3-D transforms the Imax experience


In its tagline, Imax encourages audiences to "Think Big." That is precisely what Greg Foster, chairman and president of Imax Filmed Entertainment, has done since joining Imax Corp. in March 2001.

Foster oversees all aspects of the company's global filmed entertainment activities and is championing a fresh strategy for original content. The goal: "To create balanced content for moviegoers who like the Imax experience, and to do so in a way that allows us to slightly change the paradigm -- which I think we've done more than slightly," Foster says.

"Five or six year ago, the bulk of our films were 2-D documentary films that in the continuum between entertainment and education were very close to education and very far at times from entertainment. We've continued to produce documentary films, but those films are now shot in 3-D. They retain an educational component, but they are hip."

As an example, he says, "In the old days, 'Space Station 3D' would have been shot in 2-D and narrated by Walter Cronkite. (Instead) it was shot in Imax 3D and narrated by Tom Cruise."

"Space Station 3D" is a 2002 documentary about the International Space Station, written and directed by Toni Myers.

" 'Space Station' was a seminal film for us," Foster says. "It was the first movie shot in space with an Imax 3D camera, and on top of that, it was the first movie that adhered to the new philosophy." At press time, the film has grossed $96 million worldwide.

The new approach also has resulted in such fare as 2004's "NASCAR 3D: The Imax Experience" and 2006's "Deep Sea 3D."

Foster notes that "NASCAR" was significant in audience-building thanks to the marketing support from producing partners Warner Bros. Pictures and NASCAR. "We brought in (an audience that had) never stepped foot in an Imax theater before," he says.

In keeping with the Imax strategy, the film was narrated by Kiefer Sutherland; similarly, "Deep Sea 3D," was narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet.

"Deep Sea" has grossed $40 million in Imax theaters worldwide since it premiered in March 2006. The film, co-produced by Warners and Imax, was the first educationally focused Imax documentary made with a studio, says Foster, who emphasized Warners' ongoing support "from the very beginning" and lauded the studio's willingness to experiment with things like 3-D.

"3-D is critical to what we do," Foster says. "That said, it is not something that we will ever do in a gimmicky way. If it is organic to the storytelling, if it is being used in a way that enhances the experience, we are up for it."

These days, of course, new digital cinema technology has prompted a renaissance in stereoscopic 3-D. To this Foster says: "Whether it is digital 3-D, Imax 3D, Imax digital 3-D, it doesn't matter. Good 3-D is good for Imax."

More recently, director Christopher Nolan decided to film four sequences of Warners' upcoming "The Dark Knight" with Imax 2D cameras -- making it the first major studio feature to be even partially shot using that technology.