Magazine article American Cinematographer

THE 20th CENTURY-FOX "SOUND 360" SYSTEM

Magazine article American Cinematographer

THE 20th CENTURY-FOX "SOUND 360" SYSTEM

Article excerpt

A new "total-surround" sound system that places members of the audience at the center of a screen situation and exposes them from all sides to the various sound elements they would hear in the true-life situation

What more appropriate place to discuss a new sound system than in the lobby of a motion picture theater? That's exactly how it all started-in the lobby of a Westwood Village theater during a "Sneak Preview" of a Twentieth Century-Fox film.

We were in production on a new science-fiction film titled "DAMNATION ALLEY". The action of the film takes place after an atomic War and depicts the journey of a small group of survivors across the United States in a specially designed military craft called the Landmaster, in search of additional survivors of the holocaust. It deals with visual atmospheric conditions, mutations, storms and, in general, is a rather bizarre high adventure filled with abnormalities.

A good deal of discussion was under way regarding the visual effects to be done for the film and it was felt that a specialized type of sound was also desirable in order to enhance the drama. Some existing systems were being considered, as well as one or two relatively new systems which were being offered at the time.

I had often wondered why no one had ever fully developed the sound sensation created by Cinerama, which I remembered as having been quite effective as it curved across the front of the theater-which brings me to the lobby of the Westwood Village theater.

Ted Soderberg, one of our leading rerecording mixers at Fox, as well as throughout the industry, and I were chatting about the film being previewed that night and talking of sound in general when I hit him with the thought I had been carrying around. For years we have been wasting two of the five speakers behind the screen in most 70mm houses. Why couldn't we pull two of them back into the audience, put them on the right and left wall, combine the normal surround speakers into one on the rear wall and circle the audience with sound, pulling them into the picture? This would be unlike the normal surround signal we have been accustomed to in conventional 6-track or 4-track pictures, which give a general filling out of effects or music, using one channel of signal and reproducing it through multiple speakers. My thought was to deliver separate, distinct sounds, reproducing them independently from the four walls, through speakers of similar quality as those behind the screen.

The sound could be reproduced with total separation or in a combined technique, using any combination of speakers. It sounded simple to me and seemed like a much more sensible way to use six channels of sound. In fact, if it could be made to work with six, why not with the standard four-channel? After all, more theaters are equipped with four-track than six-track. …

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