I recently caught up with Dan, who is about to finish his year placement at Dolby; here are his thoughts and reflections.
“Over Easter 2016, I was looking at my CV and although I was happy with what I had achieved at University thus far – I had partaken in enough work experience and society events for my satisfaction – I decided I needed to throw myself out of my comfort zone. I looked at placement years, but thought why would I want to take a year out? An opportunity came up at Dolby, so I applied, thinking the best scenario would be some invaluable interview experience and some handy pointers on how to improve. I went to the interview and was in for a real shock, I had to sit an exam on my knowledge and undertake a lengthy one-to-one interview with my prospective future managers. I was not ready for this. The exam was difficult and tested my computing, audio and electronics knowledge. I walked out after the interview feeling disheartened, almost certain of not getting the job, but ultimately fulfilled in that I threw myself out of my comfort zone and got the interview experience I was after.”
“Two weeks later, I was unexpectedly sent a job offer. Elation! My role was split into two parts, within two different locations. So I will try and summarise it as best as I can! There was a lot to take in.”
Part 1: Transfer Bay Engineer – Soho Square
“The first part of the Job was at the flagship office in London’s Soho Square. The office has many Atmos enabled rooms, as you may expect, from small mixing rooms to a large flagship screening room. These rooms fulfil many purposes, from demonstrations and business events to colour grading and atmos mixing. The screening room – currently the only screening room in the UK with Dolby Vision laser projectors – is always being used to test and show the latest upcoming movies to famous faces, cast & crew, societies such as AMPAS among many others. The amount of Dolby trailers I’ve had to watch this year is into the hundreds. You start recreating the sound effects and miming the words before you know it. I would often run screenings in the screening room and help calibrate and test the Atmos sound system installed within it, (26.10.1 for any of you wondering). Since I’ve been there, we’ve had screenings for the likes of Tom Cruise, Colin Firth, Denzel Washington among others. I’ve had less pressured jobs!”
“The main role for me though, was Transfer Bay Engineer. I know what you’re thinking… What is a Transfer Bay Engineer? Well, a transfer bay engineer is somebody who quality checks mixes and sends them off to the next person in the chain from studio to distribution. So, I would receive audio for trailers, commercials and short films. This could be in 5.1, 7.1 or Atmos formats. I would test it, make sure it meets requirements for UK/European Cinema Distribution and if it did, I would send it off, if not, I would make some changes to make it meet requirement and go back to the studio suggesting those changes. It sounds woefully boring when you put it in writing. In practice however, it was very fun a great way of getting to know different studios, their practices and also working within professional standards.”
“Other than this, the role had many other jobs, which usually entailed visiting different studios and fixing equipment. I’ve sat in on a few master recordings for different films, which was pretty fun. Watching the Lego Batman movie in Bulgarian was… interesting.”
“Another initiative which Dolby is launching is the Ministry of Sound project. This is ultimately, Dolby Atmos in a nightclub. Its game-changing. Our roles as students were to support the artists who would come into the room and mix their tracks in Atmos, ready for playback at their Ministry of Sound sets. We’ve supported artists such as Max Cooper, Solarstone, S.P.Y among others. We would occasionally have to sell the idea of Atmos, to prospective artists. Which was fun, you’d get a sense of how artists mix and how they use the technology differently to how post production mixers use it. For me, the general consensus was that mixers enjoy the clarity you get with atmos. It’s not just a gimmick where you can place objects above you, it’s much more than that. Having full range surround completely changes the process, especially as you don’t have to go mad on the EQ to get something to cut through within a mix.”
Part 2: Content Services – Royal Wootton Bassett
“Okay, so part two of the placement is in the countryside. Royal Wootton Bassett. Less flashy, a little bit more humble but still stacked with knowledge and the latest in audio technology. 3 screening rooms, 2 other Atmos enabled mix rooms. This office served as the old European headquarters for a couple of decades and there are little reminders of the history of Dolby everywhere.”
“The role was a little more technical. It mainly involved fixing, testing and setting up Rendering Mastering Units among Cinema Processors, Multimedia Encoders, broadcast encoders and decoders and many other pieces of equipment. I’ve upped my soldering game, always handy, I’ve had to make a lot of breakout cables, d-sub cables and even a 6 way cinema processor switcher. I’ve also tested my programming knowledge by helping to set up new products which will be available to studios soon.”
“But there’s still the opportunity to get out and about. I have been on a few site visits, one of which to jolly old Southampton! Along with a few members of the team, I helped ‘Atmos-commission’ the new Showcase Cinema in West Quay. We went out and set measurement microphones within the critical listening area and attuned each speaker by blasting out pink noise and measuring the response averaged between the 8 microphones along the critical listening area. An EQ was added to make it hit the X-Curve. It was interesting to see! I hope by now you’ve all been and had a go on the reclining chairs.”
“I was also invited to work at Cannes Film Festival. Helping out with screenings and decommissioning of the screening rooms. It was interesting to see how such an event was put on in a conference centre which is by no means meant to be a cinema. We also helped out with a few premieres which was pretty cool.”
“So, I’m now at the end point of my student placement and I’m ready to return to University with an added boost of motivation. So, to return to my original question: why would you do a placement year? Well, what is there to lose? I’ve been able to preview what professional life is like on the outside of University. I have been able to develop confidence and knowledge within the field, which has helped me chose the path of audio post-production post university. I have had incredible experiences and invaluable tips. A placement year may not be compulsory for the course, but has been instrumental for my growth as a sound engineer.”
Thanks to Dan for sharing his thoughts and experiences – we look forward to seeing him again in September. Keep an eye on the Facebook and SOL pages for placement opportunities and get involved with extracurricular events to help make your own.