Immersed In Immersion

CULVER CITY, CA—At the Mix Sound for Film day-long immersive sound event at Sony Pictures Studios in early September, four panels discussed the art and technology of the new formats while an array of manufacturers and retailers offered demonstrations of some of the latest hardware and software tools.
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Randy Thom, sound designer for such films as Apocalypse Now, gave the keynote address at the Mix Sound For Film event at Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angles, speaking of how sound creatively affects the film-making process. CULVER CITY, CA—At the Mix Sound for Film day-long immersive sound event at Sony Pictures Studios in early September, four panels discussed the art and technology of the new formats while an array of manufacturers and retailers offered demonstrations of some of the latest hardware and software tools.

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With so much technology on display, award-winning sound designer Randy Thom, CAS elected to talk about art in his keynote speech. Playing clips from a number of films, including Gravity, Barton Fink and his first sound job, Apocalypse Now, Thom made the case for sound designers to begin talking with directors and screenwriters long before the cameras roll. “It’s going to make for better movies,” he said. “It’s also going to make the filmmakers take us more seriously as storytellers.”

The event was hosted by Tom Mc- Carthy and his post sound staff in several of the dub stages on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, CA. In addition to the Harrison, Dolby, Avid and Auro-3D technology installed throughout Sony’s sound department, various vendors also showed off immersive sound solutions, including Audio Intervisual Design, DTS, Fairlight, GC Pro, IMAX, RSPE, Vintage King Audio and Yamaha Commercial Audio.

A panel on technology and workflow moderated by PSN’s Frank Wells revealed that Harrison has partnered with Nuendo to develop an exchange format that takes the console’s X, Y and Z information and imports it into the DAW for conforming and auditioning. “We’re solving today’s problems today, in the sense that DAWs don’t yet have native 3D panning,” said Harrison’s Ben Loftis.

Fairlight, which debuted the Air- Pan hand-gesture panning tool for its 3DAW software at the event, is also working to streamline immersive sound workflows. “Part of the philosophy behind Fairlight’s implementation is that you should only mix once. The spatialization data can then be utilized to produce mixes in DTS MDA, Auro or Dolby Atmos, or any of the fixed bus formats,” said Fairlight’s Tim Cuthbertson.

David Gould from Dolby Labs noted that a newer development has become popular with film mixers: “We added auto-elevation modes for the Dolby Atmos panner plug-in that auto-generates your Z [height] value based on X and Y.” Panelists also noted that plug-ins specific to immersive sound are beginning to appear. Exponential Audio’s PhoenixVerb Surround plug-in with 3DLink technology, for example, generates reverb for formats up to 14.1.

Theaters equipped for Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D playback are still rare, which means films typically run for only one week before being replaced by a new release. John Kellogg from DTS urged consideration of the costs to exhibitors of adding immersive sound. “What exhibitors really want is a value proposition,” said Kellogg. “The largest chain in North America is investing $600 million into 1,800 screens for seats. Seats, booze, food—they can upcharge for those.”

Two all-star panels of re-recording and production mixers and sound supervisors offered their observations on the creative aspects of immersive sound.

Directors are starting to get experience with the new formats, observed Will Files: “It’s as exciting for them as it is for us.” But, he said, “You do have to think about how it folds down to the lesser formats.”

Panelists were split over the efficacy of five behind-the-screen speakers. “I had 16 years with SDDS, but how many theaters were capable?” asked Russell, a former Sony mixer.

“But Atmos handles it better because of its scalability,” argued Files, who also enjoys the new proscenium zone created by Atmos just off the screen. “That’s one of the most fun places to play. It connects the surrounds with the screen in a way that we’ve never had before.”

Scott Gershin noted that these new systems “also sound really great in quiet movies. The ceiling is only one of the components.” Ron Bartlett also pointed out, “All the surround speakers are full range. Just putting your 7.1 in that format, you get a better sound.” Marti Humphrey, an Auro-3D proponent, added, “Immersive is now second nature. I can’t go back to something as simple as 5.1.”

Wrapping up, Tom McCarthy reported, “We’re working with Dolby on our first installation in a television environment. Our studio is completely committed to immersive formats.”

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