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Small room mixing revisited
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Smallbudgetguru
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Matt R. Sherman
 
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Small room mixing revisited

Hi everybody,

I have been trying to get my "small" room dialed for over a year now.

I have read all of the stickies and Dolby and ATSC documentation.

Have chatted with some of you, shared reference material etc.

Was feeling pretty good about where things were at. Clients seem to be very happy with festival releases, trailers and broadcast content.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a film I mixed in a very reputable larger 150 seat theatre that is frequently maintained by a Dolby consultant.

We had hoped to listen and then fine tune the mix. The result was as expected but created a lot of confusion on my end. The project is not finished and we aim to revisit the mix.

Basically the LFE was practically non existent, which I was worried about, no surprises there. But the overall mix levels were quite feeble. Our booth manager had taken the cinema processors (2 of them) up by quite a bit in order to get the level of playback we were used to hearing in the small room while mixing.

I hope to find out by exactly how much but I understand that it's not simply a fixed number of dBs it's a curve of some sort on the Dolby cinema processor.

Our mix room which is slightly shy of most Dolbys "small room" specs , is currently calibrated to 76 dBSPLC.

The confusion lies here: this experience leads to believe going lower in calibration will yield "louder" playback levels in the cinema. However there are plenty of loud moments in the film where the mix stem and fx stems respectively are almost slapping -3 or even -1 dBFS.
So if calibrated lower would everything not be in the red?

Please understand that we are not trying to skip a step and ultimately avoid finaling in a larger stage. On certain projects it's just simply not a financial option, and on most projects we would like to minimize time on larger stages as we are working on limited budgets.

Once turned up in the theater the mix and its respective balance translated quite well, aside from the need to gain and the lack of LFE which in a small room is understandable. we are quite proud of our mix none the less.

I would very much like to find the happy medium here and provide this film with a more appropriate mix. Sure we could lower the calibration level and force louder mixes overall, however I am not understanding how to go "louder" if the digital max is already being approached at the loud points in the film, which felt very quiet until the projectionist turned things up.

I hope to receive some constructive assistance from you awesome folks here on the slutz!

Sincerely,

Matt
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#2
4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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did the projectionist tell you at what level he/she was playing your mix at? that would be pretty crucial to understanding where you are at. was this a dubbing stage or a regular theatre (where they often ignore the spec and play films softer than the standard level). also what were you playing off of? were you for sure hearing the discrete 5.1 mix through a 6-channel input on the processor? if you were hearing it off of a dvd or something, that throws a whole bunch of other issues into the mix...

if it was played at the appropriate film theatrical level at 85 dB SPL = 7.0 on the dial, then your film would have been playing 9 dB hotter than in your small room. that's a lot.

76 seems pretty low for mix level, even in a smaller room. you can manage your peak headroom by using brickwall limiters on your mix busses.
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Matt R. Sherman
 
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Thanks very much for your reply.

Great questions I should have thought to provide some of that info!

The mix was played back in the TIFF bell Lightbox theatre 4, a cinema theatre not a dub stage. But they are a very respected venue in Canada and Handle calibration seriously. I am still waiting to hear from the booth manager how high they had played it. They have two cinema processors and I believe the cranked on both dials.

I know that he mentioned that the room was cal'd at 85 with the CP at the 7 setting as you mentioned. So based on your reply , they played it. Back at a minimum of 9 db hotter. Great to know! A good start.

The mix was delivered for DCP server ingestion as 6 discrete PCM WAV files.

I will ask again how much they gained it and reply here.

Thanks so much! I know it's not ideal but for the time being would really like to get closer as this was way to soft.

My stem limiters are barely doing much, mainly to catch peaks. I was thinking and confirmed based on your reply, I need to invoke them much more.

Thanks!
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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It is a little hard to know because we don't know the density or level of your mix. Also, we don't know how you played back the mix in the frequently maintained by Dolby theater. Inputs, outputs and playback devices matter.

I would suggest finding a stage to work with. See if you can send them a clip, or if you can swing by with one short clip of a mix.

