How the IMAX version of ‘Skyfall’ was Created

I had a chance to talk with IMAX’s Senior VP of Film Production, Hugh Murray, about the IMAX version of the upcoming film Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie in a series that spans fifty years of cinema. The discussion was quite interesting…

1. How difficult were the logistics with [cinematographer] Roger Deakins
having to shoot with, presumably, two camera rigs, the usual HD cameras
and simultaneously with the IMAX cameras?

Skyfall was
not shot with IMAX cameras or with HD cameras. Roger Deakins used the
Arri Alexa digital cinema camera in RAW image mode to provide the
highest possible resolution and dynamic range (the number of exposure
stops the camera can reproduce). Just over a year ago we began testing
the footage in IMAX theatres in London so that Roger could see how it
was going to translate to the most demanding format available.

The Alexa shoots a taller image than the Cinemascope format that most
features, including Skyfall, are released in and so we suggested that
Director Sam Mendes might want to take advantage of that to offer a
taller, more immersive, format for the IMAX release. Chris Nolan, Brad
Bird, Ridley Scott and Marc Webb have all done variations of this in the
IMAX versions of their most recent films.

The IMAX presentation of SKYFALL will be specially formatted to feature a
larger aspect ratio than the conventional release for the entirety of
the film. This aspect ratio, which is optimized to take advantage of the
IMAX screen, will allow audiences to see up to 26% more of the image
and result in a full panorama of the action – further immersing them
into the vast scale and scope of the film.

2. IMAX makes things very big, including physical imperfections, facial
quirks, set design mistakes, slightly off-camera (but not for IMAX)
activity, etc. Were there any scenes in Skyfall that needed to be
reimagined or reshot after the IMAX dailies were viewed?

Not in the case of Skyfall. Roger Deakins is a very exacting
Cinematographer, and requested camera tests to be screened in IMAX over a
year ago, as described above, so that he would be armed with this
knowledge while shooting and then working with the digital frames.

3. As a filmgoer, I’m confused by the moniker “IMAX” associated with a
film because of the different size screens. I think of IMAX as a massive
curved screen and a specialized theater configuration, but now there
are “IMAX lite” theaters that have a higher-def but flat screen. What
defines the IMAX experience? Are you aware that film ticketing services
like Fandango don’t differentiate from “IMAX equipped theater” and a
proper IMAX screen experience?

There isn’t one thing that makes IMAX the most immersive movie experience in
the world; it’s a combination of many proprietary technologies and
architecture – almost all of them inventions that are unique to IMAX.
This is called the IMAX Experience® and is the culmination of the
following elements:

  • IMAX manufactures the highest resolution cameras in the world and provides
    them to the most ambitious and accomplished filmmakers such as
    Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird and J.J. Abrams
  • IMAX’s revolutionary projection technology, which delivers crystal-clear images
  • IMAX’s powerful audio system, which delivers laser-aligned sound
  • IMAX’s customized theatre geometry, which maximizes the audiences field of view

When integrated together, our comprehensive suite of proprietary IMAX
technologies and architecture delivers the optimal sensory experience in
both 2D and 3D.

We develop and customize the equipment and theatre design specifically for
each theatre – whether it is purpose-built, standalone or a
retro-fitted multiplex.

There’s no denying there is something special about watching a movie in an
enormous auditorium. And, at IMAX, we’re immensely proud of the ones
we’ve built and continue to build. On the other hand, there are many
more multiplexes than large, purpose-built, standalone IMAX theatres –
so there are many more opportunities, in many more cities and towns, at
many more times in the course of a film’s run, for more moviegoers to
see major movies in IMAX.

4. What’s the impact of 4K digital projection systems on IMAX? Some of the
recent 4K remasters (I’m thinking particularly of “Lawrence of Arabia”,
which is now gorgeous) are stunning and very high-def.

Both 4K and laser technology will be game-changers but neither is ready – in
any format – today. Laser projection is still in its infancy, with much
refinement required. And the studios, though excited by 4K technology,
have not made the full transition to capturing with it – leaving the 4K
projectors that exist today with little content to show. The overall
image quality of presentation with IMAX’s Dual-2K projection (shown below) is also
currently better than standard 4K, given the other variables involved.

That said, we are hard at work on developing our next generation IMAX laser
digital projection system — benefiting from IMAX’s intellectual property
in image quality and the digital laser intellectual property IMAX
licensed from Eastman Kodak. This state-of-the-art benchmark solution
will solve the major limitation of current 4K projection technology by
providing a brightness and clarity not currently attainable as well as
blacker blacks and a wider color gamut.

Our new dual 4K laser projection system will optimize image quality and
repeatability show after show through the use of a laser light source
and IMAX’s proprietary image enhancement technology. The experience will
be brighter, razor sharp, in subtle lifelike colors and with brilliant
contrasts. It promises to be the most advanced projection system
available – and one that we expect to stay the most advanced for many
years to come.

5. In Balboa Park (Los Angeles) they have a 360 IMAX. Is this a strategic
direction for IMAX or just a gimmicky sort of thing, like the fully
immersive video projection system in use at EPCOT Center in Florida?

IMAX Dome theatres are a proud and longstanding tradition at IMAX. In fact,
we installed our first IMAX dome theatre in 1973. Because of the space
and resources required to build a dome theatre, these are often
“purpose-built,” found in museums and science centers and play our
documentary films.

Our next-generation laser digital system will also be designed for use in our existing dome theatres.

6. And let’s close with a technical question: what are the steps involved
between a director shooting with IMAX cameras and the final film being
projected onto an IMAX screen? How much do IMAX cameras cost, and how
much does it cost to either build or equip a theater with a full, modern
IMAX projection system?

For scenes that are pure photography and films that are destined for IMAX
film theatres, the key is to continue working with IMAX negative through
the post-production chain.  When bringing footage shot with IMAX film
cameras into the digital world for post-production and special effects,
it must be scanned at very high resolutions, usually at 8K.  This helps
ensure that the captured IMAX quality is maintained throughout the
post-production chain.

On average, we sell our full systems for approximately $1.2 to $1.3
million. It is becoming more common, however, that we are entering
revenue share arrangements with our exhibitor partners where we invest
in the installation and get a share of box office.

Great stuff, thanks for the insight, Hugh. I know I’m excited to see Skyfall in the local IMAX for the full IMAX Bond experience. Or should I say “Max, IMAX”?

2 comments on “How the IMAX version of ‘Skyfall’ was Created

  1. Just saw SKYFALL tonight in Sydney’s Darling Harbour IMAX theatre. the biggest IMAX screen in the world I believe.
    Certainly an immersive Bond Experience. IMHO the best Bond film in a long time. The visuals and stunts were mind blowing anf the CG components were very transparent. The script and plot were among the most mature and sophisticated in the genre, and Daniel Craig has certainly reinvented the 007 persona. Less gadgetry, more realism. Although I had the good fortune of seeing the projection room way back in 2001 when researching a project, tonight it was hard to tell from the projection portal if it was Digital Projection or conventional release print, and sadly few of the usherette staff were knowledgeable enough to answer my query.
    This article while interesting and informative to a point, also fails to conclusively differentiate between total Digital aquisition path to distribution formats, if in fact prints are struck in regular 1570 film format for certain sites?

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