For too many years, San Francisco post houses watched as local ad agencies took their mixes south to Los Angeles. National accounts would shoot in town, fill their spots with pioneering visual effects from places like Industrial Light & Magic and Western Images, then head to L.A. to finish at L.A. Studios, Margarita Mix or Waves. Regional work stayed in town; high-profile work often left. Not any more.
During the past five years, San Francisco has been the hottest market in the ad world, with new film editorial houses and agencies opening, and dot-coms adding some fuel. New audio suites have come online at places like Music Annex, Crescendo and Dubeytunes, embracing new technologies and adopting a fresh vibe. But right now, nobody in audio is hotter than one Union Recording Studios.
Opening in 1994 with a single Pro Tools/TAC Scorpion room, the facility has grown up with the resurgent ad community. The Scorpion was replaced straight away by a Yamaha 02R, and Studio 2 opened soon after, two years ahead of schedule. At that point, the owners-John McGleenan, Eric Eckstein and Jeff Roth-decided to re-architecture the stereo suites to fit a new way of working."When we first opened, we had an analog console and a digital audio workstation that was common to 90 percent of the recording studios in the U.S.," McGleenan says. "But we were witnessing an evolution in the audio industry and realized that we could step into a new arena with random access audio. So we put the workstation in the center and threw the console off to the side. What made that possible was the 02R. It's an amazing piece of gear."
The owners also installed a Lighthouse K-Series 64x64 AES/EBU digital router, placed on the right-hand side of the engineer in each suite. Everything goes direct to drives.
"The only panic we had was, 'Are we going too digital, too fast?'" McGleenan says. "We decided that we needed to take one step back in the voice area, so we went with the best arsenal of mic pre's, compressors and tube microphones that we could get. We have tube Neumanns, Tube-Tech compressors and Demeter mic pre's, so we can control the amount of warmth and richness we put on the voice prior to digitizing it."
Business was booming, and one Union started to look ahead to the next evolution, which was surround sound. As they did in 1994, they brought in Carl Yanchar to design a showcase suite. It was a huge decision, McGleenan says, to build surround from the ground up, rather than build a new stereo room and retrofit down the line. The result is a space that needs no EQ-sonically dead-on according to acoustics expert Bob Hodas. It opened August 1, 1999, based around the first Euphonix System 5 digital console installation in the world (on the cover).
"It's not a console," McGleenan says. "It's a supercomputer in the center of the room. one Union has never been a beta site for any manufacturer except for the System 5. Suddenly, we had a console that is expandable channel-wise, DSP-wise, hardware-wise and software-wise. We can have eight faders or 48 faders. We can have 209 channels or 64. And because it works on a sliding scale, you're able to assign buses, auxes and channels per project. That, for us, was like a child going into a toy store. We can do mono, stereo, 3.1, 5.1 and 7.1 simultaneously, and clients can walk off with whatever mix they want at the end of a session."
One Union also became one of the first commercial houses to install Dolby E, to provide clients with fully encoded 5.1 and stereo mixes on the same Digi Beta. The monitoring system is Genelec 1037Bs across the front, 1031A in the rears, with a 1094A sub. Video playback (the whole facility runs off Doremi V1 random video, with all formats available for layback) is from a Sharp XG-E3500U LCD projector. The entire facility synchronization system was just upgraded so that each room can run independently at whatever sample rate it chooses.
Two more surround rooms are planned for the coming year-McGleenan says the market is demanding it, as the company gets more and more into episodic and longer-format projects. Already they have mixed documentaries in surround, and Pixar has become a regular client, with voice recording for Toy Story 2 taking place in Studio 3. (They did work on A Bug's Life in Studio 1.)
The future for one Union seems unlimited at this point. McGleenan is eyeing the possibility of opening a facility in Santa Monica ("Clients are asking for it," he says), and networking via the Web is on the horizon. "There's no reason that three years from now, the whole facility couldn't be up on our Web site," he says. "You could pull down sessions, work on them, post them back up, and we could give keys to our clients so they can go into private 'rooms' for playback." Stay tuned. There's more on the way.