Posted on November - December, 2023
Vision of the future

For three decades, Sound & Vision Studios (SVS) has carved out a niche in India’s increasingly sophisticated multilingual localisation market. Caroline Moss learns about growth and standardisation strategies for its new Mumbai studios and beyond

SVS has been on an upward trajectory since it was launched in 1993 by voice actor and dubbing director Leela Roy Ghosh to provide multiple Indian language dubs, beginning with Jurassic Park. Following Ghosh’s unexpected and tragic death in 2012, her daughter Mona Ghosh Shetty – herself a voice actor since the age of five – took over the business, opening a floor of dubbing studios in a commercial building in Andheri West in 2015. Now, SVS has shaken up its Mumbai operations, taking over another floor in the same building and repurposing a previous studio opposite for accounts, HR and administration, while an existing premises in Andheri East has been converted into a dedicated, six-room mix facility. Added to that, new studios have been constructed in Chennai and Bengaluru, with more planned for Hyderabad, Kochi and Kolkata.

“The teams were all over the place – the directors, engineers and mix engineers – and it was hard to keep track of everything,” recalls Shetty from the new floor in Andheri West. “This location is very convenient for the acting community, and we’re focusing on voiceover recording and operations here, apart from one mix room upstairs on the existing floor for client presentations and checking mixes.”

Shetty initially found suitable premises for expansion in 2019, hiring Munro Acoustics to design the studios. “We'd spoken to Kapil Thirwani at Munro before, but always when we were mid-construction, so we knew that the next time we were at the planning stage, we should bring him in,” she continues. Unfortunately, the initial property deal fell through. “It was so disappointing because the design was ready, then the Covid lockdowns happened so I had to continue my property search remotely. But luckily, we got this place in March 2022, and it worked out for the best because we’re all in the same building now.”

Work commenced in May 2022 and by December the new floor was up and running. Munro managed to fit in seven studios, complete with vocal booths – one of architect Rachel Jacob’s first designs for a recording facility since joining the consultancy. “The main brief was that they wanted seven studios in a 305m2 space together with offices and a conference room, so it was quite a challenge,” she says. “I placed the rooms in areas that were good for navigating, but the interior geometry didn’t work. I discovered that smaller studios have a different design approach to larger studios, as the treatment, internal wall depth and partition type varies based on the total area of the room. I learnt how to optimise every square inch available and utilise acute corners for effective LF trapping.”

“We approach smaller rooms like this from a different perspective, using an inverted shell,” continues Munro acoustic consultant, Vignyan Beera. “Usually, each room has an internal shell onto which all the soundproofing layers go. Here, we used the same framework but put the layers on the outside, which required a lot of engineering. We ended up saving about two inches on each wall to optimise the floorspace. Cyril Thomas, our senior acoustic engineer for this project, carefully calculated and corelated each individual room's acoustic response to the point where the RT varies by milliseconds across the rooms, so they all respond in the same way, keeping things constant, and that's reflected in the other facilities as well. If you go between these rooms and the mix facility in Andheri East, which we also worked on, they sound the same.”

The issue of consistency will soon see Munro Acoustics upgrading the existing floor in Andheri West – a challenge in a building that is mainly residential – and is setting a standard for new facilities in other Indian metropolitan cities. “We’ve always rented studios, but now we are building our own,” says Shetty. “We weren’t getting the synergy we wanted, and we needed to raise the benchmark.”

The Indian localisation market is now huge and, as a longstanding player, SVS is understandably protective of its highly trained and trusted personnel. “We only employ fulltime staff because of the sensitivity of the content being handled,” says Shetty. “We don't want to share people – and therefore information – so almost everyone you'll meet here, except the voice actors and writers, are fulltime: the directors, engineers, operations, admin, HR, accounts and IT personnel; all of them.” SVS currently employs around 150 people across the group.

While Shetty deals with the aesthetic and creative aspects of the business, her husband Mohit Shetty is focussed on the technical side, along with consultant Shantanu Hudlikar, who helped set up Yash Raj Film studios which he ran for 15 years. “Everything you see is pretty much my vision, coupled with Munro’s design, my husband's execution skills and Shantanu who’s helped us to greatly improve the quality of sound engineering and to get more consistency across our studios in terms of equipment, systems and processes,” Shetty explains.

