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By Dick Vaughan on

Bringing the first permanent IMAX installation to Bradford

Dick Vaughan arrived in 1983 to organise the installation of the first permanent IMAX cinema in Europe. 30 years later he’s still here, and still fascinated by the technology.
Building the IMAX auditorium in 1983
Building the IMAX auditorium in 1983

In February 1983, I was the first member of staff to be based at a brand new Museum in Bradford, on a six month temporary transfer from the Science Museum in London, and 30 years later I’m still here!

My main job was to organise the fitting out and installation of our IMAX cinema.

The first permanent IMAX installation in Europe

Although the first IMAX projection system had been built in 1970, ours—system 34—was first of its kind in the UK, and the first permanent installation in Europe.

With a giant (19.7m x 15.9m) screen, which was the biggest in Britain and filled the entire front wall of the cinema, and the steep inclined seating, the Museum’s IMAX cinematic experience was (and is) a truly immersive one.

The first film we screened in IMAX was To Fly!, a documentary made in 1976 about the history of flight, from early balloons through to space missions.

To Fly

The first time I saw To Fly! was in a lecture theatre in the basement of the Science Museum. My first impression of the film projected on to a 1.5 metre wide screen by a 16mm projector wasn’t that great.

The experience did nothing to prepare me for the first time we projected it as a 70mm IMAX film to an audience in our newly completed cinema in April 1983.

Watching the audience’s reaction as the image filled our giant screen and they were carried over the edge of Niagara Falls is something I will never forget. You could see them leaning back in their seats and grabbing the arm rests.

To Fly! was the only IMAX film we showed for the first 15 months and I remember well the feedback we got from visitors who really felt like they were flying. I can’t wait to see what our current visitors think of it all these years later.

@Simbo_ via Twitter “@mediamuseum Wow! 30 years old… I went when it first opened & saw To Fly. Been many times since. How time flies!

Fascinated by IMAX technology

I’m still fascinated by the IMAX technology. The projector uses a ‘rolling loop’ film transport mechanism to gently advance 70mm film horizontally in waves, moving like caterpillars. Each frame of film is 15 perforations wide, and the largest in cinema history. Each frame is ten times that of a standard 35mm film frame.

These days, there are two IMAX projectors—one for the left eye image and one for the right eye, for 3D viewing—and further updates have made it possible to screen full length 3D Hollywood features re-mastered for the IMAX format.

Since we opened, sound has been an integral part of the IMAX experience.

Originally the 6 tracks were on a 35mm magnetic film interlocked to the projector. In 1999 when we upgraded to 3D this was replaced by a computer based system with sound loaded from DVD and reproduced through 11,600 watts of amplification.

More and more films, such as The Dark Knight Rises and Star Trek Into Darkness, are being made with specially filmed IMAX footage, and long may this continue!

Films are easily available online now, but the IMAX experience is unique.

To Fly! is back in Bradford!

A print of To Fly! was restored for the film’s 30th birthday, and this weekend, we’re bringing it back to Yorkshire’s biggest IMAX screen as part of our own 30th birthday celebrations.

If you’re in the area, come and say happy birthday to us—Bradford Festival is on this weekend too, so there’ll be lots of activity in City Park.

Help us count down to our 30th birthday by sharing your memories of the Museum. Leave a comment on this post, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter, using the hashtag #NMeM30.

Written by IMAX Manager Dick Vaughan.

8 comments on “Bringing the first permanent IMAX installation to Bradford

  1. Went to see ‘To Fly!’ today. Amazing how a 37 year old film still makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Proper good old fashioned IMAX experience designed to wow… well worth watching. Recommended.

  2. I understand the projection system at Bradford has been down graded to a digital system and is no longer true 70mm imax, what a shame. I have seen many films here in the past and since they went to digital the image is so dark you can hardly see it.

  3. We still have our 70mm IMAX projection system and it is in use everyday currently screening films such as To The Arctic, Born To be Wild and Mysteries of the Unseen World. Unfortunately many of the feature length films currently released in IMAX are only available for digital systems so we have not been able to screen recent titles such as Captain America : The Winter Soldier, Godzilla or Edge of Tomorrow.
    We do have a “conventional” digital projector in the IMAX auditorium which we use to screen films not available as IMAX releases but we always advertise these as being ” not IMAX format “.

  4. To Dick Vaughan.
    I can beat your first viewing of ‘To Fly’. I met Francis Thompson in China in 1984. A gang of kite nuts had gathered in Weifang, Shandong, for the first big kite festival to be held there. Francis was in the group with a small crew doing research for an update to ‘To Fly’. He had a 16mm copy of the movie. Somehow he dug up a Chinese projector (looked like it was made of bamboo and powered by mice) and we were all royally entertained as the movie was projected onto a rather off-white hotel bed sheet pinned to the dining room wall.
    Even now, 35+ years later, I remember Francis as a truly fascinating character. We had many gatherings in various hotel bedrooms, sometimes 30 people crammed in a double room. When Francis spoke, everybody shut up. He commanded such respect.
    I have been to China three times since, all for kite festivals, but this meeting still sticks in my mind as one of the most outstanding memories.
    I apologise for rambling on so, it’s just that Francis was such a significant contributor to the development of IMAX but remains essentially unknown outside of cinematic circles.

  5. Hi Dick
    Wondering if you could refresh my memory.
    I attended the European IMAX symposium in Bradford on the 24/25 March 1986 in the then known National museum of photography film and television.

    There were speakers from the IMAX systems corporation with a number of IMAX films shown. I have two questions,
    Was the film ‘TO FLY’ shown at the Bradford IMAX symposium?
    and second question, do you know if the film ‘The dream is alive’ was shown during
    the Symposium?

  6. I went to the inaugural UK launch of “The Dream is Alive” at the Bradford Imax cinema. It was attended and introduced by Wally Schirra (RIP 2007). All funds raised from the ticket sale and other contributions were donated to the victims and families of the Bradford City football fire disaster. Sadly I can’t remember the date of the showing but I think it was probably 1986. Maybe someone on here can refresh my memory. It was spectacular when seen on Imax as was the helicopter flight through the Grand Canyon which was also shown on that day (John, that may have been a part of “To Fly” but again my memory fails me).

  7. Good Evening , I’m hoping you could help, is it true that the Screen in Bradford is set up perfect for 2001 Space Odyssy, the way Stanley Kubrick wanted it shown?
    My Dad a big fan and I would love to take him, we would be coming from Dublin if I have the correct screen and it is to be shown again.
    Thank you for you time.

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