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Al Columbo Reports on His IMAX Experience, Part II

Al Columbo

Part II: Behind the Scenes

I got a crash course in special effects on a tour of the bowels under the theater. John Young, Electronic Audio Visual Producer at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, has proudly worked for the Fleet for more than 30 years. His office is in the basement of the theater, which is a catacomb of offices, studios and work spaces.

Young used to create the sky and space shows back in the day. He showed off one of his special effects: a lava-rock the size of a peanut that had been lightly painted to exaggerate the pits and crevices. The rock was in a shoe-box-sized contraption with two bright light bulbs and a camera lens. The lights projected the rock onto the dome screen, and it looked like a giant asteroid was streaking across the night sky. Young had multiple asteroids and other miniatures that were used in the shows.

Those were the same shows that I remembered seeing when I was a kid. I would sit next to my mom in the theater and hear her “oooos” and “aaaaahs” at the sight of the night sky and constellations and flying objects. Now it felt like kismet for me to be taking the underbelly tour of the Fleet that day. Here I was, sitting across a table from the man who created the special effects that I remember enjoying as a child. It is one of the memories that I cherish.

There are many exhibits at the Fleet and they're each very fascinating, but I knew this window of opportunity to see the IMAX projector under the theater is a rarity. It made me glad that I had gone on the tour alone, so that I could see what I wanted to see.

Speaking of the IMAX projector, it's enormous. So’s the film itself. Each frame is about the size of an iPhone. The spools are like bicycle tires and they sit on an oversized projector. The film runs off one spool more than 10 feet up out of the basement to the light-housing in the actual theater. I could see the graded ceiling above me was the stadium seating floor. The spools spin and the film flies up into the light and comes back down to the spool next to it. I felt like a mouse in a movie projector. It was almost comical.

So like the dome theater, my experience had come full-circle. I remembered what it was like for me to see a spectacular movie as a child with my parent, and I also met the guy who created some of the spectacular shows I saw when I was a kid. I don’t have any children of my own to take to the theater or the museum, but I can still enjoy them nonetheless.