Tom Holman is the household name that most do not even realize they know. He created THX, which stands for Tomlinson Holman eXperience, the exquisite surround sound systems used in movie theatres around the world. The branding for THX is a rush of sounds to inform the audience that the audio effects are used in the film. It is at the start of most films with the escalating organ sound that sweeps around the theatre to richly demonstrate the surround sound effect.
At least it sounds like an organ to me. But it also sounds like a swam of bees, so I cannot say for sure exactly what the source of this iconic sound is? What do you think it sounds like? We all know it so well, you would think that we should know instantly. But it puzzles me.
During the 80s, the company that I worked for represented LucasFilm for two particular products that they were developing. These editing platforms where called the EditDroid (pictured above) and the SoundDroid. The EditDroid was used to edit film and video images while the SoundDroid was to edit audio. There key capability was to conform between video (30 fps) and film (24 fps) productions. During this time, I just sold one EditDroid system to the National Film Board of Canada. The costs for these systems was very high and other technologies surpassed them rapidly in both cost and capabilities. As well, with the advent of desktop computing for lower cost solutions and HDTV that permitted shooting and editing in the same standard, the demand to conform film fell away. So the opportunity to make money disappeared with this transformation.
Literally, “These are not the Droids you are looking for“.
However, I had the chance to visit Skywalker Ranch in Marin County several times and this is where I met Tom for the first time. Suffice it to say, he was an impressive person to met.
Tomlinson M. Holman (born 1946) is an American film theorist, audio engineer, and inventor of film technologies, notably the Lucasfilm THX sound system. He developed the world’s first 10.2 sound system.
For the past few years, Tom has worked at Apple. Today, he is a DEST or Distinguished Engineer, Scientist, or Technologist at Apple. He sets the audio direction for the company. So, he has his hands in all the audio offerings from Apple, including the amazing Apple AirPods Pro, and Apples new streaming media offering that is about to launch globally.
In addition to his work at Apple, for the past 25 years he is the founder and president of TMH Corporation. At TMH, they built products and services for multichannel sound, including offerings by Martin Sound. He edited Surround Professional magazine. Tom has consulted on the design and build of many post-production facilities including Sony Studios DVD Center, Complete Post, FotoKem, Post Logic, and others. Tom has set and maintained standards for projection and sound at USC Cinema, making it useful grounds for non-competitive comparisons, such as conducting the only wide-scale experiment on movie trailer loudness leading to their regulation. Also, he held the first Television Loudness Summit and conducted experiments leading eventually to the CALM Act, voted for 100% in both houses of Congress, signed by the President, and current law to regulate the loudness of television commercials. For this last achievement alone, we all owe Tom our eternal gratitude.
Currently TMH Corporation measures the level of movie trailers for the MPAA through the Trailer Audio Standards Agreement and maintains book publishing documented elsewhere.
He has had a stellar career and been involved with so many amazing projects that his name should be on everyone’s tongue. However, he is one of the Hollywood magicians or unsung heroes that works in the background to further the movie going experience for all of us.
Winner of the 2001 Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement, Tom was a Professor of Film Sound at the USC School of Cinema-Television and a Principal Investigator in the Integrated Media Systems Center at the university. Tom was chief electrical engineer at Advent Corporation, founded Apt Corporation, maker of the Apt/Holman preamplifier, and was at Lucasfilm for 15 years where he developed the THX Sound System and its companions the Theater Alignment Program, Home THX, and the THX Digital Mastering program. He is founding editor of Surround Professional magazine, and author of the books Sound for Film and Television and 5.1 Surround Sound Up and Running. He is an honorary member of the Cinema Audio Society and the Motion Picture Sound Editors. He is a fellow of the Audio Engineering Society, the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society, and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. He is a member of the Acoustical Society of America and the IEEE. He has lifetime or career achievement awards from the CAS and the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association. Tom holds 7 U.S. and corresponding foreign patents totaling 23, and they have been licensed to over 45 companies.
