UK Pinewood Studios

 Pinewood Studio: The Heart
of England's Movie Business

Fine Tradition of High-Quality Audio Post Production for Film and Television

Written 1n 91997 by Mel Lambert

Pinewood Studios, nestling in heart of rural England, some 20 miles west of London, describes itself as a full-service production community. Graham Hartstone, the facility's Head of Post-production, is more succinct in his view of what Pinewood offers. "Our 60-plus years of active involvement with the international film and video community means that we can satisfy the demand of any size production," he considers. "We like to create a soundtrack that in every way enhances the movie-going experience."

      "In fact," he continues, "we prefer to work with directors who know what they want, and are very sound conscious - that way we get to enjoy ourselves!" Hartstone cites several directors as being particularly aware of the storytelling capabilities of good sound post-production, including Stanley Kubrick - work on "Full Metal Jacket" was completed at Pinewood - David Lean ("Oliver Twist" and "A Passage to India"), Ridley Scott ("Blade Runner," "Thelma and Louise" and "1492: The Conquest of Paradise"), plus James Cameron. "At the moment we have director Philip Noyce here at Pinewood, dubbing his new film, 'The Saint,' starring Val Kilmer, which is a particularly 'sound-heavy' action film."

   In addition, over the years Pinewood has handled shooting and post-production for a wide range of successful British and international films, including "Batman," "Interview with a Vampire," "First Knight," Mission Impossible, " plus a majority of the "Superman" and James Bond movies, culminating in the most recent "Goldeneye."

   In 1996 Pinewood Studios celebrated its 60th Anniversary, having been established in 1936 by entrepreneur Charles Boot and J. Arthur Rank; the name for the complex apparently has is origins in the fact that the estate, including the impressive Heatherden Hall, which houses the main administrative offices, is ringed by pines trees. (Although many pundits have offered that the name was selected more for its similarly to "Hollywood" than anything else.) The first film completed at Pinewood Studios was "London Melody," produced by Herbert Wilcox. At the opening in 1936, it is reported that one industry insider was heard to observe that "It's as if a millionaire has decided to make pictures in his garden."

   Today, Pinewood is still owned by The Rank Group, PLC, and boasts the world's largest silent stage - the 45,000 square foot "Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage" - and Europe's biggest exterior tank. In addition, during the late Sixties, four new stages were built to accommodate expanding requirements for film and video production - bringing the total to 18 - plus new viewing theaters, cutting rooms and stage lighting. In addition, Pinewood handles a large number of television commercials.

   In terms of its sound department, Pinewood boast an impressive collection of editorial, ADR and dubbing suites. Theater 5 is intended for ADR and Foley recording, while Dubbing Theater 1 boasts an automated 60-input Solid State Logic SL-5000M console, and Dubbing Theater 2 an automated Theatre Projects board. The recently completed Theater 3 handles commercials, episodic television and drama productions; centerpiece in the room is taken by a 16-fader/four-layer AMS-Neve Logic 2 all-digital console with integral 16-output AudioFile Spectra hard-disk recorder/editor. (Theatre 7 serves as a 115-seat viewing room, complete with 70/35 mm projection and surround-sound playback in all formats.)

Film Dubbing Stages: Analog-Equipped Theatre 1 and Theater 2
Installed during 1991, Theatre 1's 60-channel Solid State Logic 5K console features 32 output busses, arranged in four banks of eight, to provide enhanced flexibility during predubs and stem recordings, or to finals. VCA-based automation is featured on channel faders and mutes. According to lead mixer John Hayward, "Normally we premix to six-track ADR and Foley, plus main effects; we might have as a many as three, 6-track effects premixes as well. We do not normally premix the music, but play it live into the final mixes." Tracks are normally prelaid to the room's Avid AudioVision hard-disk systems - or accessed via removable hard rives - while the final mixes are normally made to 35 mm six-track mag. Theatre 1 was the venue for the re-recording of "Thelma and Louise," "1492: The Conquest of Paradise" and "Bugsy Malone."

   Theatre 2 features a vintage 60-input/32-bus Theatre Projects console, which itself replaced a Neve board back in 1980. The first film to be mixed on the Theatre Projects was "Victoria, Victoria;" the room was also used to dub "Blade Runner," Alan Parker's "The Wall," "Superman," "A Passage to India," Aliens" and most of the James Bond movies. The console features Penny & Giles VCA automation, plus VCA-based automated panning. An unusual feature in the room is a long bank of buss-output meters flown above the console, and visible within the top edge of the mixer's field of view.

