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Karim D. Ghantous

Hypothesis: IMAX is the future of cinema

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I've been thinking this for quite some time now. What would you rather spend as a producer: $5M on an IMAX feature, or $100M on a conventional feature?

However, you might be wondering if it's appropriate to compare one against the other. And, further, whether it's appropriate to replace conventional features with IMAX features. I'm going to explain why I think it is appropriate to do so.

The cool think about IMAX is that you don't need VFX to make the image maximally impressive, even to audiences with high thresholds for being impressed. All you have to do to amaze the audience is to take the camera to the top of a tall building and point it down. Maybe have some objects fall away towards the ground. Maybe make the camera itself glide downwards. Sure, it's a cheap trick, but so is everything in drama.

But more seriously, using IMAX's advantages melded with terrific scripts could be box office dynamite. Sure, you could make Jurassic Park for IMAX, but that is something far above what I'm proposing. I'm talking about keeping budgets low, production quality high, and audience expectations at maximum. I'd love to see Jurassic Park made for IMAX, but I'd be equally happy to see dramas like Eyes Wide Shut or Rear Window or even Sleepless in Seattle.

Further, it's fair to say that 99% of people cannot replicate the IMAX experience at home. Many people have decent home theatres, some of which with very large screens, but IMAX is too epic to replicate in the typical home.

The sticking point is theatres. You need more IMAX theatres and that won't be cheap. However, smart investors might consider building IMAX theatres outside of large cities, where land is cheaper. In that case, people who live in smaller cities and towns will have more advanced public entertainment than the richest people in most capitals.

And IMAX doesn't have to worry about distribution - they are their own distributors, AFAIK. And so it could be that if this idea takes off, more production companies, including the big studios, will follow. If you make revenue of $10M off a $5M production, you've made a 100% profit. If you make a revenue of $150M off a $100M production, you've made a 50% profit. Heaven help you if you do no better than break-even. And the outlay of $5M is easier to obtain.

We now have terrific cameras to do all of this, and they are comparatively affordable. The Red Monstro 8K is one; the Achtel 9x7, just released a few days ago, is another. IMAX now certified several cameras that meet their standard, although I wonder if that is real IMAX or half IMAX.

I agree that film is still superior, but I don't think that 15-perf IMAX cameras are going to be around for too long. They are much too limiting. However, if you can make 4-perf 35mm work for those massive screens, with special films that have insane resolving power, then you might have something. Can 5203 work? I don't know, but someone might. I wonder if 8-perf 65mm, fed vertically, might be a better compromise for those who want to shoot film.

As far as projection is concerned, I'm going to assume that it's going to be all digital, no matter how the images were acquired. It makes more sense to remove as many variables as you can. You just can't have everything.

So, for a variety of reasons, including financial outlay, audience satisfaction, and so on, I think the future of cinema is IMAX, and it's going to be amazing.

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If you want to fill an average size IMAX screen with standard film, obviously full frame, you easily reach 500 times linear magnification and 250,000 times magnification of the area. The linear aspect is doable with fixed pilot pins mechanisms as it has been done in the silent era. Screening of that order have been reported in the 1920s.

The energy, however, that will have to be shot through an 18 mm × 24 mm aperture in order to decently illuminate a 9 m × 12 m surface is considerable. The problem encountered here will bear the designation Cooling. I’m writing Cooling with a capital because air won’t do. You would need liquid gates, I think, and these forbid splices. Prints must not have a single splice. Doable but it takes discipline.

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I mean that's what IMAX use to be, high-budget documentaries distributed by the IMAX corporation only. They of course still make those films, but they've augmented them with normal narrative features. Many movies are shot with Digital IMAX in mind, mostly finished in 4k however that's because the projection systems are only 4k. Considering MOST cineplex IMAX theaters have not upgraded to laser projection, the quality across the board is pretty bad actually. IMAX diluted the brand a decade ago by going hog wild on certifications to make money and now pretty much any theater can get that cert. So people really aren't getting anything unique or different anymore, even the aspect ratio of IMAX digital 1.90:1 is pretty far away from the 1.44:1 of true IMAX. 

So where I agree, IMAX films need to come back, sadly the only delivery format which makes it a unique experience is 15/70. Also remember large format capturing is unrepresented in ANY digital camera currently, so you can't even get the film IMAX look with digital capture. So what have proposed is actually a mix of film and digital. Using the IMAX film cameras for action scenes and exposition, then switching to an 8k digital format for the dialog. Then doing an 8k record to IMAX film for distribution. Now that would look really good and solve so many problems from the cost of shooting the entire movie on IMAX film to the high quality distribution. Of course most people wouldn't be able to see it on film, but that experience shouldn't be in ALL cinemas. You should need to drive to see a special version. 

