CREATIVE GROUP's HD enhancements

With the growing need for video and audio post, Creative Group relocated its facility and upgraded with HD enhancements
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Creative Group’s new facility has 20 rooms, which include two Sony HD linear editing suites, six Sony component digital linear editing suites and six Discreet flame/smoke nonlinear compositing/editing suites.

The plan

The intensity of competition in the New York City video and audio post industries is constantly growing, creating a need for advanced approaches to the design, construction and maintenance of post facilities. Creative Group, a 10-year-old company with an equal focus on both video and audio post, recently completed an ambitious relocation intended to place it in the forefront of services for HD.

The initial causes for Creative Group's move from its older, two-floor, 11,000sq-ft home on Manhattan's East Side to a new, one-floor, 25,000sq-ft facility were twofold:

  1. The company had run out of room for expansion in the old location.
  2. The company felt that it would enjoy an increase in business traffic by moving closer to Times Square.

Redesign

The new facility was to be comprehensive by post standard, encompassing a variety of editing suties. In order to maximize the effectiveness of having so many diverse but closely working resources in-house, one of the foremost design goals was improved connectivity through a well-designed infrastructure. The company needed to be able to interconnect Windows-based, Mac-based (both OS 9 and OS X,) and SGI computers, providing all of them with conventional networking capabilities along the way.

Adequate storage is key to the success of the nonlinear suites. The three ProTools suites work off of a Rorke 4TB SAN with a 40-slot AIT backup. Discreet logic platforms each have local 4TB RAIDs connected by gigabit Ethernet and supported by a Discreet Backdraft administrative workstation for archiving and utility functions. Although the facility is wholy digital in both HD and SD, analog signals can be accommodated when necessary. Five T1 lines supply connectivity and redundancy for Internet traffic and the VoIP phone system.

In addition to building an infrastructure that would be HD bandwidth-capable, the company had to be sure the facility would be fully functional for 1080i, 720p and 24p. The company installed an array of HD crossconverters, downconverters and upconverters in its suites that supported all three standards, including Snell & Wilcox HD5050, Leitch Juno 3800 and Panasonic UFC1800.

Moving from what had come to feel like a tight and cramped environment, the new design included more spacious rooms, benefiting both the clients and Creative Group talent — the latter of which the company places a high priority on attracting and retaining. The linear edit suites are 368sq ft, and the audio suites measure a spacious 675sq ft. The audio rooms' VO booths feature floating concrete slab construction with acoustically isolated walls and ceilings. Consoles designed by Sterling Modular have moveable wings to allow both the mixer and client to sit in the sweet spot during critical listening.


With it’s newly remodeled facility, Creative Group designed and edited the 2004 promotion campaign for USA Network’s “The 4400.”

Benchmark Media Systems helped address the issue of RF interference, a strong possibility given the facility's Times Square location. The solution involved custom-designed audio patch bays from Audio Accessories, featuring capacitive decoupled signal shielding, shunting offending sources of interference to the ground. Mogami low-capacitance cable was used on all critical analog pathways, such as monitoring feeds, minimizing high-frequency roll-off on long wire runs, some of which extend as far as 200ft.

In the machine room, Creative Group and Fiskaa Engineering were determined to head off HVAC complications. Measures were taken to ensure that all technical areas have adequate cooling capacity as well as redundancy, using twin 15-ton Liebert units. A star grounding system was installed, which connects directly to cold water pipes in the basement.

With a fast-growing roster of playback devices, including dedicated Digibeta and other available VTRs, the design team left plenty of capability, in terms of physical space, in router frames and surrounding racks to the outer system for HD and digital audio control routing expansion.

A single distributor, Sony, equipped the facility. Two systems integrators were used: Sony SIC and Max Video. Along the way, gear choices and workflow were closely interconnected. Creative Group's guiding workflow principle was to create a one-stop-shop for their clients, where production, editing, graphics, sound design and searches on the custom 500,000-plus file music/sound effects database could be done under one roof.

The HD buzz

At the heart of the design was the desire for an infrastructure in which signals and materials could be moved around with ease. The 1TB storage server from Dynamic Network Factory was central, creating a common sharing ground where engineering staff, operators and clients can transfer image or audio files, After Effects, Web postings, word documents, or any other type of data. The server acts as an effective intermediary between Windows, Mac and SGI machines, which may otherwise have had problems communicating properly.

