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Monday, 01 November 2010 16:16

Now Hear This!

Written by  Debra Kaufman
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FeatAudioKaufman2Over the last few years, audio technology has evolved from analog to digital. But, unlike with video, analog audio still survives on scoring stages in the form of big analog mixers, while a proliferation of plug-ins and innovations in computer technology have enabled small audio facilities to be more nimble and cost effective. P3 Update spoke to a wide range of audio professionals to find out which of the latest audio gear gives them an edge in an increasingly competitive market.

Audio rental houses are in a great position to note popular equipment and trends as they deal with varied productions. Audio Rents is a Hollywood shop specializing in recording and postproduction gear for record companies, like Capitol and Geffen; film studios, such as Universal, Fox and Sony; and recording studios that include Record Plant, the Village and EastWest. While doing business with so many top-notch companies, Audio Rents has experienced changing trends in audio. “The primary rentals used to be equalizers, reverbs, the effects gear,” says Audio Rents Owner Robert Burton. “That’s been taken over by [Digidesign] Pro Tools plug-ins. Now input and output equipment is big.”

Burton is a fan of the JoeCo BlackBox recorder, a 24-channel, 24-bit 96K hard-disk recorder that’s lightweight and one-rack-unit high. The unit lets users capture a live, multichannel performance without taking a complete Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) into a live venue, and then records directly onto a removable USB2 disk drive that can be plugged into the DAW after the gig. Burton also likes TreeVerb, the brainchild of Audio Rents’ Bill Mareci. TreeVerb is a plate reverb that uses a single sheet of aged wood instead of a metal plate.

FeatAudioKaufman3Kaufman & Associates is a design and build firm that specializes in critical listening and viewing environments. President Jay Kaufman says that while the move to record and mix “in the box” (i.e., on the computer) has been trending for some time, more and more people don’t really need a console. “The consoles out there — the [Digidesign ICON] D-Command or its big brother D-Control — are what’s called work surfaces, which control the computer,” says Kaufman. “Everything a work surface can do, a mouse can do, and a couple of my clients have become so adept that they’re doing it all with the mouse.”

Even so, Kaufman believes that most people still prefer the feel and speed of a work surface. “The D-Command has been the number-one choice, which I recently installed in [Composer] Marco Beltrami’s new scoring stage,” says Kaufman. “Functionality plus price point make it very desirable.” The flip side is the large analog console, and Kaufman recently installed a 96-input AMS Neve VSP analog console at The Bridge Recording in Glendale. “Scoring stages are the only place we’ll see new installs with the large-format analog consoles,” he says. And for the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Kaufman & Associates installed a 48-channel Solid State Logic Duality. “It’s an analog interface in conjunction with a work surface,” Kaufman explains. “For some people, it’s an ideal environment because it gives you the best of analog and digital environments.”

Hollywood studios play an important role in moving audio workflow forward. With their large scoring and mixing stages as well as editorial and Foley, they’re often the one-stop shop for big feature projects and ongoing TV series. Warner Bros. Post Production Services recently purchased an AMS Neve 88RS with the scoring package. The facility is also renewing the Neve control surfaces in several rooms. “We’ve designed a new way to control the Pro Tools machine and interface it with the Neve so a traditional mix room can offer the best of the traditional mix in the box,” says Senior VP Kim Waugh. “This will really assist us in the TV world in particular, where the pace of the mix demands it.”

With a 13-member engineering staff, Warner Bros. Post Production has developed other new tools. One example, says Director of Engineering Kevin Collier, is software that allows all ADR/Foley to be done in the box. The system has also been packaged into a portable version that can be taken on location.

The facility integrated a Neve Gemini console with an ICON console ensconced in a custom frame that allows the consoles to physically interchange. “We could reposition the consoles in a minute to accommodate the way clients liked to work,” says Waugh. The company’s also unveiled a complex that caters to emerging markets, direct-to-DVD projects, and animation and indie filmmakers. It features three new 7.1 dubbing stages built around control surfaces and 2K projection; a brand new Foley stage with 16 unique surfaces; a large water pit and a splash pit. Also available is a gaming voice room with acoustics that can be adjusted to deaden or enliven the room.

