This article was corrected on September 8, 2002.
William Shaw, co-founder of Imax Corp., died Aug. 31 in Toronto, after suffering complications from a heart attack. He was 73.
Shaw and fellow Canadians Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor and Robert Kerr set out in 1968 to design and develop a new film system with gigantic screens, surrounding sound and steep seating.
“And so with much hope and not much money we set up this company,” recalls Ferguson, who met Shaw in the 11th grade when they attended Galt Collegiate Institute in small-town Ontario. Tooling around with the word “maximum,” they eventually named the company Imax.
The four were in their early 40s and all of them had successful careers; Ferguson and Kroitor as filmmakers, and Kerr in business and small-town politics. Shaw, who had worked with the Ford Motor Co. and as the chief engineer at CCM, was the engineering brain of the new venture. “Bill was brilliant,” Ferguson recalled. “He was a superb engineer and a very, very good friend to all, but most important, he was a major inventor.”
There are many components to a large-screen theater system, Ferguson noted, and at Imax, Shaw invented or led the teams that went on to invent all of them. The Imax theater, projector, cameras and other equipment, including Imax Dome (Omnimax), Imax 3D, Imax Solido, Imax Magic Carpet, and Imax HD.
Co-founder Ferguson considers Shaw to be one of the most important inventors in motion pictures in 80 years: “If you look at motion pictures, the technology that is used in ordinary cinemas has existed essentially since the First World War, the main changes being the addition of sound, and color in the 1950s. What we did was say, ‘Let’s build a completely new kind of theater in which the picture is so big that it fills your field of vision, is of the highest quality, offers surround sound, and steep seating,’ now called stadium seating. All of the technology to do with that was led by Bill.”
In 1985 Shaw won the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers’ John Grierson Medal. In 1986 he accepted a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Imax’s behalf, and in 1998 he was the recipient of the Leonardo da Vinci Award by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
The group sold Imax in 1994, when the company had about 100 theaters. “We were able to guide the growth of the medium, I think very satisfactorily,” opines Ferguson, “though we weren’t very good at raising capital, so we didn’t grow as fast as we might have.” The sale allowed the four to retire from full-time work, but they continued to consult for the new owners.
Shaw is survived by wife Barbra, a daughter, a son, a grandson, a brother and two sisters.