George Lucas is rightly considered one of the greatest and most influential directors in the history of cinema. His flair for special effects and unique soundtracks were already in evidence in Freiheit, a 3 minute film he made while a student at the University of Southern California’s Film School; and by the early 1970s, Lucas had become part of the “New Hollywood,” an era of director-driven films that replaced the powerful studio system of Hollywood’s golden years. His 1973 film American Graffiti is today lauded as a classic example of this style of movie making.
Yet George Lucas did more than herald the age of the auteur in cinema: Along with Steven Spielberg, he also introduced the phenomenon of the blockbuster, and his Star Wars and Indiana Jones films have gone on to influence generations of adventure and sci-fi fans the world over.
‘The World’s Greatest Living Artist’
Indeed, it would be difficult to overestimate Lucas’ influence on film and all forms of popular culture. The American social theorist and writer Camille Paglia has even called George Lucas the ‘world’s greatest living artist.’ In her essay George Lucas’s Force she lists some of his notable achievements:
- computer-generated imagery
- computerized film editing
- sound mixing
- virtual set design
- high-definition cinematography
- fiber-optic transmission of dailies
- digital movie duplication and distribution
- refinements in video-game graphics, interactivity, and music.
- theater and home entertainment surround sound
The list is too long to cover in one article, and as this is the Teufel Audio blog, we’ll be focusing on the last item on the list: Theater and home entertainment surround sound.
George Lucas’ pioneering work with cinema sound
Lucas’ pioneering work in movie sound may be less well known than his groundbreaking special effects, but is no less amazing. Shortly after Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back debuted in theaters in 1980, Lucas hired the audio engineer Tomlinson Holman to help design the sound mixing facilities and theater at his Skywalker Ranch in Northern California.
It’s significant that the soundtrack for The Empire Strikes Back, a movie that was written by and produced by Lucas but directed by Irvin Kershner, inspired Lucas to implement a speaker system that could justice to the material. By incorporating actual animal roars and other effects to create what Lucas referred to as an “organic soundtrack”, the soundtrack for The Empire Strikes Back set a new standard for movie sound. The music that introduced and accompanied the action was no less extraordinary. John Williams’ original composition was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and was later nominated for an Academy Award for best original score.
When George Lucas’ friends in the film industry heard the new theater Tomlinson designed for him, they requested similar sound systems for their own homes and studios. This gave Lucas the idea of finding a way to implement equally high standards in cinemas across the country.
As part of Tomlinson’s research for the Skywalker Ranch, he had examined every aspect of sound production. What he discovered in his visits to various cinemas was that, while Dolby Laboratories had made significant improvements to film sound playback, this technology was unevenly implemented. Individual theaters could install their sound system of choice which naturally led to widely varying standards of quality. Some even had systems dating back to World War II.
In order to ensure that the movie soundtrack would be experienced by audiences as the sound engineers intended, Holman developed a system of standards. These not only included specifications for the speakers – i.e. how many were needed based on room size – but also the conditions of the room in which the movie was played, such as placing upper thresholds on noise from air conditioners.
THX becomes the standard for cinema sound reproduction
The standards developed became known as THX in honor of both of its patrons: Tomlinson Holman’s name plus an “X” to denote crossover, but also as a nod to George Lucas’ first feature length film, the science fiction classic, THX 1138.
In 1983, the company THX Ltd. was founded with the aim of creating a reproduction standard for movie soundtracks. From this point on, cinema goers who visited THX certified cinemas would know that “every seat in the house is a good one.”
In the 1990’s THX turned its attention to the field of home entertainment by offering certification for home cinema systems. Again, the company was quick to ensure that not only were the right number and size speakers used for the given room dimensions but that all components were properly calibrated and set up to render an immersive, high-impact sound experience.
Teufel Audio: The first manufacturer to introduce THX certified systems in Germany
The development of THX for home cinemas was a significant development for Teufel Audio. In 1996, we became the first loudspeaker manufacturer in Germany to offer a THX a certified surround system with the Theater 8. Today, home cinema products that adhere to many of the different
performance categories established by THX can be found in the Teufel webshop such as the System 5 THX Select 2™ Certified “5.2 Cinema Set” and the System 8 THX® Ultra 2™ “5.1-Set Cinema”.
At the present time, Teufel is Europe’s largest producer of THX licensed home cinema systems.
And so truly, George Lucas has had an enormous impact on not just the film industry, but audio engineering and even consumer audio products. His pursuit of excellence in the influential medium of cinema is felt all over the world, including right here in our Berlin headquarters.
Title picture: By Joi (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Picture #1: By nicolas genin from Paris, France (66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Picture #2: Property of Teufel Audio