April 8, 2011

The Road to Surround – Part 8: From 3-1 Surround To 3-2, and Then 5.1 Channel

By. Mick Sawaguchi

3-1 Discrete Analog High Vision Experimentally Broadcast in 90's
When 90's began, analog High Vision experimental broadcasting started, and various programs were produced in surround mainly with music production. It was Mr. Omi, Deputy Director of Audio Department Music Group at that time, who caused a significant trigger. As for the drama-related surround production, the certain recognition degree rose in the workplaces slowly but steadily in radio drama and SD-TV. On the other hand, in the music production, because of the nature heavily steered toward live broadcasting, the workplace climate itself had a specific gravity in favor of direct 2ch mixing at that time. However, the music was not an exception to experiment 2-2 and 3-1 methods little by little from the latter half of 1980's.

With the addition of Mr. Fukada to NHK from Shinanomachi Sony Studio, Mr. Ohmi promoted 3-1 surround production in the music organizing the members of "High Vision project", and began working on music surround production slowly but steadily. Cognitive degree of surround then suddenly rose with classical and live concerts, the live broadcasting from NHK Hall as well as Kohaku (Red and White) Singing Match. We examined among related departments whether there was a suitable logo for surround indication at the time of the broadcast, and at one time we were about to accept Dolby mark to display, but it was decided, as a result, to create our original logo and to superimpose it in the beginning of the program. One of things that was recognized through the production of such 3-1 surround was that a single monaural rear channel dispersed by multiple speaker placements in the sound field did not effectively function in the music surround. When the excited hand-claps fill the entire hall with applause in a real concert, the resultant surround sounds as if glued spacelessly to the ceiling. Some mixing engineers even complained saying that this was no use, and the music must use stereo.

The general recognition was that 3-2 format that after all allowed recording the rear in stereo was necessary to solve this. In the global scene of early 90's, ITU-R was about to discuss what the audio format suitable for the big screen should be.

Challenging 3-2
With regard to the infrastructure maintenance in order to realize the 3-2 format with stereo surround, Mr. Omi and the members played a key role to promote the movement to create "a dubbing theater for High Vision". Through winding discussion visiting theories of necessity, opposition, or luxury, the studio was realized in 1993 and named HVD-520 that could produce either 3-1 or even 3-2 surround sound exactly suited for High Vision, and SL/SR channel monitoring could chose an individual pair speakers switchable from the stereo dispersion placement typically seen in the theaters, and combined with the 160-inche screen, it had a sense of the mini-dubbing theater. I will introduce an episode regarding what we had to do with the console to support surround there. The Project members targeted a fully digital console called the NEVE Capricorn at first that had just appeared in the market. This Capricorn was a fully digital console that was developed from the NEVE DSP digital console first introduced in 80's. As I learned that a preview was taking place in London, I participated. In the session, I ask the Neve guy why they suddenly supported surround this time despite the fact they said NO to my question about their possible console for surround to develop in about '85, and the reply was plainly here "well, it was too early at that time, but now the surround function is an essential feature". About the same time, the news came that NEVE and AMS would merge, and when I did some investigation, their area of activity seemed separated by pure analog for NEVE and digital for AMS. Though they did not have any experience yet, we decided to base on their small digital console called AMS LOGIC-2 and propose the specifications of a large dubbing console of total 192 channels according to our requirements.

The scale was extended while the load on the CPU was heavy because the essential basic system remained compact, and it did not readily function smoothly. It may be said that the possible improvements and the functions that we proposed to AMS through actual mixing experience here were really useful hints for them to later develop their DFC dubbing console.

The first 3-2 surround production that we worked in this studio in 1993 was a program titled "Oto no Kasokeki" that was proposed by the sound design team in a concept "to initiate the sound design first and then to produce visual part to be associated". As for my own production of the first 3-2 surround program, it was in 1994 with a drama called "the Cry in August". It was a joint production with Czech by the director Shoichiro Sasaki who devoted himself in video using 35mm film by assigning Mr. Yoshida as cameraman, and it was his last production before retiring from NHK.

After the location shooting in January in Prague, postproduction started in HVD-520. As it had been my wish to do a final mix in a comfortably spacious environment since my visit to Hollywood in mid 80's, I recall that I was very excited and content in this moment. The broadcast was still 3-1 format then, but because we wanted to get a feeling through a true experience of 3-2 format in a drama, we produced the program with 3-2 in parallel with 3-1, and further considered simultaneous stereo mixing, and eventually this method was positioned as "COMPOSITE MIX". This is because I wanted to balance what I wanted to achieve and the effective use of the studio resource. It is because we content creators are by all means interpreted by the management as "a hype of stubbornness, caprice and least harmony, each expressing different things. The expression and the potential of 3-2 surround that I acquired at this time were collectively condensed in the co-production with Australia titled "the Last Bullet" that I worked in the following year, 1995.

