Gazprom Media. Moscow
Number of rooms;
Gazprom Media (NTV-Kino) Russia.
Acoustic design, project management, electrical systems design, data systems design, ventilation system design, machine rooms, ancillary spaces, and corridor design.
To design and deliver the most advanced film post production facility in Russia.
10 months start to end.
Design, project management, project engineer, technical install supervision.
Technical operation consultant.
Acoustic design concept.
Assistant project manager.
February 2012 to November 2012
In the summer of 2011 our team were contacted to meet in Moscow to propose a design and management project for Gazprom media holdings for the construction of a completely new post production facility for the company NTV-Kino. The facility was to be built in the existing buildings of the old Gorky Film Studios in the Ostankino district of Moscow. The brief was to build an up-to-date most modern film post production facility fit for man years of future use.
It was demanded by the client that the studio be ready for operation as soon as possible, and a 10-month schedule was the longest accepted build and delivery time. It was required to fully construct and equip 15 acoustically treated rooms, all offices and corridors, and 10 video suites. The facility was required to have a Dolby Premier certified room, full technical installation and high-quality power system. Prior to the 10-month build there was two months of demolition of the old 1960’s Gorky Film studios installation, including all rooms and offices.
Our team were also contracted as technical advisors on all infrastructure and audio equipment, and we were responsible for specifying the final working systems to the highest world class standards. This part of the project started with a joint meeting of all technical staff and our team at the 2011 IBC exhibition in Amsterdam. Our first step was to rationalise and modernise the customer’s list of requirements.
Demolition and preparation.
Various days of preparation were carried out in the autumn of 2011 between Joules Newell, Philip Newell, and Branko Neskov, and the client in order to define the outline concept of what would probably be built and how it would work. Some basic outline concepts were defined and prepared. On the 10th of November 2011 Joules set off with a single A3 outline concept drawing to Moscow to start the design process on-site. The first stage would involve the initial preparation of all CAD engineering drawings, pre-construction site meetings with contractors, selection of contractors, engineering calculations, building surveys, careful examination of the building that has been exposed during demolition, and preparation of the final specifications.
Much was exposed during the demolition phase, plenty of structure that was not obvious at the initial site inspections in the summer, new information on the state of things and the final working dimensions of the building we had to start with. It was estimated that somewhere between 200 and 300 tons of previous acoustic treatment was removed from the 3rd floor of the old Gorky Film studios, so much that it was noted that the building had risen by up to 3cm in some places as the weight load had changed.
Designs were drawn up for a 3 phase 300A per phase technical power system along with a 90,000 watt (180,000 watt short term – 10 second peak capacity) power back-up UPS system. A 10gb copper cat6A ethernet network was designed along side a full-duplex fibre network all capable of moving high-res raw video data around the building.
A system design for a comprehensive ventilation and air conditioning system that had to be unmeasurably silent in all audio rooms while coping with the extreme temperature swings of the Moscow climate (+35c in the summer to -35c in the winter).
At the same time, we were approached by Dolby Laboratories who had a new surround format later to be known as Atmos® that they were keen to have us install in the main dubbing theatre, at this stage the specifications were secret, but we would be the first ever studio to be built from the beginning to accommodate Dolby Atmos®. This required a considerable re-think of many aspects of the room, including a total re-design of a surround loudspeaker to enable each unit to cover the whole room at realistic production levels. All loudspeaker systems were either custom, or previously designed by ourselves.
While we were surveying, measuring, and inspecting the building and inputting all the dimensions in the plans we had to constantly keep in communication with the architect designing the offices and other areas, in many ways we collaborated on such design aspects and some of our work moved into the other parts of the building. Where the location of toilet facilities would have a negative acoustic impact on the studios, by water pipes passing close to recording spaces, we intervened and re-arranged the toilet facilities. While toilets and plumbing may well not be the most obvious domain of the acoustic experts a badly arranged building can cause untold headaches for us at a later stage and in this case, in the end, we actually designed all the toilet facilities to resolve any foreseen problems.
