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Halo Post: looking at drama with acquired studios

Halo Post Production took over the closed dubbing suites of Pepper Sound in Noel Street, Soho during September, expanding an already well established audio operation. Kevin Hilton looks at the background to the expansion and how the company is upgrading the studios to cater for today's market.

The UK post-production sector is a strange beast. It continues to suffer the vagaries of the economic situation – broadcasting and advertising budgets in particular – and while there have been some high profile causalities over the last few years, many of the remaining companies are investing and growing.

While high definition (HD), digital intermediate (DI) and now stereoscopic 3D (S3D) have been behind the majority of high profile installations and new builds in the past few years, the trend is now moving in favour of audio.

Halo Post Production has also made a strong statement of intent by taking over the lease of the Noel Street sound facilities vacated by Pepper Post, which were shut down, along with video and DI suites at Greek Street by parent group Future Films in June.

Founded by chief executive and dubbing mixer John Rogerson in 2004 as an audio-only house, Halo already had four sound studios split between premises on Margaret Street and Great Portland Street. Halo’s managing director Jo Beighton says the company had already been booking for “expansion space” and were “quite far along” in the process when the Pepper Sound rooms came on the market.

“I would say audio is our strongest draw in terms of why clients choose to come to us,” Beighton comments, “and the rest of the facilities have been built around that.” She adds that both Rogerson and head of sound Danny Finn winning RTS best sound awards for non-drama and entertainment in recent years – including for Richard Hammond’s Invisible Worlds in 2009/10 – helped “carve quite a niche in factual programme production where people required extensive sound design on top of straightforward mixing”.

The facilities at Noel Street comprise offline cutting rooms, grading areas and four audio suites. Three are reasonably sized and used for broadcast mixing and ADR but it is Studio 1 (pictured), the 8.3m wide, 12.1m long, 4.35m high re-recording theatre, that was regarded by industry observers as the major selling point and the reason why the premises would not be closed forever.

Beighton says the company was looking to widen its client base into film and drama and Studio 1 offers the potential to do that. “We’re also in a much smaller market, with only three studios of the necessary size for cinema and drama work available in Soho [Goldcrest, De Lane Lea and Halo], so the big room here puts us in a unique position,” she observes.

David Turner, previously head of sound at Pepper and before that a Videosonics staffer for 18 years, has been appointed director of film post-production to help bring in this new work. Another recent arrival is Roger Beck, formerly chief executive at Technicolor Creative Serves, who is overseeing the integration of Noel Street with Halo’s existing facilities in his role as chief operating officer. Part of this has seen Noel Street connected to the other buildings over a dark fibre network.

Beck says there has been “a lot to do”, including upgrading the infrastructure at Noel Street. Three of the four studios are being completely re-equipped. The AMS Neve Libra console in Studio 3 has been removed; Beck explains the aim is to get a features licence for the room, which was traditionally used for mixing trailers and commercials. “This will give us more flexibility,” he comments.

Danny Finn adds that “the onset of Pro Tools 10 allows us to do all the mixing within the box, using floating points”, although Studio 3 will have a 24-fader D-Control. Another requirement for Halo was being able to do any job in any of its audio suites, whether at Noel Street or the other buildings, allowing operators to move between them and know that everything would load up and work. This calls for a consistency, Finn explains, which did not include the existing Libra, although outboard gear that is already in use will stay as theatrical clients often insist on this.

Studio 2 previously had only infrastructure connections, allowing customers to bring in preferred equipment. It now also has a 24-fader D-Control, while Studio 4 features an eight-fader model that will be used for prep, pre-mixing and voice-overs but, says Finn, with the capacity for expansion where necessary.

Corresponding changes are being made to the biggest room at Margaret Street, Theatre 2, which is having a 40-fader D-Command installed for factual and drama TV work. A new departure at Margaret Street is feature ADR. Finn says that in the past Halo only did this kind of work for projects it was already mixing but now the facility is looking to attract sessions on a stand-alone basis.

Noel Street’s big Studio 1 has not had any substantial changes since Halo took over but software upgrades have been made to the AMS Neve DFC Gemini console to accommodate 7.1. This change was the first to be made so that that the Aardman/Sony festive release Arthur Christmas, which went into cinema last week, could be mixed in the big room.