Tag Archives: Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden

A closer look at some London-based audio post studios

By Mel Lambert

While in the UK recently for a holiday/business trip, I had the opportunity to visit several of London’s leading audio post facilities and catch up with developments among the Soho community.

‘Baby Driver’

I also met up with Julian Slater, a highly experienced supervising sound editor, sound designer and re-recording mixer who relocated to the US a couple of years ago, working first at Formosa Group and then at the Technicolor at Paramount facility in Hollywood. Slater was in London working on writer/director Edgar Wright’s action-drama Baby Driver, starring Lily James, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx. The film follows the progress of a young getaway driver who, after being coerced into working for a crime boss, finds himself taking part in a heist that’s doomed to fail.

Goldcrest Films
Slater handled sound effects pre-dubs at Goldcrest Films on Dean Street in the heart of Soho’s film district, while co-mixer Tim Cavagin worked on dialog and Foley pre-mixes at Twickenham TWI Studios in Richmond, a London suburb west of the capital. Finals started just before Christmas at Goldcrest, with Slater handling music and SFX, while Cavagin oversaw dialog and Foley. “We are using Goldcrest’s new Dolby Atmos-capable Theater 1, which opened last May,” explains Slater. “The post crew includes sound effects editors Arthur Graley, Jeremy Price and Martin Cantwell, plus dialog/ADR supervisor Dan Morgan and Foley editor Peter Hanson.

“I cannot reveal too much about my sound design for Baby Driver,” admits Slater, “but because the lead character [actor Ansel Elgort] has a hearing anomaly, I am working with pitch changes to interweave various elements of the film’s soundtrack.”

Baby Driver is scheduled for UK and US release in August, and will be previewed in mid-March at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Composer Steven Price’s score for the film was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in North London. Price wrote the music for writer/director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013), which won him the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

British-born Wright is probably best known for comedies, such as Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013), several of which featured Slater’s talents as supervising sound editor, sound designer and/or re-recording mixer.

Slater is a multiple BAFTA and Emmy Award nominee. After graduating from the School of Audio Engineering (now the SAE Institute) in London, at the age of 22 he co-founded the Hackenbacker post company and designed sound for his first feature film, director Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Subsequent films include In Bruges (2008), Dark Shadows (2012), Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010) and Attack the Block (2011).

Goldcrest Films, which has a NYC-based studio as well, provides post services for film and broadcast projects, including Carol (2015), The Danish Girl (2015) and Les Misérables (2012). The facility features three Dolby dubbing theaters with DCI-compliant projection, plus ADR and Foley recording stages, sound design and editing suites, offline editorial and grading suites. “Last May we opened Theatre 1,” reports studio manager Rob Weatherall, “a fully sound-isolated mixing theater that is Dolby Atmos Premier-certified.”

Goldcrest Films Theater 1 (L-R): Alex Green, Rowan Watson, Julian Slater, Rob Weatherall and Robbie Scott.

First used to re-record writer/director Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne (2016), the new room houses a hybrid Avid 32-fader S6 M40 Pro Tools control surface section within a 72-fader dual-engine AMS Neve DFC3D Gemini frame. By building interchangeable AMS and S6 “buckets” in a single console frame, the facility can mix and match formats according to the re-recording engineers’ requirements — either “in the box” using the S6 surface, or a conventional workflow using the DFC sections.

“I like working in the box,” says Slater, “since it lets me retain all my sound ideas right through print mastering. For Baby Driver we premixed to a 9.1-channel bed with Atmos objects and brought this submix here to Goldcrest where we could open everything seamlessly on the S6 console and refine all my dialog, music and effects submixes for the final Atmos immersive mix. Because I have so much sound design for the music being heard by our lead character, including sound cues for the earbuds and car radios, it’s the only way to work! We also had a lot of music playback on the set.”

The supervising sound editor needed to carefully prepare myriad sound cues. “Having worked on all of his films, I have come to recognize that Edgar [Wright] is an extremely sound-conscious director,” Slater reports. “The soundtrack for Baby Driver needed to work seamlessly and sound holistic — not forced in any way. In other words, while sound is important in this film — for obvious reasons — it is critical that we don’t detract the audience from the dramatic storyline.”

