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Behind the Scenes with the ‘Gravity’ Sound Design Team

Behind-the-Scenes with the 'Gravity' Sound Design Team

Gravity has enjoyed great commercial and critical success, with a $700 million box office take and ten Oscar nominations. But it’s also one of the greatest technical achievements in modern filmmaking. Director Alfonso Cuarón wanted to leverage sound and picture to create an immersive experience for moviegoers—how did Avid help the crew realize his vision?

In this exclusive interview, the Gravity sound design team talks about using Avid workflows to transport the audience to a heightened reality. Watch now to discover how Pro Tools helped them break sound editorial and mixing paradigms and ultimately take home Oscar gold.

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Avid S3L: The Center of Your Live Production Environment

The following is the final post of a seven-part blog series from Al McKinna, Principal Product Manager, Avid Live Systems & Consoles, that provides a look inside the design of Avid S3L.

 

Picture the scene.

It’s Friday night, 7 p.m. You walk into the auditorium. The walk-in music is pumping, house lights down, band not yet on stage. A sea of heads spreads out in front of you. You approach front of house. It’s another night, another gig, another rock ‘n’ roll band.

In front of you—the new console. Avid S3L. Super slim, super compact.

How can a live console have such a low profile, such striking contours, and such defined lines? The beautiful dark grey surface, unburdened with unnecessary controls, all-white silkscreen popping from soft-touch coating, and the matt finish only marginally reflecting the light. 16 faders, 32 encoders, 32 high-resolution OLED displays and unmatched control and flexibility in an ultra-compact small format. How is it even possible?

And that’s it; you are gone. It’s love at first sight.

Who would think it—you and Avid S3L? At first, you would be forgiven to think this love is skin deep, a surface love. But believe me, it will not be love that’s skin deep for long. Soon this love at first sight will blossom into a beautiful partnership. All you need to do is get to know Avid S3L

Avid S3L is not just a great sounding, great looking, easy-to-use, and ultra-compact digital mixing system. Its capabilities go far beyond that and far beyond any other mixing console in its class. Scratch just a little below the surface and you’ll see how deep the functionality goes. Learn just a little of the snapshots and events system, the onboard MEDIA record and playback system, and how S3L interoperates with Pro Tools and you will be opening your mix to a world of creative possibilities and realizing a new benchmark of production values.

Avid S3L provides capabilities that put it firmly at the center of your live sound production environment. This is achieved by taking many of the capabilities of devices usually external to the mixer (such as outboard processors or triggered playback devices) and providing them to you directly within the S3L system—providing you with a completely unified user experience when controlling your show.

I guess you are going to want specifics right? I’ve already covered some of the key capabilities of the system in my blog series, but let’s pull them all together and take a closer look at how they work together as a complete, turnkey live sound production system. The following five capabilities make Avid S3L much more than a mixing console. It’s these elements that put S3L as the central point of control in a live sound environment:

  1. Avid S3L provides a fully networked system of distributed I/O
  2. Avid S3L uses an onboard AAX plug-in ecosystem for infinite sonic possibilities
  3. Avid S3L provides an advanced integrated system of snapshots and events
  4. Avid S3L provides an onboard record and playback system, fully integrated into all areas of the VENUE software
  5. Avid S3L provides the most integrated interoperability with Pro Tools ever provided by a live mixing console

Avid S3L devices are connected via a robust network of Ethernet AVB and EUCON.

1.  Avid S3L provides a fully networked system of distributed I/O

Firstly, let’s discuss Avid S3L’s fully distributed network of distributed I/O over Ethernet AVB. We have discussed before that with Avid S3L, you can connect up to four Stage 16 remote I/O boxes. Since each box has 16 mic pres, 8 analog outputs, and 4 digital AES outputs, this provides you with a maximum of 64 inputs and 48 outputs on stage. With 100m cable runs supported between devices, Stage 16 boxes can be easily deployed around a venue to establish a system of true distributed I/O.

The cool thing is that S3L is the central point of control, management, and monitoring of this distributed I/O. It is the hub of the assignment process, patching, and signal processing. All network management is done from within the VENUE software directly. No third party devices are required to monitor devices or to route signals to perform setup functions.

The OPTIONS > Devices page is the central point of control for device navigation and network management.

As all Avid S3L devices are plug-and-play, there is no device configuration needed at all. A simple drag and drop method assigns Stage boxes in the VENUE software OPTIONS > Devices page. To simplify this further, the E3 engine always seeks to maintain its last configuration, looking across the network for the Stage 16 boxes it connected to the last time it was in use. The VENUE software acts as a central point of control for the networked devices, providing device health, redundancy indication, and even control of Stage box muting from the software—putting you in maximum control of the networked world as you stand at your mix position.

The renowned Avid Channel Strip plug-in running internally in S3L.

2.  Avid S3L uses an onboard AAX plug-in ecosystem for infinite sonic possibilities

Plug-ins! This concept is still amazing to me—the concept of taking all the outboard gear required for a show and running it internally in the mixing console. This is a concept first introduced with the Avid D-Show System and is as beneficial today in S3L.

Avid S3L’s onboard ecosystem of AAX plug-ins puts infinite creative possibilities at your fingertips. S3L users have no need for outboard or external plug-in runners, as up to 20 plug-ins (in mono or stereo) can be run simultaneously on the system. Plug-in parameters map directly to surface controls, and all plug-in settings are stored in snapshots and show files, meaning you only need a single interface to control what would otherwise take a whole outboard rack of processors to achieve.