All corridor floors passing sensitive recording spaces were isolated from the structural floors and walls as a floating surface in order to reduce foot fall noise in the building structure. Because of the snow and ice outside we could not carpet the corridor floors, in the winter the ice malting from shoes would turn the carpet to mud in a very short time. A vinyl floor was chosen as it was less noisy than wood, but even so all corridors were floated to reduce noise transmission.
The corridor ceilings were used as principle main cabling runs, special space was allocated for cable systems and very close attention was paid to all cabling system geometry. At no point anywhere in the whole complex were cable loops permitted, loops that could suffer huge electromagnetic induction effects in a building of this size. All cables were run in close segregation, adequately far away from each-other but close enough together for no induction loop to form in system grounds. The very same ceiling spaces had to be shared with ventilation systems.
With the preparations compete, February saw the start of construction work.
As we were on floor three of a four level building we had to take great care with weight loading of floor structures. While the studio had been built from the very start as a film studio and much work had been done to provide structural support in the building itself, some work and calculations had to be done to make sure that our new layout did not adversely load areas that were not previously prepared for the loads that we had to place upon them. Some areas had to be further strengthened to cope with our new layouts.
It was decided by the customer that no room anywhere on the third floor should have any form of step into that room, all rooms should be on the same level, and that level should be even as far as is possible. Only the structure of the main Dolby Atmos® dubbing theatre was unable to be levelled to the same height as all other rooms, fortunately this room was at the end of a long corridor and an imperceptible slope could be created in this corridor to raise the floors to the same height. A full and complete survey of the building had to be made by us in order to fix reference heights for the acoustic floated floor structures all around the building. The building itself, a 1960’s Soviet construction, had a large variation in floor heights and all floors had to be built up to the final concrete floor height.
The main studios were floated on a high density, very low resonance (about 10Hz) concrete slab floated on a mineral wool spring. This floor would only take the acoustic control shell structures. A separate external sand filled concrete block isolation bunker was built on top of carefully calculated Sylomer pads set at the second level of blocks. These concrete bunkers would isolate well over 120dB of sound at as low as 30Hz (and below) from leaking from the studios through the building walls. Tests carried out in the summer of 2011 with a bass guitar amplifier showed that the previous structure, although very thick, allowed easy penetration from corridors into adjacent acoustic spaces, something that we could not allow to happen in a premier facility with adjacent studios.
Along with all of the acoustic spaces we had to design and specify all the technical spaces. A whole floor between floor 3 and floor 4 was removed behind the main dubbing theatre to accommodate a new projection room floor. This floor had to be installed at a height to allow the projection to be a perpendicular to the screen as possible for best image quality, we also had to allow this image to pass between the loudspeaker arrays without any obstruction. A main equipment room was installed below the projection room, and a technical workshop on floor 4 with a new internal access stairway.
The area behind the projection screen of each of the two dubbing theatres was used as an amplifier space, all amplifiers were placed as close as possible to the loudspeakers to enable minimum loudspeaker cable runs. In the principle dubbing theatre a separate technical platform was made half way up behind the screen to allow easy access to all amplification and processing equipment.
Outside the main studio bunker, behind the screen, and to the side of ADR studio 3 we had the central power room, here all electrical systems were installed including the 90,000 watt 14 hour battery back-up system. A specially designed battery rack had to be created to hold the six tons of batteries, they could not be supported on the floor alone, the racks had to be fixed into the main supporting wall of the building, the racks were designed and fabricated on-site. All cable systems were designed to pass along common paths all passing the central power room which acted as the core of the star distribution topology.
It was common to see the constant arrival of 40foot (12m) semi-trailer trucks arriving with materials such as Gypsum boards, wooden beams, acoustic dead-sheet, and acoustic felt, at one point it was becoming impossible to move inside the building for acoustic felt, every room was full of rolls of felt, and every corridor too. It seemed that there would be no space left, yet when it was all applied it only took a further 2cm from the dimensions of all rooms.
At one point there were somewhere in the region of 100 people working in two 12 hour shifts to achieve 24-hour working to enable the deadline to be met. Simply managing this and keeping an eye on everything was a significant task for just one project engineer and one assistant for a 3 month period.
