'Star Trek' Sound Mixer Will Files Talks Dolby Atmos

Star Trek Into Darkness U.S.S. Enterprise - H 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness U.S.S. Enterprise - H 2013

If you plan to catch a Dolby Atmos-mixed film -- such as Star Trek Into Darkness or Epic -- in an Atmos-equipped theater this weekend, here's more about the format, as explained by Star Trek's re-recording mixer Will Files of Skywalker Sound.

Atmos is Dolby's immersive sound system, which debuted a year ago with Disney/Pixar's Brave, a mix on which Files also worked. Since then, the sound system has been used or scheduled for use on roughly 40 features, including Epic, which opens this weekend, and the upcoming Man of Steel, Monsters University, The Heat, Pacific Rim, Turbo (which is also being released in immersive format Auro from Barco), The Wolverine and Elysium.

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Files related that since the Atmos configuration includes speakers on the ceiling of the theater, the sound team was able to let audiences hear the Enterprise flying over their heads in Star Trek. "This makes a more natural-sounding environment," he said. "There's also a tremendous amount of granularity to where you can put things in the room. This is a natural extension of what we are already doing."

In mixing a scene where characters were hurtling through space, Files said he used the format to give the sense that the audience is traveling with them. "Not only did we have a lot of fun with moving their voices and sound effects around the room, but we had fun taking the music off the screen a little to make it more expansive."

As another example of the creative use of Atmos, Files cited a scene during which Kirk is addressing the ship's crew, and the camera cuts to various parts of the ship to see how the crew is reacting to his message. "Not only did we treat his voice a little bit differently in every location, but we also put his voice in various places in the room. I think that helped reinforce the idea that we were traveling around the ship."

Two-time Oscar winner Andy Nelson (Les Miserables) also mixed this latest Star Trek. The 7.1 mix was handled at Fox's Howard Hawks stage, the Imax version was mixed at Deluxe Toronto, and Files helmed the Atmos mix in the Orson Welles Studio at Skywalker.

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While filmmakers are trying out the new format, there’s a debate brewing in the cinema community, where many would like a standard format for immersive sound. Barco -- maker of the new Auro sound system -- and DTS are gunning for a standard based on DTS' open Multi-Dimensional Audio format, but Dolby is not in agreement

In related news, as part of an agreement with Dolby, Abrams' production company Bad Robot incorporated the Dolby Professional Reference Monitor (PRM-4200) into the production of Star Trek Into Darkness.  

Kelvin Optical, Bad Robot's visual effects and postproduction subsidiary, used the monitor -- calibrated to match a digital projector -- for viewing visual effects during postproduction.