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Formosa Group Brings Dolby Atmos to the Home

“If I’m restoring a film, I adopt the attitude of, ‘How might the filmmakers had done it if they had Atmos tools at the time?’” Formosa's Tim Hoogenakker explains.

This story, sponsored by Dolby, appeared in the September 2018 issue of Mix magazine.

The roots of the Formosa Group, the hugely successful independent audio post-production collective that has seen meteoric rise in the past four years, with expansion into Hollywood and Burbank, the construction of multiple re-recording stages, and the assembly and representation of A-level editors and mixers, lie in the former POP Sound studios in Santa Monica.

From its opening in 1984 as a visual effects and audio post house, POP Sound worked on commercials, television and film, while always maintaining an affinity for the remastering and restoration of legacy films for the home, updated for new delivery formats. The advent of Dolby Digital 5.1 and the emergence of DVD, then Blu-ray, proved a bonanza for the company. Not because they were there first, but because they had the technology and the skills, led by the late, great Ted Hall.

Dolby Atmos: The Business and the Technology, by Steve Harvey, July 9, 2018

In 2013, then-owner Empire Holdings shuttered the company and facilities; the following year Formosa Group took over the studios, remodeled the common areas, added a commercials division and a few more editing suites, then updated the main stages to Dolby Atmos for the home, installing a Meyer Sound Acheron 90 monitor system and Avid S6 console. The talented Tim Hoogenakker picked up the mantle of re-recording mixer, and the legacy of delivering high-quality content to the home continued, updated to immersive and streaming and sound bars and downmixes.

“When I started doing 5.1 in the late ’90s, I remember specifically that filmmakers and sound people were saying 5.1 was a gimmick and would never take off in the home,” Hoogenakker says. “Meanwhile, we were getting busier and busier as clients were asking for it. It never stopped. Now with Atmos, the clients are again asking for it. It’s here, and it’s working. The clients want it and it hasn’t slowed down.”

Hoogenakker and Formosa were early adopters and early providers, with the high-profile Game of Thrones in Dolby Atmos on Blu-ray spurring a run of other titles, from major films like Hunger Games and Ghostbusters, to music films such as the Eric Clapton Crossroads special from Madison Square Garden to the upcoming Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus. All in Dolby Atmos for the Home.

With Netflix now requiring Dolby Atmos mixes as a deliverable, and with announcements sure to come soon from Hulu, Apple, Amazon and a host of others, it appears there is a market both for original and legacy content.

Ott House Goes All-In with Dolby Atmos, by Tom Kenny, Aug. 7, 2018

“If I’m restoring a film, I adopt the attitude of, ‘How might the filmmakers had done it if they had Atmos tools at the time?’” Hoogenakker explains. “Sometimes we are fortunate to get the filmmakers help if they’re still around. I did Ghostbusters like that, and Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The Henson folks were involved and we got really deep into seeing what we could do. It turned out really well, and it was fun.

“I definitely like to fill in the space in an Atmos mix and give everything depth,” he continues. “I know a lot of people mixing immersive concentrate on panning vehicles and guns and car-bys. For me, it’s more about ambiences and backgrounds and music and things like that. Helicopters are fun, don’t get me wrong! But you have to pay attention to panning when dealing with downmixes to the home. There certain rules to follow, and as long as you don’t stray too far from them, it works great. If you don’t know where a pan is going in the downmix, you might find out the hard way. You just have to keep mixing and checking your mixes to learn where it will end up downstream.”

Lately, Hoogenakker says, he has seen an increase in demand for music projects, whether live concerts on video or legacy feature films. He recently worked with Capitol on a Dolby Atmos theatrical and home mix for 1968’s Rock & Roll Circus and the Clapton benefit concert from Madison Square, where he got to play with a range of audience mics to open up the space and give the music depth.

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“It’s not so much about the instrumentation being panned all over the place, like a conga in the left surround,” he says. “It can get disconnected. But if you’re playing with the space, you can pull keyboard pads all around you, the more atmospheric things. Obviously, there is a stage in front of you but you get a chance to create a different type of depth, even with picture anchored in front of you.”

“I think of an Atmos mix almost like a balloon. You’re filling this space, and whether it’s a big balloon in the theater or a small balloon at home, you’re coming from the same point. It’s an exciting time, and with what Netflix has announced, and the coming of streaming, it’s going to really take off. But like I say, it’s here right now, and it works great.”

Formosa Group •

Dolby Atmos •

This story, sponsored by Dolby, appeared in the September 2018 issue of Mix magazine.