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Inside the Recording Studio: ‘The Hobbit’ and Dolby Atmos

We’re checking out a different type of sound studio for this installment of the Sage Audio Mastering blog’s Inside the Recording Studio series: a movie sound recording studio. A new video from the SoundWorks Collection provides an inside look at how the sound is crafted for “The Hobbit,” and how the movie became one of the first film’s to employ the new Dolby Atmos surround sound system.

Heard in "The Hobbit"

Unfortunately, Nashville doesn’t yet have any theaters equipped with the Dolby Atmos system, but I have to say that the Dolby 7.1 mix sounded pretty great, so I’m sure the Atmos was even better.

Dolby calls Atmos the “most significant development in audio since the arrival of surround sound,” and says that the system “delivers audiences a more natural and realistic soundfield.” The new technology allows more precise panning, as well as more panning options, including more control over height panning.

The sound team responsible for “The Hobbit” says that director Peter Jackson is heavily involved in the sound of his movies, and was excited to try the new system.

“Pete is really enthusiastic about sound, and when we brought the idea of going to the Dolby Atmos system for ‘The Hobbit’… he wanted to hear it, he wanted to experience it and feel what it was like and once he had experienced it he was onboard and wanted to use it for ‘The Hobbit’ and he’s embraced it,” said Gilbert Lake, sound re-recording mixer. “His main focus is on the 7.1 to start with and making sure the 7.1 release is as great as it can be, and then he’s really spent time giving notes and crafting the Atmos as well... giving it a slightly different flavor but with the same intent and with the same focus on the story and what’s going on in the script.”

Sound Re-Recording Engineer Michael Semanick went on to comment on how Jackson wants the sound in his movies.

“The dynamics that Pete builds in visually he builds in sonically as well,” Semanick said. “It’s this constant dynamic not to wear the audience out but to take them on a journey or an adventure.”

Of course, it’s not just the new technology that got us audio geeks excited about this inside look at “The Hobbit” and its recording processes, but also the chance to see exactly what the engineers are doing on the ProTools screens in front of them.

Turns out, the sound crew even went caving in New Zealand for a couple of days to record some impulse response which ended up being used in the movie – which I for one think is pretty amazing. Co-Supervising Sound Editor Brent Burge said that New Zealand is a great place for a sound engineer to work.

“You do not have to go very far to get completely away from civilization, so you get into environments very quickly where you don’t have issues around traffic, around flight paths, around all these things that generally happen in larger cities that generally support film industries,” Burge said.

Check out the video below, there’s tons of interesting tidbits throughout (“The Lord of The Rings” was recorded in 16-bit at 44k; the strings for the soundtrack were recorded at Abbey Road Studios).

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