Avid Helps Dolby Introduce Dolby Atmos to Audio Pros and Audiences

When Dolby introduced Dolby Atmos, its next generation of cinema audio technology, in April 2012, the company promised “an entirely powerful and dramatic new listening experience…with sound that truly envelops you and allows you to hear the whole picture.” The potential for Dolby Atmos to become the next big thing for filmmakers—as well as the most immersive audio experience yet for moviegoers—is without question. The challenge was figuring out how to help filmmakers incorporate the new technology into their projects.

Because Pro Tools and Avid Pro Mixing consoles are audio standards at post-production facilities worldwide, Dolby didn’t want to change the established workflows audio post professionals trust and rely on daily. And it didn’t want to add any complexity that could impact production schedules. That’s why the Dolby Atmos development team partnered with Avid to find a way to integrate the new technology into the same workflow and ensure that everything operated seamlessly.

Bridging Pro Tools with Dolby Atmos

Working together, Avid and Dolby decided that the easiest and most efficient way for audio professionals to work with Dolby Atmos was to have them access the technology directly in Pro Tools by way of a Dolby Atmos Panner AAX plug-in. This plug-in is available in AAX Native format, enabling anyone with Pro Tools 10 or later—including Pro Tools|HD users—to use it.

“When you introduce a new sound format like Dolby Atmos, it is essential that you make the tools as simple as possible to enable sound experts the creative freedom to place sound anywhere,” explains David Gould, senior product manager at Dolby. “Dolby understands the needs and preferences of all stakeholders in the cinema industry, and rapid adoption of Dolby Atmos stems from our ability to deliver a solution that is compatible with Pro Tools and Apple products used by content creators around the globe.”

The Dolby Atmos Panner plug-in works in concert with Pro Tools and Dolby’s outboard Rendering and Mastering Unit (RMU), which provides the rendering engine for the mix stage, plus tools for room configuration, management, and print mastering. Audio mixers can simply access the Panner in Pro Tools, take control of up to 128 simultaneous audio objects, and creatively place and move sound everywhere.

“Designers can interface with the Dolby Atmos system from within Pro Tools, so they’re staying within a workflow with which they’re familiar,” Gould stresses. “There are discrete outputs from Pro Tools into the Dolby RMU. The plug-in interface talks to the RMU via direct network connection. All the panning work takes place via the plug-in.”

In addition, the RMU can drive up to 64 discrete speaker feeds, enabling unprecedented sound placement control and movement anywhere in the movie theater—not just wherever there happens to be speakers. For post houses with Pro Tools 11, audio mixers can record and automate audio stems simultaneously—on the same channel—using the Dolby Atmos Panner, saving tons of time.

Dolby Atmos hits the big screen

Avid’s and Dolby’s efforts to ensure the most efficient workflow, seamless interoperation, and a dynamic audio experience have paid off big time for filmmakers and audio pros. In the short time since its introduction, Dolby Atmos has been used on some of the highest profile films of 2012 and 2013. Within one year of launch, over 40 titles globally have featured or will be released with Dolby Atmos sound. In addition, approximately 200 screens globally have installed Dolby Atmos systems worldwide, with many more expected in the later half of 2013 and beyond.

Brave from Disney-Pixar was the first movie to use Dolby Atmos,” Gould recalls, “and that was mixed by multiple Academy Award-winner Gary Rydstrom and multiple Academy Award-nominated Will Files on an Avid D-Control console at Skywalker Sound. Taken 2 followed Brave and was mixed on an Avid System 5 with Pro Tools|HD. Life of Pi and Chasing Mavericks were next andmixed at Fox on ICON D-Control surfaces in the Zanuck theater.”

In addition to these, there are currently over 20 post-production facilities around the globe equipped with the Pro Tools/Dolby Atmos workflow—including Park Road Post, Warner Bros, Technicolor at Paramount, Pinewood Studios, and Todd-AO—with more expected to offer this new level of surround sound soon.