'The Hobbit' to Receive Dolby Atmos Sound Mix

The Hobbit Door Frodo - H 2012

The Hobbit Door Frodo - H 2012

Peter Jackson says Atmos and high frame rates “allow the audience to participate in the events on screen, rather than watching them unfold.”

Peter Jackson has pushed the envelope in filmmaking with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which is he making in 3D and at a high frame rate of 48 frames per second — and now he is additionally focusing on audio with the decision to bring the sounds of Middle Earth to select theaters in Dolby’s immersive new sound format Atmos.

The mix will be created in a new Atmos mixing environment at Jackson’s Park Road Post Production in Wellington, NZ, helmed by Oscar winners Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, and Michael Semanick (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). After The Hobbit is completed, Park Road Post intends to bring Atmos capabilities to a second mixing stage, as well as to the company’s screening room. Jackson first heard an Atmos test last spring.

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“I strive to make movies that allow the audience to participate in the events onscreen, rather than just watch them unfold. Wonderful technology is now available to support this goal: high frame rates, 3D, and now the stunning Dolby Atmos system,” Jackson said in a statement. “Dolby has always been at the cutting edge of providing cinema audiences with the ultimate sound experience, and they have now surpassed themselves. Dolby Atmos provides the completely immersive sound experience that filmmakers like myself have long dreamed about.”

Scheduled to open Dec. 14, The Hobbit is expected to open in Atmos on 80-100 screens worldwide, which is a notable jump in the number of available screens for the most recent Atmos release, Fox’s Taken 2, which is available on just 15 screens.

Dolby aims to install an addition 30-50 screens in Q1 of 2013, and expects to have as many as 1,000 Atmos-ready auditoriums in place by the end of next year.

Theater owners looking to offer Atmos will be able to upgrade existing systems by adding speakers and amplification. But the "average midsize" cinema auditorium, according to Dolby, can still expect to pay $25,000 to $30,000 for an upgrade.

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A commitment to content is also needed, and Atmos-equipped mixing stages are needed to produce the sound. So far a handful have been announced, including at Skywalker Sound, the Zanuck theater on the Fox lot and Park Road Post.

By the end of the year, Dolby expects six Hollywood movies to have opened with Atmos sound. In addition to The Hobbit, these include Disney/Pixar’s Brave, as well as Fox’s Taken 2, Chasing Mavericks and Life of Pi. The sixth 2012 title has not yet been revealed. Dolby expects more than 15 Hollywood titles (including at least two from Warners) to open in Atmos during 2013.

Beyond Hollywood, this year three Dolby Atmos titles are coming from China and Atmos movies are also in the works in Singapore, Korea, Japan, France, Germany and India.

The Hobbit is also pushing new technology as the first Hollywood movie to be made and exhibited at a high frame rate of 48 fps (the standard being 24 fps).

To that end, Dolby has developed a high frame rate-capable Integrated Media Block, or IMB, which is a piece of hardware required to play back movies in theaters. Dolby had provided Park Road Post with the IMB — which supports 2K and 3D at 48 or 60 fps — for testing. This is one of few IMBs now available from various manufacturers with high frame rate support.

Warner Bros. distribution has said the high frame rate version of The Hobbit will play in select theaters in major markets in North America.

Dolby's senior worldwide technical marketing manager Stuart Bowling told The Hollywood Reporter that Dolby would work with Warner Bros. distribution to identify which theaters will be enabled by its high frame rate IMB in time for the release of the movie.