Soundelux Florida's multi-channel surround-sound system
Date: April, 1996
By: Mel Lambert
Today's consumers expect their next experience to be better than the last one; movies now need fresh visual effects to keep our attention, with multi-channel sound to match. And as Hollywood battles to keep movie audiences delighted with its latest offerings, a growing number of theme-park attractions are vying for their attention - and entrance fees.
Universal Studios, Florida, has been in the forefront of this recent development towards bigger and better attractions. With access to a wide range of movie-based themes, including the highly popular "Back to the Future - The Ride," "Earthquake: The Big One," " E.T. Adventure," "Jaws," and "Kongfrontation," the Orlando-based complex has become a firm favorite with tourists from around the world. (Incidentally, the motion picture /TV production studio and theme park is a $650 million joint venture between MCA and Rank Organization PLC.)
And just when even the most jaundiced sensation-seeker might have wondered what could top some of these state-of-the-art rides and attractions, this summer sees the unveiling of what many insiders are coming to regard as possibly the most sensational multi-media events yet to be staged in this or any other dimension.
T2-3DAfter nearly four years of behind-the-scenes activities in both Orlando and Hollywood, Universal Studios this summer will be unveiling "Terminator 2: 3D," a $60 million attraction that utilizes the latest in digital imaging technology to catapult the audience into the center of three-dimensional action alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. The production combines the filmed pyrotechnics of award-winning director James Cameron with live-action stage stunts; with multi-channel sound for added realism, the combination is described as "A futuristic thriller whose theatrical sleight-of-sight promises to boggle the mind." Indeed.
"We wanted to do something spectacular," says Cameron, whose films (including "True Lies," "The Terminator," "The Abyss," "Aliens" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day") have earned him a reputation for the larger than life visions. "There is an enhanced sense of reality that comes from the high-resolution 65 mm film format we chose, mixed with the illusion of depth offered by 3-D. Combined with the live action, it's very immersive."
"The payoff for this presentation is double," offers Academy Award-winning special-effects illusionist Stan Winston. "This is the continuation of an epic - and it is in 3-D - so it will be seen in a way it's never been seen before. Audiences may know the saga, but they have never experienced it like this!"
"Terminator 2: 3-D" was produced by MCA/Universal Studios and Digital Domain, the LA-based visual effects house and digital production facility owned jointly by Cameron, Winston, IBM and company president/CEO Scott Ross, former head of Industrial Light and Magic. Landmark Entertainment provided planning and development.
Combination of live-action adventure and computer-generated 3D animation
Making good on his "I'll be back" promise, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the Terminator turned good-guy. Taking its story cue from the movie "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," the new 13-minute film re-unites Schwarzenegger with former colleague John Connor (played by Eddie Furlong) in a new adventure that advances the film's futuristic premise. This time, the duo is time-traveling to a world controlled by robots, where they take on Skynet and its army of mechanical killing machines known as "Terminators." The dateline is Los Angeles in the year 2029; if the team can topple Skynet they'll prevent a devastating future war, ensuring the safety of future generations. Also reprising their roles are actor Robert Patrick as the polymorphous T-1000, and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. The three-act portion of the show is augmented by a 6 1/2-minute pre-show, which helps prepare and inform the audience waiting in line for the extravaganza to come.
Using high-speed networked computers, the attraction's creators have pulled out all the stops to conjure an apocalyptic vision of the future. New creatures have been created exclusively for the venue, including the malevolent T-1,000,000. Utilizing custom-enhanced software, the computer-generated T-Meg (as this new creature is familiarly known) was designed for maximum impact within a new 700-seat auditorium created to house the show.
Additionally, a fleet of "mini-Hunter-Killers" takes to the air during the presentation. Scaled to approximately 12 inches in diameter, the three-dimensional probes buzz in and out of the three, 23- by 50-foot screens, darting through the theater. "The mini-HKs will be a lot of fun for the audience," Cameron offers. "Kids will try to reach out and touch them."
In addition to state-of-the-art 3D technology and computer-generated effects, the new Universal presentation uses live actors and an in-theater set that incorporates the 700-member audience into the action. Transition sequences proved the trickiest elements for the three-act show, requiring split-second timing to seamlessly combine stunt actors emerging from trap doors in the stage and projection screens, with filmed elements that include their own special effects. A complex series of theatrical rigging line sets, motors and controllers, custom-designed by Scenic Technologies, fly scenery in and out on cue. (Scenic Technologies worked on "Miss Saigon," "The Phantom of the Opera," and many Broadway theatrical productions.) "Working out timings for the screen-to-live elements was our biggest challenge," recalls producer Chuck Comisky. "There are so many variables in a live show, while the movie part is essentially locked in, yet somehow we have to ensure it all works together - every time."
