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VOL. 129 | NO. 16 | Friday, January 24, 2014

Technology Upgrade

Pink Palace IMAX theater makes transition to 3-D

By Bill Dries

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When it opened in the early 1990s, the IMAX theater at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum was state of the art.

Bob Friedstand, chief IMAX technician at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum, works on saving clips from the museum’s IMAX film reels.  

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

And it was part of a move by the city’s museums into what was then a new frontier in museum environments that had been dominated by display boards and walls.

The other example was the National Civil Rights Museum, which opened in 1991 and will debut its renovation and changes in early April.

The Pink Palace theater is going 3-D in its first overall renovation and upgrade since its debut almost 19 years ago. It closed last week for the renovation.

When it reopens, the Crew Training International theater will show giant screen movies in 3-D with a Barco 4K projector solution and a multi-channel audio system.

Those are the specs that matter to theater manager Tony Hardy.

“The technology has changed,” he said. “Film is going away, which is on one level great and another level it’s sad.”

The theater itself was built for the demands of the early 1990s sound system and will remain “acoustically dead” for the enhanced sound system.

“The theater will look pretty much the same. But there will be new seating,” Hardy said. “There will be a new screen. There will be a new sound system. We’ll have a new projection system that’s digital 3-D.”

The system will also have that ability to show two-dimensional films, offering more flexibility.

“Over the years we would get people come in with the IMAX. … They’d want to show a feature film,” Hardy said. “I would even have producers of Hollywood films coming that were shooting in the area. They said, ‘We are looking for a theater where we can look at our daily rushes.’ … They’d have to go somewhere else. The IMAX is like the space shuttle. It only goes to earth orbit. It only goes to one place. It only does one thing.”

When the Pink Palace’s IMAX system debuted in 1995, the theater managers often showed the curious a film frame that was the size of a playing card to demonstrate that the system was big on a scale with the giant screen it showed movies on.

Much has changed in 19 years.

IMAX doesn’t make educational films that much anymore. The company, which Hardy worked for, does a lot of Hollywood blockbusters these days and doesn’t make many of the films the theater has been showing over several years.

But Hardy says for its time, the IMAX equipment and technology was top of the line.

“We took really good care of it,” he said, offering a peak behind the curtains so to speak. “But digital will be even more so because it has even less moving parts. … It means we can turn shows around faster. The IMAX film system was a bear of a system to operate. It was a great system but it took a lot of work to keep that going. We never damaged a film print, thank God.”

Hardy already has the digital cinema package for the feature “Flight of the Butterflies,” which will be the debut film at the new CTI theater when it opens March 1.

“It’s smaller than a little three-quarter inch tape and it’s all digital,” he said. “You just download it into the system. It’s drop-and-drag editing.”

The theater upgrade is not part of the museum’s larger capital campaign.

“But it still fits into the overall plan,” Hardy said. “The planetarium is coming hopefully within a year and then the exhibits will come after that. … These things, we could do in a couple of months.”

D3D Cinema, the company that is doing the Pink Palace theater upgrade, comes to Memphis directly from Louisville, Ky., where the company just completed a similar upgrade at the Kentucky Science Center.

Hardy said the Pink Palace upgrade “sends a very strong message to the community and members of the museum that we’re serious about moving forward and keeping up with technology and staying at the forefront of being a top tourist destination.”

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