Today’s edit suites have become a combination video maternity ward, audio inner sanctum and state-of-the-art technology center under the command of skilled editors, where the dreams of clients and producers come to fruition. In this issue, we’re going to visit three of the most interesting new edit suite installations on the east coast to learn how and why they were designed to be especially creative environments in which editors can work their magic. Rather than emphasize technology, we’ll be looking more at the human ergonomics behind their design. We’re after the shell, not the oyster, and will follow up later on with similar excursions in other areas of the country.
Crawford Communications is one of the most prestigious postproduction houses in Atlanta (or anywhere, for that matter), and the folks there have recently relocated their facility, which gave them the opportunity to build three completely new edit suites with an eye toward editing HDTV video and posting 5.1 audio. Because they know that high-definition is best seen big, they decided to install digital HD projectors that throw their images onto screens 8 feet wide in each bay.
"Most people are going to see high-definition video either at a digital cinema installation or in a home theater environment," says Ron Heidt, senior editor/technical director for Crawford Communications, "so we wanted our clients to be looking at images larger than the typical high-definition monitor."
Crawford decided to put in six JVC-DILA projectors in its new facility, three G-20U models in the edit bays and smaller ones in the three audio sweetening rooms. This lets the editors and the clients view their work on screens as they walk around rather than having to remain in a fixed position before CRT displays. Of course, the editors have a 22-inch Sony high-definition monitor directly in front of their seats for critically detailed monitoring.
It was the idea of gearing the company’s new edit bays to produce 5.1 Surround Sound that affected the ergonomics of the layout most significantly, though. "Typically the editor sits in the front of the room and the client sits behind in the back," Heidt explains. "But if you are monitoring the audio, five surround speakers plus a subwoofer, all of a sudden the editor is not in the sweetspot of the room."
Crawford’s solution was to put the editor’s console in the center of the room. A producer’s couch sits about 10 feet back from the projection screen with a middle tier holding a relatively small editor’s desk directly behind it, a third tier for clients is back of that, about 21 feet from the screen and overlooking the editor.
But Crawford intentionally did not fill the suite with blinking lights and humming machinery. "We’ve found that clients don’t like to feel they are in the Starship Enterprise," Heidt tells us. "They want a living room feel in the work environment, so with things becoming more workstation-based we designed the new bays to have less equipment rather than more."
The bay that Heidt calls home at Crawford Communications is driven by an Axial 3000 edit system with an Accom WSD-HD disk array holding a total of 2 hours of high-definition storage, a Snell & Wilcox HD1012 switcher that works with both standard- and high-definition video, and the Zaxcom Arria HD 5.1 audio mixer. "The great thing about this room is that everything is switchable from HD to standard definition," Heidt says. "Since it is resolution- and frame rate-independent, we can work in either 30 fps or 24 fps and in either NTSC or PAL."
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
But perhaps the most human-friendly aspect to the new Crawford edit suites is that each one was given a balcony with a door that opens onto a patio overlooking a courtyard with a pond. "It even has a glass door and window shaded by a screen and blinds," Heidt says, "and when you are working on material that doesn’t require precise color evaluation, we can even let in some outside light. It makes the room very comfortable."
At WBZ-TV 4, the very busy CBS O & O in Boston where they have two Avid Media Composers and two Discreet smoke* nonlinear edit systems in addition to a whole slew of newsroom edit systems, Michael Ruzicka, senior postproduction editor, has just completed building Edit A for postproduction work. Because they have a production company, BZ Productions, within "CBS Boston," Ruzicka finds himself spending one-third of his time dealing with outside clients when he’s not polishing his own station’s promos and on-air graphics.
"We were attempting to revamp the way we build edit suites," Ruzicka says, "so about 8 months ago we began designing this suite to house one of our smoke* systems with an eye toward making it optimal for clients and editors alike. I’m glad to say that the management here really listens to what the editors have to say, and that is reflected in the environment of the new Edit A."
As it turned out, it was fortunate that the suite was to be designated "A" because, as you will see, letters play a large part in describing its layout.
The first implementation of management’s user-friendly attitude was to install hardwood floors with black acoustic panels in the upper walls and ceiling to help absorb the sound in the room destined to be the new suite. But for Ruzicka, the biggest challenge in laying out the edit bay was the fact that he was dealing with an L-shaped room about 23 feet long by 11 feet wide, and, to make things even more fun, the room sports two structural pillars in the middle of the ankle of the "L."
He decided to use this feature to advantage by filling in the foot of the "L" with three equipment racks and a cubbyhole for an ancillary digital audio mixing system. The noise of this side room was shut off from the main edit area by custom soundproof glass doors built by The Design Shop in Newton, Mass. This also allowed the equipment area to have its own cooling system so running the tape decks would not give the clients chills.
To maximize the utility of the rest of the room, The Design Shop folks built a J-shaped editing console with the smoke* system sitting in the angular bottom of the "J" and an area designated for the producers’ use along its leg. The editor is surrounded by the "V" of the console, with the producer at a 45-degree angle behind and to the left of him so Ruzicka can share the main picture monitor with his client but doesn’t have to crane his neck all the way around to see his or her reaction.
"This configuration allows the editor to slide to his left to get out of the edit area and get his own desk space," Ruzicka describes. "Several of the editors requested this so they don’t feel confined by the closeness with the client."
WBZ-TV 4 also installed a Panasonic AG-A850 linear edit controller that swings out from under the console to help Ruzicka and his crew make dubs for the newsroom and outside clients, as well as installed a Sierra Video Systems digital router to direct signals to various decks and monitors. "This is one of the handiest features of this multitasking bay," Ruzicka says. "There are times when I am working on the smoke* at the same time I’m transferring a finished news open to the station’s on-air Profile video server while simultaneously making dubs in the equipment room and blacking tapes for the next project. The Sierra Video router greatly extends Edit A’s functionality."
Functionality and comfort – two of the most important features editors make note of when they talk about designing the rooms they call home.
These are turbulent times for editors. The weakened economy combined with conflicting digital video formats have hit our profession with a double whammy. I recently spoke with editors from across the post-production spectrum to track the trends taking place in our industry.