Avid Helps Park Road Post Debut Dolby Atmos in The Hobbit

Park Road Post in Wellington, New Zealand, is one of the world’s most advanced post-production facilities—and a longtime Avid customer—with a notable portfolio that includes The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Adventures of Tintin, and King Kong. As a boutique facility, having the latest technology is competitively critical for its success—and the success of its selected client projects. When demand for a new immersive audio technology—Dolby Atmos—caught fire across the industry, Park Road Post owner, Peter Jackson, and other filmmakers knew they had to have it.

The issue—Park Road Post and other facilities didn’t want to change their current Pro Tools workflows or add any complexity that would severely impact their production schedules.

Because Pro Tools and Avid Pro Mixing consoles are audio standards at post-production facilities worldwide, Avid partnered with the Dolby Atmos development team to help integrate the new technology. To ensure seamless interoperability and the ability to control up to 128 simultaneous audio objects right inside Pro Tools, they centered the workflow around Pro Tools|HDX—by way of a Dolby Atmos Panner AAX plug-in and outboard Rendering and Mastering Unit—to provide the highest performance and efficiency, without changing the workflow.

Pro Tools|HDX and Dolby Atmos invade Middle-earth

Wanting to capitalize on what the new technology could bring to The Hobbit, the Park Road Post team moved swiftly, dedicating two dubbing stages to take on the massive production. The team upgraded each stage with new Pro Tools|HDX systems and Dolby Atmos, with matching System 5 consoles to help them mix demanding sessions of this magnitude faster and easier.

 The System 5 desks were really solid, and the integration of the Dolby RMU and the Atmos plug-in with Avid’s EUCON was very powerful.
Gilbert Lake,
re-recording mixer, The Hobbit

We started our work on the first stage where we did a more conventional 7.1 mix, as well as pre-mixing of dialogue and FX,” explains Michael Hedges, re-recording mixer on The Hobbit. “Once we had a good four reels ‘in the can,’ we then sent the mixes to the second stage where the Dolby Atmos mix was completed.”

The dual room solution was ultimately a huge success. Hedges, along with fellow re-recording mixer Gilbert Lake, are quick to credit the compatibility between the Avid and Dolby technologies for helping them meet some incredibly steep production demands.

“The fact that our initial 7.1 mix played exactly the same in both rooms and acted as the starting point for the Dolby Atmos version was a huge benefit for Gilbert and me,” Hedges elaborates. “Gilbert worked on the second stage and was able to easily verify the automation against the stems I sent. As such, when Peter [Jackson] sat in the room for the Dolby Atmos mix, he knew that what he was starting with was exactly what he just signed off on.”

Lake adds, “This workflow was really powerful because we weren't mixing with just ‘vanilla’ stems—we were starting with extremely high-quality 7.1 source elements and automation. All we had to do was play with the fidelity and move stuff around more boldly. This is where the full-range surrounds available through the Dolby Atmos system allow you to be a lot more confident and creative.”

At the end of the day, the primary mission of any new technology is to expand creativity while not hindering the very processes it is attempting to improve. For this, the Park Road team gives Avid and Dolby high marks.

“The System 5 desks were really solid, and the integration of the Dolby RMU and the Atmos plug-in with Avid’s EUCON was very powerful,” concludes Lake. “We couldn’t be happier with how it all came together.”