Science center hosts IMAX co-inventor

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IMAX co-inventor Graeme Ferguson spoke at the Arizona Science Center Monday after a showing of his NASA documentary film Hubble 3D. (Mauro Whiteman/DD)

An elderly man wearing large glasses waited patiently for friends, family and a group of students to shuffle into the theater. He commented on the placement of his VIP seats.

“They reserved seats and have you seated up there, but in my opinion, the best seats are right behind the pole!” he said, pointing toward the railing separating the front seats from the screen.

Co-inventor of IMAX film technology Graeme Ferguson was introduced Monday afternoon to guests at Arizona Science Center’s Irene P. Flinn Theater before a showing of Hubble 3D, a 2010 film he produced.

Joshua Shroyer introduced Ferguson, describing the film’s story as pioneering space through the Hubble lens, much as Ferguson pioneered cinematography through IMAX.

Shroyer, the chief projectionist at the theater, was thrilled to meet one of his idols, and hopes the Arizona Science Center premiers filmmakers more often.

“After studying industrial film for the last five years, it was an honor to meet Graeme,” he said.

Ferguson said IMAX filmed NASA’s launches alongside journalists.

“We were outside the gates with the rest of them,” he said.

It wasn’t until around 1976, Ferguson said, when the young company was showing a launch of the shuttle at one of their theaters that NASA wanted an IMAX camera on a NASA project. Their partnership started in 1981, with the film “Hail Columbia.” IMAX has been a part of every manned shuttle mission since.

“It showed people what it’s really like to be an astronaut,” Ferguson said of showing audiences the footage of space. “We were really chronicling the shuttle portion of NASA’s space program.”

Monday’s film, Hubble 3D, is a look at what the Hubble space telescope has shown us over the years and is narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film spans the last mission NASA would take to maintain the Hubble space telescope, and it chronicles the feelings and stress astronauts endure to visit space.

After the film, Ferguson opened the forum to questions.

“What was the genesis of IMAX technology?” a theater-goer asked.

His team wanted to stay close to the big screen, but wanted to make the screen 10 times larger, Ferguson answered.

“We wanted a new kind of movie theater where you felt like you were part of the movie,” he said.

One of the problems he faced in this particular movie was that there was only room for one IMAX camera on the space shuttle.

“To solve that problem, we just left HD cameras with the crew and found out later that they spent a majority of the time interviewing each other,” Ferguson said.

After Ferguson’s entourage exited the theater, they were escorted upstairs for a behind-the-scenes look at the projection room, where Shroyer explained to the guests how an IMAX production comes to life. Ferguson chatted with friends about the details of the filming process, his voice muffled by the sound of large film spools spinning for the next film.

Jenny Havens, a Scottsdale resident and friend of the family, said Ferguson is a “genius.”

“It was a technical production, but it was told in such a language to apply to all different ages,” she said. “I know I learned something and my kids, one 8 years old and the other 10 years old, definitely learned something.”

A project in the process of getting approved, Ferguson said, is placing an IMAX camera on the international Space Station. This way, audiences will understand the day-to-day life of astronauts as they look down on Earth.

Back home on Earth, however, Ferguson’s goals are a little more self-serving.

“I would be content with an IMAX theater available in every community,” he said.

Contact the reporter at dmzayas@asu.edu