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.
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.
Written by IMAX Manager Dick Vaughan.