All the rooms were based on the well-studied non-environment principles. This is absolutely essential for anyone working on virtual environment material, such as movies, where it is necessary to artificially create an acoustic environment for the audience, where at one moment they can be in the middle of a desert, and the next they are in a cathedral. Any room signature of any kind in the listening environment would destroy this ability to hear the illusion and would severely compromise the production quality.
The visual appearance of the rooms is of equal importance as the audio properties. We are, after-all, building a film production facility where image plays a leading role. While it could be said that visuals don’t matter for audio, we believe that they do. More than this, when the production staff and directors who are working on the image are passing by the audio rooms they cannot fully switch off their concern for the image, they could erroneously worry about colour balance and lack of contrast issues picked up in the audio suites if those issues are not taken care of. Audio staff also have to carefully balance the audio with the image, this can be more difficult when the image is too weak, or too powerful, or other things distract from the image.
As a consequence, all imaging equipment was specified to the highest standards, including using actual cinema projection equipment in all projection rooms, and all rooms were treated to not detract from the image in any way. While we could have made a very bold statement about the financial investment in the facilities by creating an impressive architectural appearance that would have been highly unprofessional of us, and damaging to the functioning of the studios. It was carefully chosen to keep all rooms deliberately plain and neutral in colour, no visual distractions were permitted, and projected image rooms were intentionally dark so as to not reflect anything at all when the image is being projected. While there was a great deal of highly technical acoustic control architecture behind the walls all that was eventually visible was the plain flat acoustically transparent fabric of the cosmetic walls.
Everything in the original technical planning stage was designed around the concept of “less is more”. This means that in order to create the most reliable, efficient, fast, high quality production environment no equipment should ever get in the way of the workflow. The construction dates of the studios actually fell in the middle of a time when everything that connected movies to actual film was all being purged from the industry.
The entire project specification required a total change in mentality of all concerned, no longer were huge worksurfaces required, no longer were teams of operators needed to mix a movie, in many cases it was falling back to just one or two people, and the whole studio had to be operated by just one person if it was to be profitable in the new age on digital cinema. All outboard hardware was cut from the studio specification. Even the large Dolby Atmos® dubbing theatre was equipped with nothing more than a Digital Audio Workstation, plug-ins, a control surface, a projector, screen, and speakers. It was deemed that anything outside of this would be surplus to normal operating requirements and therefore a complex distraction from the work to be done.
More importantly there was the prospect of external equipment causing issues and slowing down the workflow. One key concept that was constantly at the front of our minds was “if it isn’t needed it’s not going in” Computers were not connected to the internet for security and reliability reasons, all rooms were networked to enable project portability across the facility. All similar rooms (ADR studios) were designed identical to allow for the most flexible customer booking allocation, no room could be favoured over any other. Audio compatibility was assured across all rooms. Room layout was carefully designed so no room could disturb another no matter what was being done in each room.
All power systems were backed up, except non-emergency lighting. All power back up was ensured for over 12 hours of full continuous working. No power socket was left without back-up, not even people’s coffee machines. It was determined that any non-protected outlet was a potential connection point for a critical piece of local equipment connected by unfamiliar staff. It could be the case that a sudden loss of such equipment in a power cut could result in significant data loss. It would only need one person to plug one critical interface into a non-protected utility socket and a whole project could be corrupted.
As we had 90,000 watts of continuous capacity in the system, it could easily handle a few kettles occasionally, and it was infinitely preferable to take up some of this load than to have a project lost because an external disc or interface was suddenly disconnected in mid workflow. Once again the intention is that the power back up system should never rely on users connecting things to specific outlets, that is a recipe for problems, the intention is that the system should be invisible, require no special actions, and should function without even being noticed to save all work and allow the facility to continue working through any short to medium power cut.
On the 2nd of November 2012, some 10 months from the commencements of works the project was completed as specified, with the fantastic efforts of over 100 skilled workers, and many companies and engineers we managed to deliver the whole project to completion as planned on time.
Not only had the studio been completed, but it was the first studio (as far as we are aware) ever to be built as a full Dolby Atmos® Dubbing theatre.
On the very first certification visit we managed to achieve full Dolby Premier Studio certification with no advisory notes or conditions. Testament to the standard of work and skill of all involved.
The studio was handed over to the operation team the very following week.
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