Avid S3L comes complete with a full range of plug-in effects. Even more Avid and third party plug-ins will be qualified for S3L on an ongoing basis, increasing your range of creative choices throughout the product’s life.

 

3.  Avid S3L provides an advanced integrated system of snapshots and events

Snapshots and events are advanced functions that can take the heavy lifting from you by enabling you to store and instantly recall huge ranges of parameters, link previously unrelated functions, and subsequently control multiple areas of the system simultaneously. If you are feeling like you need more arms than an octopus, you probably need snapshots and events.

The snapshot system takes the heavy lifting from you by enabling you to store and instantly recall huge ranges of parameters.

The VENUE software provides deep snapshot functionality, and every parameter in the S3L system and VENUE software can be stored and recalled with snapshots. All fader levels, send levels, pans, mutes, and solos. Every parameter within every channel, plug-in settings, VCA members, matrix input levels, even patching and channel names can all be stored and recalled. In addition to this, snapshots can be used to trigger MIDI commands, 2-track record and playback from a connected USB drive, and Pro Tools transport controls and marker insertion.

The Events system is equally as powerful. The huge range of event triggers and actions allow you to configure the behavior of your S3L system to match your workflow, linking previously unrelated operations. 2-track USB record and playback, Pro Tools transport control, snapshots, and even GPIO operations can all be triggered via the Events system.

Pictured left to right: Event triggers and event actions.

4. Avid S3L provides an onboard record and playback system, fully integrated into all areas of the VENUE software

Avid S3L has the capability to record and play back stereo audio files via a connected USB drive. This is hugely exciting and useful functionality to have fully integrated into the system, as S3L can be used to play walk-in music, background music beds, spot effects, and other cues, or to record a simple board mix of the show. This capability is managed in the MEDIA page of the VENUE software, and is directly and deeply integrated into all other areas of the software, including Patchbay, Snapshots, Events, and Show files.

Onboard 2-track playback functionality is managed from the MEDIA page.

The recording functionality is managed from the MEDIA > Record page in the VENUE software. As the USB device appears as an item in the VENUE Patchbay, any pair of output channels can be routed to the USB drive for recording, as can any direct output from any input channel, FX return, or output channel in the system.

The record functionality is directly integrated into the snapshots system. Every snapshot in the snapshot list has the capability to either trigger the record or playback of audio files on the USB drive. When triggering a recording via a snapshot recall, you have the option to take the name of the snapshot as the name of the recording. So, if you are using snapshots for each song in your show, at the end of the gig, you will have a USB drive full of audio files already labeled and cut to length.

Record and playback functionality can be linked directly to snapshot recalls.

The MEDIA > Playback page provides a playlist for you to manage your audio files. Add tracks to the playlist (from multiple USB drives if you like) and then play them back either directly from this page or trigger them via Snapshots and Events.

 

5.  Avid S3L provides the most integrated interoperability with Pro Tools ever provided by a live mixing console

Avid S3L has the deepest interoperability with Pro Tools found in any live mixing console in the world. A single Cat5e Ethernet cable between S3L and a Pro Tools computer brings 64 tracks of record and playback, all the fantastic VENUE Link functionality, and (coming soon) DAW control via EUCON.

VENUE Link functionality is the transfer of metadata between an Avid Live System and Pro Tools. Plug your Avid S3L system into Pro Tools and load a new session—Pro Tools knows its connected to S3L and prompts you to import your VENUE settings into the Pro Tools session, creating an audio track for every mic-pre, generating the correct patching, naming the audio tracks to match your settings on S3L, and even arranging them to match the layout of your channels on your S3 control surface.

But VENUE Link brings even more functionality than this. When Pro Tools is in record (for example, during show time), recalling a VENUE snapshot will automatically place a marker on the Pro Tools timeline. This greatly speeds up the process of navigating through archived recorded material. Conversely, when Pro Tools is in play (for example, during Virtual Soundcheck), recalling a VENUE snapshot locates Pro Tools to the marker created by that snapshot. This functionality dramatically speeds up the Virtual Soundcheck workflow, as Pro Tools playback will always be in sync with the VENUE snapshot you are working from.

Use Pro Tools to record your live show, use Pro Tools to play back music beds, spot effects or sound design, or why not use it for both? S3L can record and play back from Pro Tools simultaneously, enabling you to choose live stage inputs or Pro Tools playback inputs on a per-channel basis.

The Pro Tools transport can be controlled directly from the S3 control surface or VENUE software, allowing you to integrate control of Pro Tools directly into your live mixing workflows and use one interface to control your entire production.

Coming soon with EUCON DAW control functionality, you will be able to take your live recordings and mix them in the box in Pro Tools using S3 as a studio controller. S3 was designed specifically with this function in mind, keeping the console as lightweight as possible with as small a footprint as possible for portability. This enables the console to be used in environments where space is as a premium, such as mixing on the tour bus or in a hotel room.

Michael Brennan with Avid S3L for Primal Scream.

So, lets bring all this great functionality together. Picture the scene once more:

You walk up to your Avid S3L at front of house. You are at the center of a network of distributed I/O, standing before a compact control surface with unrivaled flexibility, controlling a rich UI, and all powered by a next generation HDX-powered engine. The OPTIONS > Devices page in the VENUE software tells you all devices are online, and everything is connected with full redundancy.

