M. Night Shyamalan’ Keynote
at 3D Entertainment Summit.
Photo: Mel Lambert
By Mel Lambert | content-creators.com
“The greatest soundtrack of all-time was for The Exorcist,” considered film director M. Night Shyamalan during his Pre-Lunch Keynote Session at the recent 3D Entertainment Summit, presented in association with Variety, at Universal City, CA. “Because there was no sound in it – it left everything to your imagination. And there was only 45 seconds of Tubular Bells, while everybody seems to remember it being a whole lot more. For me, less is very much more.”
But why all this talk of sound at a 3D conference? Simply because Shyamalan’s recently released The Last Airbender, based on the Nickelodeon animated TV series, was shot conventionally but released in stereoscopic 3D.
“Why didn’t you shoot the film in 3D?” the director was asked by session coordinator Bob Dowling, the two-day summit’s co-producer. “I wasn’t comfortable about shooting in 3D because I‘m not yet familiar enough with the format,” offers the self-confessed technophobic director. “My films are performance-driven; until I fully understand how 3D and the use of negative space affects that parameter, I prefer to work with existing techniques. Last Airbender shows a fantasy world, and one in which I need to suspend disbelief. During editing, and after making a number of tests, I could then make decisions where and how 3D should be used; I wanted to achieve a feeling somewhere between live action and animation.
“My problem is that when audiences put on 3D glasses, they have an expectation of what they will then see on the screen. I want to wait until that expectation has been muted and I can simply use the 3D medium to augment the action rather than distract from it. It is similar to the transition from black & white to color, which brought its own expectations. And 3D is such a strong flavor that it can overwhelm a movie – what [sound designer and picture editor] Walter Murch refers to as the Concept of Incompleteness; when watching black and white movies, for example, we supply the missing colors and thereby become automatically invested in the film, making it a more powerful experience. I want to wait until 3D is no big deal before I shoot in that format.”
And sound figured prominently in other sessions during this standing-room-only conference. As John Meyer, president/CEO of Meyer Sound, offered: “To complete the immersive experience, sound playback systems for 3D have to reproduce what is delivered to them with no distortion – audiences should be able to experience in the theater what the re-recording engineers heard on the dub stage,” with no compromises. “Otherwise, the audience is drawn out [of the film] and the illusion is broken.” Meyer was a member of The Drivers in Theatrical: The State of the 3D Exhibition Business panel; the firm also served as Conference Audio Provider.
The Meyer Acheron 80/100, Studio and LF screen-channel loudspeaker system, X-800C subwoofers and HMS-10 surround speaker have been fully matched, Meyer stressed, to provide that consistency of playback quality. “We are also developing a testing process for our theatrical installations, including a Digital Initiative for Sound that will ensure consistent audio playback for 3D and 2D theaters. Sound should enhance, not interfere with, the movie-going experience.”
SRS Labs offers a number of innovative techniques to support the enveloping surround experience for 3D audiences, particularly consumers that are listening at home on smaller speakers. “Such playback systems need enhancement to produce results that support the 3D experience,” says Todd Baker, director of content services with SRS Labs. “Expenditures being made by consumers must be worthwhile; our [single-ended] processing definitely enhances the audio experience being created during a 3D presentation, as well as with conventional 2D material.” Baker was speaking as part of the Driving 3D @ Retail panel.
Baker is also part of the Digital Entertainment Group’s 3D Audio Task Force looking at ways to improve the quality of sound playback for consumer audiences. “A number of consumer manufacturers, including Sony, already spend a lot of money educating customers about the benefits of good audio,” he says, “but that needs to be carried into the retail outlets; Sears, for example, has a large training program.”
John Rubey, president of AEG Network Live, offered that stereoscopic production requires more preparation and planning, and that high-quality surround sound was of paramount importance. “The Phish and Dave Matthews Band 3D concerts [produced by Jonathan Dern from Cinedigm] broadcast to movie theaters with full surround sound offered a full sense of immersion. We are already planning 80-90 similar events for the near future. In 2011, we are targeting those quiet days at movie theaters – Monday thru Thursday - when we can fill empty auditoriums with audiences eager to see and hear their favorite acts. After all, typically 85% of cinema seats remain unsold; we plan to offer events streamed live with surround sound in a venue already designed for the type of experience.” Rubey was talking during a One on One Interview with Dowling, the summit’s co-producer.
Looking at the future of the 3D in consumer electronics, TV broadcast, cable, gaming and theatrical playback, Stuart Bowling, Dolby Laboratories’ worldwide technical marketing manager for cinema, offered that “the format has gotten off to a great start but there is a definite learning curve. There will be three dozen movies released in 3D this year, with more to come in 2011. And at the recent IBC Convention in Amsterdam, we released a software development kit for the 3D Broadcast Open Specification,” aimed at broadcast-encoder vendors and TV-display manufacturers. The SDK includes test signals and self-test procedures that can be used to verify complementary sampling, filter application and frame packing. Bowling was part of The Future Drivers in the 3D Ecosystem panel discussion.
In a separate demo room, Dolby also spotlighted recent and upcoming films that feature Dolby Surround 7.1 soundtrack, with separate left-back and right-back surround channels that put a total of four panning positions beside and behind the audience, including the conventional left and right surrounds. Created in close collaboration with Pixar, the first Dolby Surround 7.1 release was Toy Story 3 from Disney/Pixar, followed by Offspring Entertainment’s Step Up 3D, Megamind from DreamWorks, and Tangled from Disney Pictures. There are approximately 1,000 theaters worldwide currently equipped to handle the new Dolby Surround 7.1 playback format.
Former magazine editor Mel Lambert currently heads up Content Creators, a full-service consulting service for pro-audio firms and facilities.www.mel-lambert.com