The first Dolby® Atmos™ film was released in June 2012. Since then, more than 40 films with Dolby Atmos sound have been released or announced. In addition, more than 25 postproduction facilities around the world have installed Dolby Atmos capabilities on their premium soundstages and now have the ability to make Dolby Atmos movies, including Todd-AO in Hollywood.

Below is a conversation with Todd-AO chief engineer Steve Bartkowicz and Iron Man 3 supervising sound editor Mark Stoeckinger from Soundelux, who, along with Todd-AO rerecording mixers Michael Keller and Mike Prestwood Smith, created the Dolby Atmos mix at Todd-AO’s Stage 1 in Hollywood.

Lab Notes: How does Dolby Atmos change the way that you work?

Steve Bartkowicz (SB): The collaboration process between our mixers, sound designers, and sound editors has become exponentially more detailed as Dolby Atmos has supplied us with a completely new sonic landscape.

In addition to traditional processes, we now discuss the planning and layout, the vertical-height z axis, size of each sound “object,” and even the exact placement of each sound in the room.

Lab Notes: Iron Man 3 marked your first time working with Dolby Atmos. What was that like?

Mark Stoeckinger (MS): We knew that there would be the opportunity to move sound effects around the room, such as when Iron Man flies, but what we soon discovered was the extra clarity given to the music by imaging it more in the room. This was a huge contributing factor as much as anything in providing clarity to the track.

Lab Notes: Does Dolby Atmos influence your workflow?

SB: During the Iron Man 3 mix, the crew initially created the 7.1 and 5.1 theatrical print masters in the traditional manner. But we are currently strategizing a workflow plan that would enable us to monitor and mix within Dolby Atmos while being able to easily switch into the rendered 7.1 and 5.1 versions. This would greatly expedite the process.

Lab Notes: What was the biggest surprise in working with Dolby Atmos?

MS: The biggest surprise was what could be done spreading out the music, playing percussion in the entire room or steering parts of the orchestra overhead. Clarity was our newfound friend.

Lab Notes: What creative opportunities does Dolby Atmos offer your sound designers and mixers?

SB: Dolby Atmos has changed the game. It has hugely expanded the parameters of film mixing, giving our creative staff a greater set of tools to help our filmmakers tell their story.

We are no longer pinned to the screen, as the forward-mounted wall surrounds and overheads allow sound to smoothly transition off of the screen to create ambiences and new musical boundaries, clearing the way for dialogue and onscreen effects.

The sound community has seen experimental multichannel sound systems come and go over the past few years, but the staff at Todd-AO and Soundelux is very excited that Dolby has deployed the pinnacle of theatrical sound systems out to the public.

Lab Notes: Is Dolby Atmos best for big blockbuster movies like Iron Man 3?

MS: We found ourselves saying that every film—regardless of its genre—should be experienced in Dolby Atmos. Having full range surrounds and the ability to play sounds overhead creates an experience no other film–sound system can touch.

Learn more about Dolby Atmos for content creators.