Imax Partners With Leading Camera Makers to Open Up Its Large-Format Production to More Filmmakers (Exclusive)

DUNE Still 1 - TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET - Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures Publicity-H 2020
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

Denis Villeneuve’s 'Dune.'

Imax has formed a partnership with camera makers ARRI, Panavision, Sony and Red that could greatly expand the opportunity for filmmakers to make movies in the Imax format.

After roughly a year of planning, the large-format cinema firm is launching its “Filmed in Imax” program that effectively gives filmmakers who want to offer Imax releases more choices of camera models and suppliers, while helping them to plan for the format starting in preproduction. It was described as a certification process and Imax didn't elaborate on the terms of the agreements.

The goal is creating the experience of Imax in the theater, in the way the filmmaker intended, “to make something in Imax versus converting something in Imax,” explains Megan Colligan, president of Imax Entertainment. “It means we are partnering with filmmakers and the studios earlier.”

Until now, to make a movie billed as "Filmed in Imax," filmmakers required either the Imax 65mm large-format film cameras (Christopher Nolan’s cameras of choice, which he's used on movies including Dunkirk and most recently Tenet) or the Alexa 65 Imax digital camera (created through a development partnership with ARRI, based on ARRI’s Alexa 65 large-format camera and available through ARRI rental houses; they were used to shoot Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame). But the majority of motion pictures that play in Imax theaters do not take this route; they are instead converted to the Imax format using Imax’s remastering process during postproduction. Colligan reports that Imax will select only a limited number of films to participate in the new program each year and will continue to offer its conversion services to remaster additional titles.

These new partnerships give cinematographers a much wider range of choices. They can use any of the digital cameras certified in the program, which are ARRI’s Alexa LF (large format) and Mini LF, Panavision’s Millennium DXL2, Red’s Ranger Monstro and Sony’s Venice cameras, as well as the aforementioned Alexa 65 Imax system. (The program is designed for digital cameras; celluloid fans continue to have the availability of Imax film cameras.)

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick are among the first releases certified through the new program. Dune was lensed by Oscar-nominated DP Greig Fraser (Lion) with the ARRI LF, and Maverick by Oscar winner Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi) with the Sony Venice. These filmmakers collaborated with Imax early on, as Imax was still putting together the new partnership program.

Bruce Markoe, Imax's senior vp postproduction/operations and digital media remastering, explains that the general parameters for camera certification include that they offer resolution of 4K or higher and could allow the filmmakers to create an aspect ratio for Imax's more square screens (approximately a 1.43:1 aspect ratio) or floor-to-ceiling/wall-to-wall screens (1.90:1). (Imax would like at least some of certified productions to support at least one of these aspect ratios. According to Markoe, Dune will have sections in both of the aspect ratios, and Maverick will have sections in 1.90:1.)

Recommendations include additional settings from compression schemes to color science. A big part of the program involves testing and reviewing those tests on Imax screens so that the film is designed by the filmmakers with the format in mind, starting in preproduction. “We don’t want to tell them how to make their movie, we want to give guidance,” says Markoe.

Markoe adds that when the Alex 65 Imax camera development started in 2015, “I felt [the Alexa 65] was pretty much the best camera on the market when it was introduced. In the last few years all of the digital cinema-grade cameras have gotten a lot better and it's more about how you use the camera than comparing one over the other. These cameras are all capable of delivering really good images to Imax screens.”

As part of the program, Imax will also certify independent camera rental houses, starting with Panavision, ARRI and Keslow Camera.

Noting that Panavision has had a relationship with Imax by providing its large-format lenses for Imax cameras, Panavision COO Michael George says this "continues to foster that relationship and opens up the opportunity to service those big tentpole features with our DXL cameras."

Colligan notes that Imax will continue to work with its partners and filmmakers to further develop creative and technical techniques. "We have put these cameras in space and used them to create massive vistas. How can they be used to create more intimacy and emotion? There's still more to explore."

Through the program, filmmakers would continue to use their post teams and colorists of choice, and then it would go to Imax for final mastering. Several Hollywood mixing stages now offer Imax sound and mixes are accomplished on these dub stages.