Vision 2005 paper for Giant Screen Meeting – Written & Presented 1998

VISION 2005 by Ben Shedd ©1998 Updated: 02/06/08 – Invited talk presented at Giant Screen Theater Association 1998 Annual Meeting

While preparing for this talk, I gathered together some data about growth curves being projected by 2005 which will create deep cultural changes. The population of our planet is increasing at 1.8% growth per year, growing by 250,000 people everyday, 90,000,000 people a year. In seven years, there will be an additional 630 million people on our planet, a 10% increase over today’s population.

By 2004, the goal is for computer calculating power to reach speeds of 100 terraflops of calculations per second. The metaphor I read to understand that number is to imagine one person using a hand calculator for 3,000,000 years. That much calculating power every second. I recall learning that putting humans on the moon was a project with a million steps in ten years. Imagine what kinds of problems we will solve with that kind of computational capacity.

It goes without saying, but this is a discussion to say these things: Internet usage will be pervasive. Worldwide wireless constant connectivity will be pervasive. Computer assisted thinking will be pervasive. Moving images will be everywhere. It’s within that framework of our probable future that I appreciate the opportunity to offer my views in this forum.

I am thinking about how the giant screen industry has been a global community since its inception. These ISTC meetings have been our interconnection, our Internet for two decades, a worldwide community sliding around the surface of the planet every year in a continuing international dialogue. The idea of telling stories for the entire world is not something that we have to learn or will be new to us in 2005. Recognizing this uniqueness will provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

By next year, high-definition television – HDTV – with its ultra sharp imagery and variable frame rates will be spreading everywhere and will be setting the standard for moving image media. Sports events will be broadcast on HDTV at up to 60 frames per second, a screen refresh rate that will make action seem quite life-like. One way for the giant screen format to stay competitive is to re-invent ourselves one more time by upgrading to a higher frame rate of 48 frames per second, providing higher refresh rates and smooth movements, especially in images of humans. Anyone who has seen the film Momentum or the IMAX HD Ride film running at 48 frames per second or any slow motion image appearing virtually jitterless on a giant screen will recognize this upcoming change in a flash. Humans come alive on the giant screen at 48 frames per second.

With all of the interactive formats everywhere, the giant screen film technology will offer a unique experience just from the fact that we can’t turn off the projector once a film starts running. Any long linear chunk of time spent on one idea, such as watching a giant screen film, will be unique and treasured and valuable, and will provide a market opportunity.

For the last 20 years, computer technology has been doubling in chip density every two years while keeping costs the same while display technology has only doubled in capacity every decade. But now its possible to create real-time computer imagery with the same amount of pixel density as giant screen film images. Relative costs for giant screen computer displays will be an inhibiting factor for only a few more years. Giant screen moving images will soon be all around us. This organization will be larger in 2005 by the inclusion of giant computer screens as well as giant film screens. I am excited by how we will have moved beyond the big technology as the attraction and we will be face to face with the core question of what’s the content?

The giant screen cameras have been as far as film cameras will go, on journeys all over the planet and in the near atmosphere. If any group collectively deserves the T-shirt reading “Been There, Done That”, it’s this group. Of course how we wear that T-shirt with its 2000 armholes is at the very heart of this discussion. With the great library of all those places already on film, now we have the vast space of our minds, the ideas we’ve created, to explore and travel through.

This discussion today occurs just when the imagery we can create through digital manipulation can produce the appearance of anything we like. We make social decisions sometimes based on what we see in movies and media. The ideas in a giant screen film are replicated tens of millions of times as audiences’ watch and listen. Perhaps the biggest challenge to our industry will be developing and holding credibility and trust in our audiences that what we present is authentic and adds to our lives.

I am imagining that someday – soon perhaps – an audience member will make a genuine scientific discovery while watching a giant screen film, a discovery based on seeing something new from the very fact of the huge magnifying capability of the projection system. Already US and Russian engineers have used the giant screen images produced by the IMAX team taken on MIR to study its operations, using the vast screen to see all the details.

Our best films tell us what it is to be human, they become a mirror for us to consider ourselves in, and they are profoundly affecting. The vast screen space we work in can display our human activities on the global scale, easily showing a crowd of 60,000 or views of our planet’s surface seen from space. That is unique and is nothing that any other media can do. This large-scale is appropriately matched to the scale and impact of human activities, which we will want to understand as we make decisions about our future.

I am looking at all the 20 to 25-year-old students in my University classes and recognizing that it is their voices – wise, literate, worldly – which will be creating major giant screen statements in 7 years. Many of them were born just when the ISTC began and have had giant film screens as part of their experience for their whole lives. These young adults were born a generation after the discovery of DNA and a decade after humans walked on the moon, and the world just comes that way for them. One thing I am sure of. In 2005, the ISTC will be older than some of its members who will be making the giant screen programs.

In the motion picture business, big box office success is measured by repeat business, by making films which people return to time and time again. For continued growth and success, giant screen films will want to follow this model and be so great, so well-crafted with such care, so moving, that people leave the theater saying “I’ve got to bring my friends back to see this movie.” Not just “That was great.” or even “I learned something.” but “I’ve got to tell my friends, and I’ve got to bring them back to see this movie – and I can’t wait to get the video or DVD or download it digitally on the Internet.”

Movies, and especially giant screen films, leave deep residual impacts, deep memories. Making those memories useful for prolonging our lives will create great value. Films which point toward a healthy sense of community. Films which are cognitively accurate with real world actions. Films which model self-worth. Films which provide ideas and insights that make life more secure.

With an audience of over 65 million giant screen viewers a year, this industry is right now reaching one percent of the earth’s population. Imagine the opportunities for growth. I believe the central issue for the future will be who has credibility as a provider of real data? In a world awash in visual imagery, the advantage will go to those who have demonstrated reliability in providing useful, inspiring, life-enhancing, life-prolonging information. Thank you for considering my ideas.

Originally Posted 10/27/08