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Disney wanted to experiment in more sophisticated sound recording and reproduction techniques for Fantasia. "Music emerging from one speaker behind the screen sounds thin, tinkly and strainy. We wanted to reproduce such beautiful masterpieces ... so that audiences would feel as though they were standing at the podium with Stokowski". For the recording of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in January 1938, engineers at Disney collaborated with RCA Corporation for using multiple audio channels which allowed any desired dynamic balance to be achieved upon playback. The stage was altered acoustically with double plywood semi-circular partitions that separated the orchestra into five sections to increase reverberation. Though as the production of Fantasia developed, the setup used for The Sorcerer's Apprentice was abandoned for different multi-channel recording arrangements.
On January 18, 1939, Stokowski signed an eighteen-month contract with Disney to conduct the remaining pieces with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Recording began that April and lasted for seven weeks at the Academy of Music, the orchestra's home which was chosen for its excellent acoustics. In the recording sessions, thirty-three microphones were placed around the orchestra that captured the music onto eight optical sound recording machines placed in the hall's basement. Each one represented an audio channel that focused on a different section of instruments: cellos and basses, violins, brass, violas, and woodwinds and tympani. The seventh channel was a combination of the first six while the eighth provided an overall sound of the orchestra at a distance. A ninth was later added to provide a click track function for the animators to time their drawings to the music. In the forty-two days of recording 483,000 feet (147,000 m) of film was used. Disney paid all the expenses which included the musician's wages, stage personnel, a music librarian, and the orchestra's manager that cost almost $18,000. When the finished recordings arrived at the studio, a meeting was held on July 14, 1939, to allow the artists working on each segment to listen to Stokowski's arrangements, and suggest alterations in the sound to work more effectively with their designs.
The Disney brothers contacted David Sarnoff of RCA regarding the manufacture of a new system that would "create the illusion that the actual symphony orchestra is playing in the theater." Sarnoff backed out at first due to financial reasons, but agreed in July 1939 to make the equipment so long as the Disneys could hold down the estimated $200,000 in costs. Though it was not exactly known how to achieve their goal, engineers at Disney and RCA investigated many ideas and tests made with various equipment setups. The collaboration led to the development of Fantasound, a pioneering stereophonic surround sound system which innovated some processes widely used today, including simultaneous multi-track recording, overdubbing, and noise reduction.
Fantasound, developed in part by Disney engineer William Garity, employed two projectors running at the same time. With one containing the picture film with a mono soundtrack for backup purposes, the other ran a sound film that was mixed from the eight tracks recorded at the Academy to four: three of which contained the audio for the left, center, and right stage speakers respectively, while the fourth became a control track with amplitude and frequency tones that drove variable-gain amplifiers to control the volume of the three audio tracks. In addition were three "house" speakers placed on the left, right, and center of the auditorium that derived from the left and right stage channels which acted as surround channels. As the original recording was captured at almost peak modulation to increase signal-to-noise ratio, the control track was used to restore the dynamics to where Stokowski thought they should be. For this, a tone-operated gain-adjusting device was built to control the levels of each of the three audio tracks through the amplifiers.
The illusion of sound travelling across the speakers was achieved with a device named the "pan pot", which directed the predetermined movement of each audio channel with the control track. Mixing of the soundtrack required six people to operate the various pan pots in real time, while Stokowski directed each level and pan change which was marked on his musical score. To monitor recording levels, Disney used oscilloscopes with color differentiation to minimize eye fatigue. To test recording equipment and speaker systems, Disney ordered eight electronic oscillators from the newly established Hewlett-Packard company. Between the individual takes, prints, and remakes, approximately three million feet of sound film was used in the production of Fantasia. Almost a fifth of the film's budget was spent on its recording techniques.
Does this mean that surround-sound AV systems are actually 'proper' hifi?
Digits: RPi 2B / Allo DigiOne / Volumio / Tomanek ULPS / AQ Jitterbug
CD Transport: Cambridge CXC DAC: Metrum Acoustics Musette
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I saw it in the cinema in the 60s, no idea if this was the original version or just a stereo mix but yes, what they achieved is stunning.Dr Bunsen Honeydew wrote: ↑Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:19 amI find the technology involved with Disney and RCA eye opening. Have any of you heard the original film done in original form, as it was remixed digitally over 10 years ago. I remember as a kid being mesmerised by it at the Odeon Southgate. Specially installed sound system, even in the late 50's the industry hadn't caught up with Disney. It has stuck in my mind and heart ever since and I think started my mind processes that led to now. Personally I still think the original has things to show us, IMO the new digital sound track has lost a lot of the soul and the emotion of the original, remixed to *impress* per usual.