As the entertainment industry prepares to celebrate the Academy Awards® at the Dolby® Theatre(SM), a team from Dolby has been hard at work continuing the transformation of the site into a world-class entertainment showcase.
What’s gone into the transformation? Start with months of engineering and exacting installation work. Previously, the theatre was used primarily for live events. Now, an advanced cinema system includes Dolby Atmos™ sound, with dozens and dozens of individually powered loudspeakers that give movie audiences a dramatic new listening experience.
Those lucky enough to attend the Oscars® ceremony in person will also notice a difference. For the first time, event producers will have the ability to take advantage of 5.1-channel surround sound, both to play clips and montages to rich, immersive effect during a show, and to make the presenters sound their best.
We talked with David Gray, Vice President of Global Services and Industry Relations at Dolby, to find out what it took to get the Dolby Theatre ready for its close-up on Feb. 24.
Dolby: What was the theatre like before the upgrades?
David Gray (DG): People who have only seen the Dolby Theatre on the Academy Awards telecast are really amazed at how big it is.
It has ground-level orchestra seating, an area called the parterre above the orchestra, and then two mezzanines. On TV, you don’t get any sense of how far it is from that stage up to the first mezzanine and to the second mezzanine.
To put the size in perspective, the orchestra alone is about 900 square feet—the size of a conventional movie theatre. It’s so big that we conceived the installation of Dolby Atmos for the world premiere of Brave as if we were designing sound for three separate spaces and then integrating them.
Dolby: What needed to be done to get the theatre ready to sound great for the Academy Awards?
DG: Dolby has been involved in the telecast of the Academy Awards for many years, so it’s exciting to be able to make improvements to the theatre itself to benefit live audiences.
We’ve installed a set of surround speakers on the side walls and on the back walls in the orchestra, parterre, and mezzanine so that any live show can be mixed in surround sound.
We also temporarily removed some of our cinema equipment that would have been in sight lines or in camera lines and would have interfered with the audience and home viewers’ experience.
Dolby: What was involved in the installation?
DG: We’ve installed nearly 200 speakers in the Dolby Theatre since we took over. The Oscars production will use speakers in the orchestra, in the parterre, and in the mezzanine. Subwoofers spread out around the room provide bass management for surround effects so that we can get the low frequencies.
But there’s more to it than screwing some brackets into the walls and ceiling. For example, we had to take wall fabric off and do a fair amount of construction to get the speakers mounted, and there’s also the question of how sound gets to this huge installation.
Fortunately, the way audio is distributed these days makes life in a big theatre much easier. Instead of running lots and lots of multiconductor signal cable around, we’re running Cat 6 [Ethernet] and distributing sound and images through digital protocols.
We built a lot of fairly small racks to house the electronics and the power supplies, and we spread them throughout the building to fit in tight areas and be inconspicuous.
Dolby: Dolby has 10 Academy Awards recognizing the technical breakthroughs and contributions we’ve made to cinema. What else do you think is important for the success of this event, now that it’s hosted at the Dolby Theatre?
DG: I spent about 10 years on the road as a technician, installing and then taking down sound systems for the Kinks and other bands.
I learned how to be flexible and get things done in short order, and I recognize that same perspective in the key people who are crucial to the success of the Academy Awards live and on the screen.
Read Associated Press reporter Derrik Lang’s impressions—he was one of a dozen journalists from around the world who got a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for the Oscars.
What surprised you most about technical prep for the Oscars event?