Enveloping Surround-Sound Design for "T2-3D" by Soundelux Florida
Very early during the planning and pre-production phases for "Terminator 2: 3D" it was realized that sound would play a very strong part in enveloping the audience within the on-screen and live-action graphics. As on previous occasions, Universal turned to Soundelux Florida, a company with a wide range of hands-on experience in both sound-system engineering and sound design for large-scale presentations.
The firm is comprised of two inter-related divisions that can handle all aspects of design and installation of theme parks and special venue attractions, as well as interactive multimedia, feature films and TV. The Orlando-based organization is part of InterMedia Partners, Inc., which also includes the world-famous Soundelux Hollywood, an organization that has provided editorial and sound design services for a wide variety of award-winning movies (including a 1996 Oscar for sound-effects editing on "Braveheart").
Two of the partners in Soundelux Florida are brothers: Anthony and John Miceli. "Tony was responsible for the sound-design and mixing chores on the 'T2-3D' project," John Miceli explains. "My role was primarily concerned with the design and installation of the sound system at the theater. But, in reality, these designations turned out to be pretty arbitrary; both of us were heavily involved in the early planning and design stages, and we both worked at the mixing console during the intricate series of pre-dubs and mixing sessions."
John Miceli recalls that from the very beginning stages, some two years ago, the Soundelux team realized that the T2-3D attraction was going to be a demanding assignment. "The combination of on-screen action, live actors moving to pre-recorded dialog tracks and some of the most impressive visual effects you are likely to come across meant that we needed to fully integrate sound with the images." The Soundelux team that worked on "T2-3D" included Vince Caglianone, Topper Sowden, Rich Wagner, Jeff Barnhart and Keith Kolbo.
T2-3D's final design of the audience area involved three, large-format screens with two, fully automated 65 mm Iwerks projectors per screen. The three interlinked screens stretch in a 180-degrees arc in front of the audience, and enclose a large stage area. For its climatic third act, the attraction opens up from a single, 50-foot center screen to simultaneous projection on three screens, arranged at 60-degree angles to envelope the audience. Spanning 165-feet, T2-3D is considered to be the world's largest three-dimension installation, and the first to use the triple-screen setup.
"With such a large area to cover, and a large seating capacity," John Miceli offers, "we realized that we were going to need a lot of loudspeaker channels to ensure sound localization across the screen and performance stages.
"In the end, we came up with a design that includes 24 discrete playback channels from our Otari RADAR hard-drive system, feeding via a Peavey Media Matrix computer-based level and assignment matrix the various loudspeaker channels." In addition to the array of loudspeaker located behind the various projection screens, as can be seen from the accompanying diagram, speaker channels were also positioned behind and above the audience; a separate sub-woofer channel is also provide for non-localized, low-frequency information.
Three behind-the-screen locations per screen are augmented by three upper locations; the exception is the center screen which, because of a door area through with emerges Schwarzenegger's character astride a custom built Harley Davidson motorcycle, lacks the back-of-the-screen cabinet. Three speakers located in the rear of the auditorium - left, right and a summed central array - are augmented by nine overhead clusters arrayed in banks of three identical lines across the depth of the seating area.
The individual loudspeaker arrays are comprised of Soundelux' proprietary SDX Theater System cabinets, which house a variety of EAW and McCauley drivers powered by Crest amplifiers. Design of the SDX systems was a collaborative effort between Soundelux Florida, Topper Sowden, EAW and Tom McCauley. All crossover assignments and signal processing for the multi-way speaker arrays is achieved in the PC-based Media Matrix frame, which provides separate, computer-programmable outputs for each individual cabinet system. A total of 90 speaker cabinets were supplied for the T2-3D project, including 21 kW of subwoofers. The Media Matrix system also controls the individual delays and EQ setting for the overhead and surround systems, as well as playback assignments for the various audience entrance/exit line announcements and pre-show soundtrack.
