Born out of the Star Wars legacy and tied to one of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers, no other brand resonates with consumers as deeply, and with greater trust than THX.
One week after “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” debuted in theaters, George Lucas hired audio scientist, Tomlinson Holman, to design the audio mixing facilities at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Northern California. To begin the project, Lucas gave Holman one year to examine film audio throughout the entire production chain—from the set to the theater, and everything in between. Holman’s goal was to find a way to improve cinematic sound production and create specifications to design the state-of-the-art audio mixing rooms that would eventually house Skywalker Sound.
During that year, Holman was shocked to discover the state of most commercial cinemas. While Dolby Laboratories had made significant contributions to how sound was recorded and played back on film, no one had control over what happened on the production set or in the theater itself. Holman found that most commercial theaters had not seen significant technology improvements since World War II. Viewing angles were poor, inadequate light levels distorted images, and the quality of sound systems and auditorium acoustics made it impossible to hear the dialogue, let alone experience the filmmaker’s vision.
After the Skywalker Sound audio facilities and Stag Theater were completed, Lucasfilm began receiving requests from visiting commercial theater owners and Hollywood studio executives to incorporate the Ranch’s performance standards into their cinema auditoriums and aging mixing rooms. Realizing that this could change the way moviegoers experienced feature films, Lucas and the soon-to-be THX team designed a certification program to go beyond the walls of Skywalker Ranch. Thus, THX was born, and made available to movie audiences to coincide with the release of Lucas’ next film, “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” in 1983.
“While filmmakers were spending millions of dollars and using new computer technology to perfect the sound and picture in the post-production studio, the quality was being lost on movie audiences,” said John Dahl, director of education and resident historian at THX Ltd. “By creating a set of standards for theater design and enforcing performance levels of presentation equipment, THX was ensuring that the film experience would translate from studios to every theater.”
From a technical standpoint, the THX Cinema Certification specifications consolidated presentation technologies from various sources into one set of design standards. These standards extend the frequency range of cinema loudspeakers, resulting in an even distribution of sound throughout the auditorium. They also allow sound designers to extend the dynamic range of sound effects and create a more enveloping presentation.
THX also sets guidelines for room acoustics, reverberation time and background noise, and noise isolation to ensure that every detail of the sonic presentation is accurately delivered the way the filmmaker intended. But it’s not just about sound. THX sets standards for viewing angles, projectors and onscreen lighting levels, to make sure that the best possible image is always displayed.