Dolby: Experiential Innovators

Posted on May 24, 2015

A view from the balcony of the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California, on Monday, May 11, 2015. (Photo by David Walter Banks)

After 50 years and counting, Dolby Laboratories continues to lead the charge in innovating the movie-going experience through a blend of video, audio, industrial design and neuroscience. And what could perhaps be considered the current nucleus epitomizing this innovation is housed in a historic aging Hollywood theater adorned with an antiquated marquee, and sandwiched between a strip club, tattoo shop, and a Church of Scientology center. But inside the 24-hour-a-day guarded tiny entrance is a fully renovated state of the art facility that feels more like the deck of a space ship than it does an aging cinema stop. It is in this small theater that many of Hollywood’s elite directors, studio and theater executives are invited to sit in ergonomically designed modern leather chairs beneath the dark angular ceiling devoid of any hint of the equipment delivering all-encompassing sound as the floating screen delivers some of the highest contrast and definition ever delivered to a theater patron.

As someone who is interested in experiences over pretty much anything else other than those I love, I was extraordinarily impressed. Dolby didn’t stop with good sound, or a good image, they looked at reinventing the experience as a whole. Upon entering the theater you are led past illuminated, beautifully flowing digital art with musical accompaniment down a hallway curved just enough to build anticipation of what you cannot see at the end. The theater itself feels like a minimalist dream with each seat angled perfectly to avoid that annoying neck turn, and engineered to receive perfectly balanced sound. These are just a few of the details that make up what I believe could be a salvation for the boring ‘night at the theater’. Something more than a movie – An experience.

And an experience was just what this was for me. Basically one of those assignments where I sit through an interview with 10 seconds here and there to grab a photo as an afterthought. In fact, the first stop on my tour was the historic Oscar hosting Dolby Theater in Hollywood where my access to shoot photos was basically non-existent due to regulations laid down by Fox as they were filming the finale of American Idol. Afterwards the writer and I were shuttled to the secret lab, and while I was thoroughly impressed, a prolonged demonstration of copyrighted material on a screen surrounded by pitch black was not exactly a photographer’s dream.

That said, I didn’t sweat it at any point. A younger me would have cursed under my breath every second I was there with no opportunity to shoot a photo. Fortunately I have reminded myself enough times to ingrain it in my brain that experience matters more. So instead I enjoyed the tour, interjected to ask questions of my own, and soaked in what to me was a beautiful union of technology and emotive experience based design.

I was also reminded of my enjoyment photographing things. I’ll always love photographing people, but landscapes and things are a whole other kind of fun. If it’s true that every portrait of every subject is truly a self-portrait of the photographer, then photographing things is but an amplification of that concept. Landscapes, things, details, places – they all speak to us if we are willing to listen, just like a human subject. They all have a personality, inherent features, a good side even. The difference is that we are left to translate all of this ourselves, and that translation is therefore subject to the filter of our own brain. Our own ideas, aesthetic, hopes, desires, wants, needs – our own vision.

Check out Benny Evangelista’s story here for his take on the day, and some actual facts from someone who is actually objective.
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