Fox signs on for Dolby’s Atmos sound system

Joins Disney amid sound revolution in theaters

Dolby Laboratories is making inroads into changing the way films sound at the megaplex, with 20th Century Fox joining Disney as the second major studio to support the company’s new Atmos audio platform.

“Taken 2” and “Chasing Mavericks” will be the first Fox pics to have their soundtracks engineered for Atmos. Studio also will outfit its Zanuck Theater post-production facility with Dolby Atmos tools. It typically costs $30,000 to retrofit an existing facility with the technology.

The Fox deal is significant for Dolby as a sound system battle is quietly tuning up inside the world’s movie theaters. Dolby hopes the Atmos rollout will help it control a larger share of the in-theater surround sound biz as it competes with rivals like Barco, Immsound, Iosono and Illusonic 3D, which are also promoting new systems to exhibs, especially as more theaters make the transition to digital projection.

Other studios are expected to support Atmos soon — especially as more theaters install the sytem. Fox has long boasted one of the more sought-after sound facilities.

Dolby calls Atmos its most revolutionary digital surround sound innovation in years and has received praise from sound designers and filmmakers since it first started demonstrating the system in April. Atmos enables sound designers to deliver a more realistic audio field that moves sound around and above audiences, creating the illusion of an infinite number of speakers.

“Dolby Atmos transports audiences into the onscreen adventure with the most lifelike sensory experience ever offered in cinema,” said Doug Darrow, senior VP of cinema for Dolby Laboratories.

The process also automatically creates mono, stereo and 5.1 and 7.1 mixes of a movie, optimizing distribution of one version of a film to most theaters and homevid formats, a potential cost savings for studios.

In June, Disney was the first studio to show off the system with “Brave,” which premiered inside Hollywood’s former Kodak Theater, now brandishing the Dolby moniker.

George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound, where “Brave” was mixed, and Beijing’s China Film Post are the two other post-production facilities that have installed Dolby Atmos so far.

Dolby’s success rolling out the new format could mint it millions from licensing fees collected from the studios, exhibs and the home theater hardware biz.

As it becomes more popular, Atmos is expected to be used by exhibitors as a marketing tool to fill more theater seats the way they promoted screenings with THX in the 1980s and DTS and Dolby Digital in the 1990s.

But Dolby must first encourage more theater chains to convert their screening rooms to Atmos.

Dolby has yet to reveal which theaters will play “Taken 2” and “Chasing Mavericks” when released Oct. 5 and Oct. 26, respectively. Disney’s “Brave” bowed on 14 screens as part of an Atmos test in June. The Dolby Atmos logo also has appeared at London’s Empire Cinemas, in Leicester Square.

For theaters to support Dolby Atmos, they must install two additional overhead speakers and side speakers.

The Dolby Atmos mixes for “Taken 2” and “Chasing Mavericks” will be overseen by sound re-recording mixers Chuck Michael and Craig Henighan.

“Twentieth Century Fox and Dolby have had a long and trusted history together,” said Ted Gagliano, prexy of post production for 20th Century Fox. “The breadth of Dolby’s experience has given them a keen insight not just into the moviegoing experience but into the wants and needs of post-production. This has obviously greatly influenced the vision of Dolby Atmos. Fox looks forward to enriching the cinematic experience with this latest innovation from Dolby.”