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The 3D system has breathed new life into film - so real you reach out to feel, says Janet Murray

It was supposed to be a short-lived fad. The 3D experience of wearing red and blue spectacles to watch films such as Jaws 3D was as quintessentially 1980s as Betamax video. IMAX, however, has hauled 3D technology into the 21st century, reinventing the experience with education at its heart.

The term stands for Image Maximum. Huge screens, a mega-powerful digital surround system and sophisticated sound immerse viewers in larger-than-life images and realistic digital sound. The difference between this and conventional cinema is the feeling you don't merely watch the film; you feel as if you are actually there - inside the human body, looking down on earth from a space station or plunging into the sea.

Many experimental wide-screen movie formats were tried and abandoned before this new system hit the screens in 1970. In 1952, there was 3D and Cinerama - with a curved screen and three interlocking projectors. The following year, 20th Century Fox developed Cinemascope, a cheaper and more successful alternative. But it wasn't until 1967, when a group of Canadian film entrepreneurs met at Montreal's Expo, that IMAX was born.

The film it uses is 10 times the size of traditional 35mm, meaning larger images can be projected on to screens so wide, the viewer's peripheral vision is filled.

The British Film Institute in London boasts the largest screen: 26 metres wide by 20 deep. The rolling loop projector is the size of a Mini car. The film travels at 24 frames per second and there are nearly two miles of it in a typical showing. Large-format films are two and three-dimensional; when watching 3D, the image seems to jump out of the screen.

More than 250 IMAX cinemas have been built worldwide. The first in Britain was in Bradford at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Technology.

There are now nine - most in museums.

Traditionally, IMAX films are designed to enlighten as well as entertain.

They focus on subjects covering the environment, nature and geography, the arts, technology and space exploration. Many are collaborations with organisations such as Nasa and National Geographic. Many link into the national curriculum and come with a free teaching guide.

The BFI cinema was opened in 1999, the first stand-alone IMAX cinema in the UK. Located on the South Bank, the building is an attraction itself - a multi-storey, glass-enclosed building lit by coloured lights at night.

Morning showings are devoted to schools parties during term time, which enables staff to organise talks from experts to complement the educational content of films, such as a talk from an astronaut before a viewing of Space Station 3D.

At Bradford, they offer free holiday workshops and summer schools for children. Run by trainee teachers, they are informal: you can just drop-in.

Activities are usually based around animation or digital photography.

Children have made animated toys, including flickbooks, that tied in with the film Shackleton. Over Christmas there was a workshop linked to Space Station 3D. Hundreds of school parties visit the museum.

"Very often, IMAX is the reason for their visit," explains Sarah Mumford, the museum's education officer. "The themes of the films often relate to what they are studying at school - particularly at primary level. Young children are definitely our largest and most enthusiastic audienceIThey will often stand up and try to touch the images."

* Films showing: Human Body 2D, Space Station 3D, Shackleton, Mysteries of Egypt, Ocean Oasis and T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous 3D. Star Wars Episode II, Attack of the Clones and other not strictly educational films are expected here over the next 18 months.

Cost: from pound;5 for adults and pound;3.50 for children.

Contacts: IMAX cinemas are located in: London, Bournemouth, Bristol, Belfast. Glasgow, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester.

To find our more about your local IMAX cinema, visit is running behind the scenes IMAX workshops for OCR and A-Level students from February 17-21, April 1-11 and June 23-27. The workshops last two hours and feature a screening of a film, in-depth presentations on the large-format industry and a visit to the projection box to see the technology at work. The workshops cost pound;6 per student.

Tel: 0117 915 7777 or email: for more details.


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