Beyond 5.1

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



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Arup Acoustics’ Raj Patel

Arup Acoustics’ Raj Patel

A major difference between Iosono and other companies, however, is “We want to literally remix the film,” Slack says. “We’ve done mixes with a lot of mixers in studios in Hollywood. Overture Pictures gave us clips of The Crazies, which was a very good demo because the film was not in 3-D. When people hear about our system, they intuitively think it will be perfect for 3-D, but in the case of The Crazies, it added a whole other aspect to a 2-D film. However, we also did a demo of a reel from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which was in 3-D. On that one, we worked with Geoff Rubay, who was the sound supervisor, and he brought in all of his sound effects predubs, which is one step earlier than the stems, but we had all the stems accessible to us, too.

“What we’re delivering to movie theaters is kind of unique in that Dolby, DTS, SDDS were delivery formats; they were a new way of delivering a 5.1 or 7.1 to a theater, but essentially the sound system was exactly the same. What separates us is we are a completely new sound system, so the delivery format is its own thing. We have two separate products—one is a 3-D sound system and one is a universal delivery format—and literally what we’re delivering to a movie theater is a 32-channel print master. So in addition to the added number of speakers, we’re also adding to the number of channels we’re sending to movie theaters, which allows us to get more precise placement on where we can put things in the theater and it inherently gives us a lot more headroom. By the nature of the way we’re delivering the soundtrack, we also have a lot lower noise floor, we have lower distortion because we’re not building up so many tracks on the same six channels—we’re distributing it over a larger number of channels.”

Slack prefers the term “multidimensional” to “3-D”: “It’s not, strictly speaking, 3-D because we’re not actually dealing with height at the moment.” He says that “we definitely think of ourselves going into more premium theaters. It’s going to be a premium experience because by the nature of the sound system, it’s going to be expensive. We’re financing the first 50 screens, so by the end of the year we hope to have 50 theaters across the U.S., and before that we’re doing a limited release of a film we haven’t announced yet, but it will be for industry advertising to get people to understand what the format is.”

Sound and acoustics are just one small aspect of what the international design, planning, engineering and consulting firm Arup is involved in. Calling Arup “a world leader in 3-D spatialization,” Raj Patel, leader of Arup Acoustics, says his company is trying to develop true 3-D sound environments by using an Ambisonic system, “which allows you to reproduce aural environments in complete 3-D so you have complete control over the angle from which a sound comes.

“We’ve gone from a world of recording that started mono and went to stereo and then to what people generally mean when they say surround—5.1 or 7.1; whatever it might be. But the big drawback of all of those systems is that they mainly have loudspeakers at the front and at the side, and you can really only make sounds move from front to back by panning them to the left and right. An Ambisonic arrangement can make sound appear to come from all directions, so the perceptual impact of listening to audio accompanying video increases several-fold, especially if you can get sounds coming from the upper rear.

“If you record surround in the field in the first place, which requires a relatively complex mic, you can make field recordings in 3-D and then you can potentially apply that in a Foley studio or a mastering studio to create a true 3-D effect, which you can’t do with a 5.1 scenario because 5.1 is only taking mono recordings and placing the sound in particular locations and panning them from one place to another.”

If a world where surround mics are commonly used to create film soundtracks doesn’t seem to be right around the corner, Arup knows that this practice will be part of the acoustics business for a long time to come. His firm is also exploring many applications that are not based around conventional theaters.

“The computer gaming industry is interesting because they really are trying to figure out how to heighten the individual experience,” Patel says. “Having audio in 3-D connects you much more viscerally to what’s going on in the game environment and is really becoming quite popular. In fact, there’s a company that’s about to come out with the first game that is 3-D audio only; it has no video.

“Music and education clients have been looking at 3-D, too. For example, the New World Symphony has been wanting to create a quality master-class series for their students where they can experience it and feel it in 3-D and hear it in 3-D and be able to play along with it in 3-D. And the scientific community wants to understand the interaction between light and sound, or the psychology of behavior as it relates to sound, and you can really only do that if you work in 3-D. So in places like Queens University in Belfast, they have what they term their Sonic Arts Center, which is a multilevel space with three floors where you can have sound coming from above, below you, the sides. Working with social scientists and psychologists, people have been building these sorts of spaces that are for much more than just entertainment.”

Blair Jackson is Mix’s senior editor.

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