I recently sat down with Frank Morrone on a sunny, summer morning to discuss his experience mixing the new hit TV showThe Strain on FX Network at Technicolor Toronto (Canada). The show has racked up some really big numbers in it’s first few weeks while Frank has been mixing ahead non-stop for the last few months on the S6 surface and with Pro Tools HDX and Pro Tools HD 11 software. This article is part one of two discussing Technicolor’s state-of-the art facility with the latest Avid Pro Mixing solutions.
Frank is always good for a smile and a laugh…
I’ve been lucky to know Frank pretty well for the last 10 years now – as I was the product specialist helping him design, install and get up on the ICON and Pro Tools HD rigs for the hit show LOST. Frank is not just a mixer, he’s also a passionate advocate and leader for the industry. He has served as a Governor for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and is currently President of the Motion Picture Sound Editors. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Motion Picture Editors Guild. Additionally, he is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Recording Academy and has served on the Board of Directors for the Cinema Audio Society.
“Consumers today expect and demand a theatrical experience from (modern) TV shows…”
TG: Could you speak to the level of expectation for soundtracks today? Are consumers demanding a bigger, higher quality experience from all media?
FM: Consumers today expect and demand a theatrical experience from (modern) TV shows. Shows are broadcast with High Def (picture) and 5.1 (audio) so we are very conscious of delivering a high level of quality for the consumer and our clients. The shows live on with the 5.1 Blu-Ray, DVD and streaming versions as well, where people want a great experience.
TG: With that in mind, what are the big challenges facing you as a professional mixer today?
FM: The challenges we face in mixing for television today are that track counts continue to get bigger, our budgets are getting smaller and the schedules are getting tighter… we’re basically asked to deliver a (high quality – theatrical) 5.1 mix in a fraction of the time than we would have with a feature film. Days as opposed to weeks. Having a streamlined workflow is the key to efficiently delivering that mix.
I was really excited to join the Technicolor worldwide team because to me, they really represent a modern, forward thinking company that wants to invest in the technology and facilities needed to deliver modern streamlined workflows and foster an environment for a great client experience and great results.
“Every time Avid has released the product, they’ve listened to us… and have responded to that.”
TG: Could you speak to the evolution of sound mixing and over the last 15 years and how has Avid helped shape that evolution?
FM: Initially I started mixing in film and television back in the days of mag film and analog consoles and so I never take for granted the power that Avid and Pro Tools has brought to our workflows. I’ve worked on traditional (analogue and digital) mixing consoles and you end up writing two sets of automation because besides automating the console, I like to use a lot of the plug-ins (such as reverbs and noise reduction) in Pro Tools, so you’re carrying along two sets of automation with every session. The great thing about working (entirely) within Pro Tools and S6 is that the automation stays intact wherever you go and it makes it seamless to move from one studio to another.
We didn’t have the demands on us that we have today and Avid has provided us with a means to get the job done and deliver high-quality results. It’s been an evolution that’s been ongoing… Every time Avid has released the product, they’ve listened to us, to what the needs of mixers, editors, music engineers and composers are and have responded to that. Every release that they have put out there has been a tremendous help because they do listen to what we need and they deliver.
“…(S6) really has been well thought out and laid out ergonomically for us to have everything we need at our fingertips and I find that I work much faster. It’s been a real treat and a joy to work on…”
TG: Can you talk about how you came to the Pro Tools | S6 solution and how you think S6 changes the way you mix (compared to the previous solution)?
FM: When we started mixing LOST many years ago – we knew right away that the ICON and Pro Tools HD was the way to go to deal with the huge track counts and streamline our workflow. It was a tremendous tool for us to use on that show and I loved it.
With LOST we had 7 computer monitors (for the 7 HD Systems) in front of us to get the visual feedback we needed. Now with the S6, I have the TFT (Meter) displays and all the information is streamlined right in front of me. I can get at it with a lot less clutter. And I really love the scrolling waveforms because when I’m doing my dialogue premixes I can see when a piece of dialogue is coming in on a track and if I need to raise my Fader because of the (relative) size of the incoming waveform. To be able to also see my metering, my compression and my EQ curves right next to the scrolling waveform are just great features and they really get you into a rhythm when you’re working. It’s a rhythm and efficiency that you could never get before.
Another big difference for me between the ICON and the S6 is the use of real estate. Avid has really maximized the space that you have on the desk and you get a lot of functionality in a much smaller space. The S6 is a tremendous improvement – it really has been well thought out and laid out ergonomically for us to have everything we need at our fingertips and I find that I work much faster. It’s been a real treat and a joy to work on the new S6.
TG: And how was the transition from ICON to S6 for you?
FM: Moving from the ICON to the S6 was virtually seamless, just a few hours really. Once you’re familiar with working and mixing within Pro Tools HD and it’s automation, the ICON and the S6 are just an extension of that and it was a very easy move.
TG: Could you talk about the transition from Pro Tools HD to Pro Tools | HDX?
FM: With the release of the (Pro Tools) HDX cards there was a huge advancement in the power that we gained, it helped us get much higher track counts, much more DSP power and it sounds better too, the difference was noticeable and we’re really happy with the move. What took 7 HD systems onLOST is now 3 HDX rigs: (1 for Dialogue/Music/Group, 1 for FX, BGs and Foley and 1 recorder for all the stems). It was a huge advancement that really helped our capabilities to work more efficiently and streamline our workflow.
Frank using the Master Touch Screen
TG: What stands out to you as the most compelling features of S6?
FM: Between the HDX cards and the S6 console – we have a very powerful combination. Some of the features that the S6 offers (and now especially with the latest release of software version 1.2), I can basically use the touchscreen or the VCA’s and VCA spill and the Layouts to get at any of the tracks I need quickly. Those are all powerful tools. But if I had to pick just one – I love the touchscreen; it’s a great, great feature! I find that I am constantly going to it and being able to scroll through tracks or go to EQ’s or the surround panner – and it just really allows me to work very quickly and efficiently. It’s also fun – that’s the best way to put it, the S6 is a lot of fun to work on.
“Pro Tools is the lifeblood of our industry. The more proficient you can get on it – the more valuable you become…”
TG: Can you describe your experience with the Avid team on supporting your sale and installation.
FM: The overall support from Avid has been phenomenal. When we (at Technicolor) ordered, (really the first dual operator S6 in North America), we needed to know that we were going to have the support to get our show (The Strain – on FX Network) up and running under our tight deadline. They were fantastic in supporting us, getting us up and running and they were available to us when we needed them. And that’s important with any product – it’s only as good as the people standing behind it and they did an exceptional job.
TG: Any advice you would give to students or young mixers who want to do what you do?
FM: My best advice to someone wanting to get into the film and TV mixing industry starts with: Pro Tools is the lifeblood of our industry. The more proficient you can get on it – the more valuable you become to a facility. Mastering Pro Tools and the surfaces like the S6 will make you a huge asset to any studio looking to hire someone.
Be sure to check back for part two of the blog post where I interview the chief (technical) engineer and the manager of sound services for their impressions on designing and implementing the S6 and more… Until then!