During one of my visits to the Avid stand here at IBC2015 in Amsterdam, I had the privilege to sit down with Sreejesh Nair who is an award winning Re-Recording mixer. Sreejesh has worked on more than 200 films in his career from mono to Dolby Atmos and he loves to share his techniques with everyone.
Avid set up a mini Dolby Atmos system on the Avid stand as you can see above, a clever solution to help visitors to the stand to be able to experience Dolby Atmos.
Sreejesh first took me through some of the new features that Avid have released with the new v2.0 software for the S6. Here at IBC they are also showing v2.1 software for the S6 as well as the new Joystick and Post modules.
The Post module in the demo S6 on the Avid stand is an early prototype and he told me why the paddle controls are called PEC/Direct are all about.
The chances of mixing several dozen effects reels to produce the perfect premix in a single pass were pretty slim, even for the most experienced dubbing mixers. Consequently, it was necessary to have some means of dropping in to a mix just before the point where it all went horribly wrong, and then continue mixing until the next time it falls apart!
The problem is that at the point of the drop-in the old mix and the new mix have to be 100 percent identical, otherwise the mismatch would be audible, perhaps a click, or a gap. Remember that the console automation and matching the positions of the faders everything had to be remembered (or marked with wax pencils on the fader escutcheons!) and the balance matched by ear.
This is where the term 'PEC/Direct' switching raises its head. PEC stands for 'photo-electric cell', which was the original method of playing back the optical sound track on a film. Although optical tracks are still available on every theatrical release film print, they are not generally used in the dubbing process any more. However, the term has continued to be used, these days referring to the output of the multi-channel recording device (tape, sep-mag or hard disk or now Pro Tools). The 'Direct' position refers to the mix output of the console.
The idea was that by operating the PEC/Direct switch rapidly back and forth as the film played over the section immediately prior to the point where it all went wrong, it was possible to compare the previous recording pass with the current output of the console. The dubbing engineer could then adjust the faders and other controls until the sound was identical in both positions of the switch. At that point it was possible to drop into record, safe in the knowledge that the punch-in would be inaudible, and have another bash at mixing. If it all went wrong again the next drop-in would normally be performed slightly earlier than the last one, otherwise you could end up with a sequence of drop-ins in close proximity which might become audible. And so the naming convention continues, with the paddles on the new Avid S6 Post module still referred to as PEC/Direct. But to bring us into the 21st century, each of these paddles now includes a high-resolution OLED display to view track/stem names.
Moving onto the new joystick panel, we talked about the lack of motorised joysticks and the patent still being held by Harrison Consoles. So Sreejesh showed me how Avid help us get over the problem of knowing how to get the joystick in the right place when dropping in on surround panning automation. On the 3.2" TFT screens, on the new Joystick module, Pro Tools displays two dots. One represents the position of the joystick and then second the position determined by the automation. In essence what you do is play catch up until the joystick position matches the automation and then Pro Tools starts recording the panning automation. A neat little solution to not having motorised joysticks.
Finally Sreejesh shared with me a very clever macro he had written and programmed into the Avid S6 control surface. In the track laying and temp mixes there may well be surround panning automation in the session for audio elements as they are steered around the 7.1 soundfield. But when it comes to producing a Dolby Atmos version, and create the objects than can be individually steered round the theatre with the Dolby RMU , it is necessary to take that automation from audio tracks and transfer it across to the Dolby Atmos panner plug-in, on the Object Dolby Atmos tracks, that send the panning data to the Dolby RMU. But because they are different plug-ins, you cannot simply copy the automation data across. So Sreejesh wrote a clever macro using Special Copy & Paste to copy all the pan automation across from an Avid or The Cargo Cult (formerly Maggot) surround panner plug-in to the Dolby Atmos plug-in in one hit.
Although you cannot see it in this still image, I watched as the two plug-ins steered the audio around identically after Sreejesh had run his clever little macro.
You can read more about Sreejesh and his experiences on the Avid Blogs.