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Award Winning Foley Artist John Simpson Buys Fairlight

Multiple award-winning Foley artist John Simpson, who has worked with many top directors including Baz Luhrmann and Peter Weir, has invested in a new two-bay Fairlight Constellation XCS console with full High Definition picture playback, which is now up and running at Feet’n Frames, Simpson’s own specialist film and television Foley facility in Australia.

Located nearly 400km from Adelaide, Feet’n Frames is literally on the edge of the South Australian outback. The studio is set on a 300 acre property, which is so remote that power has to be supplied by a 9kva three-cylinder diesel generator. Specially adapted to make it as quiet as possible, the generator powers all the studio equipment and the air conditioning – a necessity rather than a luxury when you consider that temperatures can rise to 49° C during the summer months.

“It is very quiet outside – the perfect place to set up a recording studio,” Simpson says. “All the gear with noisy fans lives in a converted caravan outside the control room that also has its own aircon system. This leaves me with a nice, quiet control room, which is critical when recording Foley. The Fairlight and auxiliary gear all run off a true inline UPS/power conditioner to smooth out any power fluctuations from the generator. As for security – well, that’s provided by a family of kangaroos that like to sleep outside the building each night.”

Simpson, a long-time Fairlight user, decided to upgrade to a Constellation XCS console because he wanted to stay ahead of the technology race.

He explains: “In the past I have had Fairlight MFX2 and MFX3 consoles, which I always found to be very stable. However, when systems such as Pro Tools and Nuendo came out I began to feel I was being left behind because they could do many more tasks for a lot less cost. In the end I jumped ship and went with a different manufacturer.”

Although Simpson was initially happy with his new system, he eventually became frustrated by recurring software bugs and by the fact that Quicktimes were not playing properly, which gave him some major picture issues.

“It was at about this time that a colleague mentioned a review he’d read on the new Fairlight Xynergi system,” Simpson says. “I was interested because I had always liked Fairlight – and because Xynergi ran on a PC. My ears pricked up and I started looking into it. Fairlight supplied a demo system and after trying it for a few weeks I was so impressed that I ordered my new set-up. This has now been running very successfully since the beginning of the year and it has solved all my previous picture troubles. I can throw pictures in any format at it and it’s happy to play them. The system’s stability is exceptional and I also love the Xynergi keyboard - I hardly use the mouse at all. I find it very easy and relaxing to cut on (I cut all my own Foley after it is recorded), and my favourite function is the clip naming because it is so easy to use.”

Working in such a remote location could prove problematic for a facility with an international client base, but John Simpson gets round this by using two key pieces of software – Cinesync and Fairlight’s own Virtual Studio Runner, which allow him to send and receive digital media via high speed wireless Internet.

“Clients upload their pictures to my FTP server and after I have completed the work I send them a session in whatever format they need,” he explains. “The Fairlight VSR is set up with my FTP access details and my clients’ details, which makes it very quick and easy to send small clips anywhere in the world. All I have to do is record the effect, press a button and it’s on my server – with an email sent to the client telling him to download it. It is a very nifty system – and very cool. If it wasn’t for the internet and these softwares I wouldn’t be able to work out here at all.”

John Simpson’s talents as a Foley artist are in great demand and keep him busy on projects all over the world. He began his career at the SA Film Corporation in 1981, where he was employed as a backroom man to load magnatec dubbers and projectors. Within a couple of years he was recording Foley and his skill was quickly recognised, particularly by Lee Smith (film editor of The Dark Night) who initially employed him on the film Little Women and has subsequently worked with him on many other films including The Truman Show.

Although Simpson still travels to other Foley studios, he prefers to work from Feet’n Frames, which is set up to handle all his Foley requirements as well as occasional FX and atmosphere recordings.

“The quiet location makes it ideal to record outside,” he says. “We did a lot of this for Baz Luhrman’s Australia, in particular all of the horse recordings which involved some real ones and some done on the Foley stage. We have also recorded cars, trucks and six track atmospheres for many films. The beauty of recording cars and the like just outside the room is that I can quickly load up the recorded effect and check it for timing against the pictures.”

Since its installation at the beginning of this year, Simpson’s new Fairlight Constellation XCS has been used to record Foley for two Australian feature films – Coffin Rock and The Last Ride (starring Hugo Weaving) – and for a number of short films and TV shows including Charlotte and Henry, a new children’s programme. Other projects in the pipeline include two new feature films - The Guardians of GAHoole and Happy Feet 2.