Film Scores and Dolby Atmos

Recent years have shown the rise of so called “immersive audio formats” such as Dolby Atmos, Auro3D and DTS:X. While all formats have different technical specifications and concepts, all have the advancement of providing additional channels for heighth information on or near the ceiling of the cinema additional to the “traditional” two dimensional plane of a 5.1 or 7.1 setup. Currently depending on region, most cinemas investing in this new technology are either equiped with a Dolby Atmos or Auro 3D setup (both concepts are NOT compatible with each other).

For film scores, this new technology opens up some new and interesting possibilities. While the days where you would move instruments around the listener are (rightfully) long gone, the big advancement is to replicate a more realistic acoustic space for the music. The impression of a lively and realistic orchestral performance in concert halls and recording studios has a lot to do with the ambience of the room and reflections of the sound from walls/ceiling etc. The closer you can get in replicating the room, the more realistic and “immersive” the experience will be. Most commonly used to transfer 5.1 soundtrack recordings into these new formats are artificial reverbs that simulate the heighth reflections. These work reasonably well in a film setup where nuances of room reflections are lost in the Sound FX anyway.

However, with a little bit more effort, native recordings of these heighth informations are possible as well. By putting additional microphones set up in a “heighth array” into the recording room, you can record and later use these ceiling reflections. The heighth array is usually set up to be 4 microphones positioned in a square around the conductor a few feet under the ceiling pointing upwards in a 45° angle. I’ve recently recorded one of my scores in that way and the results are very impressive and create a very rich and immersive listening experience.

The bottom line here is to keep an eye out for the developments in this field and don’t just see it as a playground for sound designers but also make use of it for your score if you have the chance to.

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