Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 1, 2016

IMAX with Laser coming to Chattanooga’s largest screen

Images of the 70mm 3D film projector at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater. - (Photo provided)

The movie-going experience in Chattanooga will change for good in two days as the city’s last film projector is decommissioned.

The Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater is making a leap from the 70mm film format to laser projection technology.

Corey Cobb, the Aquarium’s chief projectionist, will thread the many spindles and rollers of the giant IMAX film projector for the last time on Sunday, Jan. 3. For nearly 10 years, Cobb has spent long hours assembling the huge rolls of film, moving them by forklift and tending to the massive, noisy, and somewhat cantankerous projector.

Beginning Monday, Jan. 4, the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater will be closed for approximately four weeks to remove the film projector and complete all of the upgrades.

When the theater reopens in early February, Chattanooga will be home to the only IMAX with Laser system in the Southeast, and Cobb’s workspace will be much quieter. His new job title will be IMAX senior operator, making him one of only a handful of people in the world trained to use the IMAX with Laser projection system. “The first time I saw an IMAX film in laser, I was blown away,” said Cobb. “I’m really excited about people coming to our theater to experience the upgrades we’ll be making.”

Cobb and other Aquarium staffers traveled to several cities over the past four years to evaluate various digital projection systems, but none matched the image quality the 70mm film format delivered on a giant screen – until now. “Many of the digital projection systems threw a lot of light on the screen, but the colors looked washed out and the images weren’t sharp,” said Don Walker, the Aquarium’s director of guest services. “The IMAX with Laser system showed us something we hadn’t seen before. This system fills the screen with crisp, bright, and colorful images.”

The Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater has a screen that’s 66 feet tall and 89 feet wide with an aspect ratio of 4 to 3. It’s designed to provide an immersive experience. “Most screens in conventional cinemas have an aspect ratio of 1.0 to 1, just like the digital television screens at home,” said Gordon Stalans, the Aquarium’s director of finance, who also chairs the board of the Giant Screen Cinema Association. But unlike at home, a Humpback Whale appears life-sized and more life-like with two 4K laser projectors filling the massive screen. “Not only is the contrast, color, and brightness better, the image is more stable.”

The $1.2 million dollar theater upgrade includes the new IMAX with Laser projection system, a new six-story screen, and a new 12 channel audio system with speakers in the ceiling. “One of the IMAX with Laser demonstrations I saw featured a jet soaring overhead,” said Cobb. “It was incredible to hear that audio rolling over your head in the theater. You couldn’t help looking up.”

Between now and Jan. 3, guests at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater will receive a clip of 70mm film stock as a memento to commemorate the end of the film era in Chattanooga.

Source: Tennessee Aquarium