New science centre IMAX movie earns schoolkids’ rave

Children from two local schools recently took part in an out-of-this-world adventure.

Slouched low in their seats, they yelled out in delight as they flew past moons, exploding stars and entire galaxies.

On March 11, the Ontario Science Centre hosted the Grade 5 class from Grenoble Public School and students in grades 5-7 from Blessed John XXIII Catholic School for a screening of the new IMAX movie, Hubble.

The film, first seen by North American audiences on Friday, features the story of the Hubble space telescope from its original launch in 1990 to its final repairs in May 2009.

Stunning images captured by the Hubble are projected on the rounded walls of the Science Centre, taking the audience through time and space.

James Neihouse, the film’s director of photography, fielded questions from the audience and explained the challenges he faced in getting images for the movie.

Unable to go into space to record the crew’s actions, he had to train the astronauts to do it themselves.

“It’s always tough. I like shooting movies; that’s what I got into it for,” he said. “But I look at it as I get them well-enough trained that they are an extension of me.”

For Neihouse, the easy part was teaching the technical aspects.

“The hard part usually is the aesthetic,” he said.

Astronauts are used to learning new technologies, but to get them to understand angles and framing was less straightforward.

And the challenges didn’t stop there. They had to attach a 700-pound camera to the space shuttle 16 months before the launch. Given very limited space to work with meant they had little choice in shots.

“(The movie features) a lot of butts and backpacks,” Neihouse said. “That’s why we put cameras in their helmets.”

These helmet cameras, which are the size of a loonie, allowed for a variety of angles.

The sheer size of the film itself presented yet another problem. The eight minutes of total IMAX film shot while in outer space totaled 5,400 feet in length.

The size meant no extra film and stopwatch timing.

It also meant continual planning for shooting. Neihouse and the film’s director, Toni Myers, would spend 12-hour days at NASA monitoring what was going on. Then overnight workers on another 12-hour shift would rearrange the shooting schedule based on that day’s progress.

For Neihouse, who wanted to be an astronaut as a child, this project presented a challenge and brought him as close to space as he will ever get.

“Vicariously I am there through them,” he said. “I am the only real film trainer they ever get so it’s me up there, really.”

For the children from Blessed John and Grenoble Public School, the film may be the spark that ignites their own dreams of space exploration.

“The point of making these things,” Neihouse said, “is to help get kids excited about space and technical backgrounds and the hard stuff in school.”