Hudlikar joined SVS three years ago, greatly influencing equipment choices – a major factor in successfully matching original dialogue. The increasing globalisation of Indian films, together with the growing predominance of sync sound (the recording of sound and dialogue on the filmset itself) is changing the landscape in an industry where ADR (automatic dialogue replacement) was long the standard. “The general level of acting and training has improved, and people are taking it much more seriously,” explains Shetty. “There was a time where models with no acting experience were given roles, and a professional would be called in to do the ADR.”

“Many other studios still don't have the capability of giving you more than two microphones at once,” continues Hudlikar. “Traditionally, everyone has used Neumann U87 microphones for recordings vocals for ADR, dubbing and whatever else. Now that sync sound has taken over, everyone is wanting to match that, so we have more boom and lapel mics coming into the studio. We might, for instance have a three-mic setup where you'll use a U87, a boom and a lapel to give the distance, so that when you're mixing, you can pick which is right for that scene and that character, otherwise it's too much of a voiceover as opposed to blending in in a natural way. Matching becomes very difficult unless you can replicate the shooting scenario within the studio.”

One of the new dubbing booths can fit up to 15 actors, facilitating crowd scenes, podcasts and interviews. “You can try out mic techniques like putting an XY configuration in the centre to create a feeling of more people,” explains Hudlikar. “And when you have a situation with people throwing in one-liners here and there, you don't have to bring them in separately. We can even do small music recordings such as a solo acoustic or electric guitar.”

Apart from Neumann U87s, other mics on offer include Neumann KMR 81 i shotguns and TLM 102 condensers; Shure SM 7Bs, SM57s and SM58s; Sennheiser MKH 416 and 8060 shotguns and MKH 50 super cardioids; AKG 414 condensers; DPA 4060 miniature omnis; Sanken models; and Mojave MA-300 tube condensers.

“We have an SSL Big 6 desktop mixer in all the new studios, which has four great preamps built into the console,” continues Hudlikar. “To add more character, we have the Universal Audio UA 710 Twin-Finity, which combines solid-state with the warmth of tube, so I can switch between them and also have incremental blends of the two, which creates some incredible tonal characteristics. In a small footprint and with a small amount of equipment, I've got so much flexibility. On top of that, a dynamic compressor is built into each of the four preamps on the console. We've also got Cloudlifter, Manley Core and SSL XLogic Alpha Channel preamps and channel strips and Klark Teknik KT-2A and Manley ELOP+ compressors.”

All the new studios have stereo Genelec 8340A Smart Active Monitor setups for tracking, which will eventually be standardised across all the facilities. “They have very small footprints and are true across the frequency range for the work we do: dubs, ADR, podcasts,” says Hudlikar. We’re mainly dealing with voice, so I'm never going to be recording a kick drum where I need to hear down to 20Hz, and therefore there are no subs. But at the new mix facility, where we mix full bandwidth in 5.1 and 7.1.4 studios, we’re using Genelec 8351 and 8341 coaxials which have a fantastic dynamic range, with the 7360 subs.”

Hudlikar is full of praise for the local distributors who supplied the gear. “We have great vendors who are not just here to sell a product, they know their technology,” he says, namechecking Sound Team (Genelec, SSL, Manley), Alphatec (Klark Teknik) and Sudeep Audio, which supplied many of the microphones. With supply chain issues rife as the studios were being equipped, Hudlikar singles out Shiv Sood at Sound Team, who delivered 13 Lynx Aurora AD-DA converters in the required timeframe. “It’s infinitely configurable, modular and adaptable because, when you’re building a studio, you’re looking at least five years ahead,” he says. “Everything is upgradeable so, without changing the infrastructure and the cabling, I'm good for another 20-25 years. Everything goes directly into my patchbay over there; this is one of the rare studios where I'm using an age-old technology. Everything is interchangeable and floating.”

Returning to the standardisation theme, SVS is planning to use Munro Acoustics for all its future facilities and upgrades. “When we set out, we were only going to use them for Mumbai, our flagship facility, but then we figured that since our clients are global, it wouldn't matter whether we worked on their content in Mumbai, Kochi, Bengaluru, Chennai or anywhere else,” says Mohit Shetty. “All our engineers were trained on systems that were defined for Mumbai, and that has set the standard across all our facilities.”

The dust may not settle on SVS’s grand expansion for some time to come but, when it does, the company’s world-class facilities across the subcontinent will be sure to guarantee its ongoing progress into the future.