But to answer question of "how much":

On the cinema processor:
7 = 85 dB (as we all know)
7.5 = 86.6 dB
8 = 88.33 dB
8.5 = 90 dB
9 = 9.166 dB
9.5 = 93.33 dB
10 = 95 dB
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Matt R. Sherman
 
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Thank you minister this will help a lot!

Great suggestion, I will try to work something out with a large stage to fine tune this situation.

All I know about how it was played back is this:

6 mono discrete PCMs ingested into DCP server and then out trough two CP650s

Amazing ! There is hope!
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4th March 2012
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Hmmm...DCP is pretty straight-forward. 2 CP 650's is really curious though. Are you sure? I am not a booth person, so I don't know why that would be, but it could be.....
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4th March 2012
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If your movie is predominately dialog driven, I would suggest checking the dialog norm, even though it is a theatrical project. If the dialog norm is somewhere around -29 to -30, then that will indicate that you are at least in the ballpark in terms of average dialog loudness. It won't tell you whether your mix dynamics are appropriate or how good the mix is, it is just a diagnostic test that will help you determine where to look in order to identify the problem.
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4th March 2012
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Thanks Gary, great suggestion. After quickly checking a few scenes with the Dolby Media Meter set to Dialogue infinate and & short term LKFS. On average its between -32 LKFS and -22 LKFS . The really quiet stuff ( two scenes, due to poor production noise floor comes out around -40 -35 LKfs.

This was a quick check, will keep doing so to see if anything comes to mind.

Basically seem to be in the ball park with dialogue, albeit it is all over the place when metering with LKFS. on average its more like -24
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4th March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smallbudgetguru View Post
Thanks Gary, great suggestion. After quickly checking a few scenes with the Dolby Media Meter set to Dialogue infinate and & short term LKFS. On average its between -32 LKFS and -22 LKFS . The really quiet stuff ( two scenes, due to poor production noise floor comes out around -40 -35 LKfs.

This was a quick check, will keep doing so to see if anything comes to mind.

Basically seem to be in the ball park with dialogue, albeit it is all over the place when metering with LKFS. on average its more like -24
If you are getting an average of -24, then you should consider raising your monitor level. In small near field rooms (monitors 5' to 7' from mix position, room volume between 1500 cu' and 2500 cu'), I generally work at 82 for features and 78 for TV.
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4th March 2012
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Matt R. Sherman
 
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Thanks Gary.

I agree that the average seems to be too loud. however the mix itself did come out too soft. Could this be a matter of using too much dynamics / not enough compression?

I believe our room is roughly 2600 cu'
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4th March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smallbudgetguru View Post
Thanks Gary.

I agree that the average seems to be too loud. however the mix itself did come out too soft. Could this be a matter of using too much dynamics / not enough compression?

BTW, I believe room in question roughly 2600 cu'
It's impossible to say without looking at everything, but I suspect the problem is with the theater.

I know a number of feature mixers who use compression very sparingly. Essentially compression is just an alternative for having very nimble fingers operating the fader.
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4th March 2012
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Matt R. Sherman
 
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Hmm this is indeed a conundrum ! Thank you Gary for this. I wonder if the booth manager knows that something was not right with their system. Perhaps that's why I'm getting vague answers when asking by how much the dial on the CP650 was turned up?

I am mixing a short today. Due to this uncertainty I think I will actually meter the dialogue to -27 lKFS and mix around that, before making any drastic changes to my templates compression or settings or room cal.
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4th March 2012
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Hi I just sent you a message. I'm in Toronto too. TIFF Lightbox staff are very knowledgeable and the facility is generally well maintained.
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Matt R. Sherman
 
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Thanks jmattchan, did you send it via PM gear slutz? I'm not seeing it. Maybe delayed ?
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4th March 2012
Old 4th March 2012
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Matt R. Sherman
 
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So I just played back two films in our room. Put the DMM on the center channel and tested at current calibration level of 76.

Master & Commander read LKFS between -40 and -30 sounded fine and comfortable

Bubba Hotep read LKFS between -30 and -26 sounded fine and comfortable.

Based on the findings, I think you are correct Gary. The issue may lie with the theatre. That is a surprise given the venue but hey, who knows

Either way, It leaves me still guessing :shrug:
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