Theater 1’s 55-loudspeaker Atmos array includes a mixture of Crown-powered JBL 5732s Screen Array cabinets in the front with Meyer cabinets for the surrounds. Accommodated formats include 5.1, 7.1 and DTS:X. Five Pro Tools playback systems are available with Waves Platinum plug-in packages, plus a 192-channel Pro Tools HDX 3 recorder. Each Pro Tools rig features a DAD DX32 audio interface, with both Audinate Dante- and MADI-format digital outputs. The latter can be routed to the DFC console for conventional mixing or to a sixth rig with a DAD AX32 converter system for in the box mixing on the S6 control surface. Video projection is via a Barco DP2K-10SX and an Integrated Media Server for DCP playback, and Pro Tools Native with an AJA video card. Outboards include a pair of Lexicon 960 reverbs, two TC 6000 reverb and four dbx Subharmonic synthesizers.

Hackenbacker Audio Post
Around the corner from Goldcrest, Slater’s former facility Hackenbacker Audio Post comprises a multi-room post facility that was purchased in July 2015 by Molinare from e-Post Media, owners of Halo Post. Hackenbacker handled sound for the TV series Downton Abbey, Cold Feet and Thunderbirds Are Go, plus director Richard Ayoade’s film, The Double (2013). Owner/founder Nigel Heath remains a director of the group management team for the facility’s three dubbing studios, five edit suites and a large Foley stage located a short distance away.

Hackebacker’s Studio 2

Hackenbacker Studio 1 has been Heath’s home base for more than a decade. It houses a large-format AMS Neve 48-fader MMC Neve console with three Avid HD3 Pro Tools systems, two iZ Technologies RADAR 24-track recorder/players and a Dynaudio M3F 5.1 monitoring system that was used to re-record Hot Fuzz, In Bruges, Shaun of the Dead and many other projects.

Studio 2 features Dynaudio monitoring along with an Avid Icon 16-fader D-Control surface linked to a Pro Tools HDX system. It is used for 5.1 TV mixing and ADR and includes a large booth suitable for both ADR and voice-over. Also designed for TV mixing and ADR, Studio 3 features Quested monitoring and an Avid ICON 32-fader D-control surface linked to a Pro Tools HDX system. Edit 1 and 2 handle a wide cross section of sound effects editorial assignments, with access to a large sound library and other creative tools. Edit 3 and 4 are equipped for dialog and ADR editing. Edit 5 features a transfer bay and QC facility in which all sound material is verified and checked.

Twickenham TWI Studios
According to technology development manager/re-recording mixer Craig Irving, Twickenham TWI Studios recently completed mixing of the soundtrack for writer/director Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait, the story of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, starring Armie Hammer and Geoffrey Rush. The film was re-recorded by Tim Cavagin and Irving, with sound editorial by Tim Hands on dialog and Jack Gillies on effects.

The lounge at Twickenham-TWI.

“Dialog tracks for Baby Driver were pre-mixed by Tim in our Atmos-capable Theatre 1,” explains Irving. “Paul Massey will be returning soon to complete the mix in Theatre 1 for director Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant, which reunites the same sound team that worked on The Martian — with Oliver Tarney supervising, Rachel Tate on dialog, and Mark Taylor and our very own Dafydd Archard on effects.” Massey also mixed Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) at Twickenham TWI. He also worked on director Rufus Norris’ London Road (2015) and director Tim Miller’s Deadpool (2016). He recently completed the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. While normally based at Fox Post Production Services in West Los Angeles, Massey also spends time in his native England overseeing a number of film projects.

“Their stages have also been busy with production of Netflix’s Black Mirror series, which consists of six original films looking at the darker side of modern life. Episode 1 was directed by Jodie Foster. “To service an increase in production, we are investing in new infrastructure that will feature a TV mixing stage,” explains Irving. “The new room will be based around an Avid S6 control surface and used as a bespoke area to mix original TV programming, as well as creating TV mixes of our theatrical titles. Our Picture Post area is also being expanded with a second FilmLight Baselight Two color grading system with full 4K projection for both theatrical and broadcast projects.”

Twickenham TWI’s rooftop bar and restaurant opened its doors to clients and staff last year. “It has proved extremely popular and is open to membership from within the industry,” Irving says. The facility’s remodeled front office and reception area was designed Barbarella Design. “We have chosen a ‘’60s retro, Mad Men theme in greys and red,” says the studio’s COO Maria Walker. In addition to its two main re-recording theaters, TWI offers 40 cutting rooms, an ADR/Foley stage and three shooting stages.

