When the award-winning post services company, Visual Data, decided to upgrade two of its audio suites, it turned to its long-time partner, Advanced Systems Group (ASG), for guidance. While Visual Data and ASG have collaborated considerably on video-focused projects in the past, this would mark the first audio-only design by ASG for the company. Visual Data wanted to add Dolby Atmos capability to one of their primary mixing suites and refresh a busy 5.1 Foley studio and its control room.
Leading the project for the ASG audio team was Tom Menrath, Audio Team Leader and Key Accounts Manager alongside Collyer Spreen, Audio Sales Engineer, and Paul Oakley, Senior Design and Field Broadcast Engineer. “Visual Data is one of the top postproduction services companies,” said Menrath. “They’re specialists in services that are behind-the-scenes but extremely important like language dubbing, subtitling, closed captions, quality assurance, distribution, and more. We were thrilled to work with them on this audio upgrade.”
“From a knowledge perspective, they know what they’re talking about. I was confident they’d provide the solutions and post-integration support we needed as we ventured into this new technology.”
Vice President, Global Engineering
With locations in Burbank, London and Bangalore, India, Visual Data is a global provider of award-winning digital media supply chain services to the entertainment industry. It began as a small editing facility in 1995 and has grown into a leading global provider of quality-driven content management, distribution, localization and media services that enable customers to deliver premium content in any format for any screen or platform, anywhere in the world.
Visual Data moved to its current Burbank location 11 years ago. “Our rooms were functioning very well and provided what we needed at the time, but they limited our ability to grow,” explained Ken Spickler, Vice President, Global Engineering, Visual Data. “We needed to adapt and increase our capabilities in line with what’s needed today, including Dolby Atmos. Since we perform a large amount of QC (quality control) and mastering, we also needed the ability to monitor 12 channels of audio.”
Systems were upgraded to the most recent Pro Tools versions with new Mac Pro computers, along with new Avid S4 control surfaces and interfaces, Genelec monitors, and Argosy desks.
Dolby Atmos and Foley Studio Reboot
“With more content using immersive audio and Dolby Atmos technology in particular, they were looking for that 12-channel audio capability in one of their main mix rooms,” explained Menrath. “Much of the content they work on for their high-profile clients is now in Atmos. They have to be able to hear what the original version sounds like that so they can transfer the audio into other formats and languages while making sure they’re monitoring everything accurately.”
After a careful assessment of the Foley studio and the mix room, the ASG team’s first determination was to add 24-fader Avid S4 control surfaces in both rooms, which necessitated the new workstations, speakers, and furniture. These replaced the outdated C|24 consoles and previous-generation JBL monitoring.
For the main mix room, an Argosy desk, Avid S4/24 control surface, Avid MTRX Studio interface and new computer. Mac Pros with Avid Pro Tools were customized and built specifically for Visual Data. The computers and interfaces reside in the control room one flight below the main mix room and are connected to the upstairs studio’s Genelec 8341 based 7.1.4 monitor system.
The updated Foley room got a new Argosy desk as well, but with a slightly different configuration to accommodate that studio’s workflow and equipment, an Avid S4/24 control surface with a Genelec 8330-based 5.1 speaker system plus microphone preamps and processing for Foley recording.
Genelec monitors with GLM tuning software were added to both rooms. Using Genelec’s GLMv4 software, ASG was able to calibrate the Mix and Foley suites without bringing in any outside support. This was important since time was of the essence. Each of the rooms were worked on separately based on the availability of the rooms.
Downtime can be very costly for a busy post production facility. “We got a big project from one of the studios coming in around the time we were talking about upgrading the rooms with ASG,” reported Spickler. “There wasn’t much turnaround time from when the client got us the material, so taking down the room for a week would have been too disruptive. We had to be ready to work on the project whenever it came in. The ASG team was very accommodating about that and didn’t expect us to do this all at once – one room right after the other.”
The main mix room was the first project for ASG, and the Foley studio was done a few months later.
“Both these rooms were extremely busy,” said Tom Menrath. “So we carefully planned the timing of when we’d go in and teardown, removing the old equipment, upgrading it, and wiring everything to the control room downstairs. We worked very closely with the IT department at Visual Data. We went through the network system and switches, so we had to work closely with the IT staff to make sure we could connect the new system quickly and efficiently. Then we got the engineers up to speed on the new system. We made our deadlines on both rooms, tuned the rooms, and they were online in just a few days.”
ASG has worked with Visual Data on their SAN and NAS storage, including upgrades, for close to a decade. ASG Regional Sales Manager Kymberly Cannon brought in the ASG Audio team after learning from Ken Spickler that they were looking to update two of the facility’s audio rooms. “I was immediately comfortable with Tom, Collyer and Paul,” said Spickler. “From a knowledge perspective, they know what they’re talking about. I was confident they’d provide the solutions and post-integration support we needed as we ventured into this new technology.”
According to Spickler, the ASG audio team has stepped in to ensure the rooms function smoothly. “In that first couple weeks after we got the rooms up and running, our operators were finding their feet with the new technology. They told me that the ASG folks were extremely responsive to any questions they had. I received a lot of comments from them saying how great it was working with such a responsive group and with such a powerful audio setup.”
Visual Data works with some of the largest studios, streaming platforms, and companies in the world.