Editor’s note: This post is presented in partnership with Dolby Laboratories and AMC Theatres.
The digital technology that goes into creating today’s blockbusters is constantly improving. The problem for the artisans – specifically sound designers and visual effects artists, whose craftmanship brings to life futuristic worlds and explosive action scenes – is that the technology in most of our theaters has failed to progress as quickly.
“A great deal of work that goes into creating effects is getting stepped on by the time it gets to a movie theater because the display devices are unable to reproduce all that work and detail,” explained Stuart Bowling, Director of Content and Creative Relations at Dolby, in a recent interview with Indiewire.
To address this problem, Dolby completely redesigned the optical light path of their Dolby Vision Laser projectors and created an imagining process that exceeds 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. Compared to the 2,000:1 contrast ratio found in most of today’s multiplexes using a Xenon bulb light source, or the 5:000-8,000:1 ratio of other laser projectors on the market, Dolby Vision is a complete game changer, especially for the shadowy world of a Marvel film, where darker scenes often become flat and lose their texture.
READ MORE: Jon Favreau Breaks Down ‘Jungle Book’ Cinema Technology in Amazing Movie-Theatre Tech Essay
“Once you see your work in Dolby vision, you don’t want to go back,” said Dan DeLeeuw, a visual effects supervisor. DeLeeuw, who worked on the last two “Captain America” movies, points to the climatic fight scene between Captain America and Tony Stark as a prime example.
“For that end battle scene we wanted the darkness to match the sensibility of the film at the point in the story,” explained DeLeeuw. “The moody, haunted house-like feel is important, but what’s great is with Dolby we don’t have to sacrifice richness of color and background detail. Part of what we do in creating CG images is recreate the light – if the highlights and detail are lost in a scene like that, our work becomes less photo realistic.”
According to Bowling the problems with today’s theaters is magnified when a film is projected in 3D. “Because of the filtering required for projecting in 3D, you end up throwing away half of your light,” explained Bowling, who added that on average 3D movies are projected in today’s theater at one-third the brightness of 2D.
“We were always challenged with the light source,” said Bowling. “Traditionally, projectors have used xenon bulbs, which have the inherent problem of if you add more light, you add more heat. This is why the development of a laser light source has been so important – there’s no heat issues and we’ve been able to double the amount of light in our Dobly Cinema projectors, which brings 3D brightness up to the level we expect from 2D.”
The enhanced movie watching experience of seeing “Captain America: Civil War” in a Dolby Cinema at AMC is not only visual. Juan Peralta, who works for Skywalker Sound and was the re-recording mixer on “Civil War,” told Indiewire that Dolby Atmos gives him several features he never had before.
“With Object Based Mixing, mixers now have the ability to place any one specific sound anywhere in the theater, therefore letting us pinpoint exactly where we would like that sound to come from,” Peralta told Indiewire. “My favorite advancement is something called Bass Managed Surrounds. It used to be that when you placed a sound into the surround field where the speakers are substantially smaller you would loose the lower frequencies that the bigger speakers could reproduce, but the smaller ones physically couldn’t.”
The result is that with “Captain America: Civil War” Peralta was able to use Atmos to create a mix that helps the audience keep track of all various elements of complex action sequences. “For example, during the main confrontation between all 12 superheroes, I was able to use Object Based Mixing to differentiate each of our ‘Flying Heroes’ versus our ‘Web Crawling Heroes,'” explained Peralta.
“Iron Man, War Machine, Vision and the Falcon all fly around the theater, so you can pinpoint their location at all times. This helps the audience keep track of the thread of the scene. Usually when Spiderman is in a scene he is almost always above the other characters, so I was able to use those overhead speakers to place him and his web shooter sound effect to make him feel like he was always above the audience.”
There are 19 Dolby Cinema at AMC screens in the United States. “Captain America: Civil War” opens today.