LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. - As with most veteran filmmakers and directors, Greg MacGillivray's imagination was lush with visions of how his new project might look. What he didn't picture when he started the new IMAX documentary

To the Arctic

was just how personal that project would get.

For one thing, every member of his family of four - his wife Barbara, son Shaun, and daughter Meghan - participated behind the scenes. Eight years ago, Greg and Barbara cofounded the MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation, which aims to contribute to the conservation of natural and cultural resources through giant-screen films and companion educational programming.

His children had grown up watching their dad make documentaries, and as adults chose to take on roles related to their parents' work. Meghan, a writer and chef, heads up the film company's social-media efforts and is writing a cookbook based on sustainable practices, including those that are seafood-related, said MacGillivray, who lives in Laguna Beach.

Meanwhile, To the Arctic is the second film that Shaun has produced for MacGillivray Freeman, having cut his teeth on Grand Canyon Adventure, a tougher and more complex film to produce, MacGillivray said.

Working on To the Arctic was an entirely different experience than Grand Canyon Adventure for the MacGillivrays. Four years in the making with a much smaller crew and a desolate location, the film provided father and son with ample opportunities to continue building a working relationship. During their seventh trip, they found the heart of the movie's story in Svalbard, Norway - and they both knew it when they saw it. It was a story of a family - a mother polar bear, who, in the face of a scarce food supply and predators, fought to protect and keep alive her twin cubs.

The mama bear story called for a narrator who was a mother, MacGillivray said. He conducted a poll of actresses who are mothers to see who ranked highest on the "motherhood scale." People picked - by a landslide - someone who had already narrated two previous MacGillivray Freeman Films: Meryl Streep.

"Meryl won 10 to 1," he said.

In addition to Streep, the music for the film was a dream fulfilled. George Harrison had provided music for Everest, one of MacGillivray Freeman's movies. This time around, the filmmaker got Sir Paul McCartney.

"The Beatles meant so much to me," MacGillivray said. "I was finishing college when they were making hit records. . . . Paul McCartney's voice, in particular, touches my soul. It's emotional - hearing his voice. It connects me back to when I was 18 and to when I was making my first feature film."

McCartney did more than say yes to providing a bit of music for the film. "He gave us access to his complete recordings," MacGillivray said. MacGillivray said his composer in Laguna Beach mixed the tracks down to take advantage of new technological capabilities and channels in giant-screen theaters. Among the songs heard in the film are "Little Willow," "I'm Carrying," "Mr. Bellamy," and "Calico Skies."