You connect your Pro Tools laptop. One Ethernet cable is all it takes for 64-tracks of record and playback, VENUE Link, and EUCON connectivity. You load a new session. Pro Tools sees S3L and with your prompt, automatically creates 64 tracks to match the 64 mic inputs of your mix, naming and ordering every track to match the layout of your console.

At 7 p.m. the doors open. The crowd begins to fill the auditorium. You unmute FX Return 8. This subsequently recalls your first snapshot, triggering the MEDIA playlist to play the walk-in music from your USB key drive. With the press of a function switch, all tracks in Pro Tools are armed and the transport is in record ready.

The band is about to come on stage. Your next snapshot is recalled, loading all the parameters of the mix of the first song, recalling all plug-in settings, and triggering Pro Tools to begin recording 64 tracks, and the name of the first snapshot automatically appears in the Pro Tools timeline.

The band comes on stage. You are all over this little desk with the elegance of a gazelle. Paging through mixes, AFL-ing Aux masters to spill the sends down onto faders, banking the faders to input channels while throwing the VCAs up onto the encoders, mapping plug-ins to encoders. You trigger snapshots throughout the show, each time placing the snapshot name into the Pro Tools timeline. You use a footswitch to set plug-in tap delay and function switches to trigger spot effects directly from the MEDIA playlist.

At the end of the show, you press a touch strip zone to stop the Pro Tools transport. 64 tracks have been recorded into Pro Tools. You pick up your Pro Tools laptop and carry your S3 control surface onto the bus to mix down the night’s recording. With the S3 DAW control functionality via EUCON, you plug your S3 straight into your Pro Tools laptop and do the mix right there on the tour bus, ready to publish to the web.

With the S3 DAW control functionality via EUCON, you plug your S3 straight into your Pro Tools laptop and do the mix right there on the tour bus, ready to publish to the web.

The next day you can use last night’s recording for the Virtual Soundcheck, integrating artists back into the process, as they soundcheck live over the multi-tracks as you control Virtual Soundcheck on a channel-by-channel basis using S3L’s Pro Tools Input switches.

So there it is, Avid S3L. With a fully networked system of distributed I/O, onboard plug-ins, integrated Pro Tools control, record and playback, built-in media system, and powerful system of snapshots and events, Avid S3L is not just a great looking, ultra-portable mixing desk—it’s a live production system and the central point of control of your live sound environment.

This is my last blog entry in the Designing Avid S3L series. I want to thank you for taking the journey and I hope that I’ve been able to pique your interest in this amazing system. But don’t take my word for it—try it out for yourself.

Avid S3L is now shipping and available worldwide. Call your Avid dealer and organize a demo, and as always, let us know what you think.




The Power of Events with Avid S3L

Designing Avid S3L: The Power of Events with Avid S3L

The following is the sixth of a seven-part blog series from Al McKinna, Principal Product Manager, Avid Live Systems & Consoles, that will provide a look inside the design of Avid S3L.

 

Oh, the tales I could tell you about the power of events. The things I have seen on my travels. The things they can do are mind-blowing, eye-widening, jaw-dropping, and other such hyphenated phrases.

Events can trigger pyros, stage lights, on-air lights, applause lights, and even console flight case bead lights. Events can fire in spot effects, cues, and playback music from a single button press. Events allow a tiny control surface to follow an engineer’s every move as he navigates through multiple monitor mixes while jumping in and out of flip to faders triggered only by an AFL switch. Events can change the patches of onstage keyboards and guitar effects pedals and trigger recording to high-channel multi-track recording systems simultaneously using only a snapshot recall.

I’ve seen an engineer target channels using only footswitches so he could keep his fingers on faders and knobs for the entire show. I’ve seen the curtains open and the entrance music triggered from a simple fader start. I’ve seen a single live sound console control a second live console as well as a lighting console at the same time. Hey, I’ve even seen a console hooked up to a coffee machine!

The possibilities blow my mind, and it’s all down to events.

Avid S3L is extremely compact but incredibly powerful. We knew when designing S3L that we would need to provide an incredibly rich Events system as it would become integral to the versatility and efficiency of the console.

Consider just a few of S3L’s applications:

  • High-demand concert sound and festival applications with quick turnarounds and many acts
  • House of worship applications with large quantities of performers and speakers
  • Theatre applications with multiple scenes, complex control surface workflows and integration with playback systems
  • Corporate AV applications with talking heads, presentation systems and video
  • Live broadcast and recording applications with a constant rotation of multiple acts when maintaining a deadline is paramount

With these scenarios in mind, the ability to link unrelated operations together via a detailed and user-friendly interface becomes tantamount to S3L’s effectiveness in these high-pressured environments. This is exactly what the Events system is designed for.

We knew when designing S3L that we would need to provide an incredibly rich Events system as it would become integral to the versatility and efficiency of the console.

So what actually is an event?

If I was to employ the skills of Nick Pellicciotto (Avid technical publications writer extraordinaire) and ask him how to define an event in the VENUE software, I am guessing he would say something along these lines…

“An event is a user-defined combination of one or more triggers to cause one or more actions. Each event serves as a type of software ‘macro’ in which you can establish a cause-and-effect relationship between a trigger and the resultant behavior of the S3L system, the action.”

In fact, Nick did say this exact thing because I plagiarized it right out of his S3L System Guide. What it means in real-world terms is that you can customize and enhance the behavior of your S3L system so it can perform multiple tasks simultaneously, using previously unrelated functions. This customization can relate directly to the way that the S3 Control Surface and VENUE software behave, and more excitingly, how S3L interacts with other devices in your live sound environment. All you need to do is access the OPTIONS > Events page in the VENUE software, create an event and define its trigger (the function that kicks off the event) and the action (the resultant behavior of S3L).

