Futureworks Media School is one of the new breed of private training establishments being set up to plug the widening training gap

Set in a six-storey building in the centre of Manchester, Futureworks Media School is one of the new breed of private training establishments being set up to plug the widening training gap. Having opened its doors to its first, small intake in September 2007, it’s now bracing itself for a major expansion and the arrival of 120 new students this September who have signed on to its mix of undergraduate degrees, post-graduate courses and professional training for both individuals and organisations.

What they’ll find there when they walk through its doors is a stunning facility including four state of the art recording studios, two fully-equipped post production suites, four edit suites, a camera studio, special multi-use ‘pods’ for collaborative working, two classrooms and two specially-designed computer classrooms, all run off an Avid Unity ISIS.

“What we’ve wanted to do is create a real world production environment, and the studios, the suites and the kit inside them reflects that,” says company MD, Chris Mayo. “We also wanted to make sure that all the separate disciplines work alongside and with each other, because you don’t have people working in isolation any more.”

The recording studios are stunning and built to exactly the same top-line specification that you would expect to find in any modern audio facility. Amongst the top-range equipment crammed into them are one D-Control worksurface, two D-Command worksurfaces, and any number of ProTools HD and LE systems. The latter is a particular favourite with the students.

“This place is built so that you’re working in the same environment that you will be in industry, and ProTools is the audio standard in the same way that Avid is the editing standard,” says student Enos DesJardins. “It’s easy to use – if you can work at a desk you can use it – composition is powerful and, at the moment, I wouldn’t choose anything else.”

DesJardins is already using it in the real world too, having won the contract to do the sound design on ‘Scuppered’, an indie feature while still on his course. “It’s a lot of work to produce clean dialogue and the sound design for 85 minutes of film, but it’s a good project to work on,” he says.

Downstairs, ProTools is in action in the classroom as well. “Each student basically has a recording studio in front of them,” explains Mayo. “We’ve got a live room too and can patch through the feed to each individual workstation. The only difference is it’s not in a studio environment, but they also have a control surface each, so get used to using the proper kit from day one, which is key.”

Throughout Futureworks there is always an emphasis on what industry wants and what skills it can give its graduates to help them get jobs when they leave. It’s courses have been designed from the ground up to reflect this, and low student numbers to teacher ratios mean that the students get plenty of hands-on practical experience. As Mayo says, “They need to be using the kit everyday.”

“All of our staff are still working in industry,” adds Studio Manager, Sam Heitzman. “I’m a working sound engineer, and it’s valuable for the students to get to see how I deal with a client and so on. On the audio side of things there are certain things that industry wants to see: they want to see Pro Tools Operator-level skills; they want experience with record-to-picture; they want client-facing ability, teamworking skills, the ability to work to deadlines; and lately surround mixing has become important as well with the growth of HD.”

Student Thom Powell is a third of the way to achieving Certified Operator status on ProTools. “It’s the professional system compared to the other options and, because it’s used throughout industry, it’s geared to the way the workflows operate there more than any other package,” he says. “The presence of 128 buses for audio routing is great, and on the HD systems the potential is immense – the DSP means a lot of the limitations you’d normally associate with computers for audio disappear.”

Avid’s involvement at Futureworks extends beyond the audio, of course. The Unity ISIS server, for instance, means that every student in the building can simultaneously log on to their work, which Mayo estimates can save anything up to 150 hours (per student) of copying media in an 80 week course. Then, of course, there are the thirty Media Composers, four Mojo Sdi’s and single Media Composer Adrenaline that are critical for the video tuition side of Futureworks’ courses.

“It’s really valuable to be learning on Media Composer,” says Ash Javed, who is coming to the end of her first semester on the Film & TV Production course. “I have done some editing in the past and one of the things that industry wants is for you to be able to hit the ground running. And you can only show initiative and creativity in software and equipment if you know what you’re doing when you use it.”

At the moment, it really is the calm before the storm for Futureworks. The small intake from last year has done well, the courses have been tried and tested and tweaked to destruction, and the building will soon be full of paying students keen to learn everything from Audio Engineering & Production to 3D Animation & Modelling. And with the BBC’s mammoth new Media City slowly ramping up down the road and Manchester’s already high profile production environment about to level up yet further as a result, Futureworks’ six floors are set to become seriously busy.

“We get people to a competent level very quickly and then they can explore the software and kit and creatively spread their wings,” concludes Mayo. “And we need to have the right kit because, as the students are paying for their own courses. We don’t tend to get the dreamers here; we get the people who have done their research and know what’s used at Abbey Road Studios, for instance, know what the latest films and TV programmes have been edited on, and that’s what they want to be trained on themselves.”

Thom Powell

Thom Powell has just finished his first year on the two-year Futureworks Audio Engineering & Production course. Self-taught and having already composed music for a couple of TV ads and some incidental music for Channel 5, he decided he wanted to go back and retrain properly so that, in his words, “I had the right physical and mental tools to do what I wanted creatively.”

He gigs all over the UK and Europe, performing Breakcore (a breakbeat-oriented evolution of recent electronic dance music with a punk sensibility), writes a lot of ambient-oriented material, and has also composed music for the promo video of Gunther von Hagens’ infamous ‘Body Worlds’ exhibition for Ambit New Media.

“I was given 48 hours to compose two and half minutes of music written direct to picture,” he recalls. “I composed it in ProTools and tried to contrast the horrific images from the exhibition with gentler sounds – balancing the picture rather than reinforcing the images.”

He now composes in Ambleton Live before connecting up to ProTools for all the engineering and mixing work. “I’m trying to move away from being in a room surrounded by gear,” he say,” and I tend to work on a laptop where I feel most comfortable – on the train on a way to a gig, in the park or wherever.”

Having already achieved a lot, his ambition is to move to New Zealand and work in the flourishing post production industry out there. “And doing ProTools certification is the best way I can think of of getting there,” he concludes.