‘A Magnificent House’: Vince Voron raises design bar for Dolby Cinema
“Here at Dolby, we love the cinema experience and we do believe that Dolby Cinema is going to elevate the bar.” As executive creative director for Dolby Laboratories, Vince Voron wants to see “the industry improving not just from a sensory perspective, but to also to take the measure of all the technologies available in making those experiences as compelling as possible.”
Voron joined Dolby in the summer of 2013 after two decades at Apple and seven years at Coca-Cola North America. As senior design manager on the industrial-design team, he “was involved with all of Apple’s products up to the iPhone. In Atlanta, I was working on a number of things from industrial design to packaging to helping with the launch of Coca-Cola Freestyle. I am having a blast at Dolby because we are truly at the intersection of entertainment, happiness, technology, and a lot of other things that I dabbled with at both Apple and Coca-Cola.”
When the happy technologist-designer came to San Francisco, we wondered, was Dolby already working on Dolby Cinema or was his expertise mainly sought for product look and design? “Well, there were a few things happening,” he confirms. “It was at an inflection point where Dolby was leveraging many of their technologies and starting to execute them in a consumer enterprise fashion.” Voron and the Dolby team were “heavily into the design of our Dolby Voice Conference Phone that launched in 2014, as well as amplifying our Dolby Atmos brand, not just across cinemas but also for our home products… And Dolby Cinema and our Dolby Vision platforms were just commencing.”
Voron gives credit to Eight Inc. for helping them “develop the vision or manifesto in bringing these ideas to life.” The design agency and architecture firm developed the first Apple Stores, making Eight Inc. “maybe one of our core partners over the last few years,” he opines. The fact that “Dolby was looking to many different industries and experts over the last few years is a testimony to how serious they are in investing in these new platforms.” Voron credits Dolby for “looking at unusual or non-traditional partners to help design a cinema. And the fact that they took to a leader with the firm who…reinvented retail,” should be taken as further proof: At Dolby and with Dolby Cinema, “we are reinventing the cinema experience through design, through architecture and technology.”
To accomplish that task, Dolby has a dedicated in-house department to guide and assist its exhibitor partners through the entire process. “We set up a multifunctional creative team that resides within the marketing division,” Voron explains. “One of my departments is design and within that organization we have architects, graphic designers, industrial designers and software interface designers.” And that same team has been growing over the last two years. One of the architects is “focused on conceptualization and execution of the design elements for all of our partners,” Voron says. “And then we have one that is closely related to the construction phase and the business side.”
For both new construction and developing retrofit solutions, Dolby’s architects and designers collaborate closely with their counterparts in exhibition. “We developed very specific design guidelines on all of these various elements in order to bring them to life. And we have created a design archetype lab,” he says, citing another instance of learning from the best. “When they were designing the very first Apple retail stores, they invested in a lifelike prototype. At Dolby, too, we actually built a 90-seat, scaled-down replica of the Dolby Cinema auditorium before we introduced the concept and before scaling it commercially.”
Speaking of scaled down and/or scaling up, one of those exhibition partners–AMC Entertainment–is taking a huge step in retrofitting and upgrading their very own AMC Prime experience. Voron is pleased to be working with two experts there who are leading the architectural construction part and “the brand and consumer experience side.” Whereas Dolby Cinema @ AMC Prime does not involve the “100 percent execution of our design archetype” in the same way as new construction does, exemplified by the world’s first Dolby Cinema at JT Eindhoven in The Netherlands, the process remains about customization. “With AMC we have a great opportunity to leverage on their existing AMC Prime experience as a Premium Large Format application.” Within the existing footprint, and in addition to Dolby Atmos as a fully deployed key ingredient, those auditoriums are indeed primed for adding Dolby Vision image-enhancement technologies.
“Modifying the portals has been an interesting process for us,” Voron says about the signature entrance treatment to the Dolby Cinema and adding “the audiovisual pathway” leading to the experience. “At AMC Burbank and the AMC Empire in New York City, we have added considerable elements…generating opportunity for serendipity to take place. We took a very simple idea of what was going to be just an eight by ten-foot digital flat display and we turned this into a 15-meter [50-foot] curved wall patented design of sensory path finding.” Despite all the many auditorium entrances in your (not so) average megaplex, “you can’t help but be drawn into our audiovisual pathways.”
Voron provides additional feedback from Cinesa La Maquinista in Barcelona, Spain. “On one side of the hallway where you come through the lobby, guests encounter very expensive, high-end digital displays that advertise upcoming movies. On the right-hand side is our audiovisual pathway and that received all the attention as people are coming into the theatre.” He calls this a compelling example that makes Dolby’s case. “They were drawn to the expansiveness of the pathway and the allure in it. They wondered what was going on in that particular area.”
