Didier Lozahic is an audio engineer who mixes film soundtracks. Credited for more than 60 films, notably Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in addition to several of Luc Besson’s feature-length films, Didier Lozahic is an expert in surround sound. He accepted our invitation to discuss immersive sound.
Your story with sound, it seems to be a long one.
I have been an audio engineer for the past 40 years; I began my career at Aquarium Studios in 1977 as Dominique Blanc Francard’s assistant. I have been in the industry for 25 years and worked with a variety of artists: Véronique Sanson, Catherine Lara, Maxime Le Forestier, Michel Polnareff, Alain Souchon, Laurent Voulzy, Patrick Bruel, Alizée, Marc Lavoine, Kassav? and many others. In 1978, I met Eric Serra and invited him to lay down some guitar tracks on an album by Pierre Jolivet, who was friends with a young cinema enthusiast, and this friend was none other than Luc Besson. That?s how it all started.
How did you begin mixing film soundtracks?
I had a long career in the music industry and, in the mid 90s, Eric asked me to mix the CD of the movie Léon: The Professional and that?s when I became interested in film music and notably mixing in the 5.1 format. Following this first experience, I worked on several other projects, including 5.1 mixes for the score of Goldeneye. A few months later, Luc and Eric invited me to Los Angeles to mix the music for The Fifth Element, which was the true starting point of my career in cinema and my desire to mix film soundtracks. A few years later, Luc gave me the opportunity to make this my profession.
What was the impact of new immersive audio formats, notably Dolby Atmos, on your work?
I had been wanting to experiment with this format for a long time, and yet despite the appeal of this technology, it was very difficult to find producers ready to take the leap.
Once again, Luc was a forerunner with Lucy and gave me free rein to mix in Atmos as long as I respected the artistic decisions made during the 7.1 mixing process.
Did the new Atmos and DTS:X immersive formats allow you to better express your creativity?
Experimenting with this format was a thrilling adventure which opened a third dimension, with speakers on the ceiling and the ability to move sound objects around the entire room seamlessly thanks to the number of speakers available in the mixing environment. Lucy was a wonderful experience as a certain number of passages naturally lent themselves to my work in spatialization. The use of Atmos was not ostentatious, but served a purpose for the film and the image, and neither was it a Dolby demo with sound objects that move in every direction and which, in my opinion, is often distracting and sometimes not in the best interest of the film
It is always difficult for new audio formats to establish themselves, notably in the movie industry, but little by little they do. The audience can’t always tell that the movie is mixed in an immersive format, but they often notice something is different. There are more and more Atmos-enabled theaters in France, and today DTS:X is taking over with an aggressive marketing and commercial strategy both in theaters and in the mixing studios.
What does Dolby Atmos offer, precisely, for Valerian in Dolby-enabled movie theaters?
I think that an adventure in immersive sound in a properly equipped theater with a film mixed according to these standards is clearly an advantage for the world of cinema. In my eyes, this holds true for all types of films, from blockbusters to more intimate films, as incredible work can be done to create different ambiances which, rather than jump out at the listener, immerse the audience in a more realistic universe.
How does this experience compare to a Dolby Atmos-enabled home theater system?
I had the opportunity to make Dolby Atmos for Home versions of different projects and, best of all, listen to them on compatible systems. Any way you look at it, it?s always a plus, but also depends on the type of installation, since not everyone has the means and the space for these installations. I was nevertheless surprised by the quality of certain ? multi-directional ?surround’ speakers to recreate the feeling of ceiling speakers.
The DTS:X and Auro 3D formats are two of Dolby Atmos? competitors: do you also work with these formats, and how are they different?
DTS:X arrived on the market with specifications and tools compatible with Dolby Atmos, and today it is very easy to mix a film in DTS:X, starting with an Atmos project, for remarkable results. Concerning Auro 3D, the system works very well and Lucy was also mixed in this format. Once again, even if the monitoring system is different, it basically works as two, superimposed 5.1 systems, and the tools provided by Auro 3D can be used to obtain incredible results. On the other hand, contrary to Dolby Atmos, there aren’t many Auro 3D-enabled theaters in France as of today.
I also attended a demo of a new system, the L-ISA in 23.1, developed by L Acoustic, which is well known for its audio systems designed for live performances. This company is very interested in creating immersive sound for the stage as well as extremely high-end home theater installations, it?s rather impressive.
Will the Dolby Atmos track of the future Blu-ray disc Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which you mixed, be identical to the cinema version’
The Atmos soundtrack of the Valerian Blu-ray will be the same as the cinema soundtrack and will have, among other things, the same dynamic range.
Of which cinema mix are you most proud’
I?ve done many films and each time I listen back to one of my projects, I can’t help but think that if I had had more time, or more talent, I could have done things a bit differently. I must admit that I am an incorrigible perfectionist; for me each film is a different adventure and I question myself with each new project. I had the chance to participate in a number of projects directed or produced by Luc Besson, and I?m satisfied with a few soundtracks from these films. But it?s important to remember that I only work on the mix. A film is a team effort and there are sound editing teams, foley artists and other musicians, who supply us with elements which are vital to our work.
What projects are you currently working on’
I just finished the film Renegades, mixed in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (Editor?s note: co-written by Luc Besson, the film will be released September 6th, 2017). A lot of different things happen in this film and its soundtrack is interesting, as much for the sound design as for the music. This film is mixed in an immersive format from the beginning and it?s not an upmix like in a lot of cases. The result is rather breathtaking.
Can you tell us about your personal home theater equipment (audio and video)?
The shoemaker’s children go barefoot, as they say. For my part, I have an AV receiver with a rather practical scaler which also handles my children’s gaming consoles, as well as a compact 5.1 system composed of of 5 satellite speakers and a subwoofer featuring bass management technology. I must say I would love to have an Atmos system at home, but I haven’t yet had the time to make this happen.
What is your cinematic reference in terms of audio mixing?
It?s difficult to choose a reference, although I am at times rather surprised by films like The Fate of the Furious for its remarkable management of music and sound effects. The Dark Knight also left a me with good memories, and there are many others. But I still have a slight preference for The Fifth Element.