A look at Molinare video studios
This month we're looking at one of the world's most advanced video facilities houses, located in the centre of London in Great Marlborough Street. Executive Sales Director Peter Treger gave E&MM a look at the intimate workings of this huge complex of studios and production facilities, containing well over £7 million worth of equipment. In 1973 Molinare was a three-man operation providing stereo production facilities for the independent local radio network — now it occupies two entire buildings covering 50,000 square feet and employs 110 people.
The key to Molinare's success lies in its imaginative approach to new technology — 1 inch videotape and multi-channel special effects were both pioneered there — and in a completely integrated design, allowing almost any video recorder, multitrack tape, machine, effects generator or camera to be patched in to any other one in any part of the two buildings. To achieve this, a central switching room has been established, packed with anonymous-looking grey cabinets which, in addition to adjusting for PAL and SECAM video standards using a Mc-Michael ACE standards convertor, connect together Molinare's three video studios, four video editing suites, six sound studios, three computer graphics devices (including the powerful Chyron IV), ten cameras and eight Post Office lines. Somewhere in all this there's also a satellite broadcasting station, which transmits regularly to Europe and Scandinavia.
Molinare isn't specially equipped for producing music, but appreciates that most modern musicians are using video, and do a lot of video promo work. Because Molinare uses high-technology equipment, though, they aren't geared towards the inexpensive video demo — they're more likely to be found doing post-production special effects for Kenny Everett's show on the BBC, for Thames News, for Channel 4 or for European stations. There's a well-equipped music studio with a Prophet 5, Vocoders, pianos and synthesisers though, together with an audio-visual presentation sound studio and three radio studios. Video sound dubbing is offered using 24 track machines and microcomputer synchronisation; Blondie's 'Parallel Lines' promo was shot at Molinare.
Molinare's main studio is used five days a week by Channel 4, for programmes such as Years Ahead, Face the Press and Voices. Outside broadcasts are also covered, including music from classics to rock, from The Rolling Stones at Wembley to Julio Iglesias at the Albert Hall. There are three Molimobile OB units, ranging from a 4-camera Mercedes truck with Ampex tape machine, Grass Valley 1600 vision desk and Audio Developments 12/4 Sound mixer to a Citroen Safari Estate with a portable, 'film-style' video unit.
A promo video made in the studio can cost from £5,000 to £50,000, and is usually regarded as a programme like any other, with the same high standards to be reached. In addition to Blondie, Godley and Creme, Gary Numan and Classix Nouveau have used the studios, and Molinare can, if required, provide a basic idea, a script, Producer, Director, Set Designer, Crew and Supervising Production Manager. It all adds to the bill though! Once completed, a promo video is synchronised to the music using the Tape Lock System TLS.
Beneath the main studios, in one of the many basement rooms, there is a Telecine suite to transfer film to video. Another kind of synchronisation is in use here, assigning a frame count to 16mm or 35mm film, or even slides, before transfer to videotape with real-time colour balancing. The computerised desk can even change the colour balance from one frame to the next if desired, with waveform monitors giving the operator an idea of the levels needed to reach broadcast standard. The computer can also move the centre of the picture to concentrate on the main action of films shot in Cinemascope, or other formats which don't conform to TV's 4:3 ratio.
Also in the basement is a Honeywell Matrix Camera, designed to produce still photographs from a moving videotape for promotional purposes. It would hardly be satisfactory to use a grainy shot directly from a TV screen — the Honeywell uses 1400 line resolution to produce clear photos unmarked by frame divisions. The Chyron machine is also downstairs: as well as storing on floppy disc over 100 typefaces for captions, with forward or reverse italics, four colours on each character, white borders, flashing edges or fading surfaces, the Chyron can create and memorise a new typeface from artwork supplied. Titles, symbols and logos can be animated as they can on the Dubner system.
Dubner can be used in conjunction with Flair, an art device giving 256 colours, a range of electronic 'brushes' and preprogrammed lines, curves and ellipses. Dubner allows paintings from Flair, or existing artwork, to be captured from a digitising tablet, expanded, compressed, repositioned, retouched, cut and added to existing frames and animated at 25 fps. The Dubner uses foreground and background planes each of 1024 pixels on 625 lines, with control of each pixel and 4096 colours. It allows posterisation, mosaic effects, silhouetting and three dimensional animation, and is used to produce many TV station moving logos, adverts, documentary effects and demonstration graphics.
A computer controlled rostrum camera coupled to a revolving bed allows models (such as planets, spaceships, buildings and so on) to be used in special effects shots, with a background of stars or sky added in afterwards using Ultimatte, the most advanced successor to the Chroma Key matting process. Ultimatte, Molinare claim, allows you to put John Cleese inside a matchbox, and prove it by producing a photo of just that.
The CMX 340 unit, linked to a PDP 11 computer, controls up to seven video machines, 4-channel Squeezoom (an effect used to selectively enlarge or stretch parts of a picture) and four channels of DVE (Digital Video Effects unit). This allows complex programmes to be assembled by computer, and in fact very much the same thing can be done with up to six slide projectors to create inexpensive adverts or audio-visual presentations.
Molinare's new building, Craven House, as well as containing the offices of Scandinavian TV and Molinare's switching room, contains more studios and VTR editing suites. One inch C format PAL is the standard now, although Spain, Germany and Holland still use B format, but transfers can be made from any given system to any other. There are several NTSC 2" machines as well, together with Grass Valley Digital vision desks and effects, and a new Chyron room underway. The building's main sound mixer is a custom Amek 48 channel: there's also a 36 channel model available. Molinare's own engineers are installing all the new equipment, and there's no sign of an end to the expansion programme yet.
Back in the main building, we looked finally at the sound library and maintenance rooms. Over 25,000 recordings are held, ranging from complete pieces of music to single sounds and jingles. We asked for a dinosaur, and were played one on a cartridge machine in about 30 seconds; cartridges can be controlled from the mixer when assembling jingles, adverts or audio visual presentations.
The maintenance department includes one computer specialist and a small team who are responsible for the entire contents of the two buildings. They're also responsible for installing new equipment, with most of the EPROMs (as they cheerfully admit) getting copied on the way in. All the interconnections between equipment in the two buildings are electronically balanced, although there may be a move before long to an IBA standard instead.
Molinare is unashamedly a commercial facility. It does offer package deals on productions, but it's committed to only providing the best and cutting no corners, so it's not cheap. A simple advert using slides could be put together for £1,000, a pop promo for perhaps £10,000. If the facilities of producers and ideas men are needed, Molinare can call in staff from Video Business and other related companies, but again this adds to the total cost of a production. Their standards are very high; they take on perhaps four staff members per year, and on the vision side this would almost certainly not include trainees.
Molinare are keen to talk to anybody though, because the up-and-coming musician or director of this year, who perhaps can't afford Molinare's facilities but would benefit from a little direction and advice, may be the top professional of a few years' time wanting to use Molinare's facilities to the height of their amazing capabilities.
For further information contact Molinare on (Contact Details).
Feature by Mark Jenkins
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