Warner Bros. De Lane Lea
Just up the street from Goldcrest Films is Warner Bros. De Lane Lea, which started as a multi-room studio. It also has a rather unusual ancestry. In the 1940s, Major De Lane Lea was looking to improve the way dialog for film and later TV could be recorded and replaced in order to streamline dubbing between French and English. This resulted in his setting up a company called De Lane Lea Processes and a laboratory in Soho. The company also developed a number of other products aimed at post, and over the next 30 years opened a variety of studios in London for voice recording, film, TV and jingle mixing, music recording and orchestral-score recording.

De Lane Lea’s Stage 1.

Around 1970, the operation moved into its current building on Dean Street and shifted its focus toward film and TV sound. The facility, which was purchased by Warner Bros. in 2012, currently includes four re-recording stages, two ADR stages for recording dialog, voiceovers and commentaries, plus 50 cutting rooms, a preview theater, transfer bay and a café/bar. Three of the Dolby-certified mixing stages are equipped with AMS Neve DFC Gemini consoles or Avid S6 control surfaces and Meyer monitoring. A TV mixing stage boasts an Avid Pro Tools control surface and JBL monitoring.

Stage 1 features an AMS Neve 80-fader DFC Gemini digital two-mixer console with an Avid control surface, linked to a Meyer Sound EXP system providing Dolby Atmos monitoring. Six Pro Tools playback systems are available — three 64-channel HDX and three 128-channel HDX2 rigs — together with a 128-channel HDX2 Pro Tools recorder. Film projection is from a Kinoton FP38ECII 35mm unit, with a Barco DP2K-23B digital cinema projector offering resolutions up to 2K. Video playback within Pro Tools is via a VCubeHD nonlinear player or a Blackmagic card. Outboards include a Lexicon 960 and a TC 6000 reverb, plus two dbx Subharmonic Synthesizers. Stage 2 is centered around an Avid S6 M40 24-fader console linked to three Pro Tools playback systems — a pair of 64-channel HDX2 and a single 128-channel HDX2 rig — plus a 64-channel HDX recorder. Monitoring is via a 7.1-channel Meyer Sound EXP system.

Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden
Located 20 miles north west of Central London and serving as its UK-based shooting lot, Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden offers a number of well-equipped stages for large-scale productions, in addition to a large tank for aquatic scenes. The facility’s history dates back almost 70 years, to when it was originally acquired by the UK Ministry of Defense in 1939 as a WWII production base for building aircraft, including the iconic Mosquito Fighter and Halifax Bombers. When hostilities ceased, the site was purchased by Rolls Royce and continued as a base for aircraft manufacture, progressing onto large engines. It eventually closed in 1992.

Warner Bros. Leavesden’s studio layout.

In 1994, Leavesden began a new life as a film studio and over the following decades was home to a number of high-profile productions, including the James Bond film Goldeneye (1995), Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (1999), An Ideal Husband (1999) and director Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999).

By 2000, Heyday Films had acquired use of the site on behalf of Warner Bros. for what would be the first in a series of Harry Potter films — Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) — with each subsequent film in the franchise during the following decade being shot at Leavesden. While other productions, almost exclusively Warner Bros. productions, made partial use of the complex, the site was mostly occupied by permanent standing sets for the Harry Potter films.

In 2010, as the eighth and final Harry Potter film was nearing completion, Warner Bros. announced its intention to purchase the studio as a permanent European base, the first studio to do so since MGM in the 1940s. By November of that year, the studio had completed purchase of Leavesden Studios and announced plans to invest more than £100 million (close to $200 million at the time) on the site they had occupied, converting Stages A through H into sound stages. As part of the redevelopment, Warner Bros. created two entirely new soundstages to house a permanent public exhibition called Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter, creating 300 new jobs. It opened to the public in early 2012.

With over 100 acres, WBSL features one of the most extensive backlots in Europe, with level, graded areas, including a former aircraft runway, a variety of open fields, woodlands, hills and clear horizons. In addition, it offers bespoke art departments, dry-hire edit suites and VFX rooms, in addition to a pair of the largest water tanks in Europe, with a 60-by-60 foot filtered and heated indoor tank, and a 250-by-250 foot exterior tank.

Main Image: Goldcrest London’s Theater 1.


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.