IMAX SPACE STATION 3D by Lawrence Kaufman

IMAX and Lockheed Martin have done it again. SPACE STATION (2002) is their fifth collaboration following THE DREAM IS ALIVE (1985), BLUE PLANET (1990), DESTINY IN SPACE (1994) and MISSION TO MIR (1997). SPACE STATION is another strikingly beautiful and technically challenging film epic, plus the first-ever IMAX 3D film from space. SPACE STATION is the story of the greatest engineering feat since landing a man on the Moon: the on-orbit assembly of the International Space Station (ISS), as it travels 220 miles above Earth in zero gravity at 17,500 mph.

Produced by IMAX Space Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of IMAX Corporation, and sponsored by Lockheed Martin Corporation, in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), SPACE STATION builds on the IMAX-Lockheed Martin heritage that began almost 20 years ago and now has produced these five major large format (LF) films.

SPACE STATION is the first of many upcoming 3-D LF films after a long drought. 2001 saw only one 3-D LF film released and that was HAUNTED CASTLE, which was released in February. SPACE STATION has been a long anticipated 3-D LF film; the film has been on my list of upcoming 3-D LF films from the very beginning of the IMAX 3D film boom. Having numerous delays, from the struggling Russian Space program to the revolutionary new 3-D space cameras crafted by NSA members Martin and Barbara Mueller of MSM Design, Inc., the film has been creeping towards completion. Due to the unique design of the new 3-D space cameras, with dual lenses and a single strip of film, the film required extra post-production work to print dual filmstrips.

The filmmakers have crafted an enjoyable and entertaining trip to space. Narrated by multi Academy Award® nominee Tom Cruise. Cruise admits that he has long been a fan of the space program and LF films. IMAX began showing short clips of the space footage in early 2001 at industry events. Some of this fabulous footage was screened for Tom Cruise, who was signed on immediately after he saw it. "The minute I saw the amazing 3-D footage shot by the astronauts in space, I knew I had to be involved with this very special film." Cruise said. Atendees at the 2001 NSA Convention in Buffalo saw some of these frames projected during a slide show hosted by the Muellers.

Southern California millionaire Dennis Tito became a front-page news story in 2001 when he became everyone’s favorite senior citizen space cowboy. He booked a trip to the ISS with the Russians. Tito is not mentioned in the film, even though they reportedly had footage of him. The latest civilian who purchased a ticket to the ISS paid the astronomical sum of $20 Million for the pleasure of becoming a cosmonaut. According to a CNN QuickVote (April, 2001) more than 86% of respondents would buy a ticket for a flight into space if money were no object. Now SPACE STATION fulfills that dream, delivering the celestial experience first-hand for only the price of a trip to a movie theater.

The film had its debut at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Lockheed Martin IMAX® Theater on April 17th. Daily departures to the ISS, via IMAX® and other Large Format or Giant Screen theaters worldwide launched on April 19, 2002. SPACE STATION opened at two-dozen 3-D and IMAX DOME theaters and should roll out to nearly 100 locations by years end. SPACE STATION challenges the mind and fulfills our human need for space exploration. The film is truly an out-of-this-world adventure in 3-D. It allows viewers to float in zero gravity and witness an endless cosmic panorama. Audience members can journey alongside astronauts at the first international outpost in space, made even more real by the larger-than-life enormous 6 to 10 story screens and 12,000-watt digital surround sound systems.

The film opens with a breathtaking shot in outer space. Cruise assures us that we are not looking at some special effect, but actual space footage. After being reassured that we are seeing actual space footage, we are next treated to way-too-in-your-face virtual footage, which left me scratching my head and thinking who are they trying to fool? But then we discover that are viewing what the astronauts are seeing as they prepare for space flight in a virtual space walk.

SPACE STATION is the story of this unique partnership of 16 nations building a laboratory in outer space, a permanent facility for the study of the effects of long-duration exposure to zero gravity, and the necessary first step towards the global, cooperative effort needed if we are to go to Mars someday. SPACE STATION is a home movie from humanity’s home-away-from home, the first cinematic journey to the ISS. The audience blasts off into space with the astronauts and cosmonauts from Florida's Kennedy Space Center and Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome to rendezvous with their new home in orbit. The ISS is a technical marvel, unparalleled in scope and challenge. The astronauts and cosmonauts share the tensions and triumphs of their greatest challenge: hours of painstaking and dangerous teamwork in the deadly vacuum of space, to put the pieces together. The ISS is not the first space station, as the Russian SALYUT and MIR, as well as U.S. SKYLAB preceded this effort, however, it is a truly international effort to create a permanent research facility in space.


