Beyond 5.1

Sep 8, 2010 6:09 PM, By Blair Jackson

THE RACE FOR GREATER PLAYBACK DIMENSIONALITY HEATS UP

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Kong mixer Mike Hedges (right) with Brent Burge

Kong mixer Mike Hedges (right) with Brent Burge

Because of the ride’s unusual format—with two huge parallel screens being filled by 16 projectors, sandwiching the tram—Hedges and his team devised a way to mix to that configuration: In Theater One at Park Road, “We constructed a third-scale model of what the Universal soundstage was going to be, so we had screens on both sides of the room as opposed to where the screen normally is at the front.” Working from animatics and armed with knowledge acquired from visiting the cavernous space the tram would pass through, the team took the mix as far as they could, working in New Zealand and eventually heading to L.A. to refine the mix within the space. “The biggest thing we had to adapt to was the spatial aspect of the sound,” Hedges says. “The room reverb time is like 12 seconds—how do you deal with that? It was horrendous! Obviously, we wanted to add size to Kong’s roar and the most common way to do that would be by adding reverb, but the natural ’verb meant we didn’t have to, though we did add some slight delays that were timed to reinforce Kong’s roar in the distant speakers. What we found when we got to L.A. is that we had to shorten specific elements of the roar, and the sub was overpowering, so to make it more immediate we halved the length of our sub signal.”

In terms of the speaker configuration for Hedges’ 22-channel mix, to each side (left and right) of the three-car tram, “We have two ground stacks of five speakers, which is a left, inner left, center, inner right and outer right. You have an image in the middle of the screen so the complexity of it was, we had to take the speakers that were below us and add a left-center-right above for each side, so then we had to balance how much of Kong was in the uppers and the lowers to generate the effect of him being in the middle of the screen. Our main challenge was, how do we make Kong sound like he’s right in your face? The proximity of the speakers is too far from the tram so we had to build speakers into this effects wall that runs down either side of the tram, so when Kong roars, you’ve got sub sets that rock your intestines and your core being, and then you’ve got these reinforcement speakers that bring him to life. Those are stereo pairs—two stereo pairs for each of the three trams—12 sets of speakers, individually fed, so when we wanted sound to come at you, we were feeding into those speakers. Finally, we have two sub channels of two speakers on the ground, front and back.” The speakers are a combination of L-Acoustics and Meyer Sound models. Over the course of about five days, Hedges and his team—which included Brent Burge and Universal veteran Peter Lehman (The Simpsons Ride, Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride)—did most of the final mixing “in the box” on a Pro Tools rig inside Tram 2.

Iosono studio technologies VP Brian Slack at a Digidesign ICON

Iosono studio technologies VP Brian Slack at a Digidesign ICON

Dealing with left and right screens was difficult enough, but the ride has another wrinkle that posed an interesting sonic challenge, Hedges reveals: “At one point, Kong throws the T-Rex from one side to the other and it bounces off the top of the tram. With the movement of the tram, you’re getting quite a lot of dynamic in that movement, and what we tried to do with the sound was re-create it by panning, say, on the left-hand side from the ground stack to the high stack to the right-high stack and down again, all in a split second. We were writing that pan, and we found that the best way to make it feel like the sound’s right above you is to mono up those stereo pairs in the walls and fire that at the tram, and you get this amazing effect of scraping and rattling as the tram does this movement and you really feel like he’s going over the top. We wanted to try some speakers above, but the tram has a roof on it so the sound has to get to you from the side. Mono’ing up the center and top speakers from either side did the trick.”

(We also wanted to write about the well-reviewed multi-environment Forbidden Journey ride at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but were informed that the powers-that-be did not want the “secrets” of the ride revealed.)

A hop, skip and jump from Hollywood’s Universal theme park, a company called Iosono, a division of Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, is looking to revolutionize film sound through experimental installations at Mann’s Chinese Theater (also in Hollywood). According to Brian Slack, Iosono’s senior VP of studio technologies, the company’s latest installation at Mann’s involves around 60 speakers placed strategically in a 450-seat theater. “For that particular sound system, we’re going to end up with 10 channels behind the screen—they have five now—and roughly 50 surround speakers, so literally twice as many as they have now,” he says.






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