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Obituaries : Preston Fleet, 60; Fotomat Founder

February 03, 1995

Preston Fleet, founder of the Fotomat photo developing empire, pioneer of the giant screen Omnimax movie projection system and a philanthropist who gave San Diego two of its museums, has died at age 60.

Fleet died of cancer Tuesday at a Santa Barbara hospital near his home in Santa Maria.

Fleet, son of the founder of Convair, began his own business career 27 years ago with Fotomat, the drive-through film developing company with its distinctive kiosks. Within 18 months he had placed booths at 1,800 sites.

In 1973, he helped found the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Space Museum in Balboa Park named for his father. A decade earlier he had been a founding director of the San Diego Aerospace Museum.

He outfitted the 330-seat space theater with Omnimax, a projection system that surrounds the audience with sound and pictures.

The projectors with their fish-eye lenses bounce images off giant, tilted-domed screens. They have been installed in more than 100 theaters worldwide by Canadian manufacturer Imax.

He helped create "Chronos," a film made with time-lapse photography that won an award in 1987 at the first international festival for large format films.

In the 1960s, he helped produce "Shinbone Alley," an animated film based on the writings of Don Marquis.

The protagonists included an intellectual cockroach named Archy and his friend Mehitabel, a cat of questionable character.

Fleet also was an aviator, an expert on theater organs and author of a book, "Hue and Cry, Unraveling the Shakespeare Myth," contending that Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him.

Fleet was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and came to San Diego when his father relocated his Consolidated Aircraft Co. That company later became the Convair Division of General Dynamics.

Fleet lived in San Diego until about 10 years ago.

He is survived by his wife, Beth, two sons, three stepsons and four sisters.

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