On the outskirts of Liverpool, buried in a leafy suburb, sits Lime Pictures. On the outside it’s calm, quiet and picturesque; on the inside it’s a hive of activity. One corridor is filled with dubbing suites, the next is a film set, the next again leads to a bustling café environment full of actors, film crew, and sound and technical engineers, all working or taking a much-needed break. Not only is it a space full of activity, but it’s focused activity, like a piece of machinery, well-oiled and designed to run like clockwork.

And it has to be. Its focus is producing high quality, cutting-edge TV drama – both film production and post-production – on a daily basis, all on one site. As the home of award-winning continuing drama Hollyoaks, created specifically for teenagers and young adults, the final product always has to be slick, innovative and compelling in visuals, storylines, editing and sound. This is not a comfy soap opera – this is drama that verges on the cinematic in how it works to engage a youthful audience and keep them tuning in from Monday to Friday every week of the year.

“Although every episode has the same set of atmos for different settings, there’s a requirement to be creative all the time,” says Ken McDowell, staff Dubbing Mixer. “In nearly every episode there are dramatic pushes and bangs, and new effects required that are powerful and effective and compelling. No two episodes are ever the same in terms of sound and effects.”

Naturally, the whole operation is underpinned by people, but also by technology, deadlines and schedules that have to be just right every time.

No wonder then that the decision to take the technology of five dubbing suites and move from one tried-and-tested system of editing software and mixing desks, and move to a brand new and unknown system, while continuing to produce high quality drama on a daily basis, was a daunting prospect.

Karen Radford, Head of Post Production, explains: “We held off on making the change for years. We gradually knew that it had to be done, but the idea was terrifying. We produce 260 episodes of Hollyoaks every year and the production schedules are intense. How would we make such a significant change and still keep the show on the road? Not only were we ripping out an entire system from five studios, but we also needed the new system to work flawlessly and immediately, and for our sound engineers to be trained to use the new system so that they could be comfortable and efficient while maintaining high standards, and all while staying creative and responsive to every episode’s individual needs.”

From old tools to Pro Tools

But first things first, why exactly did the change come about?

Alistair McMath, Lime’s Technical Manager, outlines the reasoning: “Pyramix editing software alongside Ramses mixing desks had been our set-up for around 10 years in all of our dubbing suites. All the in-house dubbing engineers knew it inside out. We knew what it was good at and we knew all the workarounds but we were finding it difficult to expand our pool of freelance dubbing engineers who knew it and could work with it. The system had been amazing for us, but we needed to ensure that we were thinking ahead.

“A lot of people we knew had used Avid mixing desks running Pro Tools software, and the vast majority of freelance engineers that we worked with knew it well. Eventually we just knew it was time to move on.”

How they did it

In some ways, the job was clear: rip out the old systems from five suites, install new Avid S6 mixing desks and state-of-the-art Pro Tools software, train the in-house engineers, while producing an episode of Hollyoaks a day. Simple!

Jemimah Colley, Post Production Manager, explains the process: “To make sure that Avid and Pro Tools was the right solution for us, we got a test system from Mediapec and brought in a freelancer who knew both Pyramix and Pro Tools well, so we could see what the difference would be. Once we committed to the change, we decided to install two systems in two dubbing suites, use freelancers while we trained the in-house engineers, and then convert the other three dubbing suites. All in the space of three weeks! It was daunting to say the least.”

When the kit arrived, ready to be installed, it was state-of-the-art: five Pro Tools | S6 M10 consoles for each of the five dubbing suites, all with new furniture provided by Custom Consoles; the consoles linking to Pro Tools HD hardware and software on an Apple Mac platform, using an Avid MTRX as its interface. A wealth of new post-production plug-ins were also supplied, and added to a new server room purpose-built to cater for all five dubbing suites; with the storage itself handled by Avid’s Nexis system.

Mission: Mediaspec

To ensure that Mission: Impossible would be Mission: Accomplished, Lime Pictures needed an Avid supplier with the knowledge and expertise, but also the professionalism, to guide them through the process, as well as well as fit out the suites quickly and effectively. In stepped Mediaspec. Cue dramatic music.

Alistair explains why Mediaspec became the chosen supplier: “We spoke to Eric Joseph, MD of Mediaspec, for three years about making the change, and no matter how often we contacted him, the advice was always forthcoming, regardless of whether there was a sale on the horizon or not. For me, this built up a real sense of trust. When we decided that it was time to make the change, everyone I spoke to said that Mediaspec was the way to go and that they wouldn’t let us down. Word of mouth is invaluable in this industry. Everyone said we’d have no trouble with Mediaspec and that’s the way it’s been.”

Now that the change has been achieved, how difficult exactly was it?

“We’ve adapted with remarkable speed. Especially at our age!” says Ken McDowell. “We’ve replaced all the edit suites and all the servers. It’s been like changing the types while driving down the motorway! We were amazed that we did it all in three weeks. And not just to have a basic understanding of the system, but to know it well enough to do our jobs well! We’ve retrained our brains remarkably quickly to use a system that was unknown to us, after using our previous system for 10 years.”

Cutting-edge sound for a cutting-edge drama

So, now that the new systems are in place, what do they make of the new systems?

Says Ken: “Straightaway everyone said that the sound quality had improved. Everyone said that they thought the programme sounded brighter. Even the producers. We thought so too. Everything sounded more alive. For a cutting edge TV show like Hollyoaks, we now have a sound that goes along with that.”

The quality aside, nearly every area of automation and workflow has improved for the team: reconforming is fast and reliable, running the timeline is a joy, workflow editing is quick and easy, and rendering down effects is a doddle.

Moreover, they’ve even used 5:1 on Emmy Award winning Netflix children’s show, Free Rein. Therefore finding that they need to go out of house less often.

Bright audio and bright future

Just like the new bright sound for their TV productions, the future looks bright for Lime Pictures and their dubbing engineers.

Says Andy Haram, Staff Dubbing Mixer: “For us as engineers we know that Pro Tools is where the future lies, and we know we made the right move to change. Also, switching to Pro Tools keeps us current and on the wave of everything in the future that’s going to be new. That’s important to us as individuals, but also important to Lime Pictures.”

Yes, on the outside, Lime Pictures may be calm, quiet and picturesque, and on the inside a hive of activity, but its identity is also now cemented as a centre of creativity and innovation. Thanks to Avid, Pro Tools and a brave decision to take a leap of faith and embrace the future.

Eric Joseph, MD of Mediapsec, sums it up: “The bravery of Lime Pictures’ decision to switch to Pro Tools while continuing to produce a high quality drama every day cannot be underestimated. It has set them up to be able to adapt to an ever-changing environment for audio engineers and to look to the future with purpose and confidence. We’re delighted to have been part of this crucial stage in their development. We’ve always had confidence in Pro Tools and we’re delighted that a new convert is now well placed to go from strength to strength.”