For anyone into technology and film, 1995 is a significant year – as this was when Pixar released Toy Story, the first full-length feature that was completely computer-generated. The history and animation, computers and Pixar is fascinating and involves the curious mix of two icons of their respective industries: George Lucas and Steve Jobs. The latter had a computer graphics division working inside Lucasfilm as a “skunkworks” operation and pioneering much of the 3D graphics technology we now take for granted. The “Genesis planet” animation from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that still stands up today? That was produced for Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic by the computer division as far back as 1982 – and it was this division that was later sold by Lucas to Steve Jobs when he launched NeXT in 1985, the computer company he set up after he was fired by Apple.
Out Pixar, and also created the technology that became MacOS X after Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. This means that Steve Jobs’ helped save both Disney (who later acquired Pixar) and Apple – so that’s some legacy.
But it was Lucas who should take huge credit for the research into computer graphics – providing a place that nurtured the minds that gave us the graphics technology that underpins modern movies and gaming – for the detail on this track down the book “Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution”.
At this point, I realize I might have got side-tracked a little – and if you’ve got this far you might be wondering what this has to do with Lightyear?
Lightyear is the new film by Pixar that gives us the origin story of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story – and remarkably, once again, it marks another milestone in cinematic history. It is the first animated feature to be formatted for the IMAX 1.43:1 aspect ratio – the same used by IMAX 15/70 film.
Of course, it was not actually “shot” on film. Instead, Pixar created a “virtual IMAX camera” that matched the full IMAX format and they then cropped it for the standard 2.39:1 aspect ratio. As reported by Comicbook.com Lightyear’s director of photography, Jeremy Lasky explained at a press conference explained that a third of the film was shot in this way. Not only that, the look of the animation in the standard sequences was made to mimic the anamorphic lenses that were used in the 70s and 80s movies that inspired Lightyear, while in the full-frame sequences, the look mirrors the depth of field of a larger IMAX 15/70 film stock would use. I love that attention to detail.
The question then is how to see Lightyear in this format. To do that you need two things. An IMAX theatre with a 1.43:1 screen and a dual-laser GT digital projector. Incredibly, this means that it’s not possible to see Lightyear in its full format in the UK. The BFI Odeon in Waterloo has a 1.43 screen – but, frustratingly, no laser projector so can only show Lightyear in 2K on its analog Xenon projector – so it will be stuck at 1.90:1.
London also has the Science Museum that has both the required screen and the projector – but, for some unfathomable reason, is no longer showing commercial movies. The Vue Printworks in Manchester has both screen and projector – huzzah. But no. The powers at be have decided to reserve its IMAX screen for Jurassic World Dominion on its IMAX screen. Odeon Leicester Square? Dual Laser GT – but only a 1.90:1 screen. Strike four. We’re out. It all makes about as much sense as going to infinity – and beyond.
If you’re in Europe, the US, you’ll have better luck. Indeed in Melbourne, Australia, they are showing in in 4 and 3D together. Here in Blighty though, as with most things it seems these days, we’re out of luck.
Of course, remember that all other IMAX screens are 1.90:1 aspect ratio, which is still taller than regular widescreen, so it’s still worth going to see it in a non-1.43:1 IMAX location.
A mention must go though to Dolby Cinema locations, which with its HDR projection and Atmos sound will make a fine partner for the intense colors and sounds of a Pixar movie.
If you do get to see it in 1.43:1 remember that you’re witnessing a small, but significant step in animated movie history that started with Lucas and Jobs all those years ago.