YRF Studio in Mumbai is a major player in the Indian cinema market. Part of the Yash Raj Films group, a leading producer of features in the country, the facility offers three sound stages as well as dressing rooms and offices. A major part of YRF’s offering is the audio department, comprising two music recording studios, a film mix theatre and dubbing, Foley and tracking suites. This year a new Avid Pro Tools | S6 digital mixing console was installed in the large re-recording room. The desk was chosen by chief recording engineer Anuj Mathur; we recently caught up with Anuj to find out his reasons for selecting the Pro Tools | S6 and how it fits into the studio’s busy workflow and schedule.
Tell us a little about YRF’s facilities.
AM: YRF Studios opened in 2005 and includes a film mix stage that is among the biggest in India. It is approved for Dolby ATMOS and is able to handle digital projection. The mixing position is at the front of the room not far from the screen, and has 116 seats behind. Apart from the mixing console, it looks very much like a cinema in terms of layout, which is why it is also used for film previews.
Since opening we had used an AMS Neve DFC2 desk, but after ten years we decided to upgrade our mixing facilities and capability. During our research we came to the conclusion that the System 5 was our basic choice. However, by the time we came to make the move the Avid Pro Tools | S6 was available and it was clearly the best possible option.
You chose the 32-fader S6 with the M40 control surface. What qualities and functions made it the right choice for YRF?
AM: The sound is always the final stage in the filmmaking chain. Everybody before this step seems to use as much time as they can, so when the mix comes round it is time-crunched. This means we need practical mixing surfaces that allow us to work as quickly and efficiently as possible without sacrificing quality. I need every track right in front of me, with the ability to switch to any of the Pro Tools | HDX2 workstations or other recorders. By having all the parameters on the master module – and the waveforms on the display in front of me – I have everything at my fingertips. I can highlight any of them and switch between sources using the touch screen.
This is the big advantage of the S6. Having everything in one central position means I don’t have to run around and can work right in the sweet spot. This is the point of best focus for the sound from the loudspeakers and it means I can hear everything that is going on as I build the mix. The audio aspect of filmmaking is not just about the technology; you have to feel the sound, moving the effects and music according to the atmosphere of the scene.
The ability to control all that my DAW has in terms of plugins, faders, panning, X-Y control of plugins on the joystick, the softkeys, etc. in an extremely efficient manner is one of the biggest advantages I feel the surface has. Plus, the regular software updates that I get with added features like Bank from user keys, screening mode, spill zones and more have made my life in mixing much easier and more streamlined. At this stage, I am able to concentrate much more on the creative aspect of the mix even with huge track counts, and spend far less timeing repetitive or technical tasks.
How did you find the installation process?
AM: When the console was decided upon I spoke to the technical team and said we couldn’t shut the studio down for the installation or training. The installation needed to be done in two days, with only two to four days to train everyone, which is enough really. It all went as planned and the S6 was put to work straight away on the film Sultan, which was very heavy on the music and sound design. It stars Salman Khan, who has a huge fan following in India and around the world, and the film became one of the biggest grossers in Indian cinema history.
Music is a key feature of Indian films; many of them have song and dance sequences. How does the S6 help you to organize so many audio tracks?
AM: There is predominantly more music in Indian films, but the sound effects can also be very dense, with layers of at least 600 to 700 tracks. Our combined Pro Tools systems gives us a track count of more than 1000, which allows plenty of flexibility. The integration between Pro Tools and the S6 is the perfect combination. The S6 is like an extension of multiple Pro Tools workstations, with everything available to you. We’ve been doing most of the films in Dolby Atmos since installing the S6, which is wonderful for that format.
Is the scalability of the S6 an important feature?
AM: At the moment we have nine modules which is perfect for our current needs, but of course you have to keep in mind that things may change three to four years down the line. There is room in the basic frame for additional units so it’s good to know that we can easily scale up as we need to. Another advantage of the S6 is that you can take modules and plug them in without having to bother with cabling. You just install something and it’s ready to work.
But no matter how sturdy and practical a console is, what matters is the sound quality and how long a mix takes. The S6 has that quality and is quick and straightforward to use, so it does exactly what we need.