Blockbusters, Animation Maximize ICE Theater Experience, CGR Cinemas Report

When CGR Cinemas introduced its ICE Theater brand in 2017, among the first orders of business was finding films that could benefit from the LED-accented model.

“Not all movies fit the ICE Theater experience,” says ICE Theaters exec Guillaume Thomine Desmazures. “For it to be valuable you need action and movement and color. If the film is more dialogue based, the format doesn’t bring any added value.”

That didn’t stop the group from taking the model out for a spin. Of the five ICE optimized films released in 2017, two were action blockbusters, one a sci-fi drama, one a crowd-pleaser comedy and one a nature doc. “First we invented a tool and then we needed to understand its full capacities,” Thomine Desmazures explains. “So we experimented with a few things and found that blockbusters and animation work best.”

This year, ICE Theaters is on track to optimize around 30 titles, adding to an already swelling tentpole library. But as the company’s team of graphic artists at work to design immersive accompaniments for summer titles like “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” the ICE exec believes this model can be just as compellingly applied to other types of projects.

“We’ve also tested the model on some Bollywood films, and the results are absolutely stunning,” Thomine Desmazures says. “And I would say that ICE Theaters are the second best place to watch a show after the live venue itself. We use much of the same equipment, with motorized spotlights and LED panels that can replicate the same lighting designs.”

No matter the project, the process remains the same. After requesting the content at least three weeks before the release date, ICE artists and technicians get work encoding every frame at the company’s La Rochelle-set facility known as “the bunker.” (“We call it the bunker because it’s so secure,” adds Thomine Desmazures, “and because it literally looks like a bunker.”) After a breakneck turnaround, the content is sent to an L.A. facility for validation from producers and studio reps. Once approved, the experience script is locked and sent to all partner theaters.

While the work itself means embellishing every frame for the chain’s LED optimized theaters, the source material remains unchanged. “We never alter the movie,” says Thomine Desmazures. “We add shape and movement on the side in order to create atmosphere, but the audience has no reason to focus on panels. They’re always focused on the big screen, which is just what the filmmaker wants.”

However, some elements have changed over time. From a technical standpoint, the team found that synchronizing the LED elements on a film’s time code rather than audio track would produce a more reliable presentation, while from an artistic perspective, the designers developed a more expressive set of tools.

“The lights don’t have to go all the way up 100% of the time,” explains Thomine Desmazures. “We’ve found new ways to better address and evoke a range of emotions such as fear, sadness and love, alongside the big thrills.”

When it comes to thrills, the ICE Theaters exec is particularly excited about one project. “I cannot wait for ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’” says Thomine Desmazures. “Because that will give us the horizon to play with. With a horizon on screen we can use the LED panels to tilt the whole auditorium.”