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Toastworks

The first film made with digitally recorded sound

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Heard a similar question asked in another forum, but couldn't come up with any answers no matter how hard I Googled. Wanted to ask the experts:

What was the first film made with digitally recorded sound? And, as a bonus, which recorder may have been used? (*edited for autocorrect spelling error)

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You will have to clarify whether you are referring to the production recordings or the post-production recording. In post-production, both sound editorial and mixing, digital technology was in common use for many years before digital recordings were being made in production. I was the first to use DAT (Digital Audio Tape format cassette) on feature films in production and prior to that there were a few special productions that utilized the DTRS format for multi-track production recordings. The DAT production recordings were digital, of course, but when handing in the digital recording to the transfer facility, the track(s) were always transferred analog to magnetic film which was still the standard for all motion picture productions. For the most part, the tracks were digital only at the first stage (my production recordings) and then were handled in editorial usually as a digital track produced by digitizing the analog track off the mag film. Then, at the final stages, back to analog for theater projection. I was also one of the first to make the next big transition in production recording to non-linear file-based production recordings with the original Zaxcom Deva 1. This was a considerably more significant change because it was the first chance to get away from linear tape altogether. It also held out the promise of the same sound file going through the whole process in editorial to the final mix without the digital to analog, analog to digital conversions, etc.

I will add that even when I started using the Deva in production, the tracks were still played out (analog) in real time to be transferred to mag film for use in projected film dailies and the digitized to go into picture (Avid) editorial and sound (ProTools) workstations. It took some time to get post production facilities on board with fully utilizing sound files coming from production. 

To answer your other question, the first DAT recordings I made were with a SONY D-10 consumer DAT machine. This was way prior to any of the professional DAT machines. The D-10 did not have timecode but there were very few feature film productions (all on film) that were using any sort of timecode for picture (no timecode slates, only traditional clap slates). After a few disasters with the early professional DAT machines (StellaDAT, Fostex) I settled in with the HHB PortaDAT and finished out any and all of my DAT productions on that machine. Once the Deva had proved itself and we were able to get the post-production facilities and editorial on board, I never used the DAT machine again. I never missed it either --- even though it was my entry into digital production recordings, I never fell in love with the format. 

First movie I did with DAT was "Ghost" in 1989 on a SONY D-10. The first movie I did with file-based recording was "The Siege" in 1998 using the Zaxcom Deva 1.

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This is awesome and exactly the information I was looking for. I appreciate the reply!

The DTRS you're speaking of is the Hi8 Tascam system? That was the digital system I learned on in college in the late 90s. Not so fond memories of getting two machines to lock sync together on playback.

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We were using non-TCDAT machines on the docs we were shooting mostly overseas starting in about '90.  As Jeff said, there were really no TCDATs yet, (Sony had an early system that wasn't adopted by anyone else.)  In those days the machines were called "RDAT".  My machines, Aiwa and Casio, were all grey-market, partly since the RIAA saw DAT as a piracy threat and held up their import for a while (all DATs, including the guts of the Stelladat, were from the same two factories in Japan).   They were a GREAT thing for me at the time--tiny "hike-able" machine, great sound (with a good preamp in front), tiny and cheap media by comparison to 1/4", and cheap enough that if some security person in a 3rd-world country decided to confiscate them or they were damaged by the rain/snow/dust etc we worked in then no big deal.  The story could have ended happily there, but then for-real TCDAT came along, people like me bought in at a MUCH higher price than the non-TC machines, and after a brief honeymoon, the tears began.

3 minutes ago, Toastworks said:

This is awesome and exactly the information I was looking for. I appreciate the reply!

The DTRS you're speaking of is the Hi8 Tascam system? That was the digital system I learned on in college in the late 90s. Not so fond memories of getting two machines to lock sync together on playback.

Well, getting those to lock up was a snap compared to the competition: ADAT!  I did a lot of work with 2 and 3 DTRS machines locked up and if you were careful about your preformatting it worked very well.

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6 minutes ago, Philip Perkins said:

Well, getting those to lock up was a snap compared to the competition: ADAT!  I did a lot of work with 2 and 3 DTRS machines locked up and if you were careful about your preformatting it worked very well.

In the studio, it was fortunate that it took just about as long to pre-format the tape as it did to set up the studio for the session.