"We elected to use basically six cabinet arrays per screen, " John Miceli considers, "to provide discrete directionality for members of the audience seated in different areas. This way we can ensure that everybody in the audience will look to the same area of the screen, or the live-action arena, whenever something new happens. With less speakers, we felt that we couldn't guarantee an even, consistent sound-location pattern throughout the audience, which would have dramatically reduced the impact of this show!"
Building the Show Soundtrack through Intricate Pre-Dubs
With such a complex combination of 3-D film and live action, designing the pre-recorded soundtrack presented a major challenge to Soundelux. And, as Tony Miceli explains, it was one that required a number of film-style predubs prior to the final marathon re-recording session in the show arena.
"Early on in the project we realized that to ensure a realistic-sounding playback we needed to pre-record everything," he recalls, "and then remix the multitrack masters to the action. In other words, we looked upon the project more like preparation of a major motion-picture soundtrack, rather than a simple theatrical performance. But, given our background in editorial and sound design for motion pictures, as well as our previous experience with close to 100 major rides and attractions, we were more that able to accommodate these needs."
And, given the exact timings involved during the production with an on-screen Schwarzenegger character transitioning to a live actor riding out into the audience, plus live actors triggering animatronic playback during the robotics scenes, it was considered essential to predub and mix the entire soundtrack in the actual auditorium.
After examining all of the available mixer options, Soundelux selected a 96-input Euphonix CS2000F console equipped with a custom-developed panning section. In this way, the engineering crew in Orlando could assign the output of any post-fader signal to a variety of speaker locations, and also move sound sources dynamically across the entire auditorium, to accurately match filmed and live-action sections of the production. The Euphonix CS2000F, which allows all switch, rotary and fader controls to be scanned and stored as either static SnapShots, or as Total Automation dynamic mix data against time code, was also equipped with a Dynamics and Filter Package that enables a compressor-limiter, de-esser, expander, noise gate and similar functions to be made available on a per-channel basis.
"We were also fortunate to receive copies of some of Gary Rydstrom's original sound effects [used to produce the "Terminator 2" movie soundtrack], as well as new Foley and dialog tracks," Tony Miceli recalls. Soundelux Hollywood also developed a series of innovative sound-effects elements for new characters that appear in the T2-3D production. A new music score was also prepared by Brad Fidel, who developed music for "Terminator 2," and premixed in the auditorium.
"Because of the complexity of the final mix, and the number of sound elements we'd generated for the production, we decided to premix the ADR, Foley, effects and music tracks to interlocked [Tascam] DA-88s. We ended up with 24 tracks of screen ADR [on three DA-88s];24 Foley/background tracks that were produced by [Soundelux Hollywood co-owner] Wylie Stateman at our Signet Sound facility [in Los Angeles]; two sets of 24 tracks of sound effects; and 24 tracks of music. Outputs from each of these premix DA-88s - 15 in all - were then equalized and remixed to prepare the final 24-channel master mix, which we laid onto three more synchronized DA-88s."
Effects units used during the final mixes included eight Lexicon 480XLs, which allowed discrete effects to be generated for different speaker banks, plus Eventide H3000 and H3500 processors, and a Lexicon PCM-70. After everybody involved in the project was happy with that final mix, it was transferred to the Otari RADAR hard-disk system for playback at the venue.
"We were working with a mixture of mono and stereo elements," Tony Miceli continues, "together with field recordings. We predubbed to a combination of live actors in rehearsal, and videotaped playback. To say the least, it was complex process!" Other members of the Soundelux production crew included Greg Baxter, ADR supervisor ("Because of the noisy set," Tony Miceli recalls," we had to loop everything; also the 65 mm 3D cameras are noisy!); Pete Lehman, lead sound designer; Brian McPhasor, Jeff Largant and Rick Morris, sound effects; Neil Anderson, dialog supervisor; Pat Sellars, Foley editor; and Elizabeth Kurtz, production coordinator.
Custom Euphonix Surround-Sound Panning System
Because of its dual-input topology, the Euphonix CS2000F console enables a total of 192 inputs to be handled simultaneously. "There was nothing else out there that we could use for such a complex predubbing and mixing sequence," Tony Miceli concedes. "And Euphonix were very much into working with us during the project; that cooperation made setting up our system in Orlando much easier - the company even sent down an engineer [Philip Blackford] to assist on the mixing sessions."