The list of triggers available in the Events page is extensive. Almost any button on the S3 Control Surface can be used as a trigger, including the 16 function switches and 4 touch strip zones, together with non-control surface items such as snapshot functions, footswitch activation, GPI inputs, and even toggling Show and Configuration modes.

The list of triggers (left) and actions (right) in the OPTIONS > Events page of the VENUE Software is extensive.

The list of actions available is extensive also. You can select any channel in the system, mute any channel, engage mute groups and mute stage outputs, change view modes in the VENUE software, trigger snapshots, and control the transport of the onboard 2-track record and playback system and even a connected Pro Tools system.

Events can be programmed offline in the VENUE standalone software, so to check out the full power of them, just download the software. It’s on us and available here.

 

Tips & Tricks

With all this functionality, where do we begin? Let’s give you a few starting points, a few simple tips and tricks for cool stuff we can do with events. These will do nicely for starters…

  1. Changing VENUE Software View Modes
  2. Triggering Mute Groups
  3. Setting the Tap Tempo
  4. Recalling Snapshots

Also remember to check out my previous blog on using S3L for monitoring mixing applications. I included some neat tricks to quickly navigate through mixes on the S3 Control Surface, optimized for the monitor guy.

 

1. Changing VENUE Software View Modes (via a Function switch)

Avid S3L provides a number of ways to navigate through the pages of the VENUE software. You can use the view buttons and navigation on the S3 Control Surface, the function keys on your QWERTY keyboard, or just use the mouse. However, if you need to access a particular page or screen quickly, the best action is an event (pun intended).

Here’s how you make Function switch 1 target the PLUG-INS page of the software:

  1. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page.
  2. Press Create to create a new Event.
  3. Double click the Event to rename it. Rename it “View Plug-Ins (F1)”.
  4. In the Triggers section press ADD.
  5. Select from the dropdown list Function Switch 1.
  6. In Actions section press ADD.
  7. Select from the dropdown list Change View Mode, Plug-Ins Page.

Changing view modes of the VENUE software using Function switches.

2. Triggering Mute Groups (via a Function switch)

Avid S3L gives you 8 mute groups. Channels are assigned to mute groups in the INPUTS page of the VENUE software. There are no dedicated mute group switches on the S3 Control Surface, so activating mute groups is done via the Events page, which gives us a wider range of choices for engaging them.

For simplicity, let’s say we have drums on channels 1-12 and we want to mute the entire kit as one entity from a single button press. We can assign a VCA to do this, but let’s use a mute group this time.

Here’s how you make Function switch 1 activate Mute Group 1:

First you need to assign your drum channels to a mute group:

  1. Navigate to the INPUTS page of the VENUE software.
  2. Press the Assign button in the Mute Groups section of the INPUTS page to enter Assign mode.
  3. Make sure the red button for Mute Group 1 is activated.
  4. On the S3 Control Surface or in the software, select the drum channels (channels 1-12).
  5. Press the Assign button once again to exit Assign mode. Mute Group 1 is ready.

Channels are assigned to Mute Groups in the INPUTS page of the VENUE software.

Now you can set up an Event to activate Mute Group 1 using Function switch 1:

  1. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page and create a new event.
  2. Rename the event “Mute Group 1 (F1)”.
  3. In the Triggers section press ADD and select Function Switch 1 from the dropdown list.
  4. In the Actions section press ADD and select Mute Group 1 from the dropdown list.

Activating Mute Groups via Function switches.

Remember that you can trigger mute groups using other triggers than just the Function switches. Mute groups can be triggered from snapshot recalls, the mute switches of any channel in the system, and any other previously unrelated function the Triggers list provides.

 

3. Setting Tap Tempo (via a Footswitch)

Avid S3L provides tap tempo for syncing the delay of your plug-ins with your performance material. It’s handy to have this Tap Tempo assigned to a footswitch, so here’s how to set it up:

  1. Connect a footswitch to Footswitch port on the rear panel of the S3 Control Surface.
  2. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Misc page of the VENUE software.
  3. In the Tap Tempo section, press the ON switch.
  4. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page and create a new event.
  5. Rename the event “Tap Tempo (Footswitch)”
  6. In the Triggers section press ADD and select Footswitch from the dropdown list.
  7. In Actions section press ADD and select Tap Tempo from the dropdown list.
  8. Step on your footswitch and set the tempo.

Setting Tap Tempo using a footswitch.

4. Recalling Snapshots (via a Function switch)

You can use Events to recall any snapshot available in your Snapshots list. A handy workflow is to use the Function switches on the S3 Control Surface to recall next and previous snapshots so your scene recalls are right under your fingertips.

To make Function switches 7 & 8 recall previous and next snapshots follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page and create a new event.
  2. Rename the event “Recall Previous Snapshot (F7)”
  3. In the Triggers section press ADD and select Function Switch 7.
  4. In the Actions section press ADD and select Recall Previous Snapshot.
  5. Create another new event. Rename this one “Recall Next Snapshot (F8)”
  6. In the Triggers section press ADD and select Function Switch 8.
  7. In the Actions section press ADD and select Recall Next Snapshot.

