Tuesday, December 23, 2008


By Leo E. Laurence • Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence for San Diego News Service

The spectacular domed theatre (called a planetarium) at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Bal-boa Park has a new, experimental movie screen, new seats and an upgraded IMAX projector.

The Science Center’s Space Theatre is located on Park Boulevard just west of the zoo.

“This (Space) Theatre is historic,” explained Jeremy Pyle, the young and highly-professional Public Relations Manager of the Science Center.

“It was the world’s first, tilted-dome theatre.

“It was America’s first IMAX theatre when it opened.

“And, this is the first nanoscreen in an IMAX theatre.

“It’s still a hemispherical, dome-shaped screen; but the thousands of pieces (that make it up) are finely, carefully machined together, one-by-one, so that they fit together perfectly as a smooth surface. It appears almost like the inside of an egg shell,” Pyle added.

The domed-shaped screen in actually composed of 393 separate, sections of metal with tiny, tiny holes.

“There are well over 1 million little holes in the entire, domed screen.

“And, if you turned the Space theatre’s screen upside down, like a kitchen bowl, it would hold over 1 billion M&Ms, according to the contractor’s estimates,” Pyle reported.

Radical Changes

“Basically, we changed everything inside the Space Theatre, from the seats and carpeting to the screen and IMAX projection equipment, Pyle explained in an exclusive interview.

“The biggest change that people will notice is the new screen. It’s an entirely new dome, replacing one that was built 35 years ago. At that time, it was the first of its kind in the whole world. Now we have the first IMAX theatre in the world to have this new kind of (domed) screen that appears completely seamless under projection.

“Another change is to the surface of the screen itself. It actually has a slightly darker surface coating that changes the reflectivity. That means there will be less light bouncing around from the projector and colors appear richer, contrast is much sharper and the image is dramatically better,” Pyle explained.

“We started with this renovation on September 4, and have been working night and day, seven days a week, to get this done,” Pyle added.

There are even major changes in the projection room, located — oddly — in the basement of the theatre, due to the massive size of the IMAX projection equipment.

“We’ve made significant improvements to America’s oldest IMAX projector. We added a state-of-the-art, IMAX lens that is several times larger than the old lens; and which lets more light into the theatre and onto the screen.

“The cost? This part of the project is actually just Phase One of a three-phase project to transform the theatre. The entire project, which includes the subsequent 2 phases (including installing new, digital projection equipment next year), will cost $6 million.

“The cost of just the (current) theatre renovations and lens change is about $2 million.

Three New IMAX Films

“We are showing 3 entirely new IMAX films: (1) Wild Oceans, (2) Van Gogh — Crush with Genius, and (3) Animalopolis (of special interest to children),” Pyle reports.

“This is just the beginning. There’s a lot of stuff to come. “Starting next year, we will augment the existing (optical) IMAX projector with a digital projection system. That will be for the next generation of planetarium shows and beyond.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at leopowerhere@msn.com


Photo shows a rare, behind-the-scenes view (off limits to the public) as Public Relations Manager Jeremy Pyle inspects the massive structure supporting a new, experimental, domed screen in the planetarium theatre of the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Photo by Leo E. Laurence