The Dolby Debut

The Dolby Debut

Published: MEA

JBM Studio is single-handedly bringing Dolby Atmos to the GCC for the first time. But is the Middle East ready? Alice Gustafson visits the studio to find out.

It’s official: Dolby Atmos has arrived in the Middle East. Completing the surround sound experience, the technology is fast becoming the industry standard across a range of cinemas; giving audio experts the creative freedom to easily place sound anywhere in the movie theatre, and not just where there happens to be speakers. Introduced in April 2012, Dolby Atmos has since been embraced by all major Hollywood studios, six Academy Award-winning directors and 11 Academy Award-winning sound mixers, among others.

Understandably, cinemas and postproduction sound studios alike are clambering over themselves to get hold of the latest advancements in film sound. One such postproduction facility is Dubai-based JBM Studio, which has just welcomed a brand new Dolby Atmos CP850 cinema processor into its premises. This makes it the first facility in the Middle East to incorporate the new technology.

Set up by French UK-based brothers after a chance opportunity came their way, Benjamin and Julien Monié moved to Dubai eight years ago and have never looked back. ‘I had a friend who was living here and my brother and I decided to make a go of it,’ reflects managing director and co-founder Julien Monié. ‘We had a small studio in London, and it was a difficult environment – a small fish, big pond kind of situation. So we decided to make a go of it here, made an initial small investment and tried our luck!’

You only have to visit the facility to appreciate the effort that has gone into creating this state of the art postproduction environment, amply demonstrated by the lack of reverb and the heavy silence that fills its extensively soundproofed walls.

Boasting support for up to 128 discrete audio tracks and 64 unique speaker feeds, it is easy to understand why Mr Monié welcomes the new processor. In addition to playing back a standard 5.1 or 7.1 mix using arrays, the new addition provides each of JBM Studio’s Reflexion Arts loudspeakers with its own unique feed, enabling precise panning of select sounds. ‘I picked Dolby because I respect the brand and their direction, and I love sound for film. So I put those two things together.’

‘This is a significant milestone and opportunity for JBM, its customers and its partners,’ remarks Mathieu Rouxel, sales manager cinema Middle East, Africa and Pakistan, Dolby Middle East. ‘Dolby Atmos is a new technology and JBM started working on its studio just after the official release. This studio now has the creative freedom to transform storytelling through its approach to sound in cinema.’

Covering all aspects of sound post, from managing location recording, to sound design, recording ADR and then mixing the final product, JBM Studio offers the whole package to local filmmakers. However, while the local construction industry goes from strength to strength, the film market is still relatively new in Dubai – something Mr Monié is all too aware of.

‘This will be the first postproduction studio to incorporate Dolby Atmos in the UAE and the GCC,’ he tells Pro Audio Middle East. ‘So that’s pretty cool. The only thing is, it’s new and the industry around here is very young. For a lot of local filmmakers, there’s no need for Atmos at the moment and 5.1 or 7.1 is plenty. They are doing short films and it’s still difficult enough in 5.1, but I’m trying to tap into the Indian market – which has embraced Dolby Atmos – and see if I can upgrade to 5.1 and 7.1 mixes.’

‘It's true that the cinema production here is smaller in comparison to industries like Hollywood or Bollywood,’ Mr Rouxel admits, ‘but this shows how Dolby Atmos has quickly become the preferred choice for next-generation sound all around the world. So far 85 titles have been announced with Dolby Atmos from 10 different countries, and we are very proud of this.’

Helping the local film production industry grow is big priority for Mr Monié, ‘especially because I want to get more work!’ he laughs. ‘If I can make it so that Dubai is not only an attractive place to come and visit, but also to work, then so be it. And I want to encourage young talent to be here, or else it is no use.’ True to his word, he currently has two interns training at the Media City studio. ‘I want to create local talent so I know where to get the work done once it comes in.’

All at once anticipating and relying on a boom in the local film production market, the success of JBM Studio relies on a combination of reputation, skill, state of the art equipment, and a need for its services.

‘Hopefully there is going to be more talent coming out of here from more confident people,’ nods Mr Monié. ‘If there is some encouragement from my side I know there is a lot of talent just itching to come out. There are a lot of Arabic-speaking people waiting to be heard, and that’s what I want to cater for. I want to be here long enough so that we can tap into that market. If I can impress them in here, then they’ll stay.’

