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Dolby's Great Leap Forward - 'Atmos' Aims to Take Theatrical Sound Where 3-D and IMAX took Visuals

04.24.12 @ 7:07PM Tags : , , , , , ,

What if you could hear Michael Myers’ footsteps as he moved through a victim’s house?  Or be immersed in the soundscape of a gun battle, with such life-like quality that you might run for cover from that tower sniper?  Dolby‘s newly announced format, Atmos, is aiming to push theatergoer’s auditory immersion in the way IMAX and 3-D pushed visual immersion.  So how exactly is this different from existing surround sound systems, and what effect will it have on a viewer’s experience?  Check this video out:

Not only does it give a nice overview of theatrical sound’s evolution (from mono, to stereo, to surround, to 5.1 to 7.1), but it also shows just how Atmos aims for a different approach:

The idea is that by approaching sound elements as dynamic objects traveling through channels, you’ll have a more life-like experience.  In the built out version, using 64 speakers that will be placed both around and above the audience, the sound could travel through each speaker as it moved across a room, in what’s called a pan-through array.  In previous set-ups you could certainly provide a sense of movement as the sound moved from one channel to another, but with this new format, you get a much finer sense of direction and placement.  So let’s say you want to convey the sense of a swarm of bees moving threateningly around the hero — instead of mixing in terms of channels, where you might have heard the bees moving side to side, back to front, with the new system you should be able to close your eyes and pinpoint just where the swarm is.  That’s pretty awesome.  According to reports, it really is impressive.  As the reporter for the New York Times said:

The new sound system is incredibly realistic. During one demonstration, audio clips of a thunderstorm were so realistic — with the sound of the rain pummeling down from above — I thought I might need a real umbrella.

Judging from some of the images in the video, it looks like they have some kind of 3-d mapping software that helps you control where in space you want the sound to be coming from and how much area it should cover (i.e footsteps vs thunderstorm).  Hopefully over the next few weeks and months there will be more details on how that works (i.e whether you need to use a proprietary software, or you can somehow create the metadata through existing 3-d software).  I don’t expect this to be used much by indie filmmakers in the short-run, but don’t be surprised to hear some very exciting sounds coming out of the bigger theaters near you as they switch their premium screens to this format.

**Update**: And, it looks like Disney/Pixar’s Brave will be the first movie to be released using this new format.  The movie comes out June 22 here in the States.  I guess I’ll have to find a theater that’s been upgraded to check it out in its full glory:

[via Mix]


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Description image 24 COMMENTS

  • James Neuendorf on 04.24.12 @ 8:28PM

    So when I go to the theater someday to watch a 4k 3d movie with Atmos sound, will my ticket be $35?
    Though I am sure this is far more immersive than gimicky 3d… This is something you can’t get in your living room!

    • “This is something you can’t get in your living room!”

      if there is something that can “save” cinema as a collective oniric sharing experience inside a dark room with a big screen emulating, in a simbolic way, how we project images inside our brain, and making the viewers as an individual and collective consciousness at the same time, :D my bet is that it´s SOUND! :)

  • Great part of the feeling of depth is caused by auditory spatial information, because audition provides information of 360degrees of the stimuli location. There is a paper, “Can the perception of depth in stereoscopic imagems be influenced by 3D sound?”, from Amy Turner, Jonathan Berry and Nick Holliman about how 3D sound can influence the perception of depth in stereoscopic image.

    BTW, in humans with only one eye, the sound has a huge importance in depth perception, so I think holosound, 3D sound, etc can make the experience inside a dark teather (the best place for a “real” cinematic experience as I see it) far more imersive than stereoscopic itself.

  • Michael Soomon on 04.24.12 @ 8:33PM

    I’ll take this over 3d anyday

  • I am genuinely excited about this, audio has been the most under innovated part of the theatrical experience. Hopefully this dynamic objects tech comes down to indies

  • So much better than gimmicky 3D! While the point stands that it may not be an indie format quite yet; imagine if new audio platforms were embraced by the indie film community. We could break out of being so camera obsessed and start looking to sound design as more of a storytelling tool. Audio has traditionally been under emphasized in low budget production, and pro audio gear has traditionally been less expensive than camera gear. This could be a great direction for the future.

  • This, to me, seems like it would be awesome for action, absolutely amazing for horror (etc.), but not completely necessary for anything else. Oh also gross out comedies. This would be so good for gross out comedies. When I see a character getting a shit taken on their head, I want to experience that to its full extent.

  • I totally had this idea 6 years ago. “What if you could hear the bullet travel by but also feel the bullet whiz by as well? What about feeling the air blast associated with a canon being fired? Fully developed 3D sound simulating a war would be insane. Currently, I’m kicking myself, but why? These professionals took a great idea and used their resources to develop something amazing.

    I doubt I was the first one to every think up 3D sound but still. Classic tale of woulda, shoulda, coulda. Folks if you’re sitting on a great idea, RUN WITH IT!!! Don’t just dream!
    This includes great movie ideas too.

