Toastworks

The first film made with digitally recorded sound

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minidisc.org provided a wealth of info about this format and was resource to find sellers that would export units that were not entirely legal in the US.  The page is still active today.  

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daniel   

I've never had to deliver audio rushes for scripted work on MD (or HiMD). I imagine this would be stressful, especially as the there seemed to be a very long wait after you pressed stop while it finished saving. Atrac on MD predates mp3 (1992 and it was already in use in theatres) and the storage tech of the time was so limited it was always a technology with a short shelf life but they made good enough back up recorders for TV doc work - (before that I used a walkman pro). Their short lived ubiquity meant there were lots of models and the industrial design on some of the consumer models was pretty good from our perspective. Eg. bag friendly in way nothing (prosumer) since has been:

MZ-R37_L_01_low.jpg

5 years too late by the time it came out but I do wish tascam or zoom would make a small recorder with a side display like this:

Sony_MZRH1_panel.jpg

Sorry, I know you're talking about high end stuff (like Nagra D) but for all the limitations of MD, the quality wasn't worse than a Nagra SN or Beta SP (for speech at least) and analogue video still had another 8 years in the industry when MD came out. The RH1 (above) was a much more polished device to use than the early handheld wav recorders it overlapped with and would be replaced by.

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Like I said, the quality of well-recorded MD was considered way good enough for radio reporters and for theatre and dance accompaniment.  Yeah, it was a highly compressed format and kind of ridiculous as a consumer thing but it ended up being no more problematic than DAT was I think.  It all happened before TC got added to production recorders, if it had been added to MD, who knows, DAT might never have happened.

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I experimented with the Sony F1 system (the modified Nakamichi version), coupled with the SL-2000 recorder on a couple of TV movies in the early '80's. Only a couple of post houses could handle the dailies transfers, so it was a little iffy. Don't recall that we had any major issues though.

The first movie I did with DAT was "The Package" starring Gene Hackman back in 1988 (with a Nagra and Dolby A as backup). We used a couple of modified Sony D-10's along with Panasonic SV-250 recorders. We did the dailies transfers at our own facility, and I think the only annoyance was the proper writing of the start ID's, which for some reason would occasionally advance incorrectly. I think there were also some incompatibility issues between the Sony version and the Panasonic version, but can't recall the details of it.

I think the major improvement was the lack of print-through, which was clearly audible in situations where there was loud dialogue or effects next to silence or low-level audio.

--S

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Scott said: "The first movie I did with DAT was "The Package" starring Gene Hackman back in 1988 (with a Nagra and Dolby A as backup). We used a couple of modified Sony D-10's along with Panasonic SV-250 recorders." Hey, Scott, I didn't know you did some early experimental work with DAT. Makes perfect sense because you had one of the advantages that we both had in common --- owned a transfer facility! The other thing about all of these early experiments is that even though it was a lot of extra work and equipment we were essentially running two parallel systems with one of the systems (whether you referred to it as the primary or the backup) fitting into the proven and accepted workflow. None of us wanted to make any production the guinea pig for our experimentation as we pursued new ways of doing things in production.

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Many many years ago I used a Sony F1 A/D which recorded onto, I think it was, 3/4" video tape. I used it for the concert section of a documentary I was working on about the Mississippi Delta blues. I believe there ultimately was a problem with transferring the F1 material and they ended up using the b/u material I recorded on a Nagra IV STC. For many years, after a movie I did with Robert Altman where I learned the value of multi-tracking, I recorded iso's on DA 88's, but as Jeff pointed out that material was alway converted to analog for transfer.

At beginning of the DAT era I was working on a movie, The Rundown, in Hawaii, for a few days we were doing scenes boat to boat on a river in a rain forest. I could not get the DAT to work in that location, it was so humid that it constantly showed the "Dew" indicator and would not record. So, we got a Nagra off the truck, and of course it worked fine, but the guys at Universal sound transfer threw a fit. They were pissed because they actually had to listen to the tapes again and find the correct takes, instead of the new DAT way of just searching PNO numbers and pushing "play". I continued sending in Nagra tapes for about three days while we shot at that water location, and they kept sending me notes like HOW MUCH LONGER ARE YOU GOING TO BE RUNNING THE NAGRA, like it was killing them. It just cracked me up that a year or two earlier everything was Nagra and already they were so used to the DATs that the idea of doing a Nagra transfer was like returning to the stone age for them...

