[Article by Ian Palmer]
Dreambase is the result of Alex and Mark’s (two ex-Dolby employees) desire to setup their own post-production sound facility and work in the more creative side of the film industry. Dreambase is located in the former GWR radio studios with two edit rooms and a VO Booth/ Foley Room between the two rooms.
I visited there last year simply to say hello and was surprised to learn that they were editing and mixing feature films using Logic. Inspired by the recent Mix article I thought I would write this article to find out why they are using the DAW instead of the industry standard Pro Tools.
Ian Palmer: You’re a relatively new studio. What made you choose the Apple/Logic platform?
Alex Hudd: Initially it was for cost reasons. I had used Pro Tools since 2000 for music recording but as a Mac user was aware of what Logic was capable of, and the extensive tools it possessed out of the box. The software is so intuitive and the audio library browser is well integrated with the package that track-lays for sound design and composition are very quick to rough out and start working on. Of course Logic’s strength is the ability to compose and this had also been very useful in some projects that I have composed music for. The recording take management in Logic is excellent for ADR sessions as it’s very easy to find the best lines from multiple takes, compare them and bounce out to a composite.
IP: What have been the advantages of such a decision?
AH: We saved money on the initial start-up costs which for a studio can be quite considerable, especially as we had overheads like rent to pay each month.
IP: Have there been any drawbacks?
AH: Lack of compatibility with studios running Pro Tools exclusively is a drawback but the projects we have worked on have been mostly ‘in-house’. At the end of the day we can bounce out any number of stems to take to another studio and import into their own systems but not being able to pass over automation or plug-ins is a disadvantage time- wise.
Editing is not as quick as with Pro Tools as Logic doesn’t posses the equivalent of a ‘Smart Tool’. Also the I/O setup is pretty basic so complex bus routing is not as easy as it is in Pro Tools. We use both Logic 9 and Pro Tools 9 at the studios depending on the project we are working on. And with OMF/AAF interchange it’s easy to exchange files between the two systems.
IP: What hardware are you using?
AH: We use an RME Fireface 800 as the main I/O which is used with Logic and Pro Tools, plus a Rosendahl Synchroniser. We use the Euphonix Artist Series as hardware controller with has excellent integration with both Logic and Pro Tools.
IP: Have you ever worked with another studio and used OMF exchange files?
AH: Yes, we have had OMFs from other facilities and been able to import into Logic with no problems. We have also exchanged Logic projects with other studios running the same software. For example, they might have track-layed and premixed in Logic and then passed the project to us for a final surround mix. It makes for a very quick turnaround.
IP: Pro Tools has AudioSuite to apply changes to audio files quickly without having to setup channels routing and re-recording in real time. How does Bounce-in-Place compare?
AH: Bounce In Place is fine but you have to be organised to make sure you keep track of the tracks! I would love to see an AudioSuite equivalent in Logic (a bit like Soundtrack Pro), however you can do a lot of basic processing such as gain and pitch shift by using the Sample Editor in Logic and applying the processing from there. But beware, you canʼt apply processing to multitrack sound files from within the Logic Sample Editor. Soundtrack Pro has this one covered but it would be nice to see this in Logic now.
IP: You run a Mac Pro without any additional processing hardware. How has the software/ hardware combination performed? This is especially interesting for your feature film work. How does the system hold up running so many tracks and plugins?
AH: We run an 8-core Mac Pro and the performance has been excellent so far. Occasionally you get unexpected crashes, much like you do with Pro Tools but it’s incredibly rare. On a recent feature film we used Logic for Dialogue Edit, ADR, Foley, Sound Design and Final mix, and it handled everything beautifully whilst maintaining good sync between the video and audio. In the final mix we had Dynamics and EQ on most channels along with bus sends to several different Space Designer 5.1 reverbs and it worked very well. Merging separate dialogue, music and effects projects for the premix and final is very straightforward too.
IP: How much in depth automation control do you get with Logic and the MC Artist control surfaces? It uses the EuCon protocol, how does that compare to ProTools?
AH: You can automate pretty much everything in Logic from plug-in and surround panning parameters to mute and bypass. The usual Write, Latch and Touch and Read modes are all available. It doesn’t have a Touch/Latch combo mode as Pro Tools, which can be especially useful for small setups where you want certain parameters to latch such as plug-in automation where it might not be easy to keep your hand on the controls and others to touch such as the fader level. Manual editing of automation parameters is also very easy, which is incredibly useful for very complex sound moves in action and animation projects.
IP: How useful is Audio Quantizing for dialogue and ADR editing?
AH: The Audio Quantization Engine in Logic is excellent, especially for syncing alternative dialogue takes on scenes. In the last film we did with Logic one of the scenes had some prop noise during the shoot so it was decided to wild-track the dialogue from the scene whilst it was still fresh in the actors mind. The scene was probably around 3-4 minutes I think, which is a long time! Using the Flex Time tools in Logic, syncing the dialogue syllables and nuances was much quicker and ultimately more accurate than cutting and cross-fading. For ADR it means that even a close-up can be re-voiced with great accuracy.
IP: Do you use any other 3rd party audio software such as SoundMiner or izotopeRX? If so how well do they interface into Logic and your workflow?
AH: I have the PPMulator meters for the broadcast work we’ve done, but apart from that I tend to use the stock plug-ins. I work in quite a traditional way I guess, so rather than purchasing the latest ‘do-all-analogue-warmth-celebrity-mixer-transformation’ plugins, I tend to use multiple processing to get the effect that I’m after, understanding the physics of sound more than just pushing a magic button. In Logic you can easily save channel strip settings so I have a whole variety of channel strip setups to get rid of Red Camera noise, telephone a voice or bus compress the dialogue, for example.
IP: I’ve heard good things about Space Designer as a convolution reverb, how does it perform for film mixing and the requirement of realism?
AH: Space Designer is excellent and has plenty of surround-ready presets out of the box which you can EQ and process as necessary to get the environment you’re after. You can also record impulse responses from locations and to put those into SD for the ultimate in realism! As we all know though what you hear on location and what you hear in the studio can be different so I would expect a little tweaking to take place before we arrive at the realism (or non-realism!) that we are after.
IP: How well do the plugins that come with Logic perform in relation to post sound? Have you bought any additional 3rd party plugins?
AH: the standard plug-ins in Logic are very comprehensive. My favorites are the Match EQ which will take a reference response of a piece of dialogue for example, then apply that EQ characteristic to another piece of dialogue in order to match the overall spectral response of the original. This is great for matching boom and radio mics or for matching ‘boom-over’ and ‘boom- under’ recordings in a film. The Expander is also great for reducing background noise, and this, coupled with the narrow notches on the standard EQ are very effective at removing unwanted interference from cameras or lighting, whilst maintaining the quality of the dialogue.