Breaking the sound barrier

When Playback took a cross-country peek into Canada's audio post-production scene, we found that 'audio post' - once considered bulky and intimidating - is one service sector Canadians are determined to gain control of and master....

When Playback took a cross-country peek into Canada’s audio post-production scene, we found that ‘audio post’ – once considered bulky and intimidating – is one service sector Canadians are determined to gain control of and master.

In the pre-digital era, producers from the Maritimes were forced to go west – either to Montreal or Toronto – to tend to their audio post needs. But those days are slowly coming to an end as Atlantic Canada, Halifax in particular, takes things into its own hands, and into its own digital post facilities.

The need for audio post facilities in the region has been apparent for years, says Salter Street Digital supervising sound editor Rene Beaudry. But it was not until this need converged with accessible and affordable digital technology and coincided with the Salter Street Films comedy series for the cbc, codco, that Salter Street Digital could become a reality.

The audio post arm of Salter Street Films started up in 1991, and now operates ‘totally within the digital realm.’ It features automated digital mixing; Dolby Stereo surround monitoring; cd, dat and effects libraries; timecode dat and 1/4” timecode Dolby sr mastering; sound design; foley, post sync dialogue and syncing of dailies; digital non-linear design for production audio effects, atmospheres and music; a fully equipped effects editing suite; and a recording room for adr, foley recording and music scoring.

The company has been busy with Salter product – it worked on Paul Donovan’s festival hit Paint Cans and is now producing its second season of the cbc series This Hour Has 22 Minutes – as well as taking on outside work – it is currently working on the feature Anchor Zone, a futuristic action/adventure from Red Ochre Productions of St. John’s, Nfld.

During the slower times, says Beaudry, Salter Street Digital ‘offers young local independent filmmakers `bargain basement prices,’ giving them access to full digital quality work without the expense of traveling to central Canada and posting there.’

Like Halifax, which had two major Hollywood features filming this summer, Montreal is quickly becoming a favorite for multi-million dollar projects. And, like Toronto and Vancouver, Montreal is just coming off one of the busiest production summers ever.

Cinar Studios, the post-production arm of Montreal-based Cinar Films, recently augmented its audio post-production facilities, redesigning and adding two more studios to is four-room Studer Dyaxis II Digital Audio System setup in order to accommodate the $10 million miniseries, Million Dollar Babies.

Says Cinar Studio vice-president Francois Deschamps: ‘We had planned to make these changes sometime in the future, but Million Dollar Babies acted as the catalyst for it to happen sooner. We plan to continue to grow bigger with audio post, investing in more technology so we can take on some outside projects.’

Toronto’s Magnetic Enterprises has also made some recent audio post acquisitions: Master’s Workshop has procured the TASCAM DA-88, a modular digital multitrack, and Magnetic South recently upgraded its facilities with new digital recorders, the TASCAM DA-88 and rdat units.

In addition, the music production arm of Magnetic Enterprises, Magnetic Music, has supplemented its services with the Avid Audiostation. The Audiostation offers random-access multitrack digital audio with video-lock, which, according to Magnetic Music co-ordinator Anne Reynolds, will ‘offer speedy and precise audio recording, editing and processing and enhanced creativity,’ as well as more than double the company’s capacity to serve clients.

Also new on the Toronto audio post scene: Producer’s Choice, an all-digital, two-studio audio house which opened its doors in February. Housing the Studer Dyaxis II Digital Audio System and the latest Multidesk automated controller/mixer, the Producer’s Choice repertoire includes tv and radio commercials, syndicated programs, documentaries and corporate video. Currently functioning with one studio, Producer’s Choice president Marc Siversky says the second studio should be up and running within the next two or three months.

One interesting trend to emerge on the audio post scene is the ‘living-room approach’ to audio studios that combines a client-friendly atmosphere with high-end technology.

Digital Music Studios’ 48-track studio is what ceo Rob Yale calls a ‘new breed of audio studio.’ It sports high-quality, near-field monitors and front client area, complete with comfy couch.

The newly renovated Digital Music has more than doubled its size since December – revamping its two digital studios, doubling the size of the live floor (which, incidentally, has windows) and adding a client boardroom and maintenance area. Other additions to Digital Music: a full-time maintenance technician and chief engineer Mike Jones.

Along with the 48-track studio, Digital Music offers cd premastering, cd brokering, 24-track Dolby sr and 24-track Fairlight.

In the new environment, says Yale, ‘the challenge is to accommodate a new volume of business (Digital Music is currently working on Alliance Communication’s Harlequin Romance tv movies and the Due South series among others) without turning into a factory, creating an `a’ class studio with the feel of a small, client-based operation.’

Like Digital Music, 25-year-old MCS Studios has also adopted the living-room approach to its new digital studio, which began operating earlier this month. Using the Pro Tools Digital System, the new studio – a floating recording suite with voice booth, client lounge, Beta sp and 1′ video-lock, as well as music recording and cd mastering capabilities – emphasizes the client and client creativity.

‘The purpose is to extend the creative process by making the studio a creative living room for clients,’ says mcs president Bob Walker. ‘The idea is not to overwhelm the client with the equipment – everyone has seen a computer – but with what the equipment can do.’

In Western Canada, the audio post scene is fairly competitive: Vancouver is home to three major audio post-production facilities – Post Modern Sound, Pinewood Sound and Sharpe Sound Studios. All three house the latest in digital technology and, quite often, says Sharpe studio manager Laurie Melhus, talent can be the deciding factor as to where the jobs end up.

Audio post veteran Hal Beckett, formerly of audio post facility Beckett Productions and now of Audio Design Services, says having the latest digital equipment may make good advertising copy and sell more units, but in the end it is important to refine what you do. ‘It’s the track record that gets you the job, not the toys,’ he says.

Roger Levens, studio manager at Greenhouse Studios/Vancouver Studios, agrees. ‘Nowadays, the client wants to know who is doing the posting,’ he says. Greenhouse is currently scouting Vancouver and l.a. for a film mixer and actively looking to get some creative post talent on staff.

Greenhouse began as a primarily music and post facility, but is evolving into a complete audio post operation. Greenhouse now offers complete sound recording facilities, foley, sound effects, voice-overs, dialogue narrations and foreign dubbing to English as well as a mix theater.

Says Levens: ‘Clients are asking for more and want one-stop shopping in an audio post facility.’