At the third annual Mix Presents Sound for Film event, held in mid-September at the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, Calif., longtime Los Angeles pro audio retailer/integrator Westlake Pro sponsored an expert panel called “Building an Immersive Room: Small, Medium and Large.”
It was moderated by Westlake CTO Jonathan Deans and included design consultant Jerry Steckling of JSX Audio, Peter Chaikin of JBL, Nathan Oishi from Sony, Bill Johnston of Formosa Group and Atmos-equipped studio owners Tom Brewer and Mark Binder, representing the small and medium facility. The panel was standing room only; there is a lot of interest in immersive audio.
“Atmos is what we wall wanted 5.1 to be,” says Westlake Pro President Joe Taupier. “It’s a giant step forward, and it’s fascinating how the technology works. That experience of being in an immersive room is what we wanted to bring to clients and to engineers, people who simply want to learn more about the technology.”
Taupier, along with his Westlake Pro partner and co-owner, George Adjieff, put their money where their mouth is and this month will be opening the first full-blown Dolby Atmos dub stage in a retail showroom space, right on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. The idea for building such a room had been tossed around since the emergence of immersive formats, which just happened to coincide with the company’s move to a new facility in 2012.
“We had an 800-square-foot space, with high ceilings, in the new building that we were wondering what to do with,” recalls CEO Adjieff. We had already put in two smaller music production studios, sort of as model homes for people to come in and see a complete system, in a working studio. At the time, we were starting to reach out more to the post-production world, and Joe turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t we just go all-out and put in an Atmos room?’”
Adjieff, a guitarist, engineer and composer for film and television, and Taupier, a session guitarist from Boston, had worked together at West L.A. Music for nearly 20 years. In 2005, West L.A. Music purchased Westlake Pro, and in 2012, Adjieff and Taupier purchased it back and set up shop. In the ensuing years they expanded the facilities, set up two studios, built out the new Pensado’s Place control room on site, and now, added a fully professional Atmos post-production room.
They weren’t novices, as the company had designed, integrated and built a number of projects around town, both consulting and equipping the lots and doing turnkey packages for independents. They knew that there was more to come.
“Our goal was really to put in the room so we could learn about the system so that we weren’t necessarily guessing at what we’re doing” Adjieff says. “One of the ways Joe and I learned about digital recording was to set up systems. So we decided to make the mistakes on our own dime as we put up our own room. Plus, we build all these rooms for other people; it was time we built one for ourselves.”
The timing is impeccable, with Westlake’s services emerging right as the market was opening in the middle. “Originally, the concept was that there were a lot of smaller midrange post-production facilities all over Los Angeles that don’t necessarily have the manpower to put into the technical side of this type of build. People at Universal, Disney or the other lots have plenty of technical prowess. But the independents, with smaller facilities who are doing a lot of different things, might not have the time to sit there and learn this. We can be their technical eyes and ears and bring them into a market they might not be tuned to. We give them the ‘one-throat-to-choke’ option for building and maintaining their facility.”
“The other side of that is that there are audio engineers out there who want to learn about the products, so we will be offering training on it so that engineers simply have the opportunity to learn,” adds Taupier. “There may be some specialty, invited sessions, but most will be free to the public. Learn how it could benefit your facility or chops. We’re all about that community approach to the audio world.”
The Dolby Atmos room has 20-foot ceilings, sloping up from 11.5 feet at the front. A cloud and full acoustic treatment is in place, tuned by Steckling. An Avid S6 sits in the middle, feeding a series of Crown amps, BSS for DSP and a 9.8.1 JBL monitoring system, with M2s across the front LCR, and 7 series monitors along the sides, back wall and ceiling. It also includes three, soon to be four, of the new JBL 118 subs.
The Atmos stage is then connected to the other two music production studios through a Focusrite RedNet-centered Dante network, with an emphasis on demonstrating workflow options for a multiroom facility. An entire series of events is planned, including piping content from a control room to the Atmos stage for live streaming and a mini-broadcast booth-style production.
“The market for us is really the midrange post facility that can use to the cinema or home. If you’re in Los Angeles, head on out to North our technical expertise,” Adjieff says. “But building the room wasn’t so much client-driven as it is a technology we are very interested in. That’s why we do things: for the sound. That said, the big financial opportunity for us will be in the midsize room. That’s where the real focus is going to be, and that’s where the need is. I just heard that Netflix is starting to require the facilities they work with to deliver Atmos as a requirement.”
“And game developers,” interjects Taupier. “We have a lot of clients there, and they can bring in sound designers or composers come and experience it themselves, sitting down with our experts and running through the system on a Saturday afternoon if they like.”
Westlake Pro has hit on something here. Midsize immersive rooms, as we learned on the Mix Sound for Film panel, translate well both up and down the chain, for those who feed them and for ultimate distribution to the cinema or home. If you’re in Los Angeles, head on out to North Hollywood and experience it. Then build one for yourself.