Warner Bros De Lane Lea has recently completed the initial phase of its upgrade, adding state of the art picture post capabilities to its Soho facility. We take a 
look inside

Warner Bros De Lane Lea (WBDLL) has completed the first phase of its state of the art upgrade, introducing a top-end picture post service to its Soho-based facility, together with ongoing investment in its audio facilities.

The next phase will see the move to a new 25,000 square foot, purpose-built post production facility in Greek Street in 2021.

As one of the three Dolby Atmos accredited feature film audio post houses in the UK, WBDLL’s addition of the picture service will enhance its offer for its existing core of predominantly feature film and drama clients. The first major picture post customer is a flagship Lionsgate episodic drama for delivery in early 2019.

Starting with a blank sheet of paper, the WBDLL team has designed and built a new digital intermediate infrastructure. The new high-end picture production services include three customer attend suites with two mirrored 4K HDR Baselight X grading suites alongside an online Flame suite, supported by three Baselight One assists with mastering and content handling services. The infrastructure extends to dark fibre connectivity between Soho and both Dolby UK and Leavesden Studios and a fully serviced production dailies service.

Leading the project is Cara Sheppard, the managing director of Warner Bros De Lane Lea with a vision to expand the offer. She joined the facility at the start 
of 2017 from Sky where she was senior manager of post operations (and previously head of post production at Goldcrest).

One of the big drivers is to meet the increased demand for complex, high quality post-production, driven by the increase in big budget, multi-episodic drama being shot in the UK and the continuing growth in demand for feature film picture and audio post in the UK. There are also the tangible workflow benefits for WBDLL’s clients to having both within the same post house.  “It was a very natural evolution. We needed to be able to offer our clients more services,” says Sheppard. “With episodic drama, you’re not delivering traditional TV, you’re delivering 10 features. You need to be mixing and editing all at the same time, and having that as part of a digital ecosystem means you are able to offer as much or little as a production wants.”

The focus has been on providing a service and workflow that supports the whole production process from on-set through to mastering. “It’s not just about offering clients the shiny toys,” adds Sheppard. “It’s about offering the best service, efficiently, and supporting each project throughout the pipeline and not just at the end.”

Although its Hollywood studio ownership might suggest the facility is primarily intended for Warner Bros productions in the UK, third party work is critical to the business. The amount of Warner Bros work fluctuates significantly in 2017, just 20 per cent of WBDLL’s work was for the parent company. WBDLL has, over the last few months, worked on Aardman’s Early Man, Netflix features Outlaw King and Mowgli, as well as Netflix original series Marcella and The Alienist. It is currently executing the full sound mix and edit for Sean the Sheep 2 and the audio for a Starz drama, a Fox Searchlight production and a major Disney project.

Warner Bros has consistently invested in both its UK studio facility at Leavesden and its Soho sound studios. Warner Bros first entered the UK facilities market in 2010 with the purchase of the studios at Leavesden, having based its Harry Potter films at the facility. Since then it has steadily expanded at the Leavesden location and six years ago took over leading Soho sound studio De Lane Lea.

To lead the new pictures charge, WBDLL has brought in top industry talent in the shape of respected colourist Asa Shoul, online editor Gareth Parry and senior post producer Louise Stewart. Their signings are part of a recruitment drive that sees a staff of around 27 increasing to 45 in WBDLL’s Dean Street premises. The appointments were part of a wider Soho merry-go-round of senior post staff in step with the ever-increasing demand for high-end drama and film post. Alongside the new WBDLL creative talent, there are new engineers, mastering and support staff.

Asa Shoul’s recent credits include Mission Impossible: Fallout and Netflix The Crown, for which he won a Bafta for Special, Visual & Graphic Effects and an HPA award for Outstanding Grading in 2017. “It’s really exciting to put a team together with the latest equipment and linking with film dailies,” says Shoul. The pictures team have been an integral part of the planning for the picture post operation, with meetings each week to focus on the new set-up.

Parry has worked across a range of online and FX roles, including Widows, Tomb Raider, Virunga and The Crown.  At WBDLL, he says, “we discuss everything from dark fibre to barcode scanners. Having a blank slate means there are no shortcuts, but also none of the restrictions caused by pre-existing infrastructure or workflows. We’re carefully considering every part of the system together.”

Operations manager Mike King has been leading the technical specification for the bespoke infrastructure, working closely with suppliers and manufacturers and with advice from its Warner Bros Studios cousins in Burbank, California. It has been a detailed brief, from high-end kit to getting the right desks.

The furniture in all the upgraded rooms, including the integrated workstations and discreetly matching secondary desks, has been designed with long-standing WBDLL partner AKA Design. “I need someone who will listen and understand what we’re trying to achieve,” says King. “I do a design and give specifications to them and they draw it up until it’s right. It’s not only functional, but it’s an aesthetic. It’s a truly collaborative process.”

