Sony, New Wave go for ‘Thrill Ride’

Merging the ridefilm and Imax experiences, New Wave Entertainment, a Sherman Oaks-based ridefilm production company that currently makes more than half of all ridefilm footage worldwide, has partnered with Sony Pictures Classics’ large-format division to create “Thrill Ride — The Science of Fun,” a new 40-minute Imax title.

The film opens today in a clutch of firstrun Imax theaters, including the Edwards 3-D flagship in Irvine and Sony’s own 3-D Imax theater in midtown Manhattan.

As the film’s producer, Charlotte Huggins, acknowledges, the sheer technical challenges of creating “Thrill Ride” made the production experience anything but thrilling. “The budget was about average for Imax features, meaning around $6 million,” said Huggins, who also serves as New Wave’s production chieftain. “But there’s nearly a half-hour of full-motion CGI in there, and integrating that with the live-action stuff was a lot of work.”

“Thrill Ride” also pushes the envelope for large-format filmmaking generally, since historically there has been minimal camera movement in the genre. For this production, director Ben Stassen had to work with engineers at the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay amusement park to find a way to strap down the bulky Imax camera, which exposes 70mm film quite rapidly, into various rollercoasters and waterslides.

“That took some doing, I can assure you,” said Stassen, a Belgian who studied at the USC School of Cinema and Television. “Not only did we have to install about 16 different metal brackets — we also had to uncouple the last car on a couple of the rides so as to keep the physics of the ride intact.”

To Stassen — who co-founded New Wave with D&D Media Group, a Brussels-based TV and video production company, in 1993 — the challenge of “Thrill Ride” was to bring motion and rhythm to large-format filmmaking, and to fuse ridefilms’ thrills with large-format’s majesty.

The genesis of “Thrill Ride” came out of New Wave’s participation in the WGBH-Boston/”Nova” large-format feature “Special Effects: Anything Can Happen.” New Wave had been tapped to provide three CGI sequences for the 1995 title, and the results were so positive for all sides that the company wanted to produce a feature on its own. Huggins’ previous relationships at Sony Pictures Classics (for whom she had overseen the special effects production on “Wings of Courage”) and at Imax Corp. brought those folks on board, and “Thrill Ride” was headed down the tracks.

“Our appetites for feature production have been whetted by this experience,” Huggins said. “We’re definitely committed to making more of them in the future.”

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