When you start integrating S3L’s Snapshots system with its Events system, the functionality can go pretty deep. Consider using a fader start to trigger the first snapshot in your show that subsequently triggers playback of the walk-in music on your 2-track USB drive or even the sound design from a connected Pro Tools system. One Snapshot recall can be set to trigger subsequent snapshot recalls, so a whole series of events can be set in motion with a single button press.

Remember that MIDI messages can be transmitted via snapshot recalls, as can GPI outputs via an event, so S3L can interact with the lighting guys, the pyrotechnics, video dudes or even trigger other audio consoles in the auditorium… Phew!

I’ll let you ponder the possibilities.

 

Integrating Events with the MEDIA page

This little blog entry would not be complete if I didn’t mention the MEDIA page. The MEDIA page is the central point of control in the VENUE software for S3L’s onboard 2-track USB record and playback system. Plug a USB flash drive into any available USB port on the E3 engine and the MEDIA page allows you to manage the stereo recording to the drive and the playback of stereo files from the drive through the Patchbay integration, simple folder navigation windows, transport controls and playlist, all fully integrated into your Show file. However, the system truly comes into its own when used in conjunction with Snapshots and Events.

The MEDIA page is the central point of control in the VENUE software for S3L’s onboard 2-track USB record and playback system.

Let’s start with playback. Any WAV or MP3 file that you want to play back must first be added to the Playlist in the MEDIA > Playback page. Once it’s in there, you can trigger the playback via an event or a snapshot. As all the MEDIA transport functions appear in the Actions list in the Events page, any button on the S3 Control Surface can be used to trigger the playback — just like a sampler. This is great for triggering spot effects or cues on the fly during a theatre show or sports event.

If you are using snapshots, the playback of any file in your playlist can be triggered directly from the snapshot recall, either as a single or repeated play of a track or to begin continuous play of the entire playlist. This couldn’t be easier to set up. A new MEDIA tab within the SNAPSHOTS page of the software allows you to select a file from the playlist and add it and assign it for playback when the snapshot is recalled.

The MEDIA pane in the SNAPSHOTS page allows 2-track USB record and playback to be triggered using snapshot recalls.

When it comes to recording, S3L gets even more interesting. Just like the playback functionality, recording can be triggered via an Event, so again surface controls can start the 2-track recording to the USB drive. Recording can also be triggered via a snapshot recall. But here’s where it gets even more clever…

Let’s say you have built your show using snapshots. You are running a show with a snapshot for each song in the set. Before the show, the lead vocalist asks you for a simple board mix of tonight’s performance. You oblige.

You plug in your USB flash drive. You go to the SNAPSHOTS page, you select the first snapshot in the list, and in the MEDIA tab you click Record > Use Snapshot Name. You repeat this process for every snapshot in the list.

2-track USB record and playback can be triggered using snapshot recalls.

The powerful Events system provided by the VENUE software streamlines your workflow through a user-defined system of advanced control functionality, enhanced beyond the capabilities of any other live mixing desk.

It’s show time. The band comes on stage. You are recalling snapshots for each song in the set. Every snapshot recall triggers a recording to the USB drive. Now, because S3L has a record divide function, every time you trigger a snapshot recall the USB recorder finalizes the current recording and instantly starts a new recording, each time taking the name of your snapshot as the name of the file being recorded. At the end of your show you have a USB drive containing audio files for each song in the set, already cut into discrete files and labeled to match the set.

The artist thinks you’re a genius and that’s fair enough, you are.

So in closing what can I say? Only this—you are in control.

The powerful Events system provided by the VENUE software streamlines your workflow through a user-defined system of advanced control functionality, enhanced beyond the capabilities of any other live mixing desk. It takes S3L into a new realm of live production control beyond that of mixing the audio. The Events system is powerful and wholly user-defined, so that power is all yours.

But don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself. Avid S3L is now shipping and available worldwide. Call your Avid dealer and organize a demo, and as always, let us know what you think.

In my final blog entry for our Designing Avid S3L series, we are going deep. We are drawing together everything we have talked about over the entire blog series, adding a little sprinkling of Pro Tools and a few snapshots, and discussing how Avid S3L is much more than just a digital mixing console.

With a fully networked system of distributed I/O, onboard plug-ins, integrated Pro Tools control, record and playback, built-in media system, and powerful system of snapshots and events, Avid S3L is not just a great sounding mixing desk. Avid S3L is a live production system, and the central point of control of your live sound environment—in my next blog entry, you’ll find out why.




WEBINAR: Avid S6 Control Surface—Mixing Redefined

You are invited to join us for a free Pro Mixing webinar to watch and learn how to mix smarter with superior ergonomics, extensive visual feedback  and explore the revolutionary modular design of the all-new Avid S6 control surface.

Featuring a first-of-its-kind modular design, S6 offers unprecedented flexibility and versatility. You can customize the console with the control you want and scale the surface as your business grows. S6 is built to grow with you at every stage of your business—now and in the future.

Avid Pro Mixing Webinar: S6—Mixing Redefined

In the webinar we’ll show you how to:

  • Customize the surface with the modules you need for great cost efficiency
  • Scale the system from mid- to large-format to match your workflow, with room to grow
  • Take control with high-quality tactile and touchscreen module

In addition, the growing size and complexity of mixes shows no sign of slowing down—making ergonomics more important than ever. S6 combines the best of proven tactile interfaces with next-generation touchscreen technology and deep visual feedback for the most intuitive, high-efficiency operation.

