- By Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
The IMAX theater at Austin’s Bullock Texas State Museum is up and running again after getting $1.5 million in upgrades.
Home to the largest film screen in Texas, the theater closed in August so crews could install new projectors that utilize laser technology, make enhancements to audio equipment, add new seating and remodel the concessions area over a span of several weeks.
Funding for the project came from a one-time appropriation from the Texas Legislature.
“It was definitely time,” said Josh Jacobs, the museum’s director of film and theater. “Pretty much everything in here was 15 years old, dating back to when the museum first opened in 2001.”
After the upgrades, Jacobs said the Bullock IMAX theater, which welcomed about 150,000 people last year, is now home to the most up-to-date IMAX technology. Only a handful of theaters worldwide have IMAX with Laser, Jacobs said, including about a dozen in the U.S.
No other Texas theater has IMAX with Laser, according to the Bullock museum.
Benefits of IMAX with Laser include a brighter picture and larger color range and should be immediately noticeable to theater-goers, Jacobs said.
“It’s a whole different game,” he said. “Most theaters today are still using xenon bulbs. That’s technology that dates back to Thomas Edison. You’re constantly having to monitor them to keep the light bright and adjust for changing colors. Now, we’re using lasers as our light source. It’s much more consistent.”
In addition to the new IMAX projectors, the theater upgraded its audio capabilities, going from a five-channel system to one with 12 channels to enhance the viewing experience. The auditorium now has more speakers, as well.
“It’s immersive,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got audio going on all around you.”
The new seats installed are equipped with cupholders and are wider than the ones they replaced. As a result, the theater now holds 329 patrons, down about 60 people from its original design.
“Our entertainment systems at home are getting better and better,” Jacobs said. “It takes a lot to get us out of the house these days, but there’s nothing like IMAX. I love this theater. I love seeing films in here.”
Since arriving at the Bullock two years ago, Jacobs, who previously worked for the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse chain, has worked to reinvigorate the IMAX theater and the museum’s smaller Texas Spirit theater.
Both theaters still play a number of educational films – the museum’s primary focus – but he’s also started showing other films, hosting theme nights, inviting Texas filmmakers and actors to screenings and other special events.
“The Bullock is a beautiful venue,” Jacobs said. “It’s a whole different type of experience. We’re seeing a new, younger demographic checking us out – often for the first time – thanks to the new programming. The museum has been so incredibly supportive with everything, saying, ‘We back your vision.’”