Pepper spices up its mix with USP upgrade

27th August 2009

‘It’s the most powerful DFC room in Europe,’ begins Dave Turner, ‘with the possible exception of Abbey Road, but they’re not necessarily in the same marketplace as us.’

Pepper Post’s main room is also one of the biggest dubbing stages in England, and (at the time of writing) the country’s only facility approved for Dolby Premier certification.

This is all of a piece with an ongoing investment strategy following Pepper Post’s purchase of Future Post from the Future Film Group in October 2008. Prior to that, while it had a working relationship with Future, Pepper specialized in video post production, with TV accounting for the majority of its work. Having suddenly inherited what Turner describes as ‘a fairly full on audio department, historically geared mainly towards film work,’ Pepper’s strategy is clear – the company wants to offer full service quality post production for both TV and film.

Following Dave Turner’s appointment as Head of Sound in November 2008, there has been a strategic push to strengthen of the sound team, with the appointment of Howard Bargroff as a senior dubbing mixer, Rob Weatherall as a mix technician and Sam Matthews as Pepper’s in-house audio maintenance engineer. There has also been a significant investment of several hundred thousand dollars in bringing the main dubbing theatre up to scratch as well as major enhancements to the basement studios.

One of the most far-reaching improvements in Theatre 1 has come through upgrading Pepper’s DFC Gemini with the super-powerful USP engine, which has radically increased processing capacity.

‘We’ve just mixed Planet 51 [a Future Films animation feature due for release just before Christmas 2009] and we were well within capacity on the DFC,’ Turner explains (see panel below for details). ‘Previously we’ve always been right on the edge of the processing limit for big films.’

The room, he adds, has never historically commanded the level of work it should have been getting. ‘Since we’ve made these changes we’ve seen significantly more interest in the room and the company, and I think this is down to a number of factors. Certainly the restructuring of the management and creative teams has helped, but also the studio refurbishment work and upgrading the desk that have been key.’

As well as giving Pepper more processing headroom, the USP engine’s vastly increased path and routing counts also offer more workflow choice, Turner notes.

‘The workflow that seems to be popular on the film side is to premix certain elements within Pro Tools, and then to bring those premixes into the big theatre and buss them through the DFC, so you’ve access to all the DFC’s superb EQ, dynamics and summing capabilities… One of the issues which came up on thePlanet 51 mix was that the dubbing mixers – Mark Taylor and Chris Burdon – were concerned about bussing the premix stems inside Pro Tools due to potential distortion issues when dealing with large numbers of tracks.

‘So what they try to do is keep things as wide as possible until mixdown, bussing inside the DFC to optimize sonic quality. Plus you’ve got the DFC’s unparalled EQs and the tactility of the surface. So it does work well as a hybrid workflow.’

Turner is also keen to stress Pepper’s collaborative ethos. ‘We’re keen to promote our unique compatibility with some of the American studios who’ve made that move to the USP engine. From what I understand since upgrading to USP/v5.4 we are the only UK large dubbing stage compatible with Warner Brothers in LA for example. We’re also very accommodating as far as using freelance re-recording mixers is concerned; we understand that for many large productions this is the way they prefer to operate, and we are not challenging that in any way.’

The plan, Turner says, is working, and the work is flowing. ‘We’ve just been confirmed for Green Zone [with Mike Prestwood Smith and Mark Taylor]. As well as that there are all sorts of possibilities we can’t talk about it until the purchase orders come through. But certainly we’re seeing a new level of demand for this facility.’