“This is like nothing you’ve ever seen”

The Tech’s new dome theater might be the most immersive film experience on the planet, and you’ll find it here first

Imagine you are …

In space, floating next to an astronaut working on the Hubble Telescope, staring into a void of utter blackness. Or underwater as a great white shark silently glides through the depths. Or face-to-face with a giant panda as it emerges from a bamboo forest.

Now, what if these moments felt so real that you could almost reach out and touch the astronaut, shark or panda?

The Hackworth IMAX Dome Theater is introducing audiences to a game-changing immersive experience as it lifts the curtain on a total dome makeover. In November, The Tech will become home to the world’s first “IMAX with Laser” projector system designed specifically for the dome environment.

“The implementation of this brand new system is like inventing the wheel, which is very exciting and very appropriate because we are the place for technology innovation,” said Michelle Duncan, The Tech’s IMAX theater operations director. “We’re helping create a truly new and unique experience not only for us but for the world. This is like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

Michelle Duncan, The Tech’s IMAX theater operations director, surveys construction. When it reopens in November, The Tech’s IMAX Dome Theater will be the first in the world with a laser projector.

For two decades, The Tech’s dome theater has awed audiences with its four-story, 180-degree view. Still, the IMAX 70mm film projector technology, developed about 40 years ago, could present subtle, intrusive reminders that you were in a theater. A slight shaking of images. Flickers of random light. Occasional dust on the film. A blurring of colors.

“The implementation of this brand new system is like inventing the wheel, which is very exciting and very appropriate because we are the place for technology innovation.”
—Michelle Duncan, IMAX theater operations director

In recent years, IMAX began rolling out a new 4K laser projection system that eliminated those small imperfections in movies shown on the standard screens found at multiplex cinemas. But now that laser technology — thanks to a lot of innovative tweaks — will be raising the bar for theater realism as it’s adapted to the like-you’re-in-the-movie environment of the dome.

The improved visuals are a marvel of optical engineering. When combined with upgrades in the IMAX sound system and a new dome wall surface, the experience is even more mesmerizing.

The audience is transported on a journey to distant places as the sense of sitting in a theater melts away.

“It really is awesome because we’ve updated everything,” said Brian J. Bonnick, chief technology officer and executive vice president of IMAX. “We’ve created a radically different projector that doesn’t have the limitations of other systems. It produces brighter and sharper images with substantially higher contrasts. A ruby red is a deep, powerful true ruby that you can’t get anywhere else. The images are much more in line with what the human eye was designed to see.”

Duncan discovered that for herself earlier this year when the IMAX team gave a demonstration of the new dome laser system. While watching a clip from the film “Hubble,” she was amazed at how the black of space was absent any color — unlike IMAX film, which always contains a slight shade of gray.

She remembers lightly punching the arm of her boss, Vice President of Operations Bill Bailor, in excitement.

The new IMAX Dome Theater will still seat 280 and show both educational and feature films.

Then there was a scene from one of the most popular films shown at The Tech, “Pandas.”

“You could see the individual black hairs of the panda next to the individual white hairs,” Duncan recalled. “It’s like you’re 10 feet away from a full-grown panda and seeing everything. I don’t even know if there’s a word to describe it. That was the moment when I thought, ‘I can’t wait to have this.’ ”

The Tech is the first to adopt the laser system for domes in part because of its close, 20-year working relationship with IMAX. The Tech, Bonnick said, just “gets” technology and understood why this is such a leap forward. For her part, Duncan added that the upgrades also gives The Tech much greater flexibility with programming — from showing more feature films, staging community and corporate presentations, and even enabling San José State University students to show their films in the dome.

“It really is awesome because we’ve updated everything. We’ve created a radically different projector that doesn’t have the limitations of other systems.”
— Brian J. Bonnick, chief technology officer and executive vice president of IMAX

But the main reason for all the excitement is that the digital system is a natural fit for The Tech’s core mission — sparking the imagination of young people to the possibilities of technology.

“I always tell teachers, ‘Let me help you take your kids on field trips to outer space, or to Panda Base,’ ” Duncan said. “The theater is about taking kids, especially those in underserved communities, out of the classroom, suspending their disbelief and helping them see other options for where to go in life.”

The IMAX Dome Theater is about to take them to places they never imagined.


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