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I had a few DEW issues with both HHB (Aiwa) and Casio (also Aiwa) machines.  I eventually realized that there was this tiny metal object down in the transport, attached to the circuit board, that was the moisture sensor.  If it was wet, it shut the transport down.  Thus one day, in Papua New Guinea, in a small open boat in the middle of the Fly River the machine had gone from cold to hot and was not going to roll.  A magnifying glass revealed that the head drum looked like a beer can in a TV commercial--ie visible droplets.  A piece of chamois wrapped around a small screwdriver dried the head drum, but still no go.  I then mopped off that tiny sensor, and the transport came back.  This happened a few more times with other DATs, a good trick to know, ass saved that time, and later a few others with same issue.

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Philip, the moisture (dew) problem was certainly an issue, never figured out any way to deal with it, but your story reminds me of the dreaded "sunlight problem" I had with my first StellaDAT. Shooting in Griffith Park doing running shots, I was set up in the cab of the camera car and we had about a 3 or 4 minute run on the streets and through a tunnel, did a bunch of rehearsal runs, picture car being towed was dead quiet, generator noise through the tunnel was a bit of a worry but we were basically good to go. First take everything is fine until we go through the tunnel and when coming out the other end the StellaDAT just shuts down! Bummer, we stop, we're going to go again, of course, so no worries. Take 2, coming out of the tunnel, the machine shuts down again! Production is starting to get worried and so am I, bring out my SONY D-10 Pro and we do three or four takes, no problem. I had the StellaDAT rep come out to the location, I explained the problem and after all the discussion he asked me if I had a business card --- I said BUSINESS CARD, what are you talking about, you know who I am, I called you out here to solve the problem! He then said, very calmly, if you have a business card, place it on the clear window that looks into the cassette transport. There is an optical sensor that senses the end of the tape and shuts the machine down. The business card covering that window will prevent stray sunlight from tripping the optical sensor. Evidently, the sun was in such a position at the end of the tunnel on our run that light was getting in the cab and into the machine and shutting it down. 

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Bash   
1 hour ago, Jeff Wexler said:

 Evidently, the sun was in such a position at the end of the tunnel on our run that light was getting in the cab and into the machine and shutting it down. 

What an absolutely priceless DAT story. I think I, inadvertently, became a victim of this Stelladat 'quirk' - and yet I only begin to understand it now, some 20 or more years later ;-)

 

Kindest, sb

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mikewest   

I only had moisture issues once with DAT

I walked into a warm and steamy swimming facility and no go!

Also working in the cold icy southern alps of New Zealand I would have to run my Fostex

for some time before the red error light went out.

I guess tape to head contact was compromised a low temperatures!

mike

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I did lot of winter Alpine etc work, as well as shoots in places like Moscow in the dead of winter--the Casios I used then kept chugging along, but I used a lot of chemical pack-type handwarmers in the bag with them, esp under the battery and on top of where the transport was.  A much bigger issue was the fussiness of my Neumann stereo mic re: humid changes in those locations.

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23 hours ago, Jeff Wexler said:

Hey, Scott, I didn't know you did some early experimental work with DAT. Makes perfect sense because you had one of the advantages that we both had in common --- owned a transfer facility!

Yeah, have stuck my neck out a few times over the years with newer technology, including multi-track (real fun getting a MM-1100 synchronous capstan motor to lock with a Magna-Tech resolver!), stereo, Dolby noise reduction, the dreaded Aaton Keycode system, etc., etc.

Having come out of the music business, I just couldn't believe how primative the technology was in film.

And while there were a few nail-biter moments over the years, for the most part, the advancements were worth the grief.

I remember having to assuage the studio when we started work on "The Package", as they were very worried about an unproven technology. The only reason they went along with it was that I was still running a 1/4" backup. Happily, we never had to use it.

It was also the first time out for the dialog editors to work from DAT originals. Fortunately, they had already been using DAT a little for their FX library, so they already had some experience with the format. I think the only thing I did was set up a recorder which had the word clock locked to house sync, so we could be assured of no sync issues.

They still had to make reprints of some of the tracks for the mix, and the one thing that they really liked was that the time spent looking for takes on the original was substantially reduced. (One reason I also tried to make sure the PNO id's got properly written).

