Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Applying acoustic science at Prime Focus

Ben Hooper, UK head of audio at Prime Focus in London's Soho, talks to Kevin Hilton about room optimisation for the facility's flagship Studio 4 as it makes ready for cinema projects.

Companies adapt to meet the changing demands of their clients and ensure they are still competitive in an ever more aggressive market. The expectations and priorities of new owners also have an influence. It was a combination of these two that led London post-production house Prime Focus to install a Trinnov 5.1 MC Optimizer system in its Studio 4 to expand the range of productions it can be used for. Before being bought by Indian facilities group Prime Focus in 2006, the audio department of the VTR group, based at post house Blue, concentrated on advertisements and broadcast documentaries. By contrast the new owner had a pedigree of visual effects and big budget feature film work. Ben Hooper (pictured), UK head of audio for Prime Focus, says the company was also being approached by lower budget filmmakers, who were usually looking for a deal. “Because of all this we wanted to offer audio as part of a bigger package and service clients who needed a larger space for sound,” he says. Studio 4 was opened in November 2009 to meet this demand. Equipped with Avid (Digidesign) Pro Tools 9, a 32-fader ICON desk, ATC loudspeakers, Dolby E decoders and encoders and Waves and Focusrite plug-ins, the suite was initially aimed at HDTV and 5.1 post, as well as general television work. “It sounded brilliant,” says Hooper, “but when we started mixing features we noticed that what we had done in Studio 4 was not translating into the bigger outside theatres we were using to Dolby master the mixes. We use licensed soundstages in Soho but our mix would sometimes sound quite different to what it had back at Prime Focus.” Hooper says the size of Studio 4 was a factor in this: “Because it’s a smaller space than where the mastering is done there is more wash from the left and right front monitors, which makes it harder to judge what is acceptable and what isn’t. In the cinema and big mixing theatres the centre channel is so very isolated that you can’t cover up anything by playing it through the other speakers. When you mix for TV you can mix the music in the left and right into the dialogue in the centre and it’s more forgiving. Suddenly going into these huge environments the sound of the centre speaker was completely naked.” 

Treating the situation

To deal with the problem acoustic room treatments and optimisation software systems were tried, including IK Multimedia ARC (Advanced Room Correction), which Hooper says did not give a true translation because it is a stereo program. After Prime Focus signed a new deal to work on a feature film Hooper began looking for another solution and at the 2011 BVE exhibition in London saw a presentation of the Trinnov MC processor and Optimizer software. A demonstration of a two-channel set-up was arranged at Prime Focus in March that year by Trinnov’s UK distributor, eMerging. A surround sound version was installed later, with Studio 4’s acoustics calibrated to work with it by Trinnov’s director of business development, Jacques Di Giovanni. The MC and Optimizer system has been a permanent installation at Prime Focus since January this year and been used for what Hooper calls “a lot of mastering work”. Much of this involves taking mixes from other London studios and committing them to HD tape, making international versions, stereo M&Es and doing quality control. Hooper says this work is now being done with more confidence that it will sound good at the mastering facility: “The before and after difference was remarkable, both tonally and in terms of the relative balances in the mixes we produced and their stereo imaging. I don’t think the Trinnov is the perfect solution to everything, though. The room has to be good and you as a mixer have to have an idea of a good balance but it’s made me a lot more confident that I can take things to other rooms.”