The 20th anniversary re-release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles pushed the boundaries of cinema sound with a live 5.1 mix of recorded and live soundtrack material. The film, restored by director Steven Spielberg, includes a re-mastered soundtrack, but for the gala charity premier Universal Pictures brought in Oscar-winning composer John Williams to conduct the orchestral score live. With Spielberg and many of the movie’s actors attending the event at the 6000-capacity venue, Russell Allen, exhibitor support manager for Dolby Laboratories, considered redundancy a key issue. Allen, who was brought onto the project by Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment nearly four months prior to the screening, ensured sound and picture continuity by installing multiple, redundant systems in a booth erected on the upper balcony especially for the show.
“You want to minimize the risk as much as possible,” avers Allen, who oversaw the complex film projection and playback setup. A primary and a backup projector, each running a Dolby Digital 5.1 film print, provided synchronization for the main and redundant soundtrack systems. A mag machine delivered the primary 6-track dialog and effects stems, while a pair of TASCAM MMR-8 digital recorders in sync with each projector offered backup of the dialog and effects stems as well as the music tracks. The composite 5.1 music, dialog, and effects tracks from each projector were available for additional backup.
In total, seven sets of six audio tracks from the projectors, mag machine, and TASCAM units were fed via a primary and backup InnovaSON Stage Box in the booth to an InnovaSON Grand Live digital console at front of house. The live 5.1 orchestral mix brought the total number of console inputs to 48.
At the InnovaSON, Andy Nelson, an Oscar-winning film re-recording mixer (Saving Private Ryan) and VP of recording services at FOX Studios in Los Angeles, blended the 5.1 mag tracks with the 6-channel live orchestra mix, which was created backstage by veteran film scoring mixer Shawn Murphy.
Nelson says he was pleased with the choice of console, which offered total control not only of the live mix, but also the redundant tracks. “I did a very minor EQ shift into the dialog areas just to try and get a little bit of the upper-mid range out,” he explains. “A big feature of the InnovaSON that I loved was that we were able to group all the lefts, all the centers, and all the rights together under the EQ. So when I did my trim to the center dialog channel, it took it out of all the backup tracks, too.”
Murphy, an Oscar winner for Jurassic Park and the scoring mixer for many Academy Award-winning soundtracks, created the 5.1 orchestral mix on a Yamaha PM1D situated in a makeshift studio at the side of the Shrine’s stage. Sony Music Studios in New York were contracted to record the event for future release, and provided the bulk of Murphy’s recording equipment.
The 80 orchestra microphones, many of which were purchased especially for the premier [see sidebar], were passed via Millennia, Grace, Boulder, and GML mic preamps to Murphy’s room. The string microphones were submixed on several Studer 900 Series consoles and all orchestra lines then fed dual iZ Technologies RADAR 48-track hard disk recorders. All the lines were split to Murphy’s PM1D and to Fred Vogler, located stage left, who provided 12 separate mixes to 100 headsets for Williams and the musicians from a Midas Heritage 3000 console.
The PM1D served as a monitor console for the 48 tracks, says Murphy, who listened to the mix on a combination of B&W Nautilus and Genelec speakers. “We basically used aux sends for the surrounds and an aux send for the boom, and panned the front LCR. Through the Audient monitor box were able to listen to both the 5.1 return from Andy and the 5.1 from my console.”
The 5.1-channel sound reinforcement system for the premier was provided by Delicate Productions. System designer and engineer Lyle Dick supplied three clusters of ten Adamson Y-Axis Y10 line array cabinets, powered by Crown VZ5000 amplifiers, which were flown behind the movie screen to handle the LCR channels. Four Martin BSX bass bins delivered the LFE with Apogee AE 5’s throughout the auditorium, handling the surrounds.
A network of five BSS Soundwebs placed around the room networked through CAT 5 cable handled system signal processing, delay, and EQ. According to Dick, that “allowed us to remove all output drive racks. We had quite a complex loudspeaker system, and we didn’t have to try to jam racks of EQ and delay up in the booth.”
Commenting on the show, Murphy says, “It was a one-of-a-kind event. Unfortunately, because of practicality and expense, it’s not the kind of thing you can do every day, but it’s quite an interesting and exciting way to present a picture.”