SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 2011: Reel FX Creative Studios is an award-winning animation studio (Katy Perry, Rihanna, Audi, Looney Toons, Watchmen, et al.) with production facilities in Dallas, Texas and Santa Monica, California. Recently, Reel FX Creative Studios repurposed a space at its Santa Monica location to build a new 3D editing suite. The company called on industry veterans Bruce Black and Charles Pell, both members of the Motion Picture Academy with well over half a century in the business between them, to design and install the audio monitoring section in the suite. The duo have worked at such heavy-hitter studios as HBO, Light Iron Digital, Larson Sound, and others. Black has also worked for Skywalker Sound, director Michael Mann, and film mixer Paul Massey.
Citing its flexibility, high-end fidelity, and competitive price point, Black used a Symetrix SymNet Solus 8 to route, level, and condition output to the Blue Sky 7.1 surround sound system specified by Pell.
The Solus 8 and Solus 4 deliver a powerful stand-alone audio processing solution by merging the flexibility of SymNet open-architecture DSP with a competitive price point near Symetrix’ fixed-architecture, “zero-learning-curve” Jupiter DSP series. Like all SymNet boxes, the Solus 8 and Solus 4 are open-architecture, meaning that any processing modules may be connected in any configuration. The only limitation, which comes with a big price savings, is that the Solus input and output counts are fixed. The Solus 8 is an eight-in/eight-out box, whereas the Solus 4 is a four-in/four-out box.
“The Solus 8 gives me a tremendous amount of processing power in a single rack space for a fraction of the price of many less capable systems,” said Black. “Critically, it has the sound quality that a high-end post-production room requires. Specifically, the Solus sound quality will meet or exceed the quality of the system where the mix was actually performed. And whether editors and their clients are screening or QC-ing a project, consciously or unconsciously, they are always listening for mistakes in the audio. No one wants a project to go out the door that has a gaffe in it, and the Solus 8 allows them to hear every nuance of the audio.”
At Reel FX Creative Studios, Black used a unique collection of audio processing modules to make the new editing suite’s audio flow flawlessly. The first module he implemented is a matrix mixer. “This gives the user the ability to route any conceivable audio input format to whatever speaker format the end user would like. And an ARC-SW4 remote control can be programmed so the user can easily reconfigure the matrix mixer to switch between 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound formats, with appropriate level adjustments,” he explained.
Black then implemented a pink noise generator to makes it easy for technicians to adjust to the system when necessary. Next, he placed a loudspeaker manager module in line. “The loudspeaker manager is well-designed,” said Black. “It’s SMAART-compatible, so any of the room tuning technicians at Reel FX can plug directly in and make adjustment that are informed by the SMAART audio analysis software.” The manager includes multi-band parametric equalization, adjustable high-pass and low-pass filtering and a delay to keep the audio in synch with the video processing, which can lag by several frames.
After the loudspeaker manager comes a 31-band equalizer. “Nearly every technician is familiar with a 31-band graphic equalizer,” said Black. “But beyond that, Symetrix thought to make the bandwidth adjustable, from narrow to wide. That allows me – or anyone who comes after me – to make very precise adjustments.” He then put a limiter in line, which can be used to protect the Blue Sky surround sound system from being overdriven. Black topped off his algorithm with a gain block module. It adds additional tweaking of individual channels, together with a master fader. He provides control of the master fader with a Symetrix ARC-SWK.
Eight virtual VU meters in the program simplify level setting or troubleshooting. “In addition to the easy, intuitive programming, which was a breeze, I appreciated the hardware features of the Solus 8,” said Black. “The power connector has a threaded sleeve which ensures it stays plugged in, and the Phoenix connections wire up quickly and easily. When I complete an installation, I don’t want to have to come back. The Solus 8 meets that critical level of reliability.”
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