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In times of disaster we actually recorded shows on non-formatted DTRS tapes and got away with it.  Nail-bitey.

I think Jeff W deserves a lot of props for being so far out ahead of everyone in using both DAT and then the early Devas on feature films.  The sound end of the business hadn't seen much change in a long time at that point and many folks were very "dug-in" re their technology.  At least DAT was a tape, so folks understood that as a logical (if unwelcome) step in the progress of the tools of the trade.  File-based recording seemed too sci-fi to be considered a professional tool: I was one of those challenging Jeff about its suitability and reliability back in the RAMPS days.  He was right, and if you compare even a newb's sound kit of today to what a mid-level pro had in those days, today's newb has way more audio firepower at their disposal--no comparison.  This would not have happened if Jeff and others of his stature hadn't stepped up--thanks again!

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Thank you, Philip, for the kind words (and I know you have an appreciation of how scary it was at the time, the first significant push for a change that came from production sound mixers rather than being dictated to us by post production). I was fortunate to have have extremely well established relationships with the people I was working with in production AND in post, so we were able to make some progress fairly quickly. Thank you also for mentioning the grey-market aspect of the early machines --- similar to the legendary Betamax case, later the attempts to copy protect digital media (CDs, etc.), DAT machines could not be legally imported into the US. My first SONY D-10 was purchased from a little hole in the wall storefront in Santa Monica called The DAT Store and it was a full on Japanese unit with an Owner's Manual all in Japanese!

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Bash   

Am I not correct to remember that before the TCD5, there was the Sony PCM2000 Portable DAT machine, that had an analogue track for TC? Was this not the first ever portable DAT machine? I bought the first of these machines brought into the UK, and used it on many docs and R&R films with bands. Not features admittedly, but used it on plenty of docs and stuff. Now..... what was the date for this......I am going to guess at circa 87 or 88, but that is a guess.

 

Kindest, sb

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1 hour ago, Bash said:

Am I not correct to remember that before the TCD5, there was the Sony PCM2000 Portable DAT machine, that had an analogue track for TC? Was this not the first ever portable DAT machine? I bought the first of these machines brought into the UK, and used it on many docs and R&R films with bands. Not features admittedly, but used it on plenty of docs and stuff. Now..... what was the date for this......I am going to guess at circa 87 or 88, but that is a guess.

 

Kindest, sb

I did get my hands on the SONY PCM2000 which was certainly a lot more professional than the D10 I used. I'm pretty sure the website that states that the PCM2000 was SONY's first DAT machine is incorrect. I certainly remember the D10 (and the almost identical machine under the Aiwa name) being available before the PCM2000. I could be wrong on this. 

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The Miami-local guy who was recording the The New World Symphony @ the New Music America Festival in 1988 was using a PCM2000.  (The rest of us working there that year were still using F1/VHS.)  They were very expensive--MUCH more than the D10.  The recordings sounded good--he knew what he was doing.  Sony seemed to own most of the successful DAT designs and had companies like Aiwa and Casio build them--hence the similarity in some Sony vs Aiwa models; the Casio DA7 being the same as the Tascam DAP1 etc..  I think there were really only two transports available: "top loader" (all the portables) and "front loader" (all the studio decks--even the REALLY expensive and huge Sony and Otari TC ones).  Strange times.  The manual for my HHB TCDATs was absolutely a Sony manual down to the typeface used, except for the HHB logo instead of the Sony logo.

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The PCM-E7700 was one of the more exotic "front-loaders" Philip is referencing. It's kind of amazing the variety of models for the DAT format and then the format itself pretty much went away, even from the music world where it got its start.

Sony PCM-E7700.jpg

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2 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

 "The manual for my HHB TCDATs was absolutely a Sony manual down to the typeface used, except for the HHB logo instead of the Sony logo."

If you opened up the HHb Portadat as I had done you would see "Aiwa" printed on the circuit boards as "Aiwa" was a Sony brand back then. I have my Portadat unit and it still works perfectly.........I think :)

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I did open up one of mine one very desperate day (not an easy thing to do) and did not see anything saying Aiwa that I recall.  But that was 20+ years ago easy.  Even though I ended up rocking twin PDR1000TCs, I always kept a pocket-type Sony DAT with me, and if I was on a cart rolled it all the time as a backup to the HHB, re: "it still works....perfectly".....  One of my HHBs was so problematic that they finally took it back (well out of warranty) and told me to keep the loaner I had, I guess to shut me up.  Not confidence-inspiring...

