One of the hot topics at AES this year…and by “hot,” I mean a subject that had multiple conference sessions devoted to it…was the concept of adding height to the spatial information presented by multi-channel surround formats. I’m sure a fair bit of the enthusiasm for this subject is caused by the announcement and release of Dolby Atmos earlier this year.
My experience with Dolby Atmos prior to AES was non-existent. To date, there are only 14 theaters in the U.S., and one in Canada, currently equipped for Atmos playback. The closest theater to me is in New York, and that’s not exactly a short trip from the Washington, DC, metro area. Thankfully, my trip out to San Francisco for AES provided me with two opportunities to listen to the system at work. The first was a technical demonstration at Dolby Laboratories, scheduled as a “Technical Tour” within the AES events program. The second was the AMC Metreon, which had two daily showings of Chasing Mavericks; the latest film release to be mixed in the new Atmos format.
Just imagining all that could be done in creating subtle backgrounds and ambiences, I was excited to hear what this system could do…though I fully expected the bulk of the examples that Dolby would be showing would tend toward spectacle. That proved, for the most part, to be true. Which made the opportunity presented by Chasing Mavericks all the more important; a chance to truly hear how editors and re-recording mixers would make use of the system throughout the course of a story. Before I get too deep into those experiences though, let’s talk about some of the interesting technical abilities of the system.
The August issue of ‘Post Magazine’ has an article about mixing to create an immersive experience – both in 7.1 and 5.1. It features interviews with Craig Henighan for ‘Real Steel’ (he also talks about crowd and robot design), Mike Minkler for ‘Fright Night’ (the remake) and Steve Pederson for ‘Final Destination 5′ (mixed in 5.1 and his thoughts on not using 7.1 and how it might have benefitted).
Even though home enter tainment equipment has become more sophisticated, experiencing a movie in the the- ater is still unsurpassed. With the increase of digital cinemas, a greater offering of IMAX films, the improvement of 3D technology and the growing popularity of the 7.1 format, theaters are able to offer the audience a movie experience like no other.
According to Robin Selden, senior VP, marketing at Dolby, Dolby Surround 7.1 is one of the fastest growing cinema audio formats in the history of their company.Their 7.1 format consists of eight chan- nels in the layout: Left, Center, Right, Low-Frequency Effects (LFE), Left Surround, Right Sur- round, Back Surround Left and Back Surround Right.With the addition of two surround speak- ers, mixers are able to more accurately pinpoint where a sound is placed.They also enhance the spatiality of the sound.
Dolby has published a series of video interviews on his YouTube channel, featuring interesting talks with Gary Rydstrom, Tom Myers, Jeff Haboush, Erik Aadahl. I’ve published the videos on Designing Sound TV:
Thanks go out to Tom Myers, Michael Semanick, and Al Nelson from TOY STORY 3 for taking time out to answer few questions about their work on the film!
TM = Sound Designer/ Sound Re-Recording Mixer Tom Myers MS = Sound Re-Recording Mixer Michael Semanick AL = Sound Editor Al Nelson
JAKE: “Day & Night” the short film that played before “Toy Story 3″ was so creative in the way it used sound. Were there discussions early on about how sound design would drive the story? Pixar has a rich tradition of selecting short film ideas from fellow Pixar employees’ pitches. Who does sound for these short films at Skywalker?
TM: The sound duties for Pixar’s shorts are split between Skywalker and Pixar. For some of the earlier shorts, we did all the work at Skywalker, but over the last few years Pixar has developed a small staff of very talented sound folk. On “Day and Night” the sound design was done by Barney Jones at Pixar with guidance from Sound God Gary Rydstrom who splits time between the two companies. I did the mix here at Skywalker with the director Teddy Newton and Barney present.
MIGUEL: When did you guys start on “Toy Story 3″? How did Lee Unkrich interact with the sound department and what was his take on how sound would be utilized in the film?
TM: We saw a storyboarded version of the film in early 2009 and then had preliminary spotting sessions with Lee and composer Randy Newman. I started sound design in late 2009 and the rest of the crew started in January of 2010. Lee was very involved in the process and knew the library very well having been the editor on the first film and codirector on the second. He is very detail oriented, even spending time with the foley crew. His first concern sound-wise was that we make the third film a continuation of the world created in the first two. All three films needed to feel organically part of the same aural universe, just as they were visually.
AN: I came on the show for the first temp mix in the fall of ’09. This was a great broad stroke introduction to how Lee intended the film to sound. We walked away with some great notes to think about for the final, though, I didn’t actually start cutting effects on the film until late February. So, I’d like to acknowledge Dustin Cawood, Terry Eckton and Tim Nielsen who fortunately did all the hard work before I jumped in.