HD Post Production

In a parallel universe all forms of electronic entertainment are produced and presented in identical formats that can be exchanged and retrieved by anyone with permission to access the product.
Unfortunately in our universe the opposite is true and a frustrated band of audio and video heroes spend every day of their working lives trying to satisfy the madness that is in effect a permanent format war.
Post production always had its traditional base in film, with editors as adept as any tailor with blade and tape. The terminology has survived but the processes have evolved in a way and with a speed that has swept away just about any analogue process. The digital replacements have grown up in a frenzy of technological development so that the rules change and mutate on a monthly basis.
The other consequence of evolving, digital technologies is that media that were rarely found on the same platform are converging at a rate that inevitably leads to the conclusion that they will eventually merge with considerable repercussions for the companies and individuals involved.
Nowhere is this process more obvious than in audio post. The difference in quality between the best and worst in digital audio is still blindingly obvious to a dubbing engineer sitting in a perfectly calibrated Dolby Premier or equivalent theatre with a £50K sound system but to one struggling with indifferent location recordings and a library sound effect and a music track recorded in someone’s bedroom and yet expected to deliver an entertaining, HD ready ‘print master’ even the best will struggle, even though both may be handling what is essentially the same recording and editing format. The root of the problem is that a producer or commissioning editor puts pressure on production companies who pile cost issues onto facilities companies and use the ‘digital’ argument to justify paring budgets to the bone. To a consumer upgrading to a full 5.1 cinematic ‘home theatre’ experience the variation in quality will become increasingly unacceptable and just as the cinema experience is greatly enhanced by the audio track so it should be with HDTV.
As a side note, I have been working recently with a ‘’household name’ electronics manufacturer recently to investigate how to reduce the rattle and buzz in their large format Plasma and LCD televisions. I was intrigued at the tiny size of the loudspeakers and the fact that they actually sound remarkably good. However it made me realise just now many people never bother to hook up a decent sound system. It’s no longer a cost issue as a stereo or even 5.1 system can be had for the price of a Rick Stein fish and chips supper.
I was recently berated in print by a competitor for somehow being complicit in the BBC’s descent into Hades by way of changing the way it operates and delivers news content. The crux of his argument was that the text books say studios should be acoustically isolated so as to be completely silent and consequently air conditioning must be quieter than the grave and engineers must wear brothel creepers while holding their breath. While all of this is perfectly acceptable for the recording of leaves falling on snow the BBC quite rightly have experimented with and commissioned a new breed of studio that not only offers production staff a more open and productive working environment but saves a shed load of money and gives the flexibility to move or redeploy news suites as and where they may be required. It might sound as if I am contradicting my own argument for high standards but one has to ask ‘what is the most important aspect of news delivery?’ The answer surely is the immediacy and dynamic of the editorial and presentation. The Today programme thrives on the real-time excitement of the presenters not the silence between items.
The most intensive use of audio post production I have seen is the complex at Shepperton Studios that is responsible for dubbing much of the multi language throughput of Hollywood’s finest. By my own rough calculation there are a couple of dozen languages that are regularly dubbed over original (English) dialogue and over 200 main feature releases that merit full, HD audio re-recording. That’s about 5000 sessions shared between several specialised facilities around the World. That’s a lot of work for actors, supervisors and engineers, all now in high resolution audio with a remarkable adherence to the original soundtrack, thanks to the ability of Pro Tools to duplicate complex plug-in metadata and the like. Needless to say each room around the World involved in the process needs to have matching acoustic standards to obtain consistent results. The whole global network relies on the skill of the engineers and mixers who somehow match a squeaky voice from Burbank with a Frauline from Berlin.
My rather convoluted conclusion is that every aspect of post production should be analysed in context and the technology and infra-structure designed accordingly. To design a silent ADR studio in Soho, surrounded by tubes and building projects takes real expertise and experience. To apply the same effort to a news room would be stupid but knowing exactly where to draw the line requires considerable nerve, backed by years of hands on experience.
Andy Munro
Acoustic Consultant

Tags: hd post production | post production | acoustics | munro | iss044 | shepperton studios | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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