Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life, isolating people from one another and mobilizing companies to shift focus to remote work to keep business running. In the entertainment industry, post-production companies are scrambling to set up teams to work from home, so they can keep projects on schedule—and help the world find comfort in the content they create while staying safe.
For Brown Bear Audio, it’s more or less business as usual. That’s because its team of audio post professionals has been working remotely since the company’s inception in 2012. And now with an extended team, they want to let production companies know they’re available to help keep projects moving.
The uncharted road to remote
Based in the UK, Brown Bear is made up of a network of freelance sound specialists who work remotely from their own studios, providing mixing, sound design, ADR, and other audio services. While no one could have predicted the current situation, Thomas Dalton, Brown Bear’s founder, had a vision years ago for how he could offer his services on a remote basis to a worldwide clientele.
“I started freelancing as a sound editor and mixer and most of my work was being done in my studio at home, remotely,” he explains. “There weren’t that many people offering remote services at the time, so I came up with a concept to establish a completely remote workflow with tools for clients to review work and sign off on a remote basis.”
And, thus, Brown Bear Audio was born. As new technology emerged and Dalton brought in more talent, his company progressed into a full-fledged remote audio post powerhouse. The network structure makes it easy to bring in specific talent for certain projects and increase the workload by adding more freelancers. And it eliminates the high overhead of having everyone work in-house, enabling them to be more competitive.
“We work on a wide range of projects—from short-form commercials and online content, to long-form television and film,” Dalton says. “Having such a diverse and talented team of remote sound specialists enables us to work across the spectrum of disciplines to give clients an end-to-end audio post service.”
The right tools for the job
With Pro Tools hardware, software, and Avid control surfaces at the heart of every freelancer’s remote studio, Brown Bear does all of their creative work using the same tools major post houses use, enabling them to deliver to the same high standards. What sets them apart is that they’re all tied together remotely through Digital Pigeon, a cloud-based media sharing platform.
“I tested a number of FTP systems and some of them are really, really slow and some don’t work particularly well with big files,” Dalton recalls. “[With Digital Pigeon], not only does it offer really quick uploads and downloads, it enables timecode-accurate stamping of files when reviewing, so you can add notes.”
The platform also enables sound supervisors, directors, and producers to review media in real time in a web browser for approval—without having to download files.
For voiceover and ADR work, Brown Bear uses Source Connect to sync Pro Tools systems remotely, enabling them to record sessions with talent in the studio while clients participate elsewhere. “Our latest session was for a remake of The Fugitive where we connected to South Lake Audio in LA to record ADR with Kiefer Sutherland, who was in our studio.”
The team also uses Avid Cloud Collaboration in Pro Tools, enabling an engineer to share stems of sound elements with another, who can then access the project in the cloud and add their creative contributions. “For remote collaboration with other engineers, I think it works pretty well and it’s a lot more efficient than sending sessions to each other,” Dalton confirms.
Mixing big with smaller rooms and budgets
Unlike large post facilities that have the massive space and budget to showcase large-format control surfaces in their dubbing stages, Brown Bear’s freelancers are able to deliver the same level of quality despite their smaller rooms and budgets. That’s because Avid offers high-end capabilities in more accessible audio solutions to meet the needs of any size space and creator.
For Dalton, he’s thrilled with his recent adoption of two Avid S1 control surfaces and an Avid Dock. “I had the Artist Mix, Control, and Transport before, but it was time to move on. I watched a demo of the Avid S1 and I loved the feel of it and the look of it, and it’s just a natural progression from the Artist series… Other [Avid control surfaces] were out of my price range and the studio’s not big enough for that, but [the Avid S1] is a great modular approach.”
This modularity enables him to add Avid S1s to expand his control surface with more faders in the future. It’s already helped boost his efficiency:
“It’s just so much easier—all the macro keys make my workflow so much quicker… And the [Avid Control] app can be used with any tablet—it’s bloody great. I love it! Scrolling through sessions, you can quickly get around a big session and your [Pro Tools] screen follows.”
While Brown Bear was certainly ahead of the remote workflow initiative when the coronavirus hit, Dalton wants his clients and other companies to know that his team is there for them.
“As our business continues to grow and remote working comes to the forefront, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we see ourselves being the leading provider of remote audio post-production services. The viability of remote working in the post-production industry has now been proven, and I think there is only one way the industry is heading—and that is into the cloud.”
With the current state of things, Thomas Dalton and the Brown Bear team are poised and ready to show the industry the way.
Photos by John MacDonald