At CinemaCon this past April, and now at CineEurope in Barcelona, international exhibitors have cast a curious eye toward the immersive brand ICE Theaters. A relatively new player on the premium field, the ICE (Immersive Cinema Experience) format adds six panels on either side of the screen and fills them visual extensions done in-house at the company’s facility in La Rochelle, France. The rooms also adhere to strict technical standards, all sold as part of a package deal.
Requesting the content at minimum three weeks before the release date, ICE encodes each and every title from a secure facility nicknamed “the bunker.” There, teams of graphic designers create visual embellishments for every frame while choosing suitable effects for each scene. “We do a lot of films and the work takes a lot of time,” says ICE Theaters sales exec Guillaume Thomine-Desmazures. “We’re dealing second by second, frame by frame, so we need to be very precise.”
Studios and distributors are invited to ICE Theaters’ Los Angeles facility to screen and approve the fully encoded film; the graphic team then retools around their feedback. Once fully approved, and after one last quality control, the script is locked and the files sent to all ICE-equipped theaters.
While the film plays onscreen, the action extends onto 12 LED panels divided between both walls of the auditorium. Designed specifically for the immersive rooms, each panel is produced at an ICE Theaters partner facility in La Rochelle. “They create an atmosphere,” Thomine-Desmazures continues. “They add shape and movement on the side. The audience has no reason to look to the left or to the right. They’re always focused on the big screen, which is what the filmmaker wants.”
All ICE immersive rooms are equipped with 4K RGB laser projectors. “The key for us is the image,” says the sales exec. “It has to be crystal clear with a high contrast ratio and well-calibrated definition. For two years people have been enjoying series and platforms from home, so if you want them to drive out to your theater you need to offer something of quality.”
For sound, ICE opts Dolby Atmos, dotting 53 DK Audio speakers – the same devices used in Cannes’ Palais des Festivals – and 35 amplifiers around the auditorium. “The sound purity is really there,” says Thomine-Desmazures. “You can have good home set-up, but to replicate this in your living room you’d have to be a millionaire.”
The one slight variable in the ICE Theaters set-up, the make and mark of each recliner seat might differ from territory to territory, but ICE does maintain firm standards. “We approve the seats, we don’t impose them,” says the exec. “They must be one step ahead of the seats in a standard auditorium, with a minimum width to ensure comfort.”