While both the Sony and Panasonic machines had their own idiosyncrasies, for the most part they performed pretty well.

We did, however, always have a hair dryer on hand to deal with the dreaded dew issues in the wintertime!

 

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Moesound   

Ah yes, the dreaded dew point flashing before my eyes....My HHB-PDR had served me flawlessly in sunny (dry) Southern California for years, until I was summoned to NYC one freezing January day to work on a commercial with Joe Pytka. We're in the middle of a long walk and talk in Central Park when the recorder freezes up, flashing "dew point". I told Joe we had a malfunction and didn't get the take. He was screaming something at me as I ran to the truck for my only back up, a Nagra 4.2 with no timecode modification. In those film days (as now), Joe didn't use slates, rather relying on TC burned onto the film inside his Aaton. We didn't ever use slates, so I hadn't even brought one. So I told him we'd need to hand clap each take. He just shook his head and yelled to the actors, "I have an idiot for a soundman, so when I call action clap your hands in front of your face, then start your dialogue". He still reminds me about this occasionally to this very day. 

Moe

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17 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

<snip> A much bigger issue was the fussiness of my Neumann stereo mic re: humid changes in those locations.

Phil, was that the RSM 190?

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2 hours ago, Moesound said:

"I have an idiot for a soundman, so when I call action clap your hands in front of your face, then start your dialogue". He still reminds me about this occasionally to this very day. 

I can hear Joe saying that --- what a piece of work. You're a good man, Moe, for putting up with that, and he has continued to work with that "idiot for a soundman" --- I hope he knows how lucky he is.

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Trivia:

TASCAM had the first US-legal (i.e. with SCMS copy protect) DAT deck, the DA-50 in 1989.

MD had a much longer life in South America, radio stations there standardized on it as a replacement for the endless-loop tape cart machines for playback.

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On 2/14/2017 at 0:55 PM, Scott Smith said:

Phil, was that the RSM 190?

Yes.  Lovely sound, used it outdoors all over the world in all sorts of weather, but you had to really watch it re it being colder than the surrounding air.

22 hours ago, Jeff Wexler said:

I can hear Joe saying that --- what a piece of work. You're a good man, Moe, for putting up with that, and he has continued to work with that "idiot for a soundman" --- I hope he knows how lucky he is.

You're lucky he didn't punch you (you know he thought about it).  But he certainly makes his people bring their A game.  If he's still hiring you then it means (to me) that: A: you are really good, really fast, and very resourceful about coping with changes and B: have a thick skin and know how good you are.  Props.

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Yeah, I worked with Pitka.  Once!  Some wine spot. He yelled at me, I yelled back.  Finished the day and never lead eyes on the man again. Good riddance.

D.

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Jeff, when you used the Sony TCD-D10, I assume you resolved it (or at least played it out) to mag for syncing in dailies. How well did it stay in sync? That would scare the hell outta me. I remember the DAT store, and I had a D-10 myself that I bought once Sony reluctantly brought them in as a consumer product. 

maxresdefault.jpg

For the record, there were a few (very few) Mini Disc machines that recorded real uncompressed 48kHz WAV files, but not many. The compression was basically about 384kbs, better than the best available download music today, but still not the equal of a lossless or WAV file. 

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FLIPSTER   

I also used the TCD-10 on a feature about the Black Panthers in 93' I recorded on two units going through a cooper 6 board. Long scenes shot on film. No problem with sync. Problem I had was with transfers to mag. The post house could not handle the increase of dynamic range at the time. And yes dew was a problem. Especially at night. Kept it in it's Portabrace case and used a remote so I didn't have to exposed except to reload. There was a hairdryer on my cart at all times. At night we packed in Silaca gels. I also worked on a documentary that took me to Africa in 92'. Burkino Faso. Our equipment was confiscated at the airport. I had a  816 in my backpack and a Small mini-disk recorder player with music I transfered to listen on the flight. Well that was our recorder for the two weeks there. Luckly I had enough disks to finish the shoot!  But it worked.  Sync slipped but we blamed it on the prosumer camera we picked up.  Sony MiniDisc Recorder MDLP MZ-N920

I forgot to mention. When I worked for the BBC as stringer in NYC they always ask for a mini-Disk transcript tape in mono. They always brought their own unit and I sent them a feed.

