Bill Baggelaar, senior vice president of technology, Sony Pictures Entertainment, (left) and Tom McCarthy, executive vice president, Sony Pictures Post Production Services, pause in the recently upgraded William Holden Theatre at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, CA. Culver City, CA—A major overhaul of the William Holden Theatre at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, CA has introduced efficiencies in the facility’s film sound re-recording workflow and across its entire post production process. Audio upgrades included support for both the Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D immersive sound formats, and were performed in time for re-recording mixers Paul Massey and David Giammarco to work on the first big hit of the summer, Columbia Pictures’ The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
The film is the first production to be mixed in Atmos on the lot and demonstrates the tight integration of the sound, visual effects and post production teams at Sony Pictures Studios. “What we have is a creative campus, a collaborative environment and a solid workflow where things can happen simultaneously, as opposed to waiting for one thing to finish and another service to start,” explains Tom McCarthy, executive vice president, Sony Pictures Post Production Services. “When you’re on the mix stage at the Holden, you’re 100 feet away from Colorworks, where you can check your color correction. Having the Holden built with the new formats just makes us more powerful in our operation.”
The lot’s Colorworks digital intermediate facility was responsible for film scanning, conforming and color grading, plus 2D and 3D mastering— all at 4K resolution. Sony Pictures Imageworks created the film’s visual effects. Production elements were available to all picture and sound departments, as well as to third-party vendors via secure connections, on the lot’s shared storage system. “We look at our facility as a one-stop shop,” says McCarthy. Beyond its integrated post services, Sony offers everything from pre-production office space to the creation of the DCP and all the after-market materials, he says.
The Holden Theatre’s audio upgrades included an expansion of the JBL speaker systems, QSC Audio amplifiers and Lake EQs to support the new immersive formats. “We installed 63 speakers in the room. We use 48 of them for the Atmos platform and 43 for Auro. A mixture of those speakers are used on both,” says McCarthy.
The stage’s Harrison console was upgraded to a new MPC5/Xrange system with MC2-64 wide monitoring, Object++ 3D panning software and 1,230 channels of DSP processing. “The Harrison facilitates and helps automate the object panning conversion from Atmos to Auro 3D,” explains Bill Baggelaar, senior vice president of technology, Sony Pictures Entertainment. “That was one of the primary reasons we went with the Harrison solution.” The console provides Ethernet control of the Dolby Atmos RMU (Rendering and Mastering Unit); motorized joysticks enable dynamic panning.
The renovations also included a new projection screen, a new projector and brand new décor. “We remodeled the room to ensure that we’d be at the highest quality possible,” says McCarthy. “We figured we’d like to have not only the two immersive sound formats in the same room, but also to make it 3D capable and make it our flagship for that environment.”
McCarthy relates that his department had to wait to hear whether or not the studio was going to release Spider-Man 2 in an immersive sound format before pulling the trigger on the upgrades. “The determination to go forward with the installation happened at the beginning of November,” he says. Even with time off for the holidays, Baggelaar and his team had everything finished in time for Massey and Giammarco to give the room a two-day shakedown beginning January 2.
“We started pre-mixing on two stages on January 6. We finished the final deliverable for domestic release on March 2,” McCarthy reports. “The vendors were really supportive,” he adds. “Harrison had somebody here for weeks, Dolby was here, Auro was here.”
The mix team elected to work in Atmos natively rather than start with a 5.1 or 7.1 mix. “They did the Atmos mix, then folded that into Auro; it worked seamlessly and gave them a nice starting point for tweaking the Auro mix. From that, they created their 5.1 mix,” says McCarthy.
“Mixing natively is more time consuming, but they felt it would have a much more dramatic effect on the mix, that it would be more integral than doing a 5.1 then looking for specific materials to put into the object tracks. Whereas if you do the 5.1 or 7.1 first, then sweeten the object tracks, there would be a different texture than the original intent.”
Planning the simultaneous positioning of up to 118 objects in Atmos adds days to the mix, says McCarthy. “Laying it out, figuring out where the movement is going to take place, what speakers it’s going to be sent to, takes additional time. There are so many different directions that sound can take in an Atmos or Auro environment.”
The Holden stage may not be the first to integrate mixing capabilities for both popular immersive film sound formats, but the efficiencies afforded by the dual install will be a major draw for Sony’s clients, McCarthy believes. “Immersive sound formats are becoming more popular, and having them in the same room allows me to keep my crew and the creative talent in the same environment.
“Thirty percent of our work is third-party work,” he says. “From a business standpoint, having a room of that size with the capabilities of both immersive formats in it is going to be of benefit to us.”