Euphonix president Scott Silfvast also became personally involved in the T2-3D project, to the extent of helping develop a series of enhanced panning functions for the CS2000F. "Via external MIDI-based joysticks," Silfvast explains, "we were able to locate a sound source anywhere within the auditorium, and steer it to any of the discrete loudspeaker channels via the console's 24 output busses. We developed specific pan software to match the orientation and speaker locations of the actual environment being used for the mix."
Using those customized panning laws loaded into the console, a trio of assignable controls within the CS2000F's central Digital Studio Control Module (DSC) can be used to provide surround panning across the front sound stage, and back-front/up-down orientation; a third control is relabeled "Focus," a function that allows the sound localization to be narrow or diffuse, dependent upon what the operator needs to achieve during a mix. Individual channel panning was automated against MIDI using E-Magic Logic 2.5 software, which remaps joystick positions to drive the left/right, up/down and front/back sections of the DSC's assignable pan section.
"For example," Silfvast continues, "we developed a series of 3-5-5-5-3 panning maps that would enable a mono or stereo sound source to be relocated across the width, height and depth of the auditorium." The "3-5-5-5-3" channel designations refer, specifically, to the three central screen speakers; the inner-left and inner-right screen speakers, plus the first row of overheads; the middle-left and -right screen speakers, plus the second row of overheads; the outer left- and -right screen speakers, plus the third row of overheads; and the rear three speaker clusters.
"In this way, the left/right, front/back and up/down pan laws would alter, dependent upon the number of possible output designations, precisely where the sound would be localized within the three-dimensional soundfield," says Silfvast. "The Focus control enables the 'sharpness' of the pan to be altered so that sound can be targeted at a single loudspeaker location fro hard effects, or - as might be the case of a moving 3D sound effect - to be more diffuse across the soundfield, with no real precise source." In this way, a moving sound effects does not appear to jump from speaker to speaker, but to transition seamlessly and move realistically throughout the auditorium.
"In reality," Silfvast points out, "he new Focus control picks up where our normal Divergence control leaves off, and provides much smoother transition for pin-pointing sound sources." In addition, MIDI-based joysticks were set up to allow sound sources to be moved freely, for example, between the speaker arrays located above and behind the central screen.
"We consider that the end result is nothing short of magnificent," reflects John Miceli. "Producing sound for this new Universal attraction has not been without it own unique set of problems - not the least of which is the large number of synchronized sound elements, and the number of loudspeaker sources - but it is one that Tony and I have enjoyed enormously."
This summer's batch of visitors to Orlando will be able to make up their own mind about the extravaganza which, if nothing else, shows that good ol' Yankee Ingenuity is alive and well in Central Florida.
Sidebar: Behind the Scenes: Filming New Sequences for USF's new "2T-3D" Attraction
Live action portions of the 3D film were shot during two weeks at Kaiser Eagle Mountain, an abandoned steel mine in California that was rebuilt to resemble Los Angeles after a nuclear war. More than 100 cars, truck and buses were placed upon the 1 million square-foot location set for use during the extensive explosive sequences. For added authenticity, the background consisted actual rather than mockup buildings. To make sure that the rubble looked just right, production designer John Muto utilized reference materials from the Second World War Blitz of London. Extra materials depicting modern buildings through the phases of destruction were also used "because newer buildings blow up quite differently than old ones," says Muto.
Shot in enhanced-format 65 mm, the film uses moving cameras, a feat virtually unheard of in 3D productions (which involves two cameras simultaneously filming each scene). Despite the fact that each custom-built camera weighs 450 lbs and is about the size of a washing machine, they moved via an elaborate pulley system that could travel at speeds of up to 50 mph. "It allowed us to do some very dramatic shots in what had previously been a very limited format," says Russell Carpenter, director of live-action photography - we could literally fly though explosions." Additional scenes were shot on a Los Angeles sound stage, where a 24- foot miniature of Skynet, Cyberdyne Systems pyramid-shaped headquarters, was fabricated.
All footage from T2-3D - both computerized and live action - has been run through a digital processor, a move that many see as a production wave of the future. "Because we're dealing with images inside a computer, we can adjust the interoccular to minute degrees to determine how far things will come out of the screen," says the project's managing art director, Darren Gilford. "We pushed it as far as it could go, which is basically till your eyeballs almost pop out of your head!"
As the first 3D production to take full advantage of digital technology, "Terminator 2: 3D" is described as exceeding in sophistication any 3D effort that has gone before.