We’ll walk through how to:

  • Mix faster and easier with proven and trusted tactile controls and next-generation touchscreen technology
  • Access, control, manipulate, and navigate multiple aspects of your mix through the ‘heads-up display’ master touchscreen
  • Work quickly using intelligently designed controls and an intuitive layout

Discover what this groundbreaking control surface means for you. Register to watch the webinar now and learn how S6 can increase your productivity.




Rhythm, Pre-vis, and the Magic of Montage: The Making of British Indie Thriller ‘Last Passenger’

Rhythm, Pre-vis, and the Magic of Montage: The Making of British Indie Thriller ‘Last Passenger’

The following article is a guest author contribution from Cristen Reading. Cristen worked as a post production assistant on ‘Last Passenger’, location scouting for pick-ups, editing VFX plate footage, and recording additional sound effects for the movie.

Renowned for a highly attuned sense of rhythm and fluid composition, Joe Walker is now an award-winning film editor but he originally trained as a classical music composer at the University of York. He is much feted for his collaboration with Steve McQueen on Shame and Twelve Years A Slave, and is currently cutting the latest Michael Mann thriller.

In this exclusive interview, Joe talks about his most recent project to hit theaters, the Indie thriller, Last Passenger. Directed and co-written by first-timer Omid Nooshin, Last Passenger tells the story of a small group of everyday passengers on a speeding London commuter train battling a sociopathic driver. According to Joe, “It was a very bold, British movie. It had ambitions to tell an action story but also be rooted in very strong characters.”

“That’s the magic of movie making and good continuity, you can try and blend [disparate elements] together.”

Joe’s sense of streamlined rhythm is evident throughout the film but especially during the nail-biting ‘train-surfing’ scene where one of the passengers climbs outside the train in a desperate bid to free everyone from the clutches of the driver. The sequence was one of the movie’s most complex set pieces, utilizing pre-vis as a “way of checking the objects are where you would like them to be.” The scene was shot in four locations, two studio and two location, over several months, with some shots featuring the main actor and others substituting a stunt double. According to Joe, part of the fun was seamlessly merging these disparate elements. “That’s the magic of movie making and good continuity,” he says “you can try and blend these things together.”

When editing was almost complete the film was scheduled for an important financier screening but the sound still needed a great deal of work. Joe asked an old friend, Glenn Freemantle of Sound 24, to contribute sound elements for the screening and, even though Glenn’s team was stretched to the limits on Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, Glenn still managed to deliver. His contribution was so impressive that Omid insisted on hiring his team for the final sound design.

“It’s a lot of fun to create big explosions and loud things…it’s really nice to build dynamic sounds, starting off very quiet and then hitting you with an impact.”

In this second exclusive interview, Sound Effects Editor Eilam Hoffman explains how the team went about creating a language for the train so that it would become as much a character in the film as any of the passengers. A major creative choice was to use animal sounds such as lions, tigers, and cobras, morphed with the train sounds to give the locomotive an animalistic quality.

“It’s a lot of fun to create big explosions and loud things” Eilam smiles, adding “it’s really nice to build dynamic sounds, starting off very quiet and then hitting you with an impact.” Hear some of those sounds here.

Last Passenger was released in the UK last Friday and in the US, later this year.

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Unveiling S6—The Next-Generation Professional Sound Mixing Solution

Avid S6 Professional Sound Mixing

Welcome to the inaugural blog entry for Avid S6! If you want to stay up to date with everything S6, this is the place to get insight into the control surface, the latest info on software updates, breaking news, and more.

So, about S6…

We’ve been on a super fun, hi-tech journey in Avid Pro Mixing over the last 15 or more years, which brings us to today and the exciting launch of the new S6 integrated control surface. Looking back to the early days of professional control surface mixing, we launched ProControl in 1998 with Pro Tools|24 systems (running Pro Tools 4.2 software), then Control|24 in 2001 with Pro Tools|HD systems (running Pro Tools 5.1). In 2004, the groundbreaking days of ICON D-Control and D-Command captured the industry, powered by Pro Tools|HD Accel (running Pro Tools HD 7) and most recently Pro Tools|HDX.

While ICON is the best selling large-format mixing console of all time and was a huge part of changing the professional mixing paradigm over the last 10 years, many of our customers were willing to share their thoughts on how the next-generation surface could even be better. This, of course, is the well-traveled path of the evolution of mixing desks throughout time, and we were more than willing to listen. If you want to learn more about Avid’s leadership and innovation in the professional mixing space, please check out my Avid Pro Mixing: A (R)evolution in Mixing white paper.

Avid S6 Professional Sound Mixing

Before designing what would become S6, we wanted to thoroughly understand our customers’ challenges and needs. So we conducted a series of interviews, which resulted in very similar responses across many pro music and post mixers, as well as chief engineers at major facilities. The responses can be summed up into these key points:

  1. The world is ready to move beyond the traditional monolithic console model. Mixers desire a high-density, ergonomic, expandable system with easily configurable workflows. Ergonomics (such as reach, tactile interaction, and visual feedback) are paramount to the mixer and should not obstruct or interfere with the sound.
  2. The surface should build upon proven Pro Tools workflows, but have the flexibility to control other Avid and third-party apps as well but in a deeper way than just the HUI protocol.
  3. It should have rich visual feedback like professional metering, EQ curves, panning feedback, routing, scrolling waveforms to cue the mixer, and more.
  4. It should be designed around a set of small modules that can be configured together, enabling users to scale or grow their system.
  5. It should be scalable in both width (number of channels) and depth (channel features and controls).
  6. It should include a base set of modules such as faders, knobs, a touchscreen, processing modes, transport control, and a sliding integrated QWERTY keyboard that can move with the mixer.
  7. Features should be updated and added easily with software over time.
  8. It should connect easily together and be simple to set up, much like ICON was.
  9. It must be high quality and cover a wide variety of physical sizes and price points.

