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Field Report: Anvil Post Production Expands With Solid State Logic

Anvil Post Production, a division of Vidfilm International Digital, is one of the UK’s leading audio post houses and offers end-to-end audio solutions to producers of both feature films and high-end television dramas.

Located in Denham, just west of central London, Anvil’s facilities include fully equipped digital sound editing rooms; optical sound transfers to Dolby SVA, Dolby SR-D, DTS and SDDS, ADR and Foley rooms; and two feature dubbing stages, each equipped with a Solid State Logic (SSL) Avant digital mixing console.

Both theaters were refitted by SSL in 1998. Since then, they have seen action on feature films such as “Her Majesty Mrs. Brown,” “House” and “Waking Ned Divine” as well as television dramas such as “Inspector Morse,” “Randall & Hopkirk Deceased,” “Hope and Glory” and “Close and True.”

Anvil also has recorded music for titles such as “Silence of the Lambs,” “Naked Lunch” and “Supergirl.” In addition, theatrical foreign versions are made here — “Gladiator” and “Independence Day” amongst them — and the first Dolby SR soundtrack, “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase,” was mixed at Anvil.

Demand for the services Anvil provides to the television and film industry has increased with the advent of formats such as SR-D, DTS, SDDS, surround sound TV mixes and lateral 5.1 for DVD. Before the SSL refit, Anvil serviced these requirements in just one THX dubbing studio, equipped with a Soundcraft 3200, MagTrax 5.1 monitoring, with no automation and only 56 inputs. The Soundcraft desk was a brilliant workhorse, but time and technology move on.

Looking at the direction in which the post-production industry was headed, Anvil realized that to retain existing TV and theatrical clients while still attracting new ones, a second studio and expansion of the central machine room were required. After careful consideration, Anvil decided to acquire two Avant consoles. Although this decision came later than that of other studios in the same league, Anvil believed that it would be prudent to wait a little longer while the technology advanced.

For the upgrade, the goals were simple. Anvil wanted a streamlined, 2-studio configuration that could handle a variety of mixing work. Because, technically speaking, the two rooms would be almost clones, projects would be able to be passed between the room with no compatibility problems. With this state-of-the-art setup, Anvil could take on twice the workload and still stay completely within the digital domain. As a result of the upgrade, Anvil now is able to mix large numbers of tracks quickly, while still satisfying today’s complicated delivery requirements. Moreover, the studio can recall any of the mix configurations by entering the name of the project.

When Anvil decided to upgrade, the studio knew it wanted total automation, with at least 180 inputs and a comprehensive monitor matrix. However, it did not want a board that re-invented the wheel just because it had gone down the digital route.

With a 2-desk setup, the studio would need to be able to network occasionally and simultaneously be truly digitally connected to the outside world, without the need for add-ons. The current networking structure is two digital consoles linked to a central brain. All record, replay and outboard devices are connected to this, which makes it possible for either mix room to access the gear it needs. Setups and automation can flow between the mix rooms by using either SSL’s proprietary software or magneto-optical disk.

The process of choosing the right desk took about a year. As he was searching, dubbing mixer Alan Snelling had the good fortune to work with a Dutch mixer, Wim Wonk, who had his own 4-studio outfit in Amsterdam with four SSL Axiom desks. With his recommendation of the consoles and SSL’s implementation of 9-pin control, which made the desk a complete center for all operations, it seemed that the search for the right desk was almost over. Many trips to SSL followed, and although the Axiom was clearly a step in the right direction, there still were some outstanding issues to address in terms of multi-format monitoring.

Snelling was the first person outside of SSL to view the prototype of SSL’s new Avant dubbing console. It became apparent it was a truly digital desk, with the look and feel of a traditional analog control surface. The last piece of the puzzle had fallen into place, and within a week, Anvil had placed an order with SSL for two consoles. By July 1998, Anvil had two 192-channel digital consoles up and running in newly refurbished rooms.

The new boards have more than lived up to Anvil’s expectations, in every respect. At the time of installation, the two SSL boards were, in fact, the first two Avants to be supplied to a commercial studio operation.

Anvil seeks to constantly push the envelope of audio convention and sometimes surprises itself with what can be achieved. The digital technology contained within the Avants has radically changed the way projects are completed at Anvil. More multi-track pre-mixing allows more choice at the final mix stage, virtual mixing is carried out with ease, and total recall is perfect, waving goodbye to patch-leads. The way projects are handled now presents dubbing mixers with new challenges, but the Avant offers precision, speed and flexibility.

In July 2000, Anvil was acquired by Vidfilm, a well-known audio, video and film post-production house. Being part of the Vidfilm International Digital facilities group adds a whole new dimension to Anvil. As a result of the acquisition, Anvil is able to offer clients a range of related post-production services such as digital video mastering, QC, high-end conversions, and DVD authoring and encoding as part of sound post packages.

Vidfilm also has installed a broadband link to its new mix theater in Los Angeles, allowing it to exchange audio and mix files easily and run real-time ADR and playback sessions using talent in London for directors in Los Angeles and vice versa.

As for the future of the facility, its primary mission has not really changed. Anvil will continue to work hard to maintain the highest standards, both technically and creatively, for its clients. This will involve not only keeping up-to-speed with the latest developments, but also knowing how to use the new technology in an artistic and sympathetic way.

Roger Beck is managing director of Vidfilm Europe.