   According to Hartstone, unlike the conventional practice in Hollywood, Theatre 2 normally runs with a two- rather than a three-man crew, with the gaffer handling both music and dialog, while an assistant looks after sound effects. "However, on a busy mix," he adds, "we might use a second assistant to look after the extra effects tracks." Hartstone and his crew are the proud recipient of no less than three Oscars Nominations for the re-recording of "Superman" (1977), "A Passage to India"(1984) and "Aliens" (1985), plus several BAFTA Awards.

   Theater 5 is intended for ADR and Foley, recording, and features a small Alice console, with tracking to Avid AudioVision hard-disk or 35 mm mag. The central machine rooms for all of the dubbing theaters house a number of Filmax HS5000 six-track dubbers, equipped with a PC-based motion controllers and frame-offset systems, plus Quad-Eight/Westrex recorders. Pinewood's Sound Department also offers optical recording to all film formats, including DTS, SDDS and SR* D.

Theater 3: All-Digital TV/Film Dubbing Stage

Pinewood's purpose-built Theatre 3 was completed in late 1994 as something of an experiment. "We needed to look to the future of our industry," recalls Graham Hartstone, "which lies firmly in the all-digital domain. The [AMS Neve] Logic 2 was well established at both Yorkshire Television and The BBC, with whom we regularly trade material. So, to move [audio files] seamlessly from their studios to ours, we needed to investigate file formats and the logistics of transferring sound elements." Pinewood also needed to be able to rapidly transfer audio materials from its Avid AudioVision editing systems directly to AudioFile.

   The first production to demonstrate the viability of OMF-based file exchange was "The Wanderer," a 12-part drama series produced by Yorkshire Television for BSkyB, the UK's leading cable network. Files were transferred from YTV's Logic 2/AudioFile system via removable MO disks, and then loaded directly into Theater 3's integral 16-output AudioFile Spectra system for the subsequent mix-to-picture dates. "Those session went without a hitch," Hartstone remembers. "By ensuring totally accurate repeatability, the L2's total dynamic automation allows far greater creative freedom."

   Intended primarily for commercials and long-form TV drama mixing in a film-style environment, Theatre 3 features a conventional surround-sound monitoring rig comprised of JBL Model 4410s for the left, center and right systems, plus a pair of JBL Control 5s for the split left- and right-rear surround channels. Room design was by Harris-Grant which, coincidentally, has offices within the Pinewood complex.

   According to Theatre 3's lead mixer Nick Le Messurier, who has been with Pinewood since 1968, the majority of sound elements are presented as hard disk virtual tracks; for large-format episodic TV add drama productions, tracks can also arrive on Tascam DA-88 Modular Digital Multitrack.

   "A conventional format involves DA-88 for edited original dialog, ADR and synchronized effects, with another DA-88 holding additional effect tracks and Foley. Although we might be mixing from up to four DA-88s, normally we try and keep this number to between two and three." Other elements might be delivered on eight or 16 tracks of AudioVision hard drive, plus Pro Tools music tracks. Picture source in normally a half-inch Beta SP or 3/4-inch U-Matic work print. Alternatively, if the project was edited at Pinewood on an Avid Media Composer or Film Composer, the picture playback will be from hard drive.

   As Le Messurier recalls, during mixing of "On Dangerous Ground," a recent major production for the UK's Sky1 satellite service starring Rob Lowe, "We had picture playback from Avid-format hard drive, plus eight tracks of dialog premixed to DA-88; eight tracks of effects premixed on DA-88; premixed Foley on a third DA-88; and music relayed from Avid AudioVision. Once we have shown a trial mix to the producers in our viewing room, we can go back and touch up the automation by recalling a mix on the Logic 2. That ability saves us a lot of time." The various premixes for "On Dangerous Ground" took close to three days, with one day for the mix. "Four to five days to mix a 90-minute drama is typical," Le Messurier says. "A one-hour show might require a 'fast' four-day turnaround."

   In contrast, sound elements for a series of three, one-hour pilot episodes of "Wilderness" from Red Rooster Productions for Carlton Television, directed by Ben Bolt (son of film director Robert Bolt), were cut on Pro Tools and delivered in AudioVision format - premixed dialog and effects - or Pro Tools format (additional effects, music and Foley). "Here we could access the sound files directly from the Logic 2's built-in AudioFile editor," says Le Messurier, using OMF file compatibility via removable magneto-optical drives.

