At the beginning of June, we published a case study covering how Halo Post Production upgraded their flagship Studio 1 to Dolby Atmos in just 6 weeks. In that case study, we asked Richard Addis - Head of Audio Operations at Halo if they considered replacing the AMS Neve DFC as well as part of the upgrade for Studio One?
Richard: We spoke to countless mixers and various other studios both at home and in the US regarding a switch to an Avid S6. The mixers who regularly work with us were split down the middle, regarding the S6 vs the DFC, and interestingly not many of them were sat on the fence; it was either strongly for or strongly against. The demand for S6 is definitely there and we may yet go down the hybrid S6 route.
PTE: This hybrid solution Richard mentioned is one offered by Frozen Fish Design. We covered this clever solution in a story back in May where we outlined a number of examples where Frozen Fish Design has integrated Avid S6 modules into large format consoles like the Euphonix System 5 and Neve DFC.
We were interested in getting the inside track on this decision and the process of how a 24 fader Avid S6 M40 mixing console has been integrated into their existing AMS Neve DFC surface, which has also been updated to the latest v11 DFC3D software and DAWSYNC plugin, intended to provide a much streamlined and more flexible hybrid mixing experience. Richard Addis - Head of Audio Operations at Halo takes up the story...
Richard: We seized the opportunity to do the Atmos installation at relatively short notice, so didn’t have much time to think about anything other than the main build at the time! Since the studio relaunch, we’ve turned our sights to the one major aspect which wasn’t addressed as part of the main build, namely the mixing console.
The DFC continues to be the gold standard in film mixing and AMS Neve’s ongoing commitment to developing for and streamlining the Dolby Atmos mixing experience is fantastic. That said, with Pro Tools 12.8’s Atmos integration, there are other options out there, which means Atmos is now highly accessible to projects of all sizes and budgets, and not just for Film. We needed a solution to cater for all, and with the S6 integration, we now have that.
PTE: David Turner, Head of Film at Halo continues...
David: A great many films want to either mix entirely 'in-the-box', or work in a hybrid fashion, whereby certain elements are mixed using the much beloved DFC. We have upcoming projects coming with the FX being mixed entirely in the box, and Dialogues and Music on the DFC. This has been the case for a number of years, but now with S6 integration, we have a solution that is both progressive and ergonomic. With Dolby Atmos deliverables also beginning to appear on delivery specs for providers such as Netflix, investing in upgrades that streamline the Dolby Atmos production workflow are of clear benefit to us across the business as a whole, not just for film.
PTE: Dolby Atmos mixing has been possible on the DFC since the release of Encore v9, however, the additional features afforded by the v11 upgrade made the proposition extremely attractive. Johnathan Rush, Halo ’s Lead Mix Technician and Re-Recording Mixer, explains:
Johnathan: The DFC3D v11 update, combined with the integration of the Avid S6, means you really do have access to everything you need on the surface. As well as control over the Dolby Atmos Rendering and Mastering Unit (RMU)’s monitoring level and re-renders, the integration between DFC and the RMU allows for direct control and display of all object pan information, regardless of whether those objects come from the DFC, Pro Tools, or any other DAW.
PTE: AMS Neve’s Software Development Manager, Dave Critchley, elaborates on some of the enhancements:
Dave: DFC3D’s new meter bridge provides complete feedback of the session, from level and waveform and Routing displays, Plugin displays for EQ, Dynamics, De-esser and Subharmonics, to the Spatial Panning Display and Dynamic Display of Dolby Atmos Object usage that are key to mixing in Dolby Atmos. Having a long heritage of mixing with the DFC, upgrading halo ’s console to the latest platform made perfect sense. The integration mirrors the configuration of the main US stages and having the DFC3D with access to S6 in a hybrid environment for in-the-box control ticks all the boxes.
PTE: With all these different systems users like Halo need a way to quickly lock everything together, regardless of where a transport command is issued from. We asked Johnathan Rush, Halo ’s Lead Mix Technician and Re-Recording Mixer what solution they have gone for....
Johnathan: By combining the new AMS Neve DAWSYNC plugin with our existing SoundMaster Atom and Avid Satellite network, we have an elegant solution to instantly lock all Pro Tools systems, the DFC and the VCube together, no matter where you press ‘Play’.”
PTE: Can you explain why you decided to retain a second DFC Master section on the S6 side of the console?
