There’s no other film experience like IMAX. With a massive six-story screen and multi-channel surround sound, it continues to be an outlet for one-of-a-kind original films and documentaries. Full Sail instructor James Neihouse (Cinematography and Lighting) has been involved in capturing these images for nearly three decades, working as a cinematographer on over 35 IMAX projects, including Rolling Stones: At The Max, NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience, Michael Jordan to The Max, and his latest project, IMAX: Hubble 3D.
The documentary features narration by Leonardo DiCaprio, and chronicles a 2009 shuttle expedition to perform extensive repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope, for what’s to be its final servicing. The film was put together from a blend of IMAX footage, as well as handheld video operated by the shuttle crew during their mission, giving viewers an in-depth look into the effort these astronauts took to refurbish the telescope, as well as its 20-year legacy.
“There was a big groundswell of interest to save Hubble, and one of the astronauts that was on the repair flight, John Grunsfeld, really pushed for us [to capture it],” James says. “Hubble is still returning all these beautiful images of space – nebulas and galaxies – and we knew we could take that data and make them into something that would look really interesting in 3D.”
As cinematographer, James was responsible for capturing all of the film’s ground footage, including the shuttle’s epic launch. And since he obviously wasn’t able to hitch a ride on the space flight, he also taught the NASA crew how to operate the 700-pound IMAX Cargo Bay Camera, which included lessons in shot composition and other filmmaking guidelines specific to the format.
“It’s a big difference shooting for IMAX, there’s a lot to think of, and you want to get it right,” he says. “So what I taught them was really the aesthetics of filmmaking. Not swishing the camera around, getting the right shot lengths. There’s no second takes up there, you can’t call the shuttle to go back around again. But they did really well. They knew it’s the best way to tell the story of them in orbit, so they put a lot of effort in, and stayed up late shooting.”
Back on earth James led a camera crew that included staff and students from Full Sail’s Film program. This included 35mm Associate Course Director John Walsh, instructors Zack Austin, Marc Bucksath, Andrew Campbell, and Alicia Lyman, as well as Full Sail students Michelle Erdman, Cory Jennings, and Brandon Lewis (all of whom have since graduated).
“I greatly enjoyed being able to bring the students on the shoot as their excitement over the project was contagious,” said Neihouse. “In addition to the students, having Full Sail staff present was incredibly valuable as they were perfectly trained to handle such a large project. Having the right team by my side was critical and it turned out to be a wonderful success and a rewarding experience for all.”
IMAX: Hubble 3D had its world premiere in Washington D.C. at the National Air and Space Museum, followed by a screening at the SXSW Festival, and finally a national release on March 19. The film has been well received by critics and audiences, but most importantly, the astronauts who helmed the mission.
“I’m very happy with it, its been really well accepted and gotten a lot more hype than our other space films have,” he says. “When actual astronauts come up to me after seeing the film and say that they were crying during the launch sequence, or that it took them right back into space, that makes it worthwhile.”