Digital tools have democratized the workflows for audio/video production, presenting a new set of challenges to high-end post-production ventures: How does a new facility stand out in a highly competitive market, with so many players, large and small? And, how does one stand out when located hundreds of miles away from a major production hub like Los Angeles or New York?
The creators of HUGEsound in Salt Lake City were fully aware of the challenges going in, and they leveraged a unique confluence of resources, including access to strong local talent, the draw of Utah’s natural beauty, modern audio/video post-production workflows, and versatile recording spaces to attract clients looking for world-class equipment, services and hospitality.
Composer and HUGEsound co-founder Chance Thomas
Photo: Brian Tweede, Tweede Photography Studio
So in September 2016, a group of veteran media pros—Michael McDonough, MPSE, Sound Designer and VP of Operations; Chance Thomas, Composer, VP of Music and Creative Development; and Michael James Greene, Senior Audio Engineer—joined with local entrepreneur Gaylon Rust to transform an existing studio into a modern, multipurpose audio/video post-production facility. Completed in early 2017, HUGEsound was built to address local, regional and West Coast–based A/V productions alike, with 16,000-plus square feet of edit suites, studios and client amenities.
In addition to film, TV and gaming, the HUGEsound team is also targeting new production opportunities. “With VR and 360 video gaining traction, we’re seeing a fantastic opportunity to expand our services to accommodate the needs of VR production,” Thomas says. “Producing content for VR and 360 video is still new, so we’re working closely with VR technology companies to perfect workflows for producing quality 3D audio, which is critical for VR immersion.”
Recently, Thomas and McDonough created music and sound for the debut of The VOID, a location-based virtual reality company based in Linden, Utah, that develops “hyper-reality” experiences featuring one-to-one mapping of real-world props overlaid with rendered graphics on a head-mounted display. “It’s the closest thing to the ‘holodeck’ I’ve experienced!” Thomas exclaims.
“Musically, Utah remains strongly committed to the highest standards of quality education, with Brigham Young University, and state universities alike, producing well-studied and talented musical performers,” adds Greene, whose experience includes music recording for several albums, as well as film, TV, IMAX, and videogames. “The availability of top quality musicians helped establish the Utah Symphony, under the past leadership of preeminent conductor Maurice Abravanel, to be on par with top orchestras and symphonies.”
“The Utah Symphony, as well as other local orchestras, become extremely valuable from a recording perspective,” Thomas adds. “Decades of recording various musical styles for national productions has produced highly skilled sight-readers, making Utah-based musical talent attractive to composers who seek the very best musical recordings, like myself.”
At the heart of HUGEsound’s facility is the soundstage, a large room designed to accommodate recording and other types of projects. “We can handle everything from recording big band, small orchestras and choirs, in addition to large-scale VR setups, green-screen photo/video shoots, and motion tracking,” Greene explains. “We’re able to control the acoustics of the room by controlling how live or dead we need—for example, pulling out the wrap-around curtain along the cyc walls of the space, in addition to using rugs, panels and diffusers to help us further control reflections in the room.”
There was a soundstage in the facility they purchased, but some major design and construction was required to liven the space up. “Previously, there was a lot of midrange absorption, which resulted in too short of a room tail; basically, the space was ‘overly dead’ in the upper-mid frequencies,” Greene recalls. “We removed an entire wall of absorption, in addition to replacing many absorption panels with diffusion and deflector panels, especially along the walls.” Greene and the team worked with Alan Howell at A&D Specialties, based in Idaho, to create custom diffusors and deflectors, made from maple, to help control reflections in a manner that added a nice “air” to the room.
As a multi-use soundstage, the room couldn’t be “too live,” especially for film shoots. “We couldn’t have a longer reverb time, like you’d find in some scoring stages, so the goal was to capture nice early reflections then augment them with digital reverbs, producing a rich sound overall,” adds Greene, whose go-to reverbs include the multichannel PCM96, Lexicon 300, many Alitiverb IRs and other plugin-based reverbs.
Senior Audio Engineer Mike Greene at the Neve Genesys
Photo: Brian Tweede, Tweede Photography Studio
For the main music control room at HUGE-sound, Greene sought a console that would support his tracking needs with straightforward workflow, which led him to the Neve Genesys Black console. “I was impressed with the functionality and sound of the Genesys,” he says. “I found it to be unmatchable for sound quality, workflow and speed.”
The Genesys is fitted with 64 inputs, 32 1073 mic pre’s, 16 1084 EQs, and 16 88R EQs to accommodate various styles of music projects. When more inputs are needed, the room is equipped with racks of select vintage preamps from API, Purple Audio and Daking, in addition to a plethora of outboard processors. The control room offers Augspurger mains with Dynaudio surrounds. For connectivity, the control room (and all rooms) are outfitted with Avid Nexus and Focusrite Rednet.
Though the breakdown isn’t so simple, essentially Thomas concentrates on music while McDonough handles sound design. McDonough’s professional career began when he was studying at BYU, where he worked on an NPR sci-fi radio show called Bradbury 13, which won a Peabody Award (presented by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt , who reached out to McDonough as a fan; the two remain friends). He’s also worked on gaming, TV and film projects, including several IMAX films and won an MPSE Golden Reel Award for his work on IMAX’s Island of the Sharks.
McDonough, meanwhile, says that his approach to sound design is much like Bob Ross’ approach to watercolor painting. “I like to start off with general washes of sounds, such as ambiences, to create an atmosphere,” Greene says. “I then layer in sound effects, with Foley being the final component that adds detail, much like adding shadows to trees in a painting.” His workflow is centered around Pro Tools with the D-Command control surface; Soundminer (helps to quickly pitch and spot SFX), and MIDI keyboard controller for triggering mapped samples using Avid’s Structure plug-in.
HUGEsound also features luxury client apartments, located conveniently next door, and offers professionally guided outdoor adventures, such as fly-fishing, horseback riding, snowmobiling and dogsledding. The team strives to create a homey, friendly atmosphere.
“You can wait in [L.A.] traffic or jump on a flight to Salt Lake!” remarks co-founder Thomas. “HUGEsound offers everything you’d find in coastal-city facilitiess at lower rates than much of the competition.”