For the Panic Room orchestra sessions at Sony Pictures’ scoring stage, Paul Levy, owner of L.A.’s Advanced Audio, designed a Fibre Channel SAN (Storage Area Network) that allowed several different operations to be accomplished simultaneously. Most notably — in a scoring stage “first” — while engineer John Kurlander was recording Howard Shore’s score, music editors Mark Willsher and Lisa Jaime were onsite cutting cues assembled from just-recorded elements of that score.
The 84-piece orchestra was recorded through three Prism ADA-8 converters to 24 channels of a 48-track Pro Tools system, while a second 24-channel Pro Tools rig provided pre-record playback. A simultaneous safety was also made by using a Euphonix FC-727 to convert the AES outputs of the recording Pro Tools system to MADI, which fed a Sony 3348-HR running in the background. All of the systems and the 3348 were synched to house wordclock, which, in turn, was referenced to house video sync.
“On most scoring dates, the orchestra is first recorded to a master machine,” comments Levy, “whether it’s a Sony 3348, multiple analog 24-track or a Pro Tools system. Once recording of a cue is completed, the program material is transferred to a workstation to assemble an edited master for overdubbing. In this case, the Fibre Channel SAN connected the separate record and editing systems to shared storage, so the editors were able to audition and assemble edits of a cue at the same time that subsequent cues were being recorded. With everyone online simultaneously, there was no time lost waiting for drives to be composited and transferred back to the record system.”
“Because of the compressed time frame, where we had to record, edit and remix the score all in six work days,” says Kurlander, “and because we often need extensive and sophisticated editing, this was a particularly efficient way for us to work. We could record a cue at the beginning of the session, then set the edit map — the number of edits we wanted — and they could be done immediately while we were recording other cues. Then, at lunch break, Howard could review the edits of what we’d recorded in the previous hours. Having the knowledge that all those edits were going to work while the musicians were still present was quite comforting.”
The Panic Room SAN, which was designed at the suggestion of technical director David Gleason, was built around 1.3 terabytes of shared storage, including a Qualstar 4212 AIT tape library system capable of backing up 2.6 TB of data. To avoid fan and drive noise, the storage components, which all fit on one rack, were housed in a separate machine room. Standard multimode fiber cabling linked all of the systems to the storage tower, which comprised 24 Fibre Channel 10k Seagate Cheetah drives and a 16-port Vixel fabric switch used to convert the fiber light into gigabit Ethernet.
“The Vixel is a very high-speed version of an Ethernet hub,” Levy explains. “It hooks up all the workstations through fiber optics and interfaces them to the rack of drives.”
The two editorial Pro Tools systems, one 8-channel and one 16-channel, provided monitoring through Martinsound Multimax matrixes that allowed the editors to select from mono, stereo or surround sound monitoring. Speakers were Genelec 1029s with M&K subwoofers.
As the scoring dates happened, mixing sessions for the project were already under way at Capitol Recording Studios in Hollywood. The Pro Tools systems used for mixing were running from SCSI hard drives, so four SCSI bays on the SAN tower were made available for Fibre Channel to SCSI transfers of the program material, and removable drives were couriered between the studios. “The only way currently available to transfer data is via removable SCSI drives,” Levy notes. “The expense and complexity of trying to pipe fiber directly from point to point is still prohibitive, although I’m convinced that we’ll be able to do it soon.”
Advanced Audio provided onsite technicians Erik Swanson and TJ Lindgren for the dates, which, according to Kurlander, went smoothly. “It was pretty transparent,” he contends. “Paul Levy gave us a lot of support and put a lot of man-hours into the preparation. As with any of these groundbreaking things, we took a little extra time in setting up. But once it was up and running, it really paid off while the orchestra was there.”