TUSAYAN — Over the years, thousands and thousands of Grand Canyon visitors have made the stop in Tusayan to take a view of the national park from an IMAX Theater seat.
Frank Rey works with the IMAX film on the theater's state-of-the-art platter system. Rey has been working at the Tusayan spot for 12 years.
"Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets" offers incredible views using the giant-screen technology. Not only do Grand Canyon IMAX Theater patrons soar over the rim and down into the great gorge or travel down the Colorado River on an expedition, they also find themselves in the middle of the Canyon’s fascinating history.
While taking in the thrilling adventure, moviegoers just might not realize the unique projection system running above and behind them. It’s like no other system in the world. Just ask Frank Rey, who can rattle off the ins and outs of the system like a seasoned pro.
"It takes a special breed of person to work up here," said Rey, who has worked at IMAX for 12 years. "People who like to be by themselves make good projectionists."
Rey is one of three projectionists at IMAX during the summer season. In the winter when things slow down, the theater cuts back to two.
IMAX is the world’s largest film format, perfect for a movie about the Grand Canyon. Each film frame measures 10 times larger than regular 35-mm film and it’s triple the size of 70-mm stock. Because these film frame are so large, the image can be projected on the giant screen, which measures 60 feet tall and 82 feet wide.
The large film frame also enhances the clarity and quality of the image. In between each showing, Rey and the other projectionists go through a series of tasks to make sure the projection system will perform at its best.
"We do things to make sure there’s no dirt," said Rey, who added that a speck of dust can appear sizeable up on the screen. "Every three months, a technician from IMAX in Canada comes in and puts in new bearings and checks the belts and rotor."
The high-intensity lamp is changed in the projection system every 1,000 hours.
Like other films, the IMAX movies come in several canisters and need to be "built" by the projectionist. In other words, the film is spliced together in the correct order. Grand Canyon IMAX alternates two copies of the film during the day. The movie is shown from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
After 2,000 to 3,000 showings, Rey said a new print of the film is ordered to ensure high quality for viewers.
"It takes two people to lift these," Rey said about the full movie reel. "They weigh about 200 pounds. We have a (mechanical) lift if you’re working by yourself."
The film moves horizontally through the projector and makes its way to a two-tiered platter system. While one copy of the movie spins onto the platter, the other copy is readied to go on the other level.
Rey also keeps an eye on the digital, computerized Dolby sound system, which adds even more realism to the movie.
The system is capable of running eight tracks of sound to surround moviegoers. As Rey said, "this will do everything."
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