At the height of his powers and acting alone, George Lucas spearheaded a unique initiative to improve the audio-visual quality of cinema experiences.
It is May 21st 1982. You are George Lucas and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back has just debuted in theaters to great acclaim. It will go on to be considered one of the greatest movies of all time.
Instead of resting and lapping up praise after years of difficult production, you do something extraordinary. You hire audio scientist Tomlinson Holman and brief him to examine and improve film audio throughout the entire production chain from Set to Theater.
These first steps led to the birth of THX and are a testament to George Lucas’s obsession with quality and artistic vision.
THE QUALITY ‘BLACK HOLE’
Holman was shocked at what he found. Although there had been significant improvements to how sound was recorded and played back on film, there was no control over what happened on set or in the cinema itself.
It was like discovering a huge black hole in the middle of film production, sucking the artist’s vision away and leaving audiences unsatisfied.
Poor viewing angles and bad light levels in cinemas made a mockery of high production values. Low-quality sound systems and terrible auditorium acoustics made it difficult for audiences to hear dialogue, let alone experience the artist’s original vision.
Holman took all this learning and set up the state-of-the-art audio mixing rooms that eventually became Skywalker Sound. Soon after completion, Hollywood started to take notice and studio executives started calling to incorporate Lucas’s performance standards into their cinema auditoriums and aging mixing rooms.
Realizing this could positively disrupt a sluggish film industry, George Lucas and team designed a certification program to help every artist deliver their truest vision to their audience. Thus THX was born and made available to audiences with the release of Lucas’s next film “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” in 1983.
In the thirty-five years since its inception THX has progressed beyond cinema certification and now certifies consumer electronics, content, automotive systems, and live entertainment. THX also manages an active technology portfolio and prestigious audio-visual education programs that continue to build on THX’s founding mission of delivering the artist’s true vision.
Anyone who has been in a cinema, car or a live event knows the THX Deep Note. It is the deeply resonant chord that plays at the start of a THX Certified performance. The THX Deep Note was composed by Lucasfilm sound engineer Dr. James ‘Andy’ Moorer and was screened at the start of the 1983 premiere of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
In 2015 Dr Moorer refreshed the THX Deep Note and made it even more spellbinding for modern cinema formats. It remains one of the most recognized sonic identities in the world.