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Did any of you guys mess with MD?  There was the highly compressed consumer format but a few machines aimed at pro audio had a high quality compressed format too.  At this time I was firmly in the music recordings camp and did not have any inkling of the production sound community, but thought that my MD with its portability, random access, and multi-track capability was going to rule the world.

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If you mean miniDISC, that was a standard thing for theatre and dance playback for awhile--there were large table-top machines that allowed rudimentary editing and random access cueing etc..  There was also a period in which radio reporters (like BBC) used them in the field.  I had friends who had the small pocket-size ones--their machines had a lot of limitations on i/o (like no digital). 

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daniel   
2 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

If you mean miniDISC, that was a standard thing for theatre and dance playback for awhile--there were large table-top machines that allowed rudimentary editing and random access cueing etc..  There was also a period in which radio reporters (like BBC) used them in the field.  I had friends who had the small pocket-size ones--their machines had a lot of limitations on i/o (like no digital). 

And only in the last iteration (HiMD) of minidisc could you transfer a 'file' from the machine. Such a shame, because everything else about MD was brilliant but they only properly unlocked the technology once it had become obsolete.

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Bash   

Did you ever make an identical recording, on something uncompressed (like a DAT) and a MD, and then subtract one from the other in a DAW. What you end up with is what has been 'thrown away' by the data compression in the MD machine. The results werequite scary. perhaps 'everything else' about MD recording was not quite so brilliant ;-)

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Agreed, what was really not brilliant for any kind of original production recording was the Sony invented data reduction scheme called  ATRAC (Adaptive TRansform Acoustic Coding). I did use miniDISC for simple music playback on movies and I even had a few of the so-called professional miniDISC players (the last one I had was from HHB). I did some tests making recordings, then playing them back and re-recording, then playing that back and re-recording, each pass the "adaptive coding" was looking to throw something out --- by the third or fourth pass the tracks were almost unrecognizable and unlistenable. Pictured below is the professional MD machine from HHB.

HHB MDP500 PortaDisc.jpg

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Mungo   
On 9.2.2017 at 4:59 PM, Jeff Wexler said:

First movie I did with DAT was "Ghost" in 1989 on a SONY D-10.

Fascinating info, thanks Jeff! I will tell my students next time I'll show format examples. I'll grab a TCD-D10 out of the cellar and say: "Ghost - Nachricht von Sam (that's the German title) was recorded on this." They will be stunned!

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mikewest   

I believe the first foray into digital were by the English mixer Chris Munro using a Sony PCM-F1  1977

I do not know if he used it on his early feature films though

http://audiophilereview.com/cd-dac-digital/in-praise-of-the-sony-pcm-f1.html

I used a Sony PCM 2000 on several Cousteau documentaries in 1989 and it was a typical laboratory design

Size of a laptop but thicker but the long side hanged vertically so on the move it hit your knees!

Timecode - well it needed and external generator and the terrifying reality was that once you put it in record you

needed to open the cassette lid and press a little red button - time code record!!!

I designed and had made two working cases made (one for the Calypso sound guy Yves Zlotnica)

Apart from that only two inputs, the headphone out was left/right!

An attractive and spectacular dog of a design!

mike

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And REALLY expensive!   I think Chris might have used a PCM-1, the 14 bit predecessor to the F1 (etc), which I don't recall seeing before 1981 or so?  I had one in '83 and did a great deal of work with it--both as the mixdown machine in my studio and as a location machine.  I even had "bag" (more like a "sack") for it and the Sony SL2000 Betamax deck (replaced with a smaller VHS portable when the SL2000 died) plus a monster gel-cel.  It did a lot of work for me for many years--really up until I got into the early DATs.  Below is the F1 on one of its last jobs for me: The New Music America Festival in Miami in '88 (they and NPR spec'ed the F1 with the Otari reel backup).  Note dual vhs decks for dropout backup! 

 

pp diff trains 88jfmed.jpg

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mikewest   

Great stuff  Philip,

I did use Mini Disc and thought it was great - even recorded live music on it

The specs were about the same as a CD

HiMD was even better and great for wild material on video shoots

mike

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