UPDATED SEPTEMBER 17, 2013
The death of our company’s founder, Ray Dolby, has understandably made the last couple of days difficult here at Dolby Laboratories. But it has been gratifying to see the tremendous respect and recognition that journalists and film professionals have for the accomplishments of the man whom Dolby employees knew through the years simply as “Ray.”
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Sam Whiting called Dr. Dolby “the inventor who took the hiss out of the soundtrack of our lives. … When the words ‘Sound by Dolby’ flashed on the screen, it meant you would be hearing the purest possible sound, and that it would be surrounding you from all sides.’’
Whiting’s story quotes acclaimed directors George Lucas (creator of Star Wars and the Indiana Jones series) and Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, Invasion of the Body Snatchers).
“Ray’s pioneering work in sound played a pivotal role in allowing Star Wars to be the truly immersive experience I had always dreamed it would be,” Lucas said. “Not only was he an inventor with a passion for the art of sound, but that passion was combined with an incredible technical understanding of the science behind it all.”
“Dolby’s work changed the way movies were made, because sound became a powerful artistic element, and you could do things with sound that had never been done before,” Kaufman said.
“Back then there was a line of demarcation,” he said, “and if you knew you were going to see a movie with Dolby sound, you knew you were going to have an added treat.”
BD and AD
Forbes quoted Oscar-winning film editor Walter Murch speaking at a 2012 ceremony that honored Dr. Dolby: “You could divide film sound in half: there is BD, Before Dolby, and there is AD, After Dolby.”
“Studios [in the 1960s] were using the same sound technology as Gone with the Wind, 35 years earlier,” Murch told the New York Times. The introduction of Dolby noise reduction and surround sound was “like going from black and white film to three-dimensional color high definition,” he said. “That’s probably exaggerated, but not much.”
The New York Times report also quotes Sid Ganis, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who recalled the effect of Dolby technology on the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind: “The sound of the spaceship knocked the audience on its rear with the emotional content. That was created by the director, but provided by the technology that Ray Dolby invented.”
“Ray Dolby was an inventor whose passion for better sound influenced the evolution of several industries,” according to the obituary in the Wall Street Journal.
“Hollywood sound engineers aren’t the only ones who owe a debt of gratitude to Ray Dolby,” Caitlin Dewey wrote in the Washington Post. “Whether you realize it or not, his inventions have for years quietly shaped how, and what, you hear.”
Impact on Cinema
Variety quoted two prominent experts in movie sound: Wylie Stateman, co-founder of the postproduction sound company Soundelux, and Michael Minkler, lead rerecording mixer at Todd-AO.
Stateman said Dr. Dolby “created a worldwide standard of quality and form that really improved the whole sound experience for the general audience in films across the world.”
Minkler pointed to the use of Dolby Stereo® technology on the 1977 soundtrack of Star Wars. “Star Wars changed sound forever. That was the pivotal moment in movie sound. … If Ray Dolby’s inventions had never happened, [the mix for Star Wars] could not have happened.”
On Gizmodo, Mario Aguilar wrote that Dr. Dolby will “be remembered as the man who made the movies sound as spectacular as they look.”
For a thorough look at the history of Dolby technology in films, take a look at “Landmarks in Dolby Stereo films,” by David Morgan of CBS News.
Consumer Electronics Association President and CEO Gary Shapiro released this tribute: “The consumer technology industry has lost a true legend and pioneering visionary. Dr. Dolby exemplified the innovative spirit our association champions. He founded and built one of the most successful companies in the world, forever changing how we listen to music, movies, and television. His legacy lives on each time we marvel at and are moved by the amazing clarity and immersive sound of our audio and video entertainment.”
Despite the accolades and accomplishments, though, those who knew Dr. Dolby personally remembered him as a humble, unassuming man who was most interested in solving problems. Martin Porter, executive director of the Sports Video Group, told a story of how Dr. Dolby helped him when he was a struggling young reporter. Porter’s story concludes: “That was Ray Dolby—a decent, regular guy. He was just another engineer who woke up in the morning, put on his pants one leg at a time, and then went to work to make the world a better sounding place.”