Johnathan: By having use of the DFC’s surround monitor and Pec/Direct module, we retain accurate Bus/Tape metering, which is a must when working with multiple playback and record rigs.
PTE: How did you decide what to remove from the DFC to make space for the Avid S6?
Richard: After much discussion between Jonathan Rush, Dave Turner, John Rogerson and myself internally, as well as freelance and external mixers, we decided to remove the 32 faders that we had on the right-hand side of the DFC. We felt that the S6 would mostly be used by the FX mixers, who traditionally take the right-hand side, as they’re much more likely to have been premixing in-the-box, in Atmos, in their cutting room. This left us with 40 DFC faders on the left for the Dialogues and Music.
We retained the DFC master section on the right-hand side, however, to retain the Pec/Direct panel stem monitoring controls, so that both mixers have access to their own set of controls, as well as the bus/tape metering that as yet can’t be done with the S6 metering.
PTE: How did you decide what Avid S6 features and modules to choose?
Richard: Whilst they’re different surfaces, we didn’t want either side of the room to be any less functional than the other, so we just wanted to match the S6 to the remaining DFC topology, although we can chop and change this as required; that is the real boon of the S6.
Having an M10 or an M40 wasn’t a choice - you absolutely have to have the display modules. We’re also adding the S6 joystick module for easier panning control when mixing in Atmos, again, to match the DFC.
PTE: Moving on the integration of the Avid S6 into the DFC surface this is a custom retrofit, designed and installed by Glenn Haddock and his team at Frozen Fish Design. Glenn and FFD have installed a number of DFC Gemini / S6 hybrid solutions in various post production studios across the globe, including Skywalker Sound in California. Glenn, what gave you the idea to even consider the possibility of integrating an Avid S6 into large format consoles like the AMS Neve DFC?
Glenn: We were approached by Simon Ray and Rob Weatherall from Goldcrest films after they’d visited and also heard from mixers, what we had created at Twickenham Studios and how those designs were now not only allowing the mixers flexible console set ups but also attracting some big-name clients who were impressed with our approach to console customisation. Simon and Rob wanted some of what we had created at Twickenham plus a solution to allow both the S6 and the DFC to be offered to their potential clients, cleverly knowing that some clients would like a variety of console set ups. They wanted a modular solution to allow them to swap between baskets of DFC and S6.
Thus, began our foray into designing hybrid console solutions for the S6. Basically, we are good at listening to what people are trying to achieve and then asking the right questions and then looking at practical solutions.
PTE: How did you go about designing a practical solution?
Glenn: We had some experience of the DFC but not the S6. Initially, we had to understand the architecture of both consoles, including the modules and how the connectivity worked. The DFC at Goldcrest was being upgraded to the current 3D version which allows for simpler connections between each basket, CAT 5 and power essentially, similar to how the S6 works. (connectivity wise).
Next, we looked at how mixers use these consoles, do they need certain controls to line up, does there need to be a seamless jump between the differing surfaces etc.
Then we looked into how we could fit the S6 modules into the DFC baskets, and were pleased when a quick measure up showed that it was physically possible.
Finally, we made a mock-up of the DFC to test whether the baskets could be removable
PTE: What challenges did you have to overcome to make it work?
Glenn: The S6 is straight with a slightly angled fascia, whereas the DFC has a flat fascia which then angles up towards the meter bridge. Ergonomically could it work? Aesthetically can the two consoles sit side by side and look great? Can the faders line up across the console, what about the other controls? Is ventilation an issue for the S6, we don’t want to void the warranty. Where will the network switch, power supplies and cabling fit? Can the baskets be swapped from the DFC frame without damaging the adjacent controls?
PTE: How much support and help have you had from Avid and AMS Neve to be able to make this happen?
Glenn: Interestingly, both Avid and AMS Neve were very supportive of what we were trying to achieve. Allowing FFD access to frame drawings and being loaned the modules from an S6 demo console, all helped with the understanding the consoles and how to integrate them.
PTE: What do you have to do to get the Avid S6 modules to fit into the profile of the DFC?
Glenn: We were given a 16-fader wide DFC basket from Goldcrest, where we stripped out all parts that were in the way or not needed. Then we set about designing the structure and new fascias, to support the modules. From left to right there was plenty of room for the modules but front to back was the challenge.
