DiGiCo SD5 delivers sonic sorcery at Royal Albert Hall’s Fantasia
London’s Royal Albert Hall is wowing 2012 audiences with a series of screenings of famous films accompanied by a live soundtrack. One of the most ambitious took place on 21st October, as the London Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied selections from Walt Disney's original Fantasia and Disney's Fantasia 2000. Mixed on one of Sound By Design's new DiGiCo SD5s, the grandeur of the sound, screen and surroundings delivered an unforgettable experience.
Disney’s ground-breaking marriage of symphonic music and animation was given a whole new lease of life at the high definition screening, the SD5 mixing the accompanying live performance of some of the most memorable classical music ever composed. This included Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and Paul Dukas interpretation of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, with Mickey Mouse in the legendary starring role.
The Royal Albert Hall is one of audio contractor Sound by Design’s regular clients and the show was mixed by engineer Phil Wright on the SD5.
“We need an awful lot of channels for the work that we do here, but we are often limited in terms of space,” says Stephen Hughes, the Sound by Design’s project engineer for all of the company’s Royal Albert Hall events. “We used to use customised DiGiCo D1s with a fifth processing card, which gave us the channel count, processing and effects of a D5 Live but in a D1 footprint.
“Our typical work at the Royal Albert Hall is very much in the 100 + channel count, especially with the amount of orchestras and large scale concerts that we provide for. As shows have grown in tandem with the amount of physical inputs, whilst the space in which we mix has remained the same, the D1 (modified with the extra processing card to D5 spec) was the only console that at the time fulfilled the I/O required and the footprint.
“As the technical demands of the shows we do are ever increasing, we were finding that even the D1s were reaching the limits of what we could achieve in the space needed, whether it was the physical Inputs and outputs, or the creative ways in which the desks cope with intricate shows such as the BBC Proms and the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance. The SD series, for us, is the new standard of digital console that all others should strive to be, and now there is a desk that perfectly slots in the gap between the SD10 and SD7 that ticks all of the boxes.”
“With events like the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance and the BBC Proms, eventually we found that the consoles were starting to limit what we could do creatively. So we kept badgering DiGiCo for a console with the footprint of their original D5, but a high channel count and all the advances of the SD series.”
Introduced at ProLight+Sound 2012, the SD5 delivered exactly what Sound by Design needed… to the extent that the company promptly ordered three. Phil’s first show using the SD5 was two days before the Fantasia event, at the 80th birthday concert for composer John Williams with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He was very impressed - and it left him really looking forward to the Fantasia show.
“It was absolutely great,” he says. “We had done other film screenings with live scores here this year, like West Side Story and Lord of the Rings, mixed on the customised D1. So I was very much looking forward to mixing Fantasia on the SD5.
“I brought tc M3000 and Lexicon PCM91 reverbs with me and I never even turned them on, because the SD5’s hall reverbs are so good. I was mixing a full orchestra and the desk was nowhere near its full capacity.”
“With the D Series consoles, we had to constantly check the DSP, how much processing power we were using and what we could compromise on. Now the FoH engineer can just keep adding without worrying about it. It’s just amazing!” adds Stephen.
“The newest SD software, whether it’s the multi channel folding, the set spills, the DiGiTubes, or any of the other unique functions, has meant that we are now mixing in a completely different way to how we were on the D series, or could hope to on a desk by any other manufacturer. It really does open up the possibilities and allow for different approaches for a FoH engineer to take on the myriad of unique shows that we work on in this venue, whether it’s a standard classical, theatre style musical gala or rock concert.”
PA for the event was EM Acoustics new HALO C system, which delivered the soundtrack’s perfectly mixed blend of light, shade, drama and humour seamlessly to every member of the audience.
Reviews of the show were universally positive, describing the faultless blending of the images with the live music and of the show being a much more interesting experience than seeing either the cartoon at the cinema with the original, recorded soundtrack.
“It was a great show to mix. There was no dialogue, no playback - just lovely music to iconic images,” says Phil. “Everyone was a winner.”
So, it seems, is the Band of the Royal Marines, which now has one of the original customised D1/D5 hybrids. “As an environment, the Royal Albert Hall is very kind to equipment. They served us very well and, despite being six years old, they were in mint condition. So it was really good to see it go to a good home,” Stephen concludes.