By Mel Lambert
Reacting to the increasing popularity of home theater systems that offer immersive sound playback, Sony Pictures Post Production has added a new mix stage to accommodate next-generation consumer audio formats.
Located in the landmark Thalberg Building on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, the new Home Theater Immersive Mix Stage features a flexible array of loudspeakers that can accommodate not only Dolby Atmos and Barco Auro-3D immersive consumer formats, but also other configurations as they become available, including DTS:X, as well as conventional 5.1- and 7.1-channel legacy formats.
The new room has already seen action on an Auro-3D consumer mix for director Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters and director Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven in both Atmos and Auro-3D. It is scheduled to handle home theater mixes for director Morten Tyldum’s new sci-fi drama Passengers, which will be overseen by Kevin O’Connell and Will Files, the re-recording mixers who worked on the theatrical release.
L-R: Nathan Oishi; Diana Gamboa, director of Sony Pictures Post Sound; Kevin O’Connell, re-recording mixer on ‘Passengers’; and Tom McCarthy.
“This new stage keeps us at the forefront in immersive sound, providing an ideal workflow and mastering environment for home theaters,” says Tom McCarthy, EVP of Sony Pictures Post Production Services. “We are empowering mixers to maximize the creative potential of these new sound formats, and deliver rich, enveloping soundtracks that consumers can enjoy in the home.”
Reportedly, Sony is one of the few major post facilities that currently can handle both Atmos and Auro-3D immersive formats. “We intend to remain ahead of the game,” McCarthy says.
The consumer mastering process involves repurposing original theatrical release soundtrack elements for a smaller domestic environment at reduced playback levels suitable for Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD disc and digital delivery. The Home Atmos format involves a 7.4.1 configuration, with a horizontal array of seven loudspeakers — three up-front, two side channels and two rear surrounds — in addition to four overhead/height and a subwoofer/LFE channel. The consumer Auro-3D format, in essence, involves a pair of 5.1-channel loudspeaker arrays — left, center, right plus two rear surround channels — located one above the other, with all speakers approximately six feet from the listening position.
Formerly an executive screening room, the new 600-square-foot stage is designed to replicate the dimensions and acoustics of a typical home-theater environment. According to the facility’s director of engineering, Nathan Oishi, “The room features a 24-fader Avid S6 control surface console with Pan/Post modules. The four in-room Avid Pro Tools HDX 3 systems provide playback and record duties via Apple 12-Core Mac Pro CPUs with MADI interfaces and an 8TB Promise Pegasus hard disk RAID array, plus a wide array of plug-ins. Picture playback is from a Mac Mini and Blackmagic HD Extreme video card with a Brainstorm DCD8 Clock for digital sync.”
An Avid/DAD AX32 Matrix controller handles monitor assignments, which then route to a BSS BLU 806 programmable EQ that handles all of standard B-chain duties for distribution to the room’s loudspeaker array. These comprise a total of 13 JBL LSR-708i two-way loudspeakers and two JBL 4642A dual 15 subwoofers powered by Crown DCI Series networked amplifiers. Atmos panning within Pro Tools is accommodated by the familiar Dolby Rendering and Mastering Unit/RMU.
During September’s “Sound for Film and Television Conference,” Dolby’s Gary Epstein demo’d Atmos. ©2016 Mel Lambert.
“A Delicate Audio custom truss system, coupled with Adaptive Technologies speaker mounts, enables the near-field monitor loudspeakers to be re-arranged and customized as necessary,” adds Oishi. “Flexibility is essential, since we designed the room to seamlessly and fully support both Dolby Atmos and Auro formats, while building in sufficient routing, monitoring and speaker flexibility to accommodate future immersive formats. Streaming and VR deliverables are upon us, and we will need to stay nimble enough to quickly adapt to new specifications.”
Regarding the choice of a mixing controller for the new room, McCarthy says that he is committed to integrating more Avid S6 control surfaces into the facility’s workflow, witnessed by their current use within several theatrical stages on the Sony lot. “Our talent is demanding it,” he states. “Mixing in the box lets our editors and mixers keep their options open until print mastering. It’s a more efficient process, both creatively and technically.”
The new Immersive Mix Stage will also be used as a “Flex Room” for Atmos pre-dubs when other stages on the lot are occupied. “We are also planning to complete a dedicated IMAX re-recording stage early next year,” reports McCarthy.
“As home theaters grow in sophistication, consumers are demanding immersive sound, ultra HD resolution and high-dynamic range,” says Rich Berger, SVP of digital strategy at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “This new stage allows our technicians to more closely replicate a home theater set-up.”
“The Sony mix stage adds to the growing footprint of Atmos-enabled post facilities and gives the Hollywood creative community the tools they need to deliver an immersive experience to consumers,” states Curt Behlmer, Dolby’s SVP of content solutions and industry relations.
Adds Auro Technologies CEO Wilfried Van Baelen, “Having major releases from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment incorporating Auro-3D helps provide this immersive experience to ensure they are able to enjoy films how the creator intended.”
Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.