Picture 1, “The Cry in August”, a drama in HD, 1994

Picture 2, The final mix completion was the New Year's Day, 1995 working through December 31 night.

The Last Bullet
"The Last Bullet" produced in 1995 is quite memorable as the production turned out to be a big milestone for me. It is tied to the physical memory that lived in the studio with average sleep of around 3 hours throughout the production for two weeks, but circumstances for me to be involved in this drama is also interesting, so I will introduce it to you.

By co-production with Australian CH-9, the staff of this drama consists of Australian movie production staff, and they always shoot the scenes with 35mm cameras. Two people of TD and VE from NHK participated, and a cabled High Vision camera was chosen to photograph the exacting conditions of jungle scenes there. Examining contract conditions carefully at the stage when shootings and editings advanced smoothly, it was specifically mentioned that NHK was in charge of the master production of the sound. It seemed that our producer believed the rest of the work to be handled in overseas once the picture editing has been done by NHK. Therefore the sound staff had to be decided in a hurry.
In the sound team gathered here was Mr. Sasaki of Toyo Onkyo for sound effects who was an experienced movie crew. In my first meeting with the director, I proposed to Mr. Patinson that our preference was to mix the sound in surround because it was a High Vision production, but I was stuck with his reply that said "surround is only excessive to have and the stereo is enough for a TV drama". No compromise. In addition, I was told from sound effect staff that the effects would be laid out on the 3/4-inch U-Matic VCR audio tracks so that I could reproduce it in synchronous, which was again a total aghaust to me.

I expect just by reading the script that it would need 40-50 tracks with sound elements only, and they plan to store all of them in 2ch of U-Matic VCR! Any elaboration such as surround looked totally out of scope. In this situation, I thought I would show to the director our dubbing stage to impress him, and force a positive decision there. I told him "let's look at the studio where the final mix is supposed to take place for this production" and guided him to HVD-520 studio. Looking at the facility, the director said, "Wonderful! This is like a dubbing stage for movies! And furthermore it is the same console as the one we use in Australia!" He was deeply impressed. And accepted our suggestion saying "try the surround which does not cause issues in production". For mixing it allowed 9 days for the studio resource, but the director insisted minimum 5 days just for the final-mix because the mixing was most critical for this production. (Then surround must have been the exact choice of yours, I thought!) It is impossible to do pre-mix in 9-5=4 days. Therefore we did a pre-mix in a normal post-production studio beforehand taking the typical movie production flow into account, and further in advance we decided laying out the sound effects separately allocating sufficient time for preparation.

Then what would you do?
We used AMS Audiophile and Fairlight DAW at the time around 1995, but it was the times when DAW was not introduced so much to domestic movie facilities like today. As a result of having examined what you would do to pre-mix, we installed an exclusive pre-mix room in NHK by temporary construction, and the SE staff decided to prepare the sound in this place.
It was the first DAW experience for the staff from Toyo Onkyo, but they quickly and wonderfully mastered along with the advice of Mr. Iwasaki, the sound designer.

Picture 3 HD drama "the Last Bullet" in HVD-520, 1995

HVD-520 Post Production Sound Flow Chart

Picture 4 The Last Bullet FINALMX completion

I will quote here some paragraphs in the duties report.
I would be very happy if you could share the feeling we had at that time.

-----From the Last Bullet production report mix down and summary-----
The console of HVD-520 was Logic-2 of AMS/Neve, and the mixing was performed utilizing its automation. In my case, I adopt 2-men mixing formation for large-scale productions, and Mr. Ogawa of Toyo Onkyo was in charge of sound effects of enormous number of channels while I took care of the dialog and music. The music was 4-channel mix of L-C-R-S with time-code in TASCAM DA-88, and it needed to be simply locked. I had the experience of stereo mix only for music, and because the dialog and SE are present, I had to watch the music level of center and surround in addition, and this situation made me recognize the reason why three-men mix was indeed the practice in U.S.A. The mixing procedures were decided to store all the sequential blocks of a few minutes into the memory, and the following is its outline:

• Finish the dialog tracks as the foundation first.
• Firm the music next.
• Lay out sound effect tracks then.
• Check the mixing balance of a block with 3 different monitor settings of Large, Small, and Stereo.
• Fine adjustment of mix
• Repeat the monitoring of 3 settings, and if okay, proceed to the next block.