Most all of the interviews ended with a final thought from our users: “ICON is great… The Euphonix guys are also doing some cool stuff with EUCON, hybrid DSP mixing, and [their consoles] have some great ergonomics and visual feedback—you should look at them… Heck, you guys should buy them!”

And so, while I was part of the internal next-gen ICON team, I was brought onto another team to look at the viability of acquiring Euphonix. Not only did the Euphonix portfolio nicely blend with Avid’s into a wider, more powerful series of consoles and control surfaces, but adding EUCON to the Pro Tools/Pro Mixing world greatly improved workflows and flexibility for our customers. The clincher was that Euphonix was also on a very similar path to a next-generation modular, scalable mixing surface and were further along in the design process. The bottom line on the acquisition—it was a win-win-win situation.

(Fig 1-2) Studying the reach, ergonomics, and appropriate visual angles of the mixer at work for S6.

With our acquisition of Euphonix in April 2010, project codename “GoodWaves” was started, bringing together the ICON, Pro Tools, and Euphonix teams to design and build the next-generation modular mixing surface that delivers superior ergonomics and intelligent studio control, providing an intuitive, immersive experience for the modern sound engineer.

We hope that you can see it and touch it in-person soon, and ultimately that you’ll be as excited about it as we are. Thanks for your help and input in making S6 a reality. We want to hear from you, so feel free to comment and share your thoughts. More S6 blogging soon…

Cheers!




The S3 Control Surface: Seven Design Goals of a Revolutionary Console

Avid S3L

The following is the second of a seven-part blog series from Al McKinna, Principal Product Manager, Avid Live Systems & Consoles, that will provide a look inside the design of Avid S3L.

 

I’m guessing that you were not expecting me to start this blog entry talking about the telephone, am I right? It’s a fantastic invention. It began as two baked bean tins and a piece of string, didn’t it? Product development for the telephone went from two Victorians shouting into tin cans to something the size of a chocolate bar that somehow contains your entire life.

Your telephone is now your camera. That’s bizarre in itself. It’s your TV, your music store, your library, your newsstand. It’s simultaneously the fountain of all knowledge and a place to hang out with your buddies. It’s your doctor, yoga instructor, stock broker, spiritual guru and backseat driver. Hey, some of these telephones even let you make phone calls.

A telephone now looks like a single piece of polished precious stone, fits beautifully into the palm of your hand, and does everything possibly conceivable including some things previously inconceivable. I recently bought a cell phone that’s a million times more powerful than the BBC Micro home computer I had growing up. Now that’s product evolution for you.

The live sound industry is a little like the telephone—it’s also evolving faster than the speed of sound. Blink and you’ll open your eyes to a different world.

Over the last 10 years, we have been lucky enough to pay witness to tectonic changes in our live sound world. We have all seen the large-format analog consoles (whose job it is to mix the levels) being replaced by super powerful, smaller-format digital consoles (whose job it is to mix the levels and do a whole lot more besides). Maybe one day we’ll see a console that not only mixes the levels but also mixes the drinks.

Oh yeah, please email me if you do actually want your live sound console to mix the drinks. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll certainly look into it. I’m pretty sure we could do that with EUCON.

This exciting trend, revolution almost, is entirely analogous to the development of the telephone. As live sound consoles gradually get smaller, we expect them to gradually get more powerful, and recently we have been expecting their functionality to take us vastly beyond the horizons of a traditional analog board. Like the telephone, we want our digital live sound console to do everything.

But why? Well, in live sound, as always, the design is driven by the application.

In my last blog entry, we discussed how consoles need to be super-compact yet highly versatile as space is at an ultra-premium, transport costs are high, and discerning audiences expect the highest of production values. We discussed how consoles need to provide all the signal processing and effects ‘in the box’, as outboard racks are costly to maintain, hard to transport and uncompromisingly consume that valuable space. We discussed how every performance needs to be recorded as audiences (and artists) are beginning to wonder why recordings can’t be made available immediately after the show. This means we need to find ways to record the show, mix that recording and publish it while acts are still on the road. This is where it can get a little tricky.

A few years ago, the introduction of the Avid VENUE Family of live sound systems changed the live recording experience forever. VENUE first introduced the concept of the Virtual Soundcheck and revolutionized the live event industry by replacing the mobile recording truck with two DigiLink cables between a VENUE system and Pro Tools HD. Today, it is expected that every digital live sound console leaving the PA company warehouse comes with some form of recording package, irrespective of the manufacturer.

So we are all recording all of our performances all of the time, but what to do with all this material? We know the audiences are screaming for it, we just need to get it into a nice neat finalized package ready for consumption. We need to take it to the recording studio.

Or do we?

What if the live sound console could also be used for the studio mix? What if a single console could be designed for both applications, uncompromising in its functionality for both? What if a console could be made so super-compact it could be used in the tour bus or hotel room, so lightweight it could fly as checked baggage and is intelligent enough to behave like a live console in the auditorium and DAW controller on the bus when you’re mixing the recording? If a manufacturer could indeed design this console, you could record every show, mix every recording, publish the recordings and generate additional revenue streams for the artist—all from the tour bus.