Sony Pictures Studios is upgrading all of its dub stages with the SXRD320 4K DCinema projectors as part of a transition to make the rooms capable of projecting stereoscopic 3D. “We’ve gone through a major transition with 3D,” says Richard Branca, executive VP of sound, projection and video at Sony Pictures Post Production Facilities. “When someone is here doing a 3D DI, they’ll stop in to the audio room and expect to see the same thing in playback. We have one 3D room now and we’ll have two more up in the next three months. We’re very happy to have every room be uniform.” The facility has also upgraded all of its Harrison MPC4-D motion-picture mixing consoles.

Branca points out that it’s not enough to keep up with the latest technologies, as archival and restoration work requires old audio gear that still functions well. “We have to be open to doing almost anything,” he says. As a result, the facility maintains working models of nearly every piece of old playback gear imaginable, from optical mag and 2-inch videotape to nitrate.

FeatAudioMichaelNovitchAt Technicolor Sound Services, Chief Engineer Michael Novitch notes that keeping on top of data is a key issue in today’s audio world. “How facilities deal with accessing large amounts of data and make sure all the people who need it can get it is the biggest change,” he says. The Technicolor networks have increased in size and speed, along with the company’s Apple Xserve RAID solutions. “The data moves not just around this facility but multiple facilities around Los Angeles, all tied together via fiber optics,” Novitch reports. And as the amount of data increases, so does the need for dedicated data managers. “There’s an extreme amount of tending,” he says. “You need someone dedicated who sits on top of it and can restore projects and make sure the data is where it needs to be.”

Other big players in the audio game are the numerous smaller audio facilities and post houses. AlphaDogs, a Burbank-based postproduction and design studio, handles the audio for reality TV shows, such as “Project Runway,” recording artists like K-Ci & JoJo, and independent feature films like Grey Skies. AlphaDogs President Terence Curren reports that the facility houses two fully upgraded 5.1 Pro Tools HD rooms with new Panasonic professional plasma screens. “That allows us to have all the monitors in the facility calibrated the same, so when the client is in the finishing bay and walks over to audio, it all looks the same,” says Curren.

Curren notes that he has also seen the economics of audio post change dramatically. “The days when you could charge a lot for an audio room are over,” he explains. “Because audio gear is cheaper relative to video gear, there are a lot of people doing audio out of their bedrooms.” On the other hand, the fact that the technology is less expensive allows smaller facilities like AlphaDogs to mix feature films. “In the old days, you could only do features if you had a huge stage,” says Curren. “We mix in our rooms and do the Dolby encode at a rental stage in the end, to make sure of how it sounds in a big theater.”

A similar strategy is used by Co-Director Rick Larimore and Composer/Sound Designer Steven Cahill at Jet Stream Sound, which specializes in sound design, ADR and voiceover. Located in the Dubbing Brothers Post Production Center in Burbank, Jet Stream houses Pro Tools HD systems, ICON D-Command and JBL 4300 Series speakers, and Blue Sky and Genelec speakers. “The way we get around being a small studio is that we share with Dubbing Brothers,” says Larimore. “We’ll do a check mix in one of their big studios, and this saves clients tons of money.”

Larimore says that they make the business work by following several rules: “Do not buy anything unless you absolutely can’t stay in business another day without it.” One way Jet Stream stays on the cutting edge without spending a fortune is through plug-ins. The Waves Audio Mercury package is important, and the duo pays a premium to get anything new at the company. They recently got a free Waves Noise Suppressor (WNS) that Larimore compares favorably with CEDAR Audio’s dynamic noise suppressor. Two other helpful plug-ins are iZotope RX, another suite of noise-reduction tools, and VoiceQ ADR, which Jet Stream uses for foreign-language dubbing. “We load the scripts into VoiceQ and it puts the words across the screen according to timecode,” says Larimore. “The actors love it and we save 30 percent in terms of time.”