    Use this as motivation for whatever dream or idea you have.

  • I feel sorry for the poor sound designer having to balance audio over 64 different speakers.

    Editing 5.1 is enough for me!

    The only issue I see is where you sit in the room. If you sit to the left, then all the noise is coming from only the right…

    • Yeah, it seems as if the ideal area for best sound would be right at the fulcrum of all the speakers.

  • am I the only one thinking this is another overhyped gimmick?
    I still have 2 and only 2 ears…

    • You only have 2 ears but your brain can do so much more with the information given from them. Gimmick? I’m sure it will look like one in marketing it, but it’s more exciting than 3D images

  • You don’t need 64 speakers to do 3D audio. This seems like an attempt to make audio take up an equal amount of processing power as video. :)

    The demo is deceptive in that they act like the only possibility for 5.1 (or 7.1) is to have sound come from ONE of the sources. That’s a gross oversimplification.

    • Yeah … I thought that was weird. Really I think this whole idea is just greedy. Gotta keep that money train rolling. Most people I know don’t WANT to be “immersed” in the cinema experience. It’s a passive medium. You want immersion, play a video game.

      I agree with everything said about 3D visuals, too. I can’t wait for that to die.

  • Towards the end of the video, the guy says that “for the first time” we will have sound coming from over the audience, well, read this : “In 2002, Dolby premiered a master of We Were Soldiers which featured a Sonic Whole Overhead Sound soundtrack. This mix included a new ceiling-mounted height channel”.

    And that mix was done by Dolby…

  • This is exciting. Then again if you aim for binaural superrealistic stuff has existed for years. It’s even been democratized and optimized in the past years

  • Let’s see if this will rescue Dolby from losing the market completely now that there is no more need for a Dolby license in the process of making a DCP copy.
    You guys at Dolby should have got your act together a long time ago and create the right business environment in the market so the Dolby license will be relevant today and keep the standard of film mixing as you use to do for the last 20 years. All that instead of producing an expensive systems that will not enable us to mix films in a normal budget.

  • OMG! Dolby finds the pan pot!

    At least it’s better than individual headsets to match your 3D enabling glasses.

    Some day for added realism, the production soundtrack will become far more important than falsifying everything in post. If you want realism, record realism.

    • Daniel Mimura on 04.27.12 @ 8:49PM

      I don’t know…it will be about falsifying even more in post…unless you’re talking about doing more more 6 walled greenscreen “virtual filmmaking” bs… B/c you need to isolate the sounds to better locate them properly in the mix.

      Recording 3D sound live is unrealistic b/c of production noises. Camera move (whether on dolly, handheld or steadicam) involves the operator, the AC, grip or two or three if it’s windy or dangerous or on the dolly, and 1-2 sound ops. With a shotgun mike, everyone is dead silent.

  • Daniel Mimura on 04.27.12 @ 9:08PM

    This sounds like an overly complicated scheme to stay relevant. Like 3D, (first in the 50′s to combat television, then now to combat the internet, piracy, economy…whatever)…it’s a desperate move to offer something that’s not available at home.

    It’s also gonna be vastly underutilized, I think…I hate when movies don’t use the rear channels enough, but most of the dialogue is gonna take place on screen. All this surround is only going to be used for that “immersive experience” of generic sounds…by generic sounds I mean, if it’s a war movie, it’s gonna be bullets whizzing by, explosions, people’s gear rattling (if you play Modern Warfare 3, you know what I’m talking about)…but the bottom line is, almost anything important is gonna happen up on the screen, so you’re still seeing (and hearing most of the film—of what’s important to the story and characters—in front of you, you know, where the picture is, it’s just for atmosphere.). The immersive experience is only for background ambient noises most of the time, so it’s a lot of technology for a relatively small payoff over what we have now.

    To localize the offscreen helicopter to be 3′ to your left and 7′ back does not truly matter. If it is important…we will know it soon b/c the camera is either gonna pan over or cut to it. If it doesn’t…then the background ambience is actually being intrusive…if sound is so important that it’s good to know that it’s there, but it’s not actually a story element, it’s actually going to take away from the film b/c it’s…just background.

    It can be nice and creepy for a horror film (because something might jump out and scare you!)…but that’s the same gimmicky crap that 50′s 3D was all about…

    My favorite producer/director/new camera technology cliche is talking about the “roller coaster ride” that they want to take people on. I suggest they stop trying to fake it in movies and and change jobs and build more roller coasters instead! I skateboard, motorcycle, go backcountry camping…etc…and those things I do when I want a visceral thrill. I go to movies to watch a story or get a mood or learn something, or empathize with a character or situation…all that is just gimmickry that really is starting to *take away* from movies. I don’t need a movie explosion to be as loud as a real one, and that seems to be the “realism” that someone thinks people want/need out of modern films.