Sonic Magic Studios

A discussion with Jonathan Wales, CEO Sonic Magic Studios

The Customer

Sonic Magic Studios, a premiere boutique post production facility located in Culver City, CA, specializes in delivering incredible soundtracks for major Hollywood movies with unparalleled quality.

If we seem a little fanatical – that’s because we are.

To provide the very best and most flexible service to their clients, Sonic Magic maintains one of the most technologically advanced facilities of its kind. Sonic Magic was one of the pioneers of fully- centralized production networking in a small facility which provides advantages in efficiency and flexibility; translating directly to a better result. The studio currently maintains over 250 Terabytes of storage, all fully backed up and completely accessible from anywhere inside or outside the facility with full security.

Sonic Magic currently operates four mixing stages ideal for a  multitude of projects from small feature films, television series and commercials through to major Hollywood films; supplemented by two ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) stages with sufficient space to comfortably cater for single actors and large groups. A Foley recording stage is staffed by dedicated and highly experienced sound magicians recording the highest quality of sound effects from a vast quantity of on-site props.

Everything here serves a purpose – to enable us to deliver the very best results possible in the most flexible and comfortable surroundings.

All the stages are supported by a set of ten Media Composer Suites and several sound editing rooms. The whole operation is operated by a creative team of dedicated sound and recording specialists; Sonic Magic’s most important asset – a team of sound supervisors, editors and mixers whose exprtise consistently delivers the magic into sound recordings.

The Sonic Magic philosophy is that the true function of technology is to serve the creative process. Consequently an environment has been built which  incorporates the very latest stateof- the-art equipment around a centralized production network infrastructure leveraging fiber channel and high-speed Ethernet backbones to their full potential. At its core is an Avid ISIS 5000 central storage system, combined with an enterprise- grade Cisco and Q-Logic switching infrastructure and ISIS, Unity, XSAN-2 and FibreJet Storage Area Networks.

The Solution

To provide most efficient use of the stages, studios and equipment, Sonic Magic has adopted the use of the IHSE Draco tera KVM switch. This provides a central switch to interconnect any of the systems to any workstation anywhere in the building; allowing operators to connect and work where it is most  convenient to them, rather than be tethered to a dedicated location. This, in turn frees up studios and control rooms for more efficient working.

Instant switching
Before adopting the IHSE solution, Sonic Magic considered alternative systems but found the inherent switching latency of 2–3 seconds to be too great, resulting in user frustration over the course of a day. Switching in the tera is instantaneous. With nine or ten systems in use In just one room at the same time, but with only 3 or 4 terminals in the room, instant switching is essential for a smooth ans fliud workflow. Switching in the tera is instantaneous, with no delay or skipping a frame. The IHSE switch was the only one that offered the level of quality required – true video with 1:1 mapping and offered the best video quality by far. The deployment of the Draco tera throughout the facility has provided a real revolution in the method of operation. Primarily in three separate areas of operation: it provides all-digital, original video quality that shows no degradation; allows flexible deployment
of single and multiple monitor situations so operators are not tied to desks and delivers full production-quality digital audio through the KVM system so the audio feed switches alongside video with no perceivable delay.

It means that remote extensions can be located in the most convenient position and divorces monitors from workstations, so that the number of monitors is related to the number of users, not systems. There is no perceivable difference in video quality, mouse performance or display frame rate. It feels like being directly attached to your computer.

We are thrilled with the system and are constantly expanding the amount of IHSE equipment – we are set to use even more.

The studio has grown from using single pairs of extenders to the full switching system as more and more uses were
found for it.

We upgraded the first system we had to a bigger one – because we liked it so much.

Build and reliability
The products themselves are rock solid and very sturdy: providing the  robustness and resilience that are essential in high-usage, active environments. They are built to enterprise level with redundant power supplies and hot-swap capability for continuous operation – they just keep working.

Installation of the IHSE system was simple. In fact it was achieved while the facility was still operating with just minimal disruption to workflow. While the switch was being installed the installation team simply temporarily connected
users directly to machines on a 1 to 1 basis using the same extender units that were later use with the switch. After the switch was installed and configured, users were routed through it and the whole system become active. Total  disruption was about a minute at each changover; and then they had the full benefits of the switching system.

Switch operation and management is extremely simple from central and remote locations using network access and the web interface GUI. Pre-stored configurations and easy access to switch connections means that the system administrator can change the use of a studio in less than 5 minutes, so studio down-time is kept to an absolute minimum.

Allows a level of collaboration and flexibility we hadn’t even imagined. It does exactly what it is supposed to do, all the time.

High level of security
The Draco tera switch requires users to log-in before anyone can access the system which provides a high level of security and allows monitoring and recording of activities. In addition security settings allow each workstation to
be restricted to using just keyboards and mouse, so it is not possible for unauthorised users to plug in flash memory sticks and copy files at their terminals. This provides another level of security.

Confidence in the future – the entire workflow for the whole Sonic Magic facility is entrusted to this technology, this IHSE solution – it would not be done without full and total confidence in it.

Support
IHSE engineers provide really great support. Requests for features and operational issues are resolved in a timely manner. New firmware updates are provided as they are become available, frequently with Sonic Magic recommended additions.

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