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Graeme Ferguson, the Canadian director, producer, writer and cinematographer who partnered with two high school friends and another filmmaker to launch the giant-screen movie company Imax, has died. He was 91.
Ferguson died Saturday of cancer at Norway Point, his home at Lake of Bays, Ontario, an Imax spokesman announced. His wife, Phyllis, whom he married in 1982, died eight weeks ago.
For Expo ’67 in Montreal, Ferguson directed the multiscreen, multiprojector 18-minute film Polar Life, which viewers watched while seated on a central rotating turntable in the middle of 11 screens. The film was so successful that Ferguson, along with fellow filmmaker Roman Kroitor, had the idea of creating a movie theater with a similar immersive experience but with one giant screen and one projector.
To achieve that, Ferguson and Kroitor recruited high school friend and businessman Robert Kerr and engineer William Shaw, another high school buddy, to develop the camera, projection system and theater configuration. Their Imax (a play on the words “maximum image”) system debuted at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, with the film Tiger Child (1970).
With a frame that was nearly 10 times larger than conventional 35mm film, the bright, clear, steady and giant images resulted in a revolutionary immersive theater experience.
Ferguson served as Imax president from 1970-90. Brad Wechsler and Richard Gelfond purchased the company through a leveraged buyout in 1994 and took the company public, listing it on NASDAQ and the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Born in Toronto on Oct. 7, 1929, Ivan Graeme Ferguson worked for a summer at the National Film Board of Canada in 1950 while studying political science and economics at the University of Toronto, then collaborated in India with Swedish documentarian Arne Sucksdorff after graduation.
He moved to New York in the late 1950s and, as a freelance director, cinematographer and editor worked on the 1960-62 Silents Please TV series as well as the 1960 short films A Bowl of Cherries and the Oscar-nominated Rooftops of New York, the documentary The Legend of Rudolph Valentino (1961) and the features The Seducers (1962) and Don Siegel’s Madigan (1968).
Ferguson was instrumental in getting Imax cameras into space. American Susan Helms credits the documentary short The Dream Is Alive (1985) for inspiring her to become an astronaut, and she appears in the 2002 Imax documentary Space Station 3D, which Ferguson produced.
His Imax filmography also included North of Superior (1971), Circus World (1974), Man Belongs to Earth (1974), Snow Job (1974), Ocean (1977), Hail Columbia! (1982), Blue Planet (1990), Journey to the Planets (1993), Into the Deep (1994), Destiny in Space (1994), L5: First City in Space (1996), Mission to Mir (1997), Deep Sea 3D (2006), Under the Sea 3D (2009), Hubble 3D (2010) and A Beautiful Planet (2016).
Ferguson was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1993, and the Giant Screen Cinema Association presented him with its inaugural outstanding achievement award in 2016.
Survivors include his children, Allison and Munro. He and his wife will be interred at St. Andrew’s Catholic Cemetery in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
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