Yes, I’m teasing. We designed it.

Avid S3L is a modular, networked digital mixing system for professional live sound and studio applications that gives the engineer game changing functionality never before achieved by a live console. That concept we have discussed before. However, it is the capabilities of the S3 Control Surface that enable this very cool dual-application functionality. When first designing S3, if Avid was going to realize this dream and not compromise on functionality for live sound or studio, we were going to have to set some exceptionally stringent design goals. Goals that could end up raising the bar on console design altogether.

Yes, I’m going to list them…

  1. S3 must preserve the modularity of the S3L system
  2. S3 must be compact and portable, but not compromise on performance or versatility
  3. S3 must be built for life on the road
  4. S3 must preserve VENUE live sound workflows
  5. S3 must add Artist Series DAW control workflows
  6. S3 must exceed performance expectations
  7. S3 must look like absolutely knockout fantastic

 

1. Avid S3 preserves the modularity of the S3L system

In order to not burden the studio engineer with the cost of audio engine components used only for live sound applications (in the studio Pro Tools is the engine), S3 must contain only the elements needed for studio workflows—the control elements. By preserving the modularity between control surface, engine and I/O components of the S3L system, we made a highly scalable and versatile live sound system while simultaneously enabling S3 to be a viable DAW controller for studio applications.

2. Avid S3 is compact, portable, lightweight and versatile

S3 needs to be super compact for all the reasons mentioned above; however, that does not mean we should be willing to compromise on its versatility or functionality to do so. This is achieved in S3, firstly by having all the audio engine components in the E3 Engine, and secondly through the layout and functionality of the surface controls.

The S3 Control Surface has 32 touch-sensitive encoders. Each encoder has a high-resolution OLED display, which provides indication of the parameter targeted to it. The S3 Control Surface has few dedicated controls. Instead the engineer is given a range of parameters that can be targeted to the encoders. This is not just limited to channel functions such as pre-amp control, EQ, dynamics and aux send levels, but also mix bus outputs, matrix outputs and VCA masters, all of which can be targeted to encoders to free up more control via the faders.

This concept of moving away from dedicated controls and toward a more fluid, versatile, assignable model enables us to remove unnecessary controls, reduce the amount of overall surface space and keep S3 immensely powerful.

3. Avid S3 is built for life on the road

The S3 Control Surface is designed as a controller for both live sound and DAW applications, but that does not mean some units won’t spend their entire lives in a flightcase touring the world. You can guarantee it. Like the seasoned roadie, the S3 Control Surface must be built to cope with this lifestyle and withstand all the rigors of touring. The Avid VENUE consoles are built for this also, and with nearly 10 years of real world testing under Avid’s belt with these market-leading touring consoles, a wealth of experience was applied to S3L. This is why the environmental specifications and requirements provided for the design of S3L are taken directly from the requirements formulated for all other Avid live sound consoles. The S3L system is tested extensively to meet these specifications.

4. Avid S3 preserves VENUE live sound workflows

All Avid live sound consoles are powered by the VENUE software, Avid S3L being no different. The S3 Control Surface literally targets functions in the VENUE software. For this reason, the workflow employed to operate VENUE must be the same across the entire Avid live sound family. If this is achieved, a user would only need to learn to use an Avid live sound console once and be able to use all Avid live sound consoles. So that’s what we did. Fader banking, encoder assign and Channel Control are brought into S3 from existing VENUE consoles and will be instantly familiar to anyone with experience of operating SC48 for example.

All Avid live sound consoles are powered by VENUE.

5. Avid S3 preserves Artist Series DAW control workflows

When S3 is ready to function as a controller for Pro Tools and other 3rd DAWs, the console will behave in a similar way to an Avid Artist Series controller. S3 has been designed to preserve the VENUE functionality and the Artist Series functionality without comprising the established workflow of either.

 

6. Avid S3 exceeds all expectations of performance

The sheer feature set of both the VENUE software and the E3 Engine is such that Avid S3 needs to be extremely versatile. Fortunately the assignable, flexible, non-fixed design of the control surface, detailed earlier in this blog, enables the user to access the full range of features offered by E3 and VENUE. Don’t take my word for this one, jump on a console and try it out. See how parameters map to encoders and how you can access a whole series of functions across different areas of the board for quick access, fluid operation and maximum control.

An S3 prototype is labeled up, ready for functional testing.

7. Avid S3 looks absolutely knockout fantastic

It’s the little super model of the console industry. I joke about this a lot, but there are some very valid reasons why Avid S3 is easy on the eye. The first reason is that S3 has a world-renowned industrial designer whose creative output never ceases to leave me in awe. The second reason is we removed all clutter. All unnecessary controls, labels, section headers and delineation lines have been removed, leaving the console surface free from chaos. This has resulted in clean lines, well-spaced controls and a low profile unit that literally seems to hover above your flightcase.

The final S3 Control Surface.

This is all good, but what’s the purpose of it? Well, it is not just to make you feel proud to tuck S3 under your arm (although hopefully you are)—the primary reason is to make it simple to use. The less clutter on the surface, the easier it is to find and access your desired function. This is essential for live sound workflows where reaction time is always of the essence.

So, there they are—the seven design goals of the S3 Control Surface. Design goals that resulted in a compact, portable, multi-purpose control surface that is extremely powerful, easy to use and sounds fantastic. But again, don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself. Avid S3L is now shipping and available worldwide. Call your Avid dealer and organize a demo, and as always, let us know what you think.