The LF space films have given the world a window into the exploration of space from both the technical and human side, giving NASA one of its most successful outreaches; here the extra dimension has truly added much to the experience. The IMAX cameras captured seven Space Shuttle crews and two resident station crews, as they transformed the ISS into a permanently inhabited scientific research station. We see the orbital assembly work that expanded the ISS from a 70-ton embryonic station to a 150-ton facility extending 200 ft. with a 240-ft. solar array span towering 85 ft. high.

The idea for putting an Imax camera into space had originally come from an astronaut. In 1976, Apollo 11 member Michael Collins was the first person close to NASA to realize what LF filmmaking technology could do for the space program. Collins was the first director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. He was shown IMAX in order to persuade him to put it into the museum, which he did. But when he saw it, his first reaction was the camera had to go into space. He said that was the only way the world would know what he as an astronaut experienced.

For more than 20 years, the film’s Writer/Producer Toni Myers and her colleagues, Consulting Producer (and IMAX Co-founder) Graeme Ferguson, and Director of Photography James Neihouse have been training astronauts to be cinematographers, directors, sound mixers and lighting technicians. NASA astronauts awarded Neihouse with the coveted "Silver Snoopy" Award, for his "continuing superlative support to America's space program", you can read the official IMAX release at: http://www.imax.com/films/production/ss_010710.html. I first became aware of Neihouse from his website. He was the webmaster of the Original 15/70 Film Web Site: http://www.1570films.com/. He put together a very complete listing of LF films and theaters before anyone else, even IMAX itself.

Twenty-five astronauts and cosmonauts, who were trained as filmmakers, used the specially designed IMAX 3D space cameras to shoot more than 66,000 feet, (or 12 miles) of 65mm film in space between December 1998 and July 2001, bringing to fruition this incredible cinematic journey of discovery. I had heard it mentioned that the astronauts did the filming after their regular duties where completed, but filming was also one of their jobs. The astronauts and cosmonauts where trained on all aspects of the IMAX cameras operations and shuttle preflight planning on the best mission timing and Sun angles for IMAX photography. Astronauts and IMAX personnel also used simulators at the Johnson Space Center to set up and practice the photography. They went into space with lists of shots to take with each mission.

The remote-controlled camera mounted to the space shuttle cargo bay for capturing bird's-eye views of space walks could not be reloaded during flight. It held just over a mile of film, which yields about eight minutes of running time. On the second shuttle flight, it encountered a software glitch, but once tracked down never reoccurred. The In-Cabin camera is substantially smaller and lighter than any previous 3-D LF camera. Given the limitations the crews had to choose their shots carefully. On a 10-day mission in October 2000 the crew shot a mere four minutes of 3-D film.

The film started getting a real publicity push in late 2001 when NASA began releasing photos and "Aviation Week & Space Technology" magazine released their December 24/31 issue with eleven 3-D anaglyph (red/blue) photos from the film. Here is the link for the subscription-only magazine and the great 3-D photos: http://www.AviationNow.com/content/publication/awst/20011224/imax_p1.htm

The film is not to be missed. The astronauts did a commendable job capturing the footage, but yet there were a bit too many shots with the portholes popping into view and cutting off some of the screen image, some sun flare and a couple other minor problems. I assume this is due to the limited amount of footage available to work with and only having one chance to get these shots. This probably lends itself to adding a touch of realism to the film. The LF format has a now-familiar sense of grandeur. What is most impressive about SPACE STATION is the clarity and definition of the 3-D imagery. The film communicates both the expansiveness of space and the claustrophobic environments within the vessels.

Upcoming 3-D Large Format Films:

One of the strongest film slates ever will be made available to the large-format industry during the next year to year and a half. Approximately 30 films from a variety of independent and Hollywood filmmakers and distributors are expected, including several more LF films from Disney. IMAX® will debut its new DMR (Movies Reimagined by IMAX) with the LF version of APOLLO 13 (1995) in late summer of 2002. Unfortunately Disney doesn’t yet have any 3-D films planned, but there are a number of 3-D films coming from other producers:

VIRTUAL ACTORS FEATURING THE BOXER – As Slim squares off against Killer, audiences will be amazed not only by the action of the story, but also by the fact that these actors are all virtual – they might be ready to take over the industry! Born out of the technology and craftsmanship that originally created the award-winning short TONY DE PELTRIE (1985)(which featured the first lifelike computer-generated actor), THE BOXER is a milestone in the art of 3-D computer animation. It brings the concept of the virtual actor to stunning new levels. Producer/director Pierre Lachapelle has brought together a talented team of animators, artists, programmers and scientists. Coming from TAARNA Studios, Inc.