FeatAudioPostHastePHS_AL_RANDALLPost Haste Sound, also in Burbank, is upgrading to Pro Tools (Version) 8, including the satellite link software that will allow the individual Pro Tools stations to speak to each other and quickly lock up for recording/mixing sessions. “In addition to that, we’ve been playing a lot with the DTS neural surround software, which lets us take 5.1 material and pretty effortlessly up-mix it to 7.1 surround sound,” says Senior Mixer Randall Smith, who used it to create the 7.1 on The Rocky Horror Picture Show and currently uses it on other feature films. The company has added Source Element’s Source-Connect software that lets them record voiceover talent in different locations. “If we had talent in New York, we could run the session in Los Angeles and the software lets us communicate with them in a nice, clean fashion,” says Smith.

The Post Haste facility has also been using two pieces of Sounds In Sync’s EdiTrace software: EdiCue and EdiPrompt. “This software works together to help speed up spotting where you want someone to come in and redo their dialogue,” says Smith. “It cleans up a number of steps we used to have to do manually and helps smooth the workflow for the person recording.” Additionally, Post Haste is upgrading its 7.1 monitor controller to the RTW surround control. “That will give us eight channels of digital metering and full correct control of all eight channels with LEQ metering and the option of D-embedding HD-SDI audio,” Smith explains. “It will also give us the ability to listen to the surround and front channels swap back and forth.”

FeatAudioDanetracks_Hackner_SchapiroAt Danetracks in West Hollywood, Sound Editor Paul Hackner has noted a proliferation of great field recorders. “We used to be limited to using expensive gear,” says Hackner. “Lately we’ve been doing sound recordings with some newer, less-expensive machines that are great to have.” In addition to Danetracks’ two Sound Devices 722s, individual recordists own the Fostex FR-2, Zoom H4n and Korg MR-1000. “Suddenly we went from being limited to two recorders to potentially five,” says Hackner. “It allows us to be more experimental. The Zoom H4n, for example, has on-board mics that allow us to be stealthy and record ambience in a crowded restaurant.”

Gametracks, Danetracks’ game division, creates audio for all kinds of strange creatures, notes Sound Editor/Designer Mike Schapiro. He uses the Eiosis ELS Vocoder, a software plug-in that lets him mix two sounds together in a unique way. “You can take glass and apply it to a bear and hear what a glass bear would sound like,” says Schapiro. If that’s not strange enough, Schapiro keeps track of weird (and free!) plug-ins at DontCrack.com. His division also uses BIAS’s Peak Pro, an audio editor that he’ll use just before delivering the project. “Pro Tools is better for the creative side,” Schapiro says. “Peak is better for the industrial.”

For professionals relying on the most accurate measurement tools for color-critical work in production and post, Dolby Laboratories, Inc. recently announced the new Dolby PRM-4200 Professional Reference Monitor, which delivers the accuracy of previous CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors with the versatility of flat-panel displays. The new 42-inch monitor is the world’s first LCD-based video-reference display that accurately reveals true and deep black levels with higher contrast across the entire color spectrum, and provides an unprecedented luminance range and level. It uses a backlight comprised of red/green/blue LEDs that are modulated individually on a frame-by-frame basis, and the LCD panel is modulated in real time as part of the dual-modulation process.FeatAudioJetStream1

“From broadcast audio to digital cinema, Dolby looks at the critical points in the entertainment chain that will ultimately deliver a compelling entertainment experience for the audience,” says Jason Power, Dolby’s senior director of marketing in broadcast. “In creating our new professional reference monitor, we took a really close look at the video side of content creation and leveraged our expertise in imaging and manufacturing to produce a true next-generation reference display.” The new Dolby PRM-4200 Monitor is scheduled to be available later this year.

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