MPSE Offers Sound Advice for Editors and Mixers
by Mel Lambert
Sound editorial and re-recording is a highly collaborative process — multiple editors and sound designers work to deliver finely crafted tracks to the TV/film stage, where they will be combined under the capable hands of the dubbing mixers. Given that each element will be touched by multiple hands, it is perhaps surprising that we need to rely on antiquated, one-to-one file-transfer mechanisms. In reaction, Avid Technology has been working diligently behind the scenes to develop a network-based environment in which editors and mixers can now exchange work-in-progress material while shaping a final soundtrack that requires complementary perspectives.
To underscore how far the company has reached in its goal to deliver collaborative solutions for the post-production community, Motion Picture Sound Editors recently organized a Sound Advice seminar to showcase to MPSE members and guests the collaborative features available from Pro Tools 12.5, the application’s first version to offer user-friendly data-exchange and related functionality. Introduced by Tom McCarthy, MPSE president and executive vice president of post-production facilities at Sony Pictures Entertainment, the 60-plus participants gathered at Sony Pictures Studios’ Cary Grant Theatre May 10 to hear more about new tools for creating, managing and sharing Pro Tools media.
“We are now offering our first iteration of collaborative features for Pro Tools,” explained Tim Carroll, Avid Technology’s vice president of audio products. “But in no way are we finished, since Avid is actively looking for feedback from the post community; we always welcome input from our end users.” Cloud Collaboration lets users create a new session type — referred to as a Project — that is, essentially, a cloud-enabled Pro Tools session. Projects stored in the Avid Cloud Account associated with a user’s Master Account lets participants invite other Pro Tools users to collaborate on a track-by-track basis; users can also be invited to collaborate with other Pro Tools users on their Projects.
In reality, a Pro Tools Project is not dissimilar to an online session, since it lets a user access material from any system that offers broadband access and hence collaborate remotely with other sound editors and re-recording mixers. Pro Tools automatically synchronizes a local project and associated media with a user’s online account; whoever creates a Project, owns it. And even though a user needs to be working online the first time they create a project, after that they can stay signed in and work off-line, with Pro Tools and Avid Cloud Client Services synchronizing the local project with an online account the next time a user goes back online. (Behind the scenes, project data and companion media are bundled and cached on the user’s local storage. The process runs in background and can be monitored within Pro Tools by checking the Task Manager.)
A new dual-operator Avid S6 Assignable Digital Console in Sony Pictures Studios’ Cary Grant Theatre.
Avid’s senior product designer Connor Sexton and applications specialist Jeff Komar then proceeded to demonstrate the current capability for post users working in up to three different locations — maybe across town, across the country on in different countries — to share Pro Tools assets and work collaboratively on a complex multi-channel Project. Sexton and Komar were linked via Skype to Avid’s manager of applications specialist Gil Gowing based in Florida, while working on a 5.1-channel Project with music, effects and backgrounds. During the MPSE demonstration, Sexton served as project leader and coordinated contributions from Komar overseeing sound effects while, working independently, Gowing developed music elements required to complete the session.
All project assets, including the master Pro Tools session and individual clips, were being downloaded from cloud-based storage on the Amazon S3 service using high-speed broadband connections to the theatre, and played back from the local cache. Opening a Task Manager window that controls file-management tasks, the three participants accessed the various shared files and went to work. “Shared Pro Tools tracks are shown in blue,” Sexton explained, “and can be pulled down from the cloud by any participant. The Task Manager Window lets you monitor, pause and cancel ongoing tasks, including file copying, fade regeneration and indexing. Users can also access the Task Manager to monitor upload and download progress.” While the current release limits the number of collaborative users to three, the firm’s software team is planning to extend that number; the current 60 GByte storage capacity is also expected to be increased in the near future. Data encrypted during cloud transfer and hosted on Amazon Web Services is said to meet the Motion Picture Association of America’s security requirements and other standards.
Sexton also demonstrated Clip Transparency which, when enabled, shows a transparent overlay when moving clips on the timeline. “This new feature can be useful for visually aligning clips over other clips when arranging them on the timeline using the familiar Grabber Tool,” he explained. “For example, users might want to align a transient of one clip over a target transient in another clip.”
“As well as instantly available insert processing, we have added Elastic Properties so that each clip on an enabled track has specific capabilities, such as tempo, meter, TCE factor, input gain and pitch shift,” the product designer continued. “Users can view and change the properties of selected clips — maybe to reduce input gain and hence avoid clipping that can occur during heavy processing.”
A Chat Window for Pro Tools 12.5 lets users communicate ideas and creative direction.