   A modified encoder and decoder enables the effects of the 4:2:4 Dolby Surround matrix process to be monitored in the room. Close to 100% of the productions that pass through Theatre 3 are dubbed in stereo and surround-sound. "This room is a lot smaller than our other dubbing stages," Le Messurier conceded, "so that we can more closely mimic the dimensions of the home playback environment."

   The final, two-track LtRt mixes are augmented by a two-track M&E stem printed to a pair of timecode DATs. These tracks, in turn, are laid back as four-channel sources to the edited Digital Betacam picture masters. "No, we don't print a four-track LCRS master," Le Messurier offers, "simply because we don't need it. We can always reconstruct the mixes, if necessary, from the automation data and source reels."

   Le Messurier concedes that the fully automated AMS Neve Logic 2 digital console is "a wonderful desk for this application. The automation is superb, and the system has proved exceedingly reliable.

   "There is definitely a need in this application for an all-digital console. Fully automated fader, EQ and panning is essential for today's productions, as are automated aux sends for reverb and special effects. While I would prefer a larger-format desk - a 32-fader version with two layers per fader might be more useful that my current 16-fader/four-layer configuration - primarily because I could the handle two-man mixes more efficiently. With only 16 faders on this configuration, having two, simultaneous mixers at the console is not really practical."

   In terms of picture sources, Le Messurier prefers Avid-format for premixes - "simply because it is a lot faster that tape" - but concedes that "we need to use Beta for finals, because the work tape will [contain] additional visual effects which we need to see for the mix." The Avid reels, in contrast, often comprise of a preliminary, cuts-only edit without any of the crossfades and other special-effects elements.

Editorial Suites with Avid and Digidesign Hard-Disk Systems
Within the sprawling Pinewood complex are housed a number of independent production centers, including Reel Sound, a sound-design and editorial facility headed up by Glenn Freemantle and Max Hoskins. The duo operate a total of five sound-editorial rooms equipped with Avid AudioVision systems. Two additional rooms, owned and operated by freelance editor Nick Adams, offer Pro Tools systems. Reel Sound recently handled sound for "Love in Paris," "Roseanna's Grave," "Sarajevo" and "Fierce Creatures," the comedy from the team that bought us "A Fish Called Wanda."

   The use of a common file-format on the AudioVision and Pro Tools systems helps speed up the transfer of material between rooms, while recording and cutting ADR and Foley elements is described an being dramatically more efficient. "Once prelaid to [AudioVision] hard drive on the ADR/Foley Stage," comments Glenn Freemantle, "we can experiment with various edited versions to picture without having to physically touch the material. We can also develop numbered log sheets and streamers during the process, which helps us keep track of the different takes."

   Towards the Future: Pinewood's Continuing Investment in Digital Technologies
Delighted with the very positive experience of integrating Theater 3's all-digital Logic 2/AudioFile into the day-to-day operations at Pinewood Studios, Graham Hartstone is obviously looking very carefully at the facility's future options.

   "In retrospect," he offers, "it wasn't such a brave decision. [AMS Neve] was the only company I would trust to deliver a system that would keep on delivering high performance for us in a time-conscious environment. Would we update our current film dubbing theatres to this type of technology? Yes, eventually. It's no great secret that we are currently looking at a possible replacement for the Theatre Project console in Theatre #2. The [digitally-controlled analog] Harrison MPC looks interesting; we might consider that path.

   "But remember that for TV production, we normally perform a virtual mix, without printing a number of film-style premixes. For film dubbing that approach might not be possible yet, simply because of the large number of individual elements that the [supervising sound editors] are bringing to the stages; we still need to premix a lot effects, ADR and Foley tracks to accommodate them all during finals.

   "In the meantime, we are concentrating our efforts on fully integrating Pinewood's current collection of digital recorders and editors. We have Avid AudioVision playback systems in each of the three theatres; I would estimate that for three out of four of the past films mixed in Theatre 1, the majority of sound elements - as much as 80% - were replayed back from AudioVision format, with film and video projection.

   "The next stage is the much-awaited 'Dolby Drives,' designed to replace mag dubbers and recorders. We have been very encouraged with the tests we've seen, and are looking forward to integrating them here. Since they will be fully plug-and-play compatible with our AudioVision systems, the new Dolby Drives will become the ideal medium for layback, predubs and final. It should be just what the doctor ordered!"

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