Downsizing the Mixing Room
Why Leading Post Houses are Minimizing Studio Footprints
The biggest issue is the monitoring environment. “We try very hard, but these are not ideal mixing environments,” acknowledges Stacey Dodds, the TSS engineer who supervises the DMR program. In fact, he says, acoustics are the main focus of set-up strategy for the on-site mix room. At the production facility, Dodds will do an on-site analysis of the available offices, picking one or two for the mixing suite. Any noisy equipment, such as fans, will be moved into another room with wire runs sent between the two spaces. “The gear is already in an iso rack, but this adds an extra layer of [sound] isolation,” he explains. To run the wiring, “we try to snake it through ceiling panels, but we’ve had to punch a hole in a wall once,” he says. The mix room walls get an application of acoustical treatments and, using proprietary equipment, the speaker system is tuned.
“We usually have three days to set it all up, do the acoustical treatments, and shoot the room,” Dodds says. “Then the mixer does a test mix and, if we need to, we tweak the room tuning. Then they’re ready to go.”
Raw sound elements are delivered to the site on hard drives. FTP or high-speed connections let the DMR connect to TSS, but Dodds says most of what the mixer on site needs is already prepared at the main editorial department.
Television Is Different …The idea of mixing under these circumstances might raise eyebrows among some Hollywood mixers, and Dodds agrees he’d never mix film sound this way. But television audio is different. “Less bandwidth, less overall volume ‘ television sound tends to translate pretty well in this kind of environment,” he says. All the audio is checked at TSS one final time before air during layback.
Mark Kaplan, TSS’s vice president of sales, agrees that this kind of mixing should be limited to television – and even then it’s not for high-impact audio on shows like True Blood, which TSS also does sound for. But, he adds, the on-site studio concept has gotten significant traction in Hollywood in the last couple of years. TSS has put their DMRs with directors like Michael Bay and Glee creator/producer Ryan Murphy’s production company.
… But It Can Work For Film, TooBill Johnston, chief engineer at CSS Studios (the former Ascent Media), which encompasses studios including Todd-AO, Sound One, Soundelux, POP Sound, Modern Music, Soundelux Design Music Group and The Hollywood Edge, says his group has set up on-site sound editorial systems for FX and sound design for directors including Oliver Stone and Michael Mann. Recent projects for which they’ve gone on location, so to speak, include Wanted, The Mummy 3 and Star Trek.
A reliable high-speed connection allows the remote sound editor to access the CSS’s Soundelux FX library, and since it’s generally a one-way download even most DSL lines are workable. If the connection is less than ideal they will set up servers on site to store files or use the DigiDelivery file exchange system. “Really what this is all about is creating a transition between the work they’re doing in offices or on the lot and when they come to the cutting room for the first time,” says Johnston.
Actually, there are numerous reasons that directors would want to give up an office and turn it into a sound design studio, not least of which these days is content security. The notorious leak of X-Men Origins: Wolverine earlier this year put an enhanced emphasis on that, and it was the reason Star Trek‘s production team decided to start SFX development in their own offices.
L.A.’s equally notorious traffic offers another compelling reason for the studio to come to the director. “If they’re on the west side of town, they don’t want to have to drive in every day,” he says. “Sometimes that’s the most important reason of all.”