LAFF 2012: Dolby Projects Big Boom in Atmos Systems

Brave (2012)

About: Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) doesn't want to live a traditional life and, when chaos breaks out in the kingdom, is forced to rely on her bravery and archery skills to fight a terrible curse. 

Pixar First: Merida is Pixar's first leading heroine.

Box Office: Opens in theaters June 22.

Fun Fact: The red-haired Merida has more than 1,500 individually sculpted, curly strands that create about 111,700 total hairs.

The new sound format -- which debuted with Disney/Pixar's "Brave" -- is projected to be in nearly 1,000 theaters worldwide by the end of 2013.

When Disney/Pixar’s Brave opened Friday, 14 theaters in North America presented a trial mix of the movie in Dolby’s immersive new Atmos sound format -- and on Saturday a Dolby exec projected there might be 100 Atmos-supported auditoriums worldwide by the end of this year and nearly 1,000 by the end of 2013.

Stuart Bowling, senior worldwide marketing manager at Dolby, was among the speakers at a Los Angeles Film Festival session that examined the creative potential and rollout plans for the new Atmos format, which is designed to create a lifelike sound experience by lining speakers along a theater’s front, rear and side walls, as well as overhead. It can play up to 128 channels of sound at once.

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Filmmaker Eric Brevig -- director of 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, the first live-action narrative feature to be lensed in digital 3D -- has heard the Atmos demonstration and believes the sound format could be used to give any type of movie a “more refined soundscape,” whether that be for an animated family film, an action tentpole or an independent drama. Adding that he would have liked to use Atmos to create the environment beneath the surface of the Earth for Journey, he said that the new format could be used to better engage an audience.

Will Files -- a re-recording mixer on Disney/Pixar’s Brave, the first film to receive an Atmos mix -- cited as an example a Brave scene at a dining table during which “emotionally there is a lot of distance” between the movie’s protagonist, Princess Merida, and her mother, the Queen. He explained that for Brave's 7.1 surround sound mix, the dialogue for both characters comes from the same speaker. For the Atmos mix, the team at Skywalker Sound aimed to enhance the feeling of distance between the mother and daughter by placing each character’s dialogue in separate speakers.

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Roughly 20 theaters worldwide have already been announced as planned Atmos sites, including the 14 currently playing the trial mix of Brave, such as Chicago’s Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Collection.

During the LAFF panel, the Kerasotes chain’s technical director Fred Walraven said that following the current trial, plans are to add Atmos to one Kerasotes auditorium in Minnesota and one in New Jersey, as well as to install a second system in Chicago.

Brave premiered using an Atmos mix Monday at the newly named Dolby Theatre as part of LAFF.

The Hollywood Reporter contributing editor Carolyn Giardina moderated the LAFF panel.