Technically. this experience is created by “a series of short-throw projectors that have a low-key profile. They allow us to design that audiovisual pathway to feel like you are entering into the setting of the film. We consider this a decompression zone between the theatre lobby and the movie that you are about to see.” When the final adventure of The Hobbit launched at JT Eindhoven, “we featured environmental scenes of the villages,” he elaborates. “It was not for promotional purposes or like, ‘Hey, make sure you buy some popcorn before you go in.’ One of the things we found quite rewarding from a design perspective is that consumers are actually going up and touching the wall. They cannot believe it: ‘Is it real? Am I going to fall?’ For me, testimony of a great design is if you can generate curiosity. When someone caresses something, it shows they are really curious about how it is made.” Voron lauds this physical component as creating “engagement of consumers with the film and the environment they are about to go into. In my perspective this is a first step to a very innovative and new experience.”
Studios and filmmakers are excited about the opportunity, as recent atmospheric scenery for the releases of Tomorrowland and The Martian have demonstrated. Getting material is indeed a priority now; Voron mentions those films rendered in Dolby Vision. “We are providing this as a service and promotion to our studio partners who invest in upgrading their films in Dolby Vision. And they have been very receptive and open to our goal of making the experience an environmental one. In the longer term, we hope that–as they are shooting their films–filmmakers will also think about capturing non-trailer-based segments of the environments for us. So, over time, what we project on those walls will become even more compelling and more unique.” Looking back, he takes pause. “The design that we ended up with was not the design we initially started with. It was a two-year process of innovation and prototypes at many various levels and with different technologies that led us there.”
That audiovisual pathway leading to the auditorium is intentionally curved, he adds. “We set up the entrance in such a way that you cannot see the end of the path when you enter. We want to provoke curiosity and surprise instead. We want to be leading the way, so that the experience keeps building up.” Voron takes the analogy of the arrival at a magnificent house. “It is like walking on a beautifully decorated and engaging footpath. You are building up this anticipation that–once you walk through the door and get inside this house–your expectations are going to be rewarded with something even more magnificent. It is wonderful prelude for the entrance.”
As guests enter the Dolby Cinema, in the majority of thresholds, particularly in new construction, the area is completely flat. “After walking through the environment of the film…it almost feels like you are walking onstage,” Voron says. “You have this huge floating screen that is being augmented by faceted acoustic panels. They are designed to create somewhat of a forced perspective that starts off high in the back of the cinema and, then encroaching upon it, gets bigger as you get closer to the screen. All panels are black and you cannot see the speakers. That was done to create a feeling that what the guests are about to see is even bigger than the screen itself and bigger than life.”
With that comes the removal of all distractions. “While we did not want the auditorium to be an ordinary square box, we also needed to make sure that during the film there were no reflections of metal surfaces or bright surfaces of any kind. We tried to make everything matte black and selected different shapes for the acoustic panels on the wall. After all, our Dolby Vision laser projection is so bright and brilliant. When you see those images projected in an ordinary cinema with so many architectural distractions, the light just reflects everywhere.” The reasons “why we have chosen certain architectural elements and materials for the inside,” Voron describes as “a mixture of art and science.”
In closing, Voron shares his personal hopes for the magnificent house that Dolby built. “When guests walk into one of our exhibitors’ venues and they see they have an option for the Dolby Cinema Experience, we want to create enough visual curiosity to either buy a Dolby Cinema ticket or to do so on the next purchase. And after their visit to the Dolby Cinema, we want them to walk away with a sense that they have an experience in an exclusive and premium environment. We really intend to help them escape and to be transported along that journey in entertainment that our studio partners are spending so much time and money bringing to life.”
The AMC Perspective
FJI’s Andreas Fuchs spoke to Ryan Noonan, AMC director of corporate communications, about the rollout of Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime.
AMC announced they are accelerating the rollout of Dolby Cinema. That means all is going not just according to, but better than, the plan.
Prior to the launch of Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime, our AMC Prime concept was AMC’s highest-rated experience based on guest survey results. Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime guest scores are topping AMC Prime scores across the board, and most notably in sight and sound.
How has the deployment worked out so far? What are some of the technical and/or design challenges encountered? How long does a conversion take?
We continue to deploy Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime locations, with eight locations up and running now. We have another four currently under construction that we expect will be completed by the end of the year. In terms of timing, every project is a little different, because every building and auditorium is a little different. In most cases, it takes two weeks to convert an AMC Prime auditorium and about eight weeks to complete a full conversion.
How did you decide on the order in which the locations are being upgraded?
We are beginning with our current AMC Prime locations and ETX locations. Beyond that, we are taking a number of factors into consideration when choosing future Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime locations.
Any final thoughts?
In addition to being the industry innovation leader, AMC prides itself on delivering the best premium experience to our guests around the country. Our partnership with Dolby and Dolby Cinema at AMC Prime is the perfect complement to that reputation. We continue to stay on the forefront of premium experience technology, and we can offer a premium large-format experience to more moviegoers.