In A Place Productions: Where Vintage Vibe Meets State-Of-The-Art Reality
Post-Production Suite Nestled In A Historical Hollywood Hills House Gears Up For Film/Video Clientele
When cinematographers Salvador Lleo and wife Dominique Martinez decided to convert a small guest house within their turn-of-the-century Hollywood Hills house into a post-production suite, the goal was to maintain the integrity of the vintage architecture while building a state-of-the-art room. The room would serve as the hub for the couple’s newly launched business, In A Place Productions (IAPP), specializing in color-correction—a critical step in the final film editing process whereby the colorist and Director and/or Director of Photography work together to create a visual look for the project that includes beauty retouching, creating consistency between scenes, and basic clean up. What the couple ended up with was a versatile, state-of-the-art production room to handle their burgeoning clientele, consisting of independent and commercial film production and music video companies, as well as mega-advertising agencies like Saatchi and Saatchi.
Lleo and Martinez, who’d met in 2003 while students at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, had resettled in Spain for a few months. When they decided to relocate back to the LA area, they began the search for a home that would serve as a residence as well as a workspace. The gem they stumbled upon had a storied history in and of itself. The house was originally built in 1910 as a hunting lodge along the dry riverbed that was Laurel Canyon by architects Heineman and Heineman, with additional expansion work done by Greene and Greene. Major silent film star, Douglas Fairbanks bought the house in 1917, and it became the first house where Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks lived in as a married couple before building Pickfair. It was also a reported meeting place for the planning of United Artists and serving as a speakeasy and rumored brothel. In 1995, architect and designer William Sofield began a major historical restoration to return the house to its original splendor.
The room that would serve as IAPP’s production suite was, at one point in the 1920s, a speakeasy. “Actually, during the construction phase of the studio,” recalls Martinez, “the workers who were putting in the new central air conditioning system, found two old bottles of whiskey and brandy dug into the dirt!”
For the project at hand, the couple worked closely with Colin Ritchie of the Los Angeles-based full-service production design house, Aarmadillo, to specify and facilitate the purchase of much of the room’s audio and video equipment, from the Quantel Pablo editing system to the SIM2 Projector to the Blue Sky Big Blue 5.1 monitoring system.
During the intensive two month process, which began mid-February of 2008, a team of studio design engineers—audio design consultant Charles Pell of Cobalt Blue Technology and studio contractors Ray Bermudez and Chris Robideaux—were brought in to build out the space from start to finish—including a central workspace area housing computers and where the operators would be located, the conversion of a tiny closet behind that to accommodate two equipment racks, a middle listening/viewing area for clients, and the stage/screen/speaker wall at the room’s front—to be ready in time for IAPP’s first session in late-April.
Specifically, they started by insulating the walls, incorporating a bass trap in the floor, as well as the rear corners, and mounting two Auralex diffusers at the rear wall of the room. Ray also built all of the fabric panels that encased the walls and ceiling. Rick Olsen did the electrical work which including the installation of two independent air conditioning systems, one for the machine room and one for the stage. The Big Blue’s SAT 12 satellites (Left/Center/Right) were hidden in the speaker wall encased in a soffit, along with the Universal SUB 15 subwoofer. Rounding out the surround speakers was Blue Sky’s new ION in-wall/on-wall passive 6.5 monitors. The projection screen, which needed to be mounted as far away from the clients as possible, meant that it had to be set slightly in front of where a set of old doors were. Consequently, those doors had to be buried in three layers of drywall, MDF and insulation.
“This was the perfect project,” says Ritchie. “Salvador and Dominique knew what they wanted, even though they weren’t sure how they were going to end up with that result. It wasn’t necessarily a difficult project, but rather an interesting one and it could’ve gone a multitude of ways. But when we really got down to the tacks of it all, Dominique and Salvador were prepared to invest in this room and build it out to professional standards. That made the project much easier to execute because we knew that we could do this properly rather than cutting corners.”
As a consultant to Quantel, and because the Pablo system needed a lot of infrastructure around it, Ritchie was initially brought in by the company to a meeting with Salvador prior to them purchasing the Pablo. “We discussed how we could help them construct the room around this primary piece of technology from Quantel, probably one of the most advanced solutions the entertainment has at its fingertips. It’s a very sophisticated and powerful post-production machine that can edit and conform and color correct, do visual effects, restoration and rig and wire removals—basically it does all of the things that you need to do to take an image that has been presented in its final stages of production. The Quantel allows you to take that image and then present it as a finished product. One of the things that we have to deal with in the entertainment industry in the multitude of delivery formats, DVD, hi-def video, digital cinema master encoded jpeg, and the Quantel does a great job of versioning all of this from one machine. It’s very unique.”
With the Quantel Pablo system as the cornerstone of the room, Ritchie began to explore the rest of the system, from the audio to the visual. “One of the sayings that we have at Aarmadillo,” explains Ritchie, “is that we try to install technology that we won’t have to apologize for. In this industry, there are a lot of fickle people and a lot of people that live their daily lives by buzzwords. There are certain technologies out there that you can put in a room, like Salvador’s, that if you were asked the question you would probably say that it was not up to the spec. Considering the kind of work they were doing—high definition finishing, commercials, independent feature work—we looked at the best possible imaging systems that we could put in there, a lot of them being reference cinema products. The only thing that we couldn’t do that we really wanted to was that we would’ve liked to have put in a digital cinema projector in there but the room isn’t big enough, so what we had to do was find a high definition projector that had very similar technology specifications as the digital cinema unit. The SIM2 HD5000 is a very good projector and has tremendous specifications and comes very close to a 2k projector. We chose that as the best of breed technology and we’re very happy with the specs. We actually had the gentleman that calibrates all the Academy’s projectors of the academy screening room on Wilshire Boulevard, and he came in and calibrated this projector for us.”
The other principal technologies they incorporated in the room were a sophisticated CineTel LCD reference monitor, which interprets visual feedback from the Pablo, plus the Blue Sky Big Blue 5.1 system.
“Audio needs to be as fabulous as the image,” says Ritchie, “and when you are building a room like this, you can’t shortcut any one of those experiences that you’re going to get, whether it’s in the audio or video technologies. We set out to put in a very high quality audio system to compliment everything else that was going in there and had employed the Blue Sky Big Blue technology, working with Blue Sky’s Chris Fichera and Charles Pell at another facility in Santa Monica. The president of that company was just floored by those audio components. Once again, we believed that this was going to be a technology that we’d never have to apologize for.”
Even though IAPP primarily handles color correction projects, in addition to digital intermediate, editing/assembly, conforming, effects/ compositing, titling, deliverables, and beauty retouching—ultimately, the importance of the overall presentation including audio was not lost at all on Lleo and Martinez. “The function of the room,” says Martinez, “is to provide clients with a comfortable and unique space where they can finish their projects at the highest quality imaginable.”
“It was quite a symbiotic relationship between Ray, Charles and I,” adds Ritchie. “And I think in the end, we put together a spectacular room. We knew that when a director was going to listen to what he was working on, and be immersed in this great audio and visual environment, he would be very pleased to work in this room. Unlike in the old days, when you would do audio in one room and editorial in another, the new rooms today are being built as multi-tasking environments where you can take a feature from the day that it is released from production all the way to finish. I think there will be a lot of rooms that will be built Lamborghini-style all the way through in the future like this one. It’s really a spectacular room, and probably the best room that we’ve built outside of a premium post production company.”