This method does not look familiar to many Japanese staff. Because it does not control the whole piece, but the blocks pile up one by one while correcting a portion each time. We have put great importance to the entire force and the rhythm of the flow by handling them all at once because we used to judge that it is would be very hard to create a flow of sensation in a mix of such multiple fragments. In the environment of broadcasting production that involved live broadcasts historically, this has been considered more important than the detail. On the other hand, the sticky logic of the block method was actually an effort of stacking the details. Therefore the computer-assist is an essential element of a mixing console. Some strong domestic appeals of reluctance about this feature were that it was designed for engineers without the proper skill, which does not hit the point. If you always take the total design into account consiously, the mix of fragments will not disturb the overall rhythm. Many titles produced practically in such procedures are well received and popular in all over the world.

Picture 5, Memo in the meeting of "The Last Bullet" music

Three years since the conception of Original Plan. This production took one year to complete from the preparation, and I think it was an example that successfully showed the possible choice of gathering experts from each different field in a project to run the production that contrasted with the traditional principle in the broadcast media to adhere to purely internal production. It was also a month of experience for us to see the profundity of the professionals in media required to display the ability and flexibility in an utmost level of professionalism, which was a totally different attitude from saying "do what we can do under the limited condition of broadcast" as an execuse as their best effort. I list the staff involved hereunder with my appreciation. The High Vision broadcast is scheduled on August 13.
Witten by Masaki Sawaguchi
The sound staff and the person concerned
A mixing engineer Masaki Sawaguchi (NHK)
Assistant Yuji Aida (NTS)
Sound effects Hideyo Sasaki (Toyo Onkyo), Hiromi Ogawa (Toyo Onkyo)
Fairlight Operational Instructions Susumu Iwasaki (NHK)
HVD-520 management Akira Takemazawa
Director Micheael Pattinson
Music Nerida Tyson Chew
Producers Hiroaki Yoshida (TYO), Georgina Hope, Cris Noble(9-CH),
Nobuo Isobe (NHK-HV)
Production Assistant Noriko Matsumoto (Tyo), Mark Baron

Picture 6, English terminology memo for "The Last Bullet" production

3-2 surround having begun to move forward, I for myself think that it served as a big confidence in me in my following career to have learned and acquired the pride of professional to consider, act and assume responsibility for myself not leaving them to others through this production.

Radio drama turns to 3-2 surround, too
On renovating CR-504 studio which served for stereo radio drama production, we installed in 1988 a studio for exclusive use of dialog recording and another studio for exclusive use of mix-down neighboring each other intended for an environmental improvement in production that had previously forced us to wander about here and there. Mr. Okamoto was the key project owner for this and he managed to update the structure of this studio with an advanced concept that enabled totally digital non-linear production capable of surround.

Because the environment to allow the radio drama production in 3-2 format has been prepared in this place, and as there was a fantastic, mysterious original work called "The Coffin of the Dream", we proposed to challenge this production. There was a scene of imagination for around 7 minutes in this beginning, and I wanted to include all kinds of surround designs that I had experienced in here as much as possible in order to display the superiority of surround method. In other words they were the sensation of ambience, sound shower from ceiling, front-back panning, and magnification of the sound.

I often used this paticular section for a demonstration in AES and others, and it was well-received by the audience commenting "for a radio program, this sounded like a movie soundtrack without picture". Later on, one of our engineers, Mr. Nishida who worked for mixing radio dramas and was recognized as one of "surround proponents" will do the first 5.1 surround production on radio.

The challenge of 3/2+LFE=5.1ch
The next challenge was how 0.1 ch LFE could be used effectively once the superiority of 3-2 surround had been recognized as a realistic experience. It was Mr. Uchimura who triggered it joining NHK from a postproduction facility called Digital Egg.

When Mr. Uchimura was assigned to a new production directed by globally well-known Hideo Nakazawa for his High Vision picture, the thought was to produce this new program "Stairs to Heaven" in 5.1 ch expecting to manipulate never-experience LFE channel independently. He was more ambitious to complete all the sound designs by himself. It is really important for a depicter to challenge something that nobody has attempted, and it is the fundamental diverting point whether to remain a mere salaried-staff or to be a pioneer. Equipment was brought in HVD-520 pre-mix room to proceed the sessions solemnly, and first 5.1 ch production was completed safely in 1993. This was indeed another big milestone for us. In parallel, Mr. Nishida who wrestled with surround productions for radio drama for many years accomplished the first 5.1 ch production with a drama called "Anti-noise".

As for myself, I was promoted to the management in 1999 and reached my age of retirement in June 2005, and I believe that I was lucky enough to receive so many hints to consider during the days when I kept thinking about sound design and surround expressions. For whatever kind of jobs, I strongly recognize that it is very important to hold something nucleus within yourself regardless of your position in order to accomplish the task.

In this article, I quickly discussed the surround production issues. Next topics will be regarding how we expanded the appeal of surround, and I will cover our joint efforts with Akira Fukada who is my partner "Surround Crusader" and ran seminars and workshops in many places together.

2006.8 Broadcast Technology

Part 9: Surround Crusaders - to drive surround grow >>>

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