IMAX Pre-Show 2015
Q&A with designer, director, animator: Timothy Evans
What is the IMAX pre-show and what was your role in creating it?
It’s just over a minute of motion graphics and animation that plays at the start of an IMAX movie. It’s there to get people excited about the movie experience that’s about to engulf them.
I was responsible for the creative, direction, visual design and all the 3D animation and compositing. IMAX is a client of the London company Premier where I have a great producer and there are people working in audio mixing and international versioning.
What was the creative challenge
in the initial brief?
We all know there are so many ways to watch a movie these days, from your phone to streaming services on your TV or tablet. There are obviously different types of cinema out there too. IMAX wanted to convince the audience that their theatre is the most immersive way to experience what the film director envisioned.
So my brief was to visually convey the message from IMAX to ‘Never Compromise’ in your choice of movie experience. The visuals and audio in the trailer were not to be compromised either. The requirements were for something really imaginative, well designed that would leave a lasting impression.
What thoughts did you have at the start of production?
I had to develop a visual style to make sure the sequence stood up against the feature films that would follow it and the other trailers that run alongside. It’s true that many Hollywood films have budgets averaging $1million a minute.
Directors like Christopher Nolan and JJ Abrams are always pushing for the ultimate visual experience with more use of IMAX cameras. Also big VFX companies now have such streamlined workflows, for me it felt like the moving image equivalent of David versus Goliath.
Christopher Nolan shooting Interstellar on location using an IMAX camera
IMAX also prides itself on quality assurance and attention to the smallest detail in their presentations. They truly want everything to be perfect when the audience has paid a premium for the IMAX experience.
Knowing that my work would not just have to pass their rigorous quality tests but be a fine example of the values they have established over a 40 year period, was some responsibility.
In summary I had to create something that looked a million dollars whilst keeping to a considerably smaller budget.
Is there a history to the
Yes there is, YouTube revealed previous incarnations of the pre-show. Each one has a similar message but as the years have gone by and technology has developed the sequence has evolved.
A very early IMAX Pre-Show using laser animation
One of the oldest versions I came across was actually beamed onto the screen with an old style laser show. I believe those type of laser shows were very difficult to produce back in those days so it must have been very exciting at the time.
Can you describe the creative process?
The process began with a lot of research. Working with another guy we brought together a whole wall of inspirational images. Visual ways of portraying sound waves, beautiful works of art that we found inspiring and anything else that could help spark ideas.
Next I worked these ideas into a coherent sequence to convey messages in the script. This is where various big ideas were born and it’s an exciting moment when you don’t really know how it’s all going to be done.
An early design for the Formula 1 car featured in the sequence
For example my concept for the final logo resolve was that section of the milky way we see in the night sky explodes and reforms itself into the IMAX logo. I thought that if there’s one place that could portray the entire universe exploding IMAX would be it.
Many test sequences and work in progress clips were sent from Soho to the IMAX facilities in Toronto and Los Angeles. The client feedback was incorporated and the end result graded and delivered by myself in 4K resolution.
Which tools and software did you use?
It was made on a Mac with Adobe After Effects, Autodesk Maya and Cinema 4D. Various plugins were used such as Sapphire and Trapcode. Many parts were hand animated with custom made elements such as the beams of light coming from the crystal.
IMAX Pre-Show breakdown
What were the technical challenges?
There were many. I wanted to make sure it had really deep colours and lots of layers and small details to really push the IMAX system. I also envisioned a constant smooth motion where one thing lead seamlessly to the next.
The sequence was needed in 2D and 3D stereoscopic, both at 4K resolution so there was a lot of data to store - several terrabytes. Rendering many layers with multiple passes meant a lot of patience was needed to refine the smooth movement I was after.
However it was worth it in the end and with the help of an off-site render farm it all came together. Like all big productions you tend to make innovations along the way to solve technical problems which can be really useful for the next project.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I am inspired by the area I work in London and by visiting Tokyo. There are various science fiction films I watch plus many types of contemporary art and design I soak up.
There’s a reference to Stanley Kubrick who is one of my favourite directors. When the pin falls it cuts to the the jet in the distance. That was intended to be reminiscent of a cut in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the bone falls and it jumps to the space station. There’s also an obvious Tron feel to the whole thing.
What feedback have you received?
Extremely good feedback, IMAX know a lot about marketing and they love it. But if anyone says it’s better than the movie they went to see it’s the ultimate compliment for me.
The New IMAX Laser Projection System
Where and when is the pre-show trailer showing?
It’s out now and is being shown continuously worldwide and in various languages. It has been mentioned on social media in China, Japan, Thailand and Europe. IMAX actually have a total of 930 venues in 62 countries, it won’t be in all of them yet but I hope it will eventually be seen everywhere.