FilmLight technology is at the core of the picture workflow. There are two new Baselight BLX grading and finishing systems for each of the customer attended grading suites, together with 4K Christie projectors. There’s also new Dolby Vision CMU Hardware, with Dolby Vision licenses. There are three colour assist stations: two Baselight Ones and one Baselight Assist all with 56TB.

King and his team have been working closely with FilmLight on the cache workflow to allow for the heavy lifting demands of multiple film and drama deliverables (for Netflix, for example) and different productions on the system. Each of the Baselight BLXs in the suites has 160TB of FilmLight Flux Store storage and a Blackboard 2 panel.

There are already plans to roll out an initial installation of the FilmLight Daylight solution, from one to three systems for the start of 2019.

Modern feature film and episodic drama picture post demands an exponentially larger, post-specific storage platform than WBDLL’s audio post has ever required. A ten-part Netflix HDR series can require anything up to 300TB in deliverables alone, while the demands of working with ever larger 16bit linear files have required significant investment in storage across upstream Soho post houses over the past year or two.

WBDLL’s scalable storage solution was created with Pixit Media who offered an agnostic tailored solution based on Network Attached Storage with plenty of NetApp storage hardware. “We looked at different technologies and Pixit had a forward way of thinking that was closer to our vision than anyone else,” explains King. “They provided a level of intelligence in interaction and support and customisation. We wanted the facility to run with a lot of intelligent automation and well-optimised workflows and tools to do that, to leverage FilmLight technology and tap into their APIs.”

Jigsaw24 worked with King over a number of months to specify the ancillary kit and support networks necessary, providing the architecture and system integration. For mastering and Data IO, reliable IMF and DCP generation Jigsaw installed a Rohde & Schwarz Clipster, as well as the hardware underneath the Colorfront Transkoder and Interra’s Baton QC solution. Jigsaw also installed the latest version of Autodesk Flame for the online suites and Leader HDR scopes for both the grading suites, alongside new Eizo CG319X 4K HDR reference monitors to match up with the new Sony BVM-X300s in the main grading suites.

Jigsaw24 and King developed an up-to-the-minute post infrastructure. It includes details like the Amulet hot key for KVM (virtualisation) over IP, with private key encryption for additional flexibility and security, allowing server access to any workstation from anywhere in the building and even from Leavesden. Similarly the addition of Mellanox technology creates a 100GB data super highway across the facility.

The connectivity with Leavesden and the new dailies service allows the team to review footage as it’s created.  “It gives us the ability to view anytime and anywhere and not be restricted by the talent, technology or location,” says Sheppard. With productions increasingly demanding review facilities and crew working on more than one production at a time, this adds flexibility and accessibility.  “We can see the dailies and straight away be asking any questions,” says Asa Shoul.  “It’s so exciting to be able to look and make decisions all through the production, retouching as you go.

 “We are working more and more pre- and during production and not just on the final grade. We get involved at the script stage with the lens choice and make up tests, working towards making things more beautiful and avoiding problems.”

The facility is keen to underscore that despite the high-end kit, they are open to all-comers, from tent pole movies, to independent films, commercials, pop promos and TV. Shoul is happy to embrace the variety. “I love working on indies and on multi-format you get huge trust from the executives. But I can bring new looks to the bigger movies and it’s an opportunity to be working with some big studio productions.”

Acclaimed sound mixer Adrian Rhodes who returned to the company in 2017 after seven years is square behind the combined service. “It’s always been a bugbear… Everyone wants a one-stop-shop these days, it makes workflow much easier. Queries can be answered without delays in communication or files moving across. You can have your online picture on screen immediately.“

The WBDLL Dean Street operation has three hero audio suites, sitting alongside its ADR and Soho’s biggest dubbing theatre. Rhodes describes the facility’s overhauled Stage Two theatre with Dolby’s Atmos Home Entertainment licenses and new Atmos HE monitoring, with multiple speakers, and new plug-in software. The mixing desks are now S6s in both Theatre Two and Theatre One, which is for theatrical Atmos.

The next major phase in development will be in 2021 when WBDLL moves into new purpose-built Soho premises in Ilona Rose House in Greek Street. The new location will include four sound re-recording stages, one of which is on a scale to rival similar Hollywood operations. Additional facilities will include colour grading suites for feature films and TV, 40 picture cutting rooms and an ADR stage all complemented by client lounges and a cafe/bar.

WBDLL is committed to staying in Soho. “It’s incredibly important to the business, Soho is still the heart of the entertainment business and always has been,” says Sheppard. “It’s a very expensive place to be, but it’s where our clients want to be. You’ve got directors, producers, talent staying at the Soho Hotel or the Ham Yard Hotel and they have everything within walking distance. For us this was the right decision.”

Pippa Considine

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