When the lights dimmed at Monday's premiere of Disney/Pixar's Brave, held at the newly-named Dolby Theatre, a Dolby Atmos logo presentation greeted the audience and a new sound format was launched.
“It’s more 3D than 3D images,” said the movie's director, Mark Andrews, of Dolby's immersive Atmos sound format.
And Kevin McKidd—who did voice acting in the movie—described the sonic experience as a "mind blowing."
Disney/Pixar’s Brave is the first feature film to be mixed entirely in Atmos. And the movie’s premiere, held as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival, gave the sound innovator a high profile opportunity to introduce its new format to Hollywood.
Atmos creates a lifelike sound experience by lining speakers along the theatre’s front, rear and side walls, as well as overhead. It can play up to 128 channels of sound at once.
“They approached me… I heard and I was blown away,” Andrews told The Hollywood Reporter. “ I said, ‘Absolutely, Brave’s got to have it.’
“It puts you in the space,” he said. “This links the sound with the environment. … You feel like you’re in a castle, a narrow hallway or a grand hall or a chamber room.”
Asked if he would like to use it again, Andrews responded, “If I could have it every time, I’ll have it every time.”
The Brave mix was led by seven-time Oscar winning sound designer and re-recording mixer Gary Rydstrom at Skywalker Sound, which is already Atmos ready. He also handled the Atmos logo presentation, which featured animation from Pixar.
Atmos can be used for theaters of any size, but the Dolby Theatre is perhaps its most challenging setup, as the auditorium covers 180,000 sq. feet of space and has an 86 ft. high ceiling.
“That is a very challenging space to make sound good, and it sounded amazing,” said Academy Award nominated sound designer/supervising sound editor Erik Aadahl (Transformers: Dark of the Moon), who attended the premiere.
“Gary [Rydstrom] happens to be a hero of mine, and his signature was all over it. I love sounds that really enhance a character," he said, citing a bear that appears in the film. "That was the stuff I really responded to."
“With any new technology that is this big a leap forward, there is going to be some trepidation about it,” Aadahl said. “I think [sound professionals] are optimistic about learning it pretty quickly.”
Asked if he has a feature film planned for Atmos use, the Oscar nominee told THR: “We are planning a very big project with this, coming out in two years time.”
“A lot of [studio representatives] heard the Atmos demonstration this past week, and I’m sure they are considering it,” said Bob Lambert, who is CEO of LA-based The Digital Firm, and for 25 years served as chief technical strategist for The Walt Disney Company and Disney Studios.
“It added a delightful dimension to the movie,” he told THR. “I was in the balcony, and the sound there was perfect relative to the demonstration I heard last week on the main floor. I think it is going to be very popular with movie goers.”
Several stakeholders acknowledged additional factors to adoption of the new format, including costs. Sound mixing facilities, for instance, would need to be equipped to support Atmos. According to Dolby, the system is scalable, meaning that a facility could use the "majority of their existing sound system" though additional speakers and amplification must be installed.
For exhibitors, Dolby estimated that an "average mid-size" cinema auditorium could expect to make an investment of around $25,000-$30,000 for this upgrade.
When Brave opens June 22, 14 theatres in the North America are slated to show the movie in Atmos. They are: AMC BarryWoods 24, Kansas City; AMC Burbank 16; AMC Century City 15; AMC Downtown Disney 24, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.; AMC Garden State 16, Paramus, N.J.; AMC Van Ness 14, San Francisco; ArcLight Sherman Oaks; Brenden Theatres at the Palms, Las Vegas; Centry at Pacific Commons and XD; West Plano, Texas; SilverCity-Yonge Eglington Cinemas, Toronto; Cinetopia Vancouver Hall 23, Vancouver; the El Capitan Theatre; and Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Collection, Chicago.
Additional planned Atmos installations, at domestic and international sites, have been announced.