Saturday, September 30, 2023

Graeme Ferguson, giant screen cinema pioneer, 1929-2021

As reported by the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA), IMAX co-founder and visionary filmmaker Ivan Graeme Ferguson died from cancer on May 8, 2021, at his home in Ontario, Canada. He was 91.

I had the honor to be acquainted with Ferguson through my work chronicling the giant screen industry. When in 2005, Ferguson was honored by the Large Format Cinema Association (now merged with GSCA) with the LFCA Kodak Vision Award, I wrote a profile of Ferguson for Film Journal International to mark the occasion and celebrate his contributions. The article, “Giant Influence,” read in part:

“Without Ferguson, born in Toronto in 1929, we might not know the era of the seven-story screen. He co-invented the patented IMAX 70mm/15-perforation film process with Roman Kroitor, Robert Kerr and William Shaw. Together, they built a new 65mm movie camera able to capture images of unprecedented clarity. It was used to make Tiger Child (produced by Kroitor) for Osaka Expo ’70, and was the spark that ignited the giant-screen cinema industry…Never say an artist can’t also have a business head – a filmmaker will prove you wrong. Ferguson headed Imax Corp. for 23 years, and it grew into an important production and distribution company as well as provider of theatre systems and camera equipment.” Click for the full article. 

The May 10, 2021 announcement from GSCA gives more detail on his achievements and career: “Toronto native Graeme Ferguson was the driving artistic force behind IMAX. For Expo ’67 in Montreal, Ferguson directed the multi-screen, multi-projector film Polar Life, which viewers watched while seated on a central rotating turntable in the middle of 11 screens. The film was so successful that Ferguson, along with fellow filmmaker Roman Kroitor, had the idea of creating a movie theater with a similar immersive experience but with a single giant screen using only one projector. To achieve that, Ferguson and Kroitor recruited high school friend and businessman Robert Kerr, and engineer William Shaw, also a high school friend, to develop the camera, projection system, and theater configuration. Their IMAX (Maximum Image) system debuted at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, with the first-ever IMAX film, Tiger Child. With a 15 perf/70mm film frame that was nearly 10 times larger than conventional 35mm film, the bright, clear, steady, and giant images resulted in a revolutionary immersive theater experience.

“Ferguson continued to make giant screen films throughout his career as director, producer, writer, and cinematographer, and his films have been seen by millions of people around the world. He was instrumental in getting IMAX cameras into space and fueling the dreams of would-be astronauts. Susan Helms credits the film The Dream Is Alive for inspiring her to become an astronaut, and she appears in the IMAX documentary Space Station 3D.

“Ferguson’s IMAX filmography includes Tiger Child (1970), North of Superior (1971), Circus World (1974), Man Belongs to Earth (1974), Snow Job (1974), Ocean (1977), Hail Columbia! (1982), The Dream Is Alive (1985), Blue Planet (1990), Journey to the Planets (1993), Into the Deep (1994), Destiny in Space (1994), L5: First City in Space (1996), Mission to Mir (1997), Space Station 3D (2002), Deep Sea 3D (2006), Under the Sea 3D (2009), Hubble 3D (2010), and A Beautiful Planet (2016).

“In 2016, GSCA presented Graeme Ferguson with its inaugural Outstanding Achievement Award.

“Ferguson’s death comes just eight weeks after the death of his beloved wife, Phyllis. His final days of palliative care at home were overseen by his daughter, Allison. His son, Munro, and his grandchildren played an important part in Graeme’s last weeks, which ended surrounded by love, peacefully, after an extraordinary life. A private cremation will take place locally, and Graeme and Phyllis will be interred at St. Andrew’s Catholic Cemetery in Thunder Bay at a later date.”

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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