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dfisk   
On February 10, 2017 at 9:17 AM, Jeff Wexler said:

Sony invented data reduction scheme called  ATRAC (Adaptive TRansform Acoustic Coding). 

 

ATRAC....Now there's a "word" I haven't seen in a long while. 

When I started getting involved in production sound DAT was already the standard, but the Deva II was really starting to come in to its own. This was in 2002. DAT was definitely a step towards digital recording, but it was still linear. It was just another type of "tape". You just needed a machine that could play it and you were still good in terms of post production. The real trail blazing came when people started turning in DVD-RAM discs. I was working at Coffey Sound and when I first started a HUGE part of my job was helping post facilities sort out what to do with these discs. A lot of them would use something like a DV-40 or a Studio Deva (remember that?) to play the discs in real time, just like they would a tape. They'd come out analog of them. It took a while for them to really catch up to file based recording. There was no universal media that anyone could just go get at Best Buy and plug in via USB or SCSI or firewire or whatever. You couldn't just put a dvd-ram disc in your computer and transfer the files. IF you figured out you could take them out of the caddy...if you had the caddies that allowed you to do that, then you needed special software to read them because they were formatted in a way that computers couldn't read at the time. Nothing was simple like it is now. What I used to spend a day trying to figure out is now literally a 2 or 3 second "thing" for me to deal with. 

 

 

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daniel   
On 04/03/2017 at 1:15 PM, FLIPSTER said:

I also used the TCD-10 on a feature about the Black Panthers in 93' I recorded on two units going through a cooper 6 board. Long scenes shot on film. No problem with sync. Problem I had was with transfers to mag. The post house could not handle the increase of dynamic range at the time. And yes dew was a problem. Especially at night. Kept it in it's Portabrace case and used a remote so I didn't have to exposed except to reload. There was a hairdryer on my cart at all times. At night we packed in Silaca gels. I also worked on a documentary that took me to Africa in 92'. Burkino Faso. Our equipment was confiscated at the airport. I had a  816 in my backpack and a Small mini-disk recorder player with music I transfered to listen on the flight. Well that was our recorder for the two weeks there. Luckly I had enough disks to finish the shoot!  But it worked.  Sync slipped but we blamed it on the prosumer camera we picked up.  Sony MiniDisc Recorder MDLP MZ-N920

I forgot to mention. When I worked for the BBC as stringer in NYC they always ask for a mini-Disk transcript tape in mono. They always brought their own unit and I sent them a feed.

I imagine it's a design thing but some minidisc recorder go for crazy prices. You'd be hard pushed to find a TC DAT recorder for 1200gbp!

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Thanks for the memories, Dave Fisk! You were right there during the all important but highly stressful times as our small group of pioneering sound mixers struggled to make file-based recording the norm. As you pointed out, using DAT was not such a big leap because it was just tape and the initial transfers were almost always analog to mag film since that was still the standard for dailies the first procedure in post production. When we first starting using the Deva I, the only way to utilize our sound "files" was to play them out in real time (from another Deva in place in the transfer facility) and again, transferred to mag film --- so, to a certain extent it behaved just like linear tape. We all knew that the significant and game changing promise of file based production recording would be the utilization of the sound files directly --- these files to be carried through the whole post process. Remembering that in those times the Zaxcom Deva was the only machine we were using (none of the other manufacturers had come up with a file-based recorder) we were experimenting with all sorts of storage/deliverable media. We used outboard hard drives transferring our files off the Deva's internal drive, we tried Jazz discs, we tried Orb discs, finally settling on DVD-RAM which had quite a long run (I probably did about 1000 DVD-RAM discs before moving to Compact Flash).

It was a wild ride but I am so pleased to have been part of the adventure from the very beginning. The move to file-based production recording was the first major shift in procedures that was initiated by Production Sound Mixers --- almost every other significant change to our work had been dictated by Post Production (for example, use of timecode in production starting with commercials and then working its way into feature film production).

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macruth   

Wow, wonderful discussion,

I also "hobbied" with consumer DAT and MiniDisc and saw the potential in each format, but the workflow development of the real non-linear files (in my case Deva II and AATON InDAW in Europe) was truly seat-of-your-pants exciting :))

 

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