sly as a fox
by by steve harvey
At the end of October 1999, following over two years of major reconstruction, Twentieth Century Fox Studios officially opened its fully digital state-of-the-art postproduction complex. Located deep within the Fox lot in West Los Angeles, the facilities are housed in the building formerly occupied by Stages Three and Four and make use of the very latest in digital postproduction technology.
Built in 1928, the historic building is preserved, a factor that presented some challenges to Gensler Architects of Santa Monica, CA. The designers arrived at an elegant solution that retains the original fabric of the Spanish-style structure, overlaying it with extremely modern construction and interior treatments where appropriate.
Wayne Wagner, recently promoted to vice president of engineering, postproduction services, explains that the entire project was initiated by former senior vice president, Kiki Morris. “Most of the core engineering crew here came from Lucasfilm,” Wagner reveals, “including Kiki. She had the vision for a real-world, all-digital facility.”
The first phase of the refurbishment involved the renowned Newman Scoring Stage. Wagner notes that the control booth was originally on the stage, so Morris oversaw a total reworking of the space and an expansion of the floor area to allow the construction of a brand new control room. Reopened in 1997, the 42-foot by 38-foot control room features a 96-input Solid State Logic 9000 J Series console, modified by SSL for scoring use. Soffitt-mounted Genelec 1035B speakers provide LCR monitoring with 1038A’s in the rear. The stage, at 7500 square feet, accommodates over 100 musicians.
Almost the entire first floor of the postproduction complex is occupied by the Howard Hawks and John Ford Dubbing Theaters. A central machine room spans the width of the two stages, housing, among other equipment, rack upon rack of TASCAM MM Series digital dubbers and recorders. A number of Pro Tools systems are to be found on-site and are typically supplemented by additional systems for specific projects. A suite of rooms adjacent to each stage provides accommodation for the director and production staff, as well as workstation access for editors. There is provision for on-stage control of remotely located audio workstation hardware.
The two stages, mirror images of each other, are approximately 2400 square feet, with a ceiling height of nearly 25 feet, and are set up for a variety of film audio formats, including Dolby Surround EX. Both feature AMS Neve DFC digital film consoles, each outfitted with 96 faders and capable of processing in excess of 200 audio paths simultaneously. Noted mixers Andy Nelson, vice president of re-recording services, and Anna Behlmer [see Anna’s story in issue #5] occupy the Howard Hawks Stage, while Doug Hemphill and Paul Massey call the John Ford Theater home. Recent films mixed at the facility include Miss Congeniality, Hannibal, Shrek, and Monkeybone.
On the dub stages, JBL loudspeakers support five channels across the front plus surrounds, with BGW 2200 subwoofers for LFE. A top center “voice of God” speaker is included for IMAX projects, but, as chief engineer John Brunnick notes, the surrounds would have to be beefed-up for such sessions to meet the large format’s specification.
Upstairs, a smaller theater houses a third DFC. The approximately 1200-square-foot Robert Wise Dubbing Stage features a 64-fader console with the potential for over 128 simultaneous audio paths. Monitoring on the stage supports up to 6-channel formats. Acoustically, the Wise Stage translates seamlessly with both the Howard Hawks and John Ford Stages.
The Fox facilities also house a variety of audio editing rooms, DVD preparation and authoring suites, a telecine area, and an online bay. Equipped with Mackie D8B consoles, M+K monitoring managed by an Otari PicMix, and Dolby encode/decode machines, the DVD rooms were initially intended as edit suites, but have become increasingly important to Fox’s DVD output. Additional sound editorial, ADR, Foley, and audio transfer facilities round out the capabilities.
Four edit and DVD suites comply with Lucasfilm THX’s pm3 program. The program has taken Lucasfilm’s experience with THX movie presentation spaces and applied it to rooms targeted at a multiplicity of uses, not just film. THX consults with their clients to advise on all design facets of a facility, including construction, acoustics, and equipment selection. Wagner notes that the program has resulted in excellent translation between the edit rooms and the main THX-certified dub stages.
A major part of Morris’s vision was for the networking of the entire facility, Wagner observes. That plan has been implemented through facility-wide fiber links and a 100baseT network, allowing audio and video to be shared not only throughout the complex, but also with Fox facilities worldwide.
Additionally, a Nexus digital routing, conversion, monitoring, and control system links every audio room within the complex. Manufactured by StageTec in Berlin, the system manipulates sound files internally at a 24-bit, 48 kHz rate and is capable of accepting or outputting any format. Unless conversion to analog is specifically required, Nexus ensures that all data remains in the digital domain from source to printmaster at the Fox lot.