other uses.
See below for a gallery of some of the pictures we took during the upgrade:
Bob Brown is the chief projectionist and a certified IMAX SPP Technician at Celebration! Cinema.
I have teenage children but that’s about as close as I’ve ever gotten to 50 Cent… until Tuesday night (5/11/2010). That’s when I came face to face with the man, the myth, the legend who, in his movie roles, is credited as Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. What a cool guy.
50 was at Celebration! Cinema North to support his movie Caught in the Crossfire along with Producer Randall Emmett and Writer/Director Brian Miller. Curtis, Randall and Brian all spoke before and after the movie and they were sincerely thankful for the audience support, the City of Grand Rapids support and the support of the West Michigan Film Office and the Michigan Film Commission. As a result of the generosity of the filmmakers, the star and the guests, we were able to raise $7,690.00 for the West Michigan Film Office! Rick Hert and his “crew” there are doing a wonderful job facilitating the development of show biz and show biz jobs here in West Michigan. We all want to keep the Michigan Tax Incentive for movie-making going!
Curtis looked great. He has been on some kind of movie-star-loosing-weight-for-a-role diet, so he seems trim compared to older pictures I have seen of him. He’s an attractive guy who knows how to put together the jeans and tan shirt & boots look. He has a killer smile and charm… “I want to get my Obama on”, he says about meeting and greeting guests and the media. He likes filming in Grand Rapids because “It’s quiet for me. And it was easy for me to concentrate”. Jackson and Director Brian Miller (who is from Grand Rapids) joked about 50 staying at Miller’s parent’s house, about 50 being shot in real life, about police officers and real life criminals – all in good fun.
Caught in the Crossfire – as the title implies – is a “crackerjack” action/suspense/cops and robbers thriller and will be distributed by Lionsgate Home Video (direct to DVD). Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson has a several movies in various stages of production and post-production… 17 total movies he has been part of according to imdb.com. We hope he’ll come back again sometime.
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!
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.
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.
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!
And it was like nothing I had ever seen (unless it was on the IMAX screen).
Chicken Little, in Disney Digital 3D at Celebration! Cinema South, was my first digital 3D experience and I was hooked. It was a first for West Michigan, too, and we really didn’t know if people would pay an extra couple bucks for digital 3D. But, of course, it was extremely successful and started an industry revolution that is breaking through big time right now.
3D Isn’t Easy…
If we had four 3D capable screens in each of our theatres right now, we could be playing Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon, and Clash of the Titans – all in 3D. If only having more 3D screens was that simple. Currently there are at least four competing 3D technologies fighting for market share: RealD, Master Image, Dolby and Xpand. They all have pros and cons when it comes to price, glasses, silver or white screens — and, oh yeah, how it looks.
The price for installing a 3D system ranges from $30,000 to $60,000, plus on-going fees in some cases. If the system needs a silver screen, it costs more (Dolby and Xpand do not require a silver screen). Disposable glasses or re-usable glasses? It will require thousands and thousands of man-hours and dollars to wash re-usable glasses, but do we want to keep throwing away disposable glasses? To quote Meryl Streep, “it’s complicated.”
Plenty to choose from
One thing we can say for sure is our customers prefer 3D to 2D… four to one when given the choice. And, Hollywood has the pipeline full of 3D movies headed to our theatres. At this time there six 3D titles this summer (Shrek Forever After, Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, Cats & Dogs, Step Up 3D, Pirahna) and five slated for November / December of 2010 (Megamind, Harry Potter, Tangled, Yogi Bear, and Tron). And don’t forget Jackass 3 and Saw VII in October.
So, we’re working hard to figure out the best next step and install more 3D screens in all our theatres ASAP. 3D is here to stay!
Ron VanTimmeren is the Vice President of Programming at Celebration! Cinema.
Editor’s Note: What movies are YOU looking forward to seeing in 3D? Leave a comment with your email address to let us know – we’ll give a few gift cards to our favorite answers!
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.
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
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.
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!].
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.