by Michael S. Palmer
High-Def Digest recently went behind the scenes at one of Hollywood's preeminent post-production facilities. Tucked between massive soundstages and production company ("pod") bungalows, Technicolor at Paramount opened in September of 2011. Inside the 90,000 square foot complex, you'll find 62,000 square feet dedicated exclusively to audio (mixing stages, ADR recording rooms, etc.). Though it was built for broadcast television and theatrical motion picture sound, Technicolor at Paramount was also designed to accommodate the entire post-production process, including editorial, visual effects, and digital intermediate color correction.
Currently, twenty-four television shows mix here, including 'True Blood' (we saw them working on episode 508), 'Dexter', 'Glee' (which shoots across the alley), 'American Horror Story', and all of Seth MacFarlane's animated TV empire. In terms of feature films, they're currently working on 'Guilt Trip' (starring Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen) and 'Jack Reacher' (formerly known as 'One Shot', starring Tom Cruise). We were able to tour the facility's largest sound mixing stage -- "Stage 1" – where they mixed 'Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters' and 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation', both of which have been delayed until 2013. While touring Stage 1, we watched a scene from 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'. Though 'DotM' wasn't mixed at this location, we did hear a direct 7.1 output from the ProTools mixing session. Stage 1 sounds so good, it would make most home theatre enthusiasts want to move in and watch as many movies there as possible.
Technicolor says post-production used to be split more into separate stages. For example, filmmakers would be warned not to judge picture quality when mixing the soundtrack, or to judge sound when editing, developing the film in a lab, or color correcting. Filmmakers had to travel to other studio lots and/or companies and judge the elements separately before bringing the finished product together. Considering the frantic pace of readying a television episode for airdate or a feature for theatrical distribution, that's a lot of time wasted.
Technicolor built its Paramount facility to merge the entire post process under one roof. With professional calibrated projectors in every mixing stage, it's easy for filmmakers to edit a scene in their production office (or tweak colors, or review new visual effects delivered over the worldwide Technicolor Production Network), and then walk down the hall to see final results on a huge screen while mixing surround sound. Because every mixing stage sounds virtually the same, it's also possible to simultaneously mix the same soundtrack in two different rooms. They had do that once already, where the music and dialog where adjusted in one room at the same time as the sound effects in another. Technicolor believes this "merging" allows more quality time with the filmmakers in highly compressed and rushed schedules. There are also a series of private, comfortable green rooms -- with plush couches, fresh fruit, junk food, highly caffeinated beverages and big screen plasmas -- in which filmmakers and talent can take quick breaks.
Given that it was constructed during the era of digital filmmaking and high definition surround sound, Technicolor at Paramount is state of the art in its ability to handle almost every format imaginable. The only capability this new facility doesn't have is Dolby ATMOS, which debuted at 14 North American cinemas with Disney / Pixar's 'Brave'.
However, Technicolor is considering the upgrade. The stages were built with an eye towards future changes -- the aforementioned Stage 1 features 18 surround channels on the wall, and each speaker is wired and amplified discretely (one of ATMOS' spec requirements). In-house Technicolor sound re-recording mixers, Greg Russell and Scott Millan, are excited about ATMOS (especially the ceiling and full range rear channels). We also heard Michael Bay is listening to ATMOS in consideration for the fourth 'Transformers' film, but no decisions have been made.
Up next for Technicolor at Paramount, Russell and Millan will be doing a "pre-dub" mix for the new James Bond film 'Skyfall', before finishing the soundtrack in London.