The fader and process modules fitted with just enough space before the profile changed. The knob modules fitted also but needed some spacing to fit into the remaining space.
What is very satisfying is that if you slide all the faders (DFC & S6) towards the bolster, they line up, as do all the knobs at the very back by the meter bridge.
The automation module is the same as the fader so no problem but the master module was the tricky one. Because of its size, the solution was to set it into the profile of the DFC as the screen pivots to the required angle for viewing.
A custom blanking panel to rear sorted the remaining space behind. A new bezel and support bracket for the display modules and a new power panel at the back of the DFC basket completed the job. No extra holes were drilled in the DFC baskets, we were able to use just the existing fixing holes.
PTE: Are you constrained in which Avid S6 modules you can use to fit in the DFC profile?
Glenn: No, we made the support structure universal so the fader section or master section could go left or right, whatever worked best for the user. The fader and automation modules can be swapped with each other, as they are the same size, while the knob, process, joystick and post modules can be swapped with each other, again because they are all the same size.
The Master module can be placed left or right but needs a fader or automation module in front. There is a blanking panel behind the master section in the meter bridge as the display module is not needed here. Obviously, the basket could be set up as an all-fader section if the client is using more than 1 basket. You can also set up an 9 or 5 knob system, just by adding the appropriate Avid banking panel.
PTE: Are you using the original DFC frame or do you have to fabricate new frames to take the Avid S6 modules?
Glenn: No, basically the frames (baskets) are stripped of what supports the DFC components and then rebuilt to our specification.
PTE: How long did it take to complete the work in Halo's Studio 1?
Glenn: Halo has the older DFC1 console which has a different profile to the DFC Gemini at Goldcrest and Abbey Road. So, we first had to re-jig all the designs and drawings to fit the different profile and size of the DFC1. We also needed to design a new power panel.
The total time for FFD was about 5 weeks, 1 week for the redesign, 3 weeks manufacture and 1 week to reconfigure the 2 Baskets Halo supplied to us.
PTE: For anyone contemplating a hybrid solution this one at Halo, which consoles can take an S6?
Glenn: Currently, AMS Neve, DFC Gemini and the older DFC1 (as at Halo) and we have recently completed the prototype frame to fit the S6 into the Euphonix system 5.
We have another option where we have designed 8 fader wide frames for the S6 that can be positioned on producer tables to expand an existing console (maybe dual operator) or importantly can be placed over the top of the DFC console just clearing the control surface. This eliminates unsightly, and unergonomic solutions of the past. Potentially the frames can be adapted to be placed over any console for maximum flexibility.
PTE: What are the considerations a potential client will need to consider to have a hybrid S6 solution?
Glenn: In our experience, DFC users have normally been considering upgrading to the DFC 3D, which also allows an easier transition to our hybrid solution, but potentially the system may work without the 3D upgrade. As for the Euphonix System 5, this is a simple process of removing the old fader strips and installing new FFD frames with the S6, it’s as simple as that. The Network switch would live out-board. Plug and play as it were.
The big question for facilities is, do I want a state of the art facility that is flexible, ergonomic, easy to reconfigure and totally future-proof to attract the best talent and clients.
PTE: So is the team at Halo pleased with this hybrid solution?
Johnathan: Having the S6 integrated into the DFC frame means the listening position is not in any way compromised, and the ergonomics are vastly improved for mixing ‘in-the-box’.”
Richard: The workmanship, finish quality and attention to detail are second to none. Aesthetics and ergonomics are an often overlooked consideration, but for a flagship facility such as Studio 1, it has to be robust, look fantastic and feel totally natural; FFD’s design certainly surpasses expectations in all of those regards.
PTE: How is it working now it's done?
Richard: Very well. The integration was very simple, which is testament to the thoroughness and quality of Glenn and FFDs designs. Additionally, the DAWSYNC plug-in from AMS has helped greatly in streamlining and simplifying transport control.
PTE: Are there any tweaks you are looking at?
Richard: Not really - only the addition of the joystick module. It will be interesting to see what other S6 modules and options come down the pipe in the future, but we’re not really looking at the S6 Post module at the moment…
PTE: So there you have it. The story of how one post production facility have been able to give a substancial piece of investment in the AMS Neve DFC1 a new lease of life using the hybrid solution from the guys at Frozen Fish Design. We hope that this detailed case study will help other facilites consider if this kind of solution would work for you and give you the best of both worlds.