Gravity in Atmos and 3D

Last month I went to see the movie, Gravity, in Dolby Atmos and 3D.   The TV trailer doesn’t give you many clues or spoilers (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are in space! They run into trouble!)  but I promise you it is worth the watch.

Dolby Atmos is a newer type of surround sound where the speakers actually line the theater, and sounds can also go above you, essentially creating a ‘realistic’ soundscape to enhance your experience.  (This is opposed to a setup like 5.1 Surround, where the where there are 6 speakers: center, left, right, left surround, right surround, and a sub woofer.)  Theaters with Atmos capability are starting to pop up, and when I found out that the Showplace Icon in St. Louis Park (just outside of the Twin Cities) now has Atmos, I knew I needed to go see something in Atmos as soon as possible.

I admit I had a few reservations about going to Gravity.  The theater was only offering it in 3D if you wanted to see it in Atmos, and I have never been a huge fan of 3D (especially the kind where you wear the shutter glasses-those give me a headache!).  To me it seemed like a big novel trend, and not really worth my time.  Also, I’m so used to binge-watching entire television series on Netflix that I wondered if an hour and a half was really worth the 14 bucks I would spend; however, my Facebook friends convinced me that it would be.

Of course, the feature I was really interested in exploring was Atmos.  The thing about sound design is that if it’s good, the audience shouldn’t even think about it.  If you do notice the sound it is likely because it is bad or off in some way.  I tried to pay attention to it , and focus in on qualities of Atmos that would sound different from regular 5.1 surround.  Most noticeable was the vocal panning.  In one scene, George Clooney was off the screen to audience right, and you heard his voice come from that direction, but as he floated towards the middle where Sandra Bullock was, you heard his voice move smoothly around from the right to the center when he got on screen.   While it seems obvious, this is actually very different from a normal film sound where the vocals are mainly panned to the center (and maybe slightly to the left or right).  The idea is that you should hear his voice as you would if he really were floating around you.  This was a little distracting but I can’t honestly tell if it was distracting in a bad way.  I think it was distracting because it’s new and different.  In film or television, we are so used to the dialog being panned to the center (or even hearing actors impossibly clearly when they are far away from the camera), so it will be interesting to see if this changes our perception of “normal”; if film dialog techniques change into more realistic panning with Atmos.

The other distraction was Mission Control – it was difficult to say what they were trying to do there.  You heard a sort of radio voice of Mission Control, but it seemed to revolve around my head, and I didn’t really understand where the sound was coming from.  (Was it in the astronaut’s helmets?  Or maybe revolving to represent that they were on earth while the space station was revolving?)  I basically ended up accepting it and ignoring it, but I would have to see it again to figure it out.

Besides Atmos effects, it was interesting what they did with treating the sound in space, since you can’t actually hear sound in space.  The film makers did take some artistic license, because the movie isn’t soundless.  For example, when the astronauts are working outside the space station, you still hear sounds of the tools working on the ship.  They sound very muffled, like they are underwater.  We discussed this in my Sound Engineering class, and one theory was that while you can’t hear the sounds, but you might feel the vibrations in your space suit, so perhaps the sound designer was trying to convey that.   I looked into it, and at least two astronauts have said that you do not hear sounds on your spacewalks, except for what is in your headset, your breathing, and your spacesuit sounds.  While you wouldn’t actually hear sounds in space, this isn’t too distracting, unless you are a killjoy and demand that No Sounds Should Be Heard!  But that would make for a pretty boring movie.

Gravity ended up being one of the most intense hour-and-a-half movie-going experiences I have had, at least in a long time.  The sound design and the 3D made the already intense film more intense.   It wasn’t too long or too short, and it effectually conveyed to me the feelings of what it might be like emotionally (if not factually) to be in such a situation of trying to survive alone in space, with tons of space junk flying past you.  For what it’s worth, the 3D effects surprisingly worked well for me for this film (especially for floating objects in the space stations-it’s like you are there! up in space!), and the RealD glasses didn’t give me a headache. :)

Gravity is still playing around the Twin Cities, although I do not know if the St. Louis Park Icon theater is still showing it in Atmos.  However, here is a list of upcoming (and past films) that are in Atmos.

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10 Things You Can’t Tell Just by Looking At Me

Hey there.  We haven’t properly met.  My name is Jennilee Park, and I am currently a student at the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis.   I’ve been going to IPR part-time for the past year, studying Sound Design for Visual Media.   Basically, I’m becoming an Audio Engineer but instead of mostly recording bands, I will mostly record sound effects, dialog, and make music for films, TV, and commercials.

The current trend on Facebook is to list a bunch of things about yourself, and when someone ‘likes’ it, you give them a number and they have to write that number of things about themselves on their own page.  I thought I would do that here:

1.  Whenever I see a dog (the fluffier the better!)  I gasp and say “PUPPY!”  I especially do this around my husband, Kyle.  Someday he’ll get sick of that and will get me one, right?

2.  I love lists.  Currently, Kyle and I are trying to watch all of the Hitchcock films and AFI top 100 films*.  We have a Minneapolis restaurant list and we are trying to find the “best” of: pizza, wings, sushi, burgers, tea, beer, etc.  We have a list of all of the places we want to travel.  If you talk to us on any given weekend, we are probably crossing off something on our list.

3.  I have officially accomplished my personal goal of learning to like seafood!  I’m pretty sure I have eaten more seafood in the past year than I have in my entire life.  In fact, I even tried octopus a few weeks ago and I liked it.  (I was not afraid, thanks to watching Master Chef Junior!)

4.  I collect mugs.  Actually, drinking vessels.  There are only two people in our house, but we probably have enough drinking vessels for a party of 60.  Ridiculous.

5.  I knit and crochet.  Currently I’m working on a hat.

6.  Speaking of knitting, I always get wild ideas of making Christmas presents for people.  It is not unusual for me to be up all night on Christmas Eve finishing everyone’s presents.

7. I have a degree in music from a small college near KC. I sang in the choir, played the French Horn in the band and orchestra, and mostly wrote a lot of papers about music. The highlight was spending a year studying music in Oxford, UK, and I would go back in a heartbeat. (Maybe they’ll hire me to work on Downton Abbey?!)

8. When I was in 5th grade, I got into a girl’s choral group, and on our first tour we went all the way to Sioux City Iowa. Since then, I have traveled throughout the Midwest, part of the East/East Coast, some of the South, California, Winnipeg, and Europe all for various music group tours. Pretty good stuff for not being a professional or being in a rock band.

9. This year I joined the volunteer audio tech team at church. I was at a gathering of the worship and tech volunteers, and one woman said, “Oh, I heard there was a cool audio chick on the sound team.” Cool audio chick?  I’ll take it!

10. A long time ago I saw a feature about the Foley recording on Pixar’s Ratatoille. It dawned on me that of course there are various jobs on film and TV that need people to work on sound. When I noticed that IPR offered a sound design degree, I decided that this was for me…

That’s all for now!

*Regardless of the Hollywood factor, it has it’s merits.  Many of the films on the list were chosen for historical significance or for the contributions they made to film technology in general.