‘Dubai is the hub of the Middle East and we've seen that there are projects in development and a willingness to produce content locally, with a local flavour,’ concurs Mr Rouxel. ‘Studios, directors and exhibitors in the region want to be able to deliver the best cinematic experience ever. We have more and more cinema exhibitors committed and working on their Dolby Atmos screens locally, and we are just at the beginning,’ he grins.

Helping entice the local film industry into its premises is the studio’s inventory, all spec’d by Dolby. The studio itself was designed by independent consultant Philip Newell, who recommended the equipment along with the setup. ‘I followed his recommendation to the tee, and I’m very happy with the result,’ says Mr Monié. ‘It’s a brilliant sounding room and I trust everything that’s installed. So if there’s an issue with the sound I know it’s my fault. I can’t try and blame the speakers!

‘We have two subs in the back of the room that compensate for the lack of bass in the surround speakers, so what they’ve done is quite ingenious as they don’t want people to revamp the whole cinema,’ he says, gesturing to the space behind him. ‘It’s all about using what’s in cinemas and in mixing rooms and upgrading rather than completely revamping.’

Pro Audio Middle East notes that the studio includes studio monitors and subs from Portuguese brand Reflexion Arts, an Avid D Control 16-fader console with a Pro Tools HDX2 system, a TC Electronic TC600 reverb unit and a BSS London EQ/Monitoring matrix and AKG microphones. Tucked away in the machine room are the amps, each speaker with its own a dedicated Class-A component model from Reflexion Arts brand, Neva Audio.

‘Dolby have requirements and I have to match that,’ points out Mr Monié during the studio tour. ‘Once the speakers are placed they have to react the way Dolby expects, and then you create a critical mix area which is where I sit with a client to experience what is going to be heard in the cinema. Technically, I’ve checked all those boxes’.

He needn’t have worried, as Mr Rouxel is keen to point out that ‘the Dolby engineers who supported the installation have said that it is one of the best sounding Dolby Atmos studios they have heard. The room has been designed by a team of professionals, and the installation was carried out in line with our specifications. We had no surprises and the room sounds wonderful.’

The studio has previously received critical acclaim for its audio production and postproduction projects, and JBM can now take full advantage of the benefits that Dolby Atmos has to offer. ‘While Dolby has always been associated with prestigious studio giants such as Technicolor, Paramount or Pinewood Studios, JBM – although smaller – is providing high quality services and are passionate about sound and technology, so it’s been very natural for Dolby to work with JBM,’ he furthers.

As the demand for 3D imagery increases, so does the need for 3D sound to match it. ‘I think that sound has now made a bigger step than picture has,’ Mr Monié asserts. ‘You’re still wearing glasses for the visuals, but sound-wise, you’re in a space. You close your eyes and you get a much bigger feeling than when you’re looking at a 3D picture. Films have really touched on something beautiful with 3D imagery, but in terms of feeling like you’re really in the environment, I think sound has made it there first.’

Bringing Atmos to the Middle East is a big statement, and all the more ambitious when the pioneer is an independent studio relying on a return on investment. ‘It’s like if you’re racing a car; you want to step into the car with the right team,’ muses Mr Monié. ‘I’ve gathered the right bits and bobs, and I think we have a racing team. Now let’s see if there is racing to do!’

Having already worked with an enviable line up of local directors and production companies on an array of projects, including on the cartoon series Freej directed by Mohammed Saeed Harib, with Ali Mustafa, the director of City of Life and with award winning Emirati director Naila Al Khaja, JBM is ready for any upcoming feature films to spring from the region. ‘This is a great time for the industry and the Middle East, and we are very excited to be part of it from the beginning,’ he smiles.

Dolby Atmos has already earned the support of leading studios, directors, sound teams and exhibitors from around the world, and at the time of writing, more than 400 Dolby Atmos screens have been installed or committed to in 33 countries.

‘The first studio in the Middle East to be equipped with Dolby Atmos is a fantastic milestone,’ enthuses Mr Rouxel. ‘Today, cinemas should work on creating the best entertainment experience for the audience, and this is what Dolby Atmos is about. Working with JBM, we want to make Dolby Atmos accessible in the Middle East, and we want filmmakers to be able to deliver the highest quality audio and a new level of experience to the public.’

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