This weekend, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences will add a new dimension to its high-definition theater. Needless to say, that dimension will require special glasses.
Starting on Saturday, the theater will begin showing Tornado Alley in 3-D. The 20-minute film documents storm chasers on a dangerous, tornado-tracking mission; star and director Sean Casey (who appears on the Discovery Channel reality show Storm Chasers) will attend, along with the reinforced Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV) that he drives in the movie.
But, of course, the big story is the inclusion of a digital 3-D projection system in the theater's projection booth. According to the museum, discussions of including a 3-D system began earlier this year when Capitol Broadcasting CEO Jim Goodmon (whose station, WRAL, sponsors the theater) suggested that it's time 3-D films played there. WRAL VP/ general manager Steve Hammel says 3-D films were the next logical step in the theater's evolution. After all, the museum prides itself on being one of the first facilities in the state to have an auditorium with a high-definition projection system.
"But it's really for the experience that people have as they go through the museum, to really see nature at its finest—first in high-definition and, now, in high-definition 3-D," says Hammel.
Along with its regular 2-D projector, the theater will now be equipped with a Barco DP2K-20C compact DLP projector, which will show films in Dolby Digital 3D. Next to the Southpoint Cinemas in Durham, this will be the second spot in the Triangle to show films in that format. And just like at Southpoint, audiences can see the films with plastic 3-D glasses.
Unlike previous films that were screened at the theater, Tornado Alley comes with a price tag. Adults can check it out for $4, while kids from 2 to 11 have to cough up $3. Museum "friends" shell out $2. Greg Snyder, the museum's interactive multimedia design analyst (translation: He handles the A/V), says that this is "an opportunity for us to get some revenue and to show some technology" at the museum. But he also feels that audiences will be stepping into a new realm once they view movies there.
"It gives you more of a feel," says Snyder. "Like, when you see the movie, when you're in the tornado, you're gonna feel stuff."
While the digital 3-D is a nice perk, the widescreen, 260-seat theater doesn't have a giant screen (like that other downtown Raleigh museum with the big-name 3-D theater—Marbles, for you newbies) that could envelop audiences in the experience. (Tornado Alley was legitimately made for giant-screen theaters.) However, the auditorium is equipped with a 7.1 Dolby Digital surround-sound system, which makes everything sound like you're in a tornado.
Nevertheless, both WRAL and the museum sound psyched that they're offering the 3-D experience—if, for nothing else, but to give attendees something extra.
"There's really no reason [for the museum to do this] other than having a great experience for people in our community to enjoy nature as if it's right there in front of them," says Hammel. "That's what this does."