If that is not enough, he has had a hand in many of the biggest films ever made. Tom is known for his work on Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Driftwood (1994) and numerous documentaries and lessor known productions, including the following formal credits by category:
- 2013 Toxic Hot Seat (Documentary) (sound – as Tom Holman)
- 2007 Fueling Change (Documentary short) (sound)
- 2005 Seven Swans (Short) (10.2 sound inventor)
- 1994 Driftwood (post-production sound consultant)
- 1984 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (audio engineer)
- 1983 Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (Re-recording engineer)
- 1978 Stony Island (associate recording engineer)
- 1973 Shot (sound mixer) / (sound recordist)
- 1972 Cool Breeze (boom operator – uncredited)
Miscellaneous Crew (5 Credits)
- 2010 The A-Word (Documentary short) (documentary faculty: sound)
- 2010 Atomic Mom (Documentary) (individual donor)
- 2006 First Out (Video documentary) (faculty advisor – segment “Meet Joe Gay”)
- 2000 Meet Joe Gay (Documentary short) (faculty advisor)
- 1997 Caught in the Crossfire (Documentary short) (production faculty – as Tom Holman)
Thanks (6 Credits)
- 2011 The Raw Truth (Documentary short) (very special thanks)
- 2010 Where Life Is (Video documentary short) (special thanks)
- 2006 The Last Time (special thanks – as Tom Holman)
- 1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Special Thanks to: 1993 special edition)
- 1990 Wow! (Video short) (Special Thanks to)
- 1979 Apocalypse Now (Special Thanks to: SKYWALKER SOUND NORTH, 1991 laserdisc)
Self (2 Credits)
- 2019 Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Documentary)
- 2010 Science of the Movies (TV Series)
Tomlinson Holman is an innovator, inventor and teacher in the field of audio design engineering. So, what has he been doing and why is he working at Apple?
With rumors of Apple working on a smart TV system for years now and with more recent rumors hinting of a new Apple Music TV-like service being close to being finalized, he is involved in this innovative invention.
Apple notes that sound program content, including movies and television shows, are often composed of several distinct audio components, including dialogue of characters/actors, music and sound effects. Each of these component parts called stems may include multiple spatial channels and are mixed together prior to delivery to a consumer.
For example, a production company may mix a 5.1 channel dialogue stream or stem, a 5.1 music stream, and a 5.1 effects stream into a single master 5.1 audio mix or stream. This master stream may thereafter be delivered to a consumer through a recordable medium (e.g., DVD or Blu-ray) or through an online streaming service.
Although mixing dialogue, music, and effects to form a single master mix or stream is convenient for purposes of distribution, this process often results in poor audio reproduction for the consumer.
For example, intelligibility of dialogue may become an issue because the dialogue component for a piece of sound program content must be played back using the same settings as music and effects components since each of these components are unified in a single master stream.
Dialogue intelligibility has become a growing and widely perceived problem, especially amongst movies played through television sets where dialogue may be easily lost amongst music and effects.
Apple’s invention relates to an audio system that receives a piece of sound program content for playback from a content distribution system. The piece of sound program content may include multiple components or stems. For example, the piece of sound program content may include a multi-channel dialogue signal, a multi-channel music signal, and a multi-channel effects signal. In one embodiment, the multi-channel music signal may be combined or mixed with the multi-channel effects signal to form a combined multi-channel music and effects signal.
In one embodiment, the audio system or the content distribution system may determine a first set of directivity patterns for the multi-channel dialogue signal and a second set of directivity patterns for the combined multi-channel music and effects signal.
Each of the directivity patterns in the first and second sets of directivity patterns may be characterized by a directivity index. The directivity index of a beam pattern defines the ratio of sound emitted at a target (e.g., a listener) in comparison to sound emitted generally into a listening area.
In one embodiment, the first set of directivity patterns associated with channels of the dialogue signal have higher directivity indexes than the second set of directivity patterns associated with corresponding channels of the combined music and effects signal.
By associating dialogue components with a higher directivity than music and effects components, the system increases the intelligibility of dialogue for a piece of sound program content while allowing music and effects to retain conventional directivity having a typical ratio of direct-to-reverberant sound energy.
So, is Tom about to change our entertainment world experience again. It sure sounds like it.
Holman, T. (2019). Interviews with Tomlinson Holman. Computers in Entertainment. First anniversary issue, [Vol. 2, No. 4]. DOI: 10.1145/1037851.1037867
IMDb. (2019). Tomlinson Holman. IMDB Inc., An Amazon Company. Retrieved on November 24, 2019 from, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0391642/
LinkedIn. (2019). Tomlinson Holman. LinkedIn Corporation. Retrieved on November 24, 2019 from, https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomlinson-holman-1549385/
Unattributed. (2016). Tomlinson Holman. ETHW.org. Retrieved on November 24, 2019 from, https://ethw.org/Tomlinson_Holman
Unattributed. (2017). Apple’s Famed Audio Director, Inventor of Lucasfilm THX Sound System, Invents Next-Gen Audio System. Patently Apple. Retrieved on November 24, 2019 from, https://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2017/04/apples-famed-audio-director-inventor-of-lucasfilm-thx-sound-system-invents-next-gen-audio-system.html
Wikipedia. (2019). Tomlinson Holman. Wikipedia Foundation Inc. Retrieved on November 24, 2019 from, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomlinson_Holman
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. He is employed by Wirepas Oy from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.