The Technology and Innovation Behind IMAX

Fill your curiosity and explore the stories behind our IMAX theaters!

At Pacific Science Center, our IMAX® theaters are more than just places to watch movies; they are cutting-edge technological marvels that bring science and storytelling to life in ways that captivate and create curiosity.  

As the third institution in the world—and the first science center—to get Dual Laser IMAX, we are proud to offer a viewing experience that is unparalleled in quality and innovation. Let’s dive into the technology that makes our IMAX theaters so special. 

PACCAR IMAX Theater projector
PACCAR’s Projectionist booth looking into the theater.

The Power of IMAX Technology 

IMAX, short for Image Maximum, is renowned for its ability to deliver crystal-clear images and immersive sound. At PacSci, we have theaters that use laser digital projection styles. This allows us to showcase a variety of content including classic documentaries and new blockbusters.  

Previously, PacSci used a film projection system. IMAX film projection used 70mm film resulting in exceptional clarity and detail. The film runs horizontally, with each frame positioned perfectly by a vacuum system onto a glass plate in front of the lens. A powerful 15,000-watt bulb illuminates the film, producing vivid images. We used humidifiers to ensure that the film runs smoothly without sticking or static issues. 

Boeing IMAX Digital Laser System
Boeing’s Digital Laser IMAX System

How do imax systems work?

Our current IMAX digital projection system employs dual 4K projectors to deliver bright, detailed images. The Boeing theater uses a dual laser digital projector, offering enhanced color accuracy and contrast. Laser technology provides a broader color range and higher dynamic range, resulting in more vibrant and realistic visuals.  

Notably, the Boeing theater is the only screen in Washington state capable of showing films shot in IMAX in full frame 1.43:1, such as Oppenheimer

Our Boeing theater is equipped with state-of-the-art chillers on both the left and right sides to maintain optimal temperature. Our PACCAR theater uses air-cooling systems to maintain optimal temperature.  

Each morning, our projectionists work together to calibrate the theater’s visual and audio equipment. Calibration is a meticulous process that involves warming up the equipment and checking sound levels to ensure a flawless performance. Our projectionists, with over 60 years of combined experience, are experts in fine-tuning every aspect of the viewing experience. 

David Dukart and Jenn Bentz standing with the IMAX sound system
Jenn Bentz, Director of Theaters, and David Dukart, IMAX Projectionist, next to the Boeing Sound System.

How do 2D and 3D IMAX Movies Work? 

The experience of watching a movie in IMAX is significantly enhanced by the advanced technology behind 2-dimensional and 3-dimentional projections. Our theaters utilize different techniques to create the immersive visual effects that IMAX is known for. 

3-dimensional (3D) glasses used for a six-primary laser Boeing movie system.

In the Boeing IMAX Theater, 3D movies are projected using a sophisticated six-primary laser system. This method employs slightly different colorizations for each eye by using six primary colors instead of the traditional three. By filtering specific wavelengths of light, the system ensures that each eye sees the appropriate image, resulting in a highly immersive and realistic three-dimensional effect.  

This graphic shows how polarized 3-dimensional (3D) technology is used for PACCAR’s movie system

Conversely, PACCAR IMAX Theater employs polarized 3D technology. Here, the screen is coated with a special silver surface that preserves the polarization of light. The projector displays two images polarized at different angles, and viewers wear glasses with lenses that filter the polarized light, ensuring each eye sees only the intended image. This method provides a remarkably clear and vibrant 3D effect, although viewers cannot tilt their heads, to maintain the optimal three-dimensional experience. 

The Evolution of Film and Digital Projection

The journey from film to digital projection has been transformative. When we first ran films, such as Avatar, the setup was elaborate, taking up to 24 hours to piece together reels that could be up to nine miles and weigh up to 600 pounds. Films like Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises were massive undertakings, with the film running off a six-foot platter. 

Today, our theater boasts a laser digital projector, offering unparalleled brightness and color accuracy. Sound, once tracked separately from film, is now perfectly synchronized with 24 film frames per second, delivering an audio experience as immersive as the visuals. 

Jenn Bentz, Director of Theaters, with Harry Potter film reel
July 2009 – Jenn Bentz, Director of Theaters, with the right eye film version of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 

Unparalleled Screen Sizes

Our Boeing IMAX Theater features a screen that stands an impressive six stories tall and stretches 80 feet wide, making it the largest screen in Washington state. A typical movie theater screen is significantly smaller, often only a fraction of this size.

Our PACCAR IMAX Theater, with its 37-foot-tall and 60-foot-wide screen, also surpasses the dimensions of standard movie theater screens, offering a much larger and more immersive viewing experience.  

This considerable difference in screen size is a hallmark of the IMAX experience, providing audiences with unparalleled visual immersion and clarity. Moviegoers can experience 26% more of an image in IMAX than standard theaters! 

How big is our screen in the Boeing IMAX Theater?

A Legacy of Innovation and Excellence

Our commitment to innovation is evident from our milestones. The original 1979 Eames projector was the 15th IMAX projector installed globally. By 1999, we became the second location in the U.S. to house two IMAX theaters on site. The very first IMAX film shown here was To Fly, which opened on July 1, 1979, marking the beginning of our journey in offering groundbreaking cinematic experiences. 

Click here to watch how our theatre was built for the Seattle World Fair in 1962!  

Guests showing up at the Science Pavilion at the World’s Fair
World Fair, 1962. When guests came to the Science Pavilion at the World’s Fair, they started at the “House of Science” theater.

Inspiring Future Generations

Our IMAX theaters do more than entertain; they inspire. Susan Helms, a NASA astronaut, watched The Dream Is Alive in our Eames IMAX Theater in the mid-80s. This experience played a part in her journey to space, where she spent 211 days and was later featured in IMAX’s Space Station 3D, which we proudly showcased. 

From stunning documentaries that can take years to complete to Hollywood films released at the studio’s discretion, our IMAX theaters are at the forefront of delivering diverse and impactful content. We remain committed to our guiding principles, ensuring every guest enjoys and remembers their visit, while supporting educators and embracing innovation.  

Join us at Pacific Science Center’s IMAX theaters, where science, technology, and storytelling converge to create unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re here to watch a documentary or the latest blockbuster, you’ll be immersed in a world of wonder and discovery. 

This video was created with KOMO News. It showcases a space exploration traveling exhibit called Space: A Journey to Our Future, aired on March 17, 2004, as part of the “KOMO For Kids’ Sake” series. 

Name Your Seat for Science 

You can become a part of Pacific Science Center’s legacy by naming a seat in our Boeing IMAX Theater! 

By naming a seat, you contribute directly to our educational programs and help maintain the cutting-edge technology that makes our IMAX theaters exceptional. To learn more about how you can name your seat for science, please visit our donation page

Name Your Seat for Science

IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation. 

PacSci’s IMAX Theaters were made possible by philanthropic donations. Our theaters are named in gratitude to PACCAR and The Boeing Company, whose significant contributions helped secure the future of our institution and expand our ability to serve the community. 

Thank you to our generous supporters, including the 180+ families who generously named their seat for science in PacSci’s Boeing IMAX Theater. Last year, 1,500 individuals, companies, and foundations, as well as 13,000 member households supported PacSci, bringing to life PacSci’s mission to ignite curiosity in every corner of Washington State and beyond.