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Coming Soon, a Big--Really, Really Big--Screen Event

February 13, 1996|LESLEY WRIGHT and NONA YATES

It had traveled the 2,500 miles from Toronto--very, very carefully--and was lowered into place through a hole specially cut in the theater roof.

But an accident was not the main worry for those responsible for installing the first giant IMAX 3-D movie projector on the West Coast.

The real threat is dust.

"One speck of dust in there would look like a football on the screen," said Larry Porricelli, general manager of Edwards 21 Cinemas at the Irvine Entertainment Center.

Plastic covered the 2,000-pound projector as it was lowered into its new home with a 90-foot-high crane. The projection room will be a "surgical environment," the workmen said, with a giant vacuum-like cleaning device catching wayward particles before an inch of plastic comes off the $1.8-million projector.

Thereafter, anyone entering will wear white jumpers and booties.

"It took a year and a half to build this projector," said Eric Emken, one of the engineers helping to steer the machine inside. "If something happened, it would take a year to replace."

When the "Big One" theater opens in March, films will be shown on a screen six stories tall and 90 feet wide. It will be only the second IMAX facility in the country made for feature films, as opposed to museum-quality films, Porricelli said. The other is at Lincoln Center in New York.

The 500 seats will be raked, stadium style, to give everyone the best view. "You can look up and down and to the side and always see the screen," said spokeswoman Judith Brower. "If [the movie has] a dog barking at your feet, you'll feel like you can kick it."

That sensation will come not just from the mammoth screen or the 80 speakers blasting sound from all sides. Each patron will receive a headset wired for "PSE"--personal sound environment. The headsets, similar to those used in virtual reality games, have built-in speakers and "shutters" to approximate the human visual experience.

"The glasses cost $500 apiece, so you can't take one home as a souvenir," Brower said. Devices to protect against theft are being installed near the doors, just in case.

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A full-time machinist will care for the IMAX projector.

Orange County's new 3-D projector has about a one-year head start on a similar theater planned for Los Angeles.

The first IMAX 3-D projector in L.A. is set to open at the IMAX Theater in Exposition Park in spring 1997.

"It will have a seven-story screen, two stories higher than the current screen. It will be bigger, wider and have more seating," said spokeswoman Cindy Osborne.

Since it can't be first, the L.A. screen is claiming another distinction: first nonprofit IMAX 3-D on the West Coast.

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