Three new theaters at Letterman Digital Arts Center

New San Francisco home of Industrial Light & Magic


Three new theaters fill ongoing needs for premium venues at Industrial Light &Magic’s new headquarters building at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco’s historic Presidio. The Premiere Theater seats 299, while two 65-seat theaters are used as daily screening rooms at ILM.

The Premiere Theater was designed to provide reference standard presentations of motion picture formats for both image and sound quality. Gary Meyer of ILM who headed the design committee commented, “ the configurations of the theaters were planned to accommodate film and digital presentations present and future by exceeding all current cinema standards and by using an open digital architecture so future format changes can be made.”

The Premier Theater includes a 20'-10” x 48’- 11” screen with four-way adjustable masking. Projector ports include Kinoton FP38 projectors to handle 35mm and 70mm film projection, teamed with a Christie CP2000 digital projector.

Five TAD TSC-3415 three-way speaker systems are mounted behind the screen in an infinite-baffle screen wall with ten TAD TSC-1118SW subwoofer enclosures. The surround system is comprised of twenty JSX 1165 two-way surround speakers with seven on each sidewall and six in a back wall array. The audio system design includes JSX Model Two and Model Six amplifiers driven by Peavey NION series processors over CobraNet.

The two 65-seat dailies theaters each have three TAD TSC-3215 three-way speakers behind the screen with three TAD 1118SW subwoofers. The twelve surround speakers are JSX 465 two-way speakers developed specifically for the venue. The system is powered with JSX Model Two and Model Six amplifiers. As in the case of the Premiere Theater, the processors are NIONs and deliver digitally to the amp racks behind the screen over CobraNet. 

All three theaters use Dolby 650 Cinema processors, which decode the projection readers and handle some of the routing. The output from the 650 and the ILM router systems are then inputs to the NION processors for the management of all loudspeakers. According to Steckling the NIONs are considered the “Swiss Army Knife” of audio processors. Along with David Nahman Ramos of ILM and Stephen Sutter of Sand Hill Media, Jerry Steckling’s custom programming of the processors gives the operator a simple user interface to control the speaker systems for the multiple, demanding uses of the theaters.

Unlike standard exhibition cinema, ILM’s theaters must be able to play any number of audio, video and film formats at the push of a button. The Premiere Theater has more than a hundred and ten inputs to the speaker system processors and the dailies theaters have more than sixty each. Each thru-put has to be processed to play in its intended format, adding a complexity that has been made simple for the projectionist and operators by extensive programming and DSP treatment. 

The design team that contributed to the speaker system, acoustic and technical systems for all three theaters includes ILM, Charles Salter and Associates and Jerry Steckling of JSX Audio, in collaboration with TAD Professional Speaker Division of Pioneer North America, as well as THX.

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