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9 hours ago, Karim D. Ghantous said:

I agree that film is still superior, but I don't think that 15-perf IMAX cameras are going to be around for too long. They are much too limiting. However, if you can make 4-perf 35mm work for those massive screens, with special films that have insane resolving power, then you might have something. Can 5203 work? I don't know, but someone might. I wonder if 8-perf 65mm, fed vertically, might be a better compromise for those who want to shoot film.

They've tried it all, you can do 5 perf with liquid cooling (2.20:1), but 35mm no way. Too low-resolution. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell

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IMAX recently certified the Alexa LF/Mini LF, Alexa 65 IMAX, Sony Venice, Panavision Millenium DXL2,  and the Red Monstro for their "filmed in IMAX" program, which suggests IMAX has a future ahead of it. It looks as though they're trying to give cinematographers multiple choices when it comes to selecting cameras for IMAX productions. 

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8 hours ago, Simon Wyss said:

You would need liquid gates, I think, and these forbid splices. Prints must not have a single splice. Doable but it takes discipline.

I really think that all-digital projection is the way to go, in the light of all those problems.

8 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

 Also remember large format capturing is unrepresented in ANY digital camera currently, so you can't even get the film IMAX look with digital capture.

From what is reported, image fidelity of the Monstro sensor is off the charts. The IMAX look is simply resolution and fidelity, and plenty of each.

8 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

They've tried it all, you can do 5 perf with liquid cooling (2.20:1), but 35mm no way. Too low-resolution. 

Fair enough. I do know of one b&w film stock which has insane resolving power, but the problem is that it's not very sensitive.

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I'll have to be the outlier here and say that the future of cinema will not be IMAX, higher resolutions, or larger sensors. It will be virtual.

The tech behind The Mandalorian is only just the beginning. Already, that technology can be utilized by low budget productions because Unreal Engine itself is free and there are alternatives that give it a run for its money (Unity and Blender are two prime examples).

LED walls on the scale of Mando are already being constructed for smaller studios that any production can rent in LA/NYC/beyond. It's only a matter of time until one could rent a space like that for pennies on the dollar. (For more examples, check out the Unreal Engine: Virtual Production group on Facebook)

The virtual assets like locations, lighting, etc are already cheap/free and getting easier to make day by day. (Example, example)

This is all without taking into account creating characters virtually a la Avatar. Machine learning is making motion capture easier and cheaper. (https://github.com/mkocabas/VIBE)

Computers are getting faster, technology is getting cheaper. There's no reason that, and no way to stop, the industry moving towards virtual production.

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On 9/19/2020 at 1:30 PM, Mitchell Priebe said:

IMAX recently certified the Alexa LF/Mini LF, Alexa 65 IMAX, Sony Venice, Panavision Millenium DXL2,  and the Red Monstro for their "filmed in IMAX" program, which suggests IMAX has a future ahead of it. It looks as though they're trying to give cinematographers multiple choices when it comes to selecting cameras for IMAX productions. 

Yea, destroying the whole purpose of the format. If normal cinema cameras can be used for IMAX then it's no longer a special format. 

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20 hours ago, Karim D. Ghantous said:

From what is reported, image fidelity of the Monstro sensor is off the charts. The IMAX look is simply resolution and fidelity, and plenty of each.

I mean if the had an 8k projection system, then we can talk. But the current system is 4k, they use two projectors to do active glasses 3D and to slightly blur the image so you can't see the lines between the pixels. So IMAX went from a 12k system to a 4k system. Come on. 

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20 hours ago, Karim D. Ghantous said:

Fair enough. I do know of one b&w film stock which has insane resolving power, but the problem is that it's not very sensitive.

Even intermediate stock, can't resolve more than 5k. No way can it project more than 2.5k, even when struck directly off the original camera negative. There is too much loss in the projector. This is why the IMAX film format is the ultimate way to project. 

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I think where imax 15/70 really excels is in the height of things. No other format including digital imax can do this. And this capability is ideal for creating the effect of vertigo if needed.

I would also like to see something monochrome in 15/70. There may have been occasional olde photos as in Cameron's Titanic documentary, but it would be nice to see and experience an entire film in black and white, with the richness that only chemical film can bring. Assuming a 65mm film with sufficient low grain is available somewhere.

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