SANTA VS. THE SNOWMAN - Superstar writer/director Steve Oedekerk [ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS (1995), THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1996), PATCH ADAMS (1998)] tells the story of a lonely Snowman who at first is swept away by the magical wonders of Santa's Village, only to ultimately wage war on Santa because he's jealous of all the attention Santa gets during Christmas time. An epic-scale polar war then develops. The hilarious battle features such holiday defense mechanisms as hot chocolate squirt guns, giant Igloo Robot Walkers and even a 50-foot toy soldier manned by Santa himself. Originally a 21 minute 1997 TV Christmas special starring the voices of Jonathan Winters, Victoria Jackson and Ben Stein. The film is being turned into an extended, enlarged and stereoscopic LF film.

GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS – Examines the sinking of the Titanic and the Bismarck. Director James Cameron has designed several revolutionary camera systems including a new digital 3-D stereo camera system co-designed by Sony. Joining the expedition are historians Ken Marshall, Charles Pellegrino, Don Lynch and John Broadwater and microbiolists Roy Cullimore and Lori Johnson. In addition several actors including Bill Paxton from Cameron’s film TITANIC (1997) join Cameron not as actors but as explorers. Produced by EarthShip Productions, distributed by Walden Media and due in the fall of 2002.

SOS PLANET – One important message is not being heard as loudly as it needs to be: the need for all of us to preserve the abundance and diversity of life on Earth. nWave Pictures and WWF Netherlands have accepted this challenge with the creation of SOS PLANET. The film is a groundbreaking LF documentary that raises some of the crucial environmental issues of our time while taking a serious look at the role of the mass media in the campaign to protect the planet from slow but seemingly unavoidable destruction. The film will combine live-action footage digital effects and computer-generated sequences in a truly immersive experience. A fall 2002 release is planned.

BUGS! – Principal Media Group (UK) continues to move forward on their spectacular 3-D LF film following the perilous journey that is a bug’s life. Using bespoke lenses the film will feature never-before-seen 3-D macro close-ups of insect behavior and stunning shots of the Costa Rican rainforest.

SHREK (2001) – You know the story, a reclusive ogre and a chatterbox donkey go on a quest to rescue a princess for a tyrannical midget Lord. PDI/DreamWorks has the 3-D LF files and had planned to release the LF version last year with some additional footage until IMAX backed out. The future is uncertain for the 3-D LF version, but I am hoping that it makes it to the giant screen.

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS - From Mainframe Entertainment, the creators of the innovative TV series "Reboot" comes a 3-D animated version of Jonathan Swift's classic story. Travel on an amazing journey with Gulliver to the land of Lilliput and beyond as top screenwriter Arne Olsen [COP AND A HALF (1993), MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE (1995), ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN 2 (1996)] adapts this classic tale.

These films are still listed as in development on the IMAX website:

IN DREAMTIME - An anthropologist in search of one of the last remaining Aboriginal tribes hires an Aboriginal pilot to fly him deep into Kakadu, Australia. Over 20 years ago, the pilot turned his back on his roots and through his expedition with the anthropologist rediscovers his heritage and the importance of preserving his tribes' rites and ritual songs.

AFRICAN SAFARI - From Michael Caulfield, writer/director of AFRICA’S ELEPHANT KINGDOM (1998) comes the story of an American photographer assigned to initially cover the relocation of an African pygmy tribe uncovers a black-market scheme involving wild animals. He is forced to flee into the African wilderness to save himself and an orphaned one-year old chimpanzee.

EDDY DECO - Based on legendary cartoonist Gahan Wilson's novel "Eddy

Deco's Last Caper" with an adaptation by Steven-Charles Jaffe [MOTEL HELL (1980)] and Nicholas Meyer [STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986), TIME AFTER TIME (1979), SOMMERSBY (1993)]. A New York City detective finds himself embroiled in a bizarre case involving a beautiful alien princess in this 3-D animated film noir.