QED and Pinewood Studios have broken the world record for the biggest ever movie screening with its Drive-In showing of Mission: Impossible on Saturday 7 November 2009. As part of a special winter six week series of Drive-In movies, Pinewood's unique outdoor water filming facility was temporarily transformed into the world's largest cinema screen.

The previous largest movie screenings ever recorded have been to mass audiences in Norway and Japan. In 1996 the Oslo Spektrum's 70mm film screening of Independence Day measured 40.24m in width, and in 2008 the Tokyo Dome played host to a 37m wide IMAX premiere of Speed Racer. However QED and Pinewood studios have managed to break the record for the largest movie projection by projecting Mission Impossible at a size of 41.8m wide by 17.8m high. Filmed at Pinewood Studios, Mission: Impossible was inspired by the vintage espionage TV series. Tom Cruise stars as spy Ethan Hunt, whose mission, should he choose to accept, is to prevent the theft of a computer file from American double agents.

While managing the projection of Pinewood's Drive-In, QED Productions Director Paul Wigfield said “We're projecting onto the world's largest screen at Pinewood, so it's a fantastic opportunity for QED to demonstrate the very latest projection technology from Christie, the world leaders in digital cinema. Mission: Impossible seemed the perfect choice to beat the existing world record and it will look absolutely sensational.”

Although at first glance it seemed that breaking the world record would be reasonably straightforward considering that Pinewood’s 73.8m x 18.3m screen is the largest in Europe, however the vertical height of the screen and the aspect ratio of the film meant that there was a practical limit to how large QED could project. The film could not be stretched or cropped and the sightlines for the audience could not be compromised in any way; so after initial projection tests onto the unpainted surface it became clear that it was going to be a very close run thing indeed, but likely to be achievable if the screen could be painted in time.

Pinewood’s five-man team from the props department were tasked with applying three coats of paint over a period of a week in order to provide the perfect projection surface for the record attempt - all applied manually from within Pinewood’s mobile 19m high scaffolding tower. However torrential rain during the week before had really put the pressure on, and as the screening day drew closer it increasingly began to look as if Mission: Impossible might indeed turn out to be impossible. Quite incredibly, and aided by a rare dose of sunshine, the team was able to finish the entire screen with just two hours to spare before the commencement of the record-breaking screening.

To achieve sufficient brightness two doubled up 17,500 ANSI lumen Christie HD18K projectors were utilised to show the film and a further two 20,000 ANSI lumen Christie S+20Ks were used to project gobos on either side. Main and back-up Doremi Nugget HD video players were used to play back the film, with additional computer and live camera sources mixed via a Barco Screen Pro II HD video processor. Main and back-up FM radio transmitters with RDS delivered the audio to the car radios from the high power aerials mounted on the top of the temporary twin storey projection booth situated 130m away from the screen.

The Barco Screen Pro II HD was chosen due to its ability to handle the different frame rates of the various films and the Doremi Nugget Pros were chosen not only for their reliability but their ability to adjust the audio and video synchronisation to suit the FM transmission system. A wireless projector network was installed to enable the projectors to be aligned and doubled whilst being able to stand close enough to the screen to see each pixel.

Key technical equipment

  • 2 x Christie HD18K 3-chip DLP projectors
  • 2 x Christie S+20K 3-chip DLP projectors
  • 2 x Doremi Nugget Pro video players
  • 1 x Barco Screen Pro II HD video processor/switcher
  • 2 x FM radio transmitters
  • 3 x QED dual output DVI/Ethernet fibre channels
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