Checking back with Komar, Sexton was able to import new Boom, SUB A and SUB B sound effects tracks from the cloud into his Project and audition the results. Having cleaned up the tracks with added fades and some low-end roll-off, Sexton re-shared the results with his two collaborators. “We added batch fade from version 12.3, offering variable fade lengths and shapes,” he pointed out.
Gowing then alerted Komar and Sexton that his string, percussion and related music tracks were ready, and updated these as Aux Sends into the in-progress Project. “There is no need to send us stems,” Sexton stresses, “since Pro Tools now offers a Share as Frozen option, which is useful if collaborators don’t own a particular plug-in that you’re using, but you want them to hear the processed track. A shared frozen track will be frozen on all systems that download that material.” The Upload Track Changes icon shows a different graphic to indicate that it has been shared as a frozen track.
Other new Pro Tools 12.5 features include the ability to export timecode with QuickTime Bounce, Avid Interplay enhancements when using XDCAM MXF media with Send to Playback, and an updated AVE (Avid Video Engine).
Ryan Wardell, director of audio workstations and control surfaces, explained that cloud collaboration has been built into version 12.5, and not bolted-on. “Inside Pro Tools and the Avid Media Central Platform, we have micro services handling critical parts of the workflow,” he explained, “including a dedicated interconnectivity bus between all of the services that have been optimized to accelerate uploads and downloads, together with fully integrated sign-on and security functions.”
A new Track Ownership control lets users control who owns shared Pro Tools tracks, including current ownership. Ownership is critical, since multiple participants can simultaneously edit unowned tracks, which might result in edit conflicts between an in-cloud copy of the Project and a collaborator’s local copy. As the user manual for Pro Tools 12.5 explains, color codes within a Project indicates that there are edit conflicts between various participants’ local copies and the cloud copy. Changes can be uploaded to overwrite the cloud copy of a targeted track, or the reverse. When no collaborator owns a shared track, anyone is free to work on it, although users will take automatic ownership of a track simply by making a shareable change.
Pro Tools 12.5 streamlines collaboration, communication and the sharing of session data.
The MPSE audience was also treated to a tour of the Cary Grant Theatre’s latest hardware addition: a dual-operator Avid S6 Assignable Digital Console that replaces a Harrison MPC4D desk. As Tom Graham, Avid’s marketing manager of worldwide pro-audio and pro-mixing segments, explained, “The modular S6 offers improved ergonomics, including enhanced visibility across the control surface with added visual features, together with full Ethernet connectivity between eight-fader channel modules and the Pro Tools DSP engines, together with full EuCon [control-protocol implementation] for connecting to other digital audio workstations. We have also added a Joystick Module and a new Master Film Module with PEC/DIR switching. In addition to our Avid XMON system, S6 also accommodates third-party monitoring options, including the DADman EUCON Control Monitor Controller.” The new installation marks the 1,000th S6 system to be sold worldwide.
“Our replacement project took just two and a half weeks,” McCarthy stated. “We have twin sections for dialogue/music and sound effects, with 48 faders in each section; the entire console is almost 28 feet wide. We have a similar, albeit smaller, S6 in our Anthony Quinn Theatre, with 32 faders per section.” As Brian Van Leer from the facility’s engineering department told CineMontage: “Both stages normally work with up to seven, 96-track Pro Tools|HD playback rigs: four for use by either section, one for plug-ins, and two others as Utility and/or X-tracks. We have also specified 48-port IHSE Draco KVM systems that carry mouse/trackball, keyboard and uncompressed DVI signals via CAT5e cable between workstations and remote display screens, together with other USB-capable devices.”
The new S6 console will see service during coming months on director Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, with supervising sound editors Mandell Winter, MPSE, and David Esparza, plus re-recording mixers Steve Pederson and Daniel J. Leahy, together with pre-dubs for director Morten Tyldum’s Passengers with re-recording mixers Kevin O'Connell and Richard King.
Planned collaborative features for Pro Tools include a Revision History function that will keep track of changes and updates made by each user, plus variable undo/redo functions. Post facilities will also be able to build their own in-house, LAN-based, collaborative environment using Linux-capable servers for organizations that need either additional security and/or to fully optimize data-transfer speeds. “Currently we need the cloud to host Pro Tools assets and contributions,” Carroll explained. “Using one of our ISIS or NEXIS servers with high-data bandwidth, post facilities could bring the process in-house. But when using 100 Mbit/sec up and down links, the Amazon S3 service is not a limiting factor.”
Mel Lambert has been intimately involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a Los Angeles-based copywriting and editorial service. He is also a 30-year member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org