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The Academy Museum's Giant Sphere Only Looks Like A Galactic Superweapon (There's A Movie Theater Inside!)

The Dolby Family terrace atop the Academy Museum's giant Sphere Building, which houses the David Geffen Theater. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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When you're ready to take a break from being hyped aboutParasite dominating at the Oscars last night, the Academy has something else groundbreaking it would like to show you. Construction is wrapping up at theAcademy Museum of Motion Pictures, set to open later this year in the Miracle Mile neighborhood.

The exact opening date -- Dec. 14, 2020 -- was announced by Tom Hanks at Sunday night's Academy Awards ceremony.

The museum seeks to combine both the art and science of filmmaking in its exhibitions, with a focus throughout on the collaborative nature of film. But for now, color tests are still on the walls and the whine of construction saws is the soundtrack.

We took an early tour on Friday -- here's what we saw.

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The cylinder raising up above the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in front of the Academy Museum. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

There are two main structures and a set of skybridges connecting them. The overall aesthetic is intentionally industrial, courtesy of Italian architect Renzo Piano designing the updated campus.

The 300,000-square-foot museum's main building has been renamed the Saban Building, formerly known as the May Company Building. It was built in 1939, home to the May Company department store and designed by the same architect as the Million Dollar Theater movie palace and L.A. City Hall -- appropriate for a building combining the history of film and the politics of the Oscars. It's been completely renovated to house the Academy's collections, though the installations are yet to be installed.

One of the centerpieces of the Academy Museum, the David Geffen Theater. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Connected to the main building by skybridges is the museum's new architectural signature: the Sphere Building. The giant spherical structure has an open, not-quite-complete top reminiscent of a certainnot-a-moon. Inside, it features the 1,000-seat David Geffen Theatre, all done up in red carpet red.

The giant sphere is the stuff ofIndiana Jones' nightmares. But the Academy promises the "base isolator" supports holding it up are earthquake-safe -- so, at least in theory, one of the best spots in an earthquake may be underneath that sphere. (But we won't blame you if you step away anyway.)

A sideview of the Sphere Building, connected with the Academy Museum's main Saban Building. (Joshua White for the Academy Museum Foundation)

The museum's most spectacular events space is at the top of the sphere -- the outdoor Dolby Family Terrace featuring panoramic views of the city, from the Hollywood Sign to the Getty. Someone on our tour was overheard saying that view was enough to give you vertigo.

You may be tempted to belt out "Don't Rain On My Parade" on the way to the terrace -- you'll be crossing over the Barbra Streisand skybridge, so it's a natural reaction.

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Crossing a skybridge to the Dolby Family Terrace. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

The terrace is an indoor-outdoor space, with a metal and glass structure that shifts with the sun throughout the day, providing shade as you look out over the city. The floor itself contains coils to help keep the space both heated and -- as is often needed in Los Angeles -- cooled.

"It's great having you all in the building, because I can start to imagine having visitors in here," Museum Chief Operating Officer Brendan Connell, Jr. said.


A rendering laying out the Academy Museum's floorplan. (Courtesy the Academy Museum)

One of the galleries with a famous name is located directly off the main building's first-floor Grand Lobby: the Spielberg Family Gallery. That space will host rotating exhibitions, yet to be announced.

However, we did hear about one of the early pieces of the core exhibitions. They'll be looking at the collaborative filmmaking behind a movie from the same year the May Building was built:the Wizard of Oz. Go ahead and click your heels together -- you'll be able to see Dorothy's famed ruby slippers.

Screen-used close-up pair of the Ruby Slippers, designed by Adrian, from the Wizard of Oz. (Joshua White for the Academy Museum Foundation)

The second and third floors are home to the museum's core collection, but they won't hold permanent exhibitions -- they plan to rotate things out around once a year, continuing to evolve over time. However, curator Doris Berger said the museum will feature both significant moments in cinema history and focus on people who've historically been overlooked.

Galleries on the third floor will include exhibitions co-curated by notable filmmakers. One of those early exhibitions will be focused on science fiction and fantasy films, taking a look at what goes into creating invented worlds. The exhibition will be covering film history over the almost 120 years sinceGeorges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon.

A matte painting of Ancient Rome from Spartacus, part of the Academy Museum's collections. (Joshua White for the Academy Museum Foundation)

The fourth floor houses rotating exhibitions.The first planned exhibition features the work of Hayao Miyazaki and hisStudio Ghibli anime films. They'll have production materials and drawings, as well as large-scale productions of the most iconic moments from beloved moveis like Howl's Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro. The exhibition will also feature spatial installations, intended to create what curators described as "magical experiences."

Their second rotating exhibition will be "Regeneration: Black Cinema 1900-1970," bringing light to chronically overlooked members of movie history.

"We are building a museum that will fully reflect the wide variety of stories connected to cinema and motion pictures -- celebratory stories, as well as more complicated, incomplete stories," museum director Kramer said. "We want to tell stories from many points of view."


The Ted Mann Theater at the Academy Museum. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

They plan to hold frequent film screenings in their two main theaters, the David Geffen Theater in the Sphere and the smaller 288-seat Ted Mann Theater on the museum's main building basement level.

Plans for the Geffen include previews, film premieres, special presentations, and daily screenings. One of the Mann's first programs will be celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the birth of surrealist filmmaker Federico Fellini, and they'll also be screening Miyazaki animated features alongside his rotating exhibition. They also plan to screen Saturday morning matinees and a global film series.

Both theaters will feature live performances, lectures, panels, and other events.

An interior rendering showing what a screening in the David Geffen Theater could look like. (Cristiano Zaccaria/Renzo Piano Building Workshop/Academy Museum Foundation)

The Geffen features the ability to show films in 16-millimeter, 35-millimeter, 70-millimeter, digital laser, and even to safely screen classic nitrate-based film. There's also a stage that can accommodate an orchestra, able to play live for screenings.

Museum officials also speculated they might even hold film screenings out on that open-air terrace, or perhaps use it for a fancy gala. Maybe combine the two for an Academy-level fundraiser?

The museum also has an education arm. The Shirley Temple Education Studio, down in the basement, will feature educational programs showcasing different approaches to filmmaking, aimed toward high school students.


The museum is located at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, in the Miracle Mile area of L.A., just across from the Petersen Automotive Museum and down the street from LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits.

It's part of Mid-Wilshire's Museum Row. Metro busses can get you there, if you don't want to drive, and a Purple Line train stop is set to open in 2023. They were doing construction on the line just outside the museum as we took our tour.


While there will be an adult charge for admission, the museum was endowed by George Lucas to allow everyone 17 and under to visit for free admission -- forever. No details are available yet on how much those adults tickets will cost; officials said that is still being studied. They also plan to collaborate with Lucas'sLucas Museum of Narrative Art when it opens.

The museum opens Dec. 14 -- special exhibition co-curators are set to be announced soon.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the weight of the Sphere Building and the opening date of the Lucas Museum.