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Thursday, April 26, 2012

CinemaCon 2012, Day 3: Dolby

Film Flam Flummox


Part two of my designated CinemaCon tech day went far more smoothly, with a two-part off-campus presentation by Dolby at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms resort down the street from Caesars Palace.  Their main feature attraction at the convention is the freshly unveiled Atmos system, whose slogan "Hear the Whole Picture" actually offers a good idea of what it entails, for it envelops audiences in audio like never before via a system of up to 64 speakers, including many more overhead ones, and thus offers pinpoint precision for a film's sound design.  The big question with any new technology is its compatibility with existing theatre systems, and Atmos is fully backward compatible.  The number of speakers and audio channels may seem like a bit of overkill, but upon seeing/hearing a comparison demo reel of standard 5.1 mixes versus an Atmos mix, featuring freshly Atmos-remixed clips from The Viral Factor, The Woman in Black, The Incredibles, and Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol , two conclusions could be made: (1) Brad Bird films have incredible (bad pun sort of intended) sound design; and (2) Atmos really does make the cinema experience that much more immersive, and in a wholly organic--to both the film narrative and moviegoing experience--and non-gimmicky way.  Dolby Worldwide Technical Marketing Manager Stuart Bowling, the host of the demo, was quick to stress that Atmos is not yet being offered as a product for sale just yet (while 12 to 15 development systems will be installed this summer at some key locations, the target date for official solicitation is the beginning of 2013), and that this CinemaCon launch presentation/demonstration is just that, the unveiling of an exciting, downright revolutionary innovation that will soon be widely available.

At an auditorium down the hall, Dolby offered a look at their visual cinema technologies, namely 4K digital projection and the big lightning rod at this year's convention, high frame rate.  The program consisted of four short clips: (1) young people at a carnival riding a carousel, shown in 24 frames per second, then 48fps, then 60fps; (2) a somewhat offensively stereotyped clip called "Low Rider" (the less said about the better), shown in 60fps; (3) the trailer for the documentary Mystic India, shown in 4K digital; (4) the trailer for the documentary The Last Reef, also shown in 4K digital.  After seeing more of high frame rate, and in a bit of a more "reality-based" context, I have now come to this conclusion: I do think it has its appropriate applications, most especially for documentary-type filmmaking.  It's in a narrative, or more specifically fantasy narrative, context where using such a technology remains highly debatable.

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

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