HD had been only a small portion of Creative Group's total business until it performed the post for the theatrical release, “Bowling for Columbine,” by director Michael Moore. At that point, HD projects picked up considerably, giving the facility significant experience to draw off of. Besides being invaluable when specifying equipment for the HD linear editing suites in the new facility, this experience also helped guide the physical and networking design of the HD rooms themselves and eased the incorporation of HD capability into the Discreet suites, which feature six flame and smoke Tezro-based systems that are SD/HD-capable.

To handle the increasingly diverse demands of HD, one of the two HD linear suites is equipped with a Sony MVS8000 switcher with eight channels of DME, while the other utilizes a Sony HDVS7000 switcher with two channels of DME. Both engage a Sony 9100 editor, with Snell & Wilcox and Leitch converters and a Panasonic UFC1800 format translator. High-quality sound was a priority in these suites, so Genelec 5.1 surround monitoring and Dolby DP-572 decoders were installed.

To assure consistency and maximum flexibility for booking time, all five SD linear suites are identically equipped, using a Sony DVS7000 switcher with two channels of DME, a Sony 9100 editor and Genelec stereo monitoring.

One of the more notable aspects of the equipment list lay in the three audio suites, which are identically equipped and fully functional for 5.1 surround. Taking into account the company's original focus on video, it put a strong emphasis on the resources dedicated to the audio section with the thinking that a powerful offering there would spark a commensurate increase in HD business.

Each suite runs Pro Tools HD, with 48 channels of I/O. Critical listening comes via an array of six Meyer HD1 monitors with high-quality mic pre-amps, including Manley VoxBox and Millennia STT-1. Mix-to-picture takes place while viewing an NEC 61in plasma display. In addition, an array of Dolby solutions are employed. A/D, D/A and distribution is by Benchmark, combining with a Z-Systems 32×32 router to move all audio signals.

In light of the size and scope of the move, the technical glitches were minimal. Most notable among them included the fact that once the Sony HDS-X3700 and Klotz Vadis routers had been installed and connected, Creative Group found itself challenged by initial technical difficulties, including unexpected audio clicks, as well as control routing problems. Extensive troubleshooting revealed that the cause was inappropriate clock choice. By using a digital audio reference signal word clock, as opposed to a video reference, the team was able to solve what was otherwise an extremely confusing situation.

Above and beyond any difficulties that came with implementation of the technical plant at the new facility, the group encountered an even larger challenge on a logistical level — keeping the old facility running while building and transferring personnel and equipment to the new facility. The company accomplished this by using a combination of systems integrators instead of just one, which allowed it to maintain an aggressive schedule of moving all of the rooms over the course of 10 weeks.

As the company continues to expand its new facility, especially in terms of HD capability, the staff considers the move to be successful. Demand for HD services is healthy, and the audio suites are heavily booked not only for promo work, which is the mainstay of its business, but also for DVD mixing and production. Most important to the company leaders is the feeling that they have created an inviting atmosphere for some of the industry's top talent to do high-quality work in a wide variety of formats.

Equipment List

David Weiss is a New York City-based journalist and technology writer. He is the New York Metro editor for Mix Magazine.

Adobe After Effects, Photoshop

AJA I/O

Autodesk 3dsmax, flint, smoke

Avid Symphony, Adrenaline

Chyron Duet, MAX CGs

D&K MSD600M digital metering

Genelec 5.1 monitors

Graham-Patten DESAM 8000 console

Leitch Juno 3800 converter

Meyers HD1 monitors

Panasonic
VTRs
UFC 1800 upconvertor

Rorke 4 TB SAN

Sony
MVS8000 switcher
HDVS7000 switcher
DVS7000 switcher
HDW-F500 HDCam
DigiBeta, DVCAM, IMX VTRs

Tascam DA88, DA98

Design Team

Creative Group

Z-Systems 32×32 router

Fiskaa Engineering

Joseph Avallone, president
Charlie Suydam, chief engineer
Joe Castellano, partner/editor
Troy Krueger, senior sound designer

Max Video

Thomas Fiskaa, consultant

Rafferty Bros.

John Durbeck, consultant

Sony SIC

Donnelly Mechanical

A Squared

Eddie Son Ly, consultant
Howard Dixon, consultant
Andy Knierian, consultant

Sterling Sound

Andrew Thompson, architect

Jim Maher, acoustic consultant