Category Archives: Audio Mixing

VR Audio — Differences between A Format and B Format

By Claudio Santos

A Format and B Format. What is the difference between them after all? Since things can get pretty confusing, especially with such non-descriptive nomenclature, we thought we’d offer a quick reminder of what each is in the spatial audio world.

A Format and B Format are two analog audio standards that are part of the ambisonics workflow.

A Format is the raw recording of the four individual cardioid capsules in ambisonics microphones. Since each microphone has different capsules at slightly different distances, the A Format is somewhat specific to the microphone model.

B Format is the standardized format derived from the A Format. The first channel carries the amplitude information of the signal, while the other channels determine the directionality through phase relationships between each other. Once you get your sound into B Format you can use a variety of ambisonic tools to mix and alter it.

It’s worth remembering that the B Format also has a few variations on the standard itself; the most important to understand are Channel Order and Normalization standards.

Ambisonics in B Format consists of four channels of audio — one channel carries the amplitude signal while the others represent the directionality in a sphere through phase relationships. Since this can only be achieved by the combination between the channels, it is important that:

– The channels follow a known order
– The relative level between the amplitude channel and the others must be known in order to properly combine them together

Each of these characteristics has a few variations, with the most notable ones being

– Channel Order
– Furse-Malham standard
– ACN standard

– Normalization (level)
– MaxN standard
-SN3D standard

The combination of these variations result in two different B Format standards:
– Furse-Malham – Older standard that is still supported by a variety of plug-ins and other ambisonic processing tools
– AmbiX – Modern standard that has been widely adopted by distribution platforms such as YouTube

Regardless of the format you will deliver your ambisonics file in, it is vital to keep track of the standards you are using in your chain and make the necessary conversions when appropriate. Otherwise rotations and mirrors will end up in the wrong direction and the whole soundsphere will break down into a mess.


Claudio Santos is a sound editor and spatial audio mixer at Silver Sound. Slightly too interested in technology and workflow hacks, he spends most of his waking hours tweaking, fiddling and tinkering away on his computer.

Audio post vet Rex Recker joins Digital Arts in NYC

Rex Recker has joined the team at New York City’s Digital Arts as a full-time audio post mixer and sound designer. Recker, who co-founded NYC’s AudioEngine after working as VP and audio post mixer at Photomag recording studios, is an award-winning mixer with a long list of credits. Over the span of his career he has worked on countless commercials with clients including McCann Erickson JWT, Ogilvy & Mather, BBDO, DDB, HBO and Warner Books.

Over the years, Recker has developed a following of clients who seek him out for his audio post mixer talents — they seek his expertise in surround sound audio mixing for commercials airing via broadcast, Web and cinemas. In addition to spots, Recker also mixes long-form projects, including broadcast specials and documentaries.

Since joining the Digital Arts team, Recker has already worked on several commercial campaigns, promos and trailers for such clients as Samsung, SlingTV, Ford, Culturelle, Orvitz, NYC Department of Health, and HBO Documentary Films.

Digital Arts, owned by Axel Ericson, is an end-to-end production, finishing and audio facility.

Dell 6.15

Netflix’s The Last Kingdom puts Foley to good use

By Jennifer Walden

What is it about long-haired dudes strapped with leather, wielding swords and riding horses alongside equally fierce female warriors charging into bloody battles? There is a magic to this bygone era that has transfixed TV audiences, as evident by the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, History Channel’s Vikings series and one of my favorites, The Last Kingdom, now on Netflix.

The Last Kingdom, based on a series of historical fiction novels by Bernard Cornwell, is set in late 9th century England. It tells the tale of Saxon-born Uhtred of Bebbanburg who is captured as a child by Danish invaders and raised as one of their own. Uhtred gets tangled up in King Alfred of Wessex’s vision to unite the three separate kingdoms (Wessex, Northumbria and East Anglia) into one country called England. He helps King Alfred battle the invading Danish, but Uhtred’s real desire is to reclaim his rightful home of Bebbanburg from his duplicitous uncle.

Mahoney Audio Post
The sound of the series is gritty and rich with leather, iron and wood elements. The soundtrack’s tactile quality is the result of extensive Foley work by Mahoney Audio Post, who has been with the series since the first season. “That’s great for us because we were able to establish all the sound for each character, village, environment and more, right from the first episode,” says Foley recordist/editor/sound designer Arran Mahoney.

Mahoney Audio Post is a family-operated audio facility in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, UK. Arran Mahoney explains the studio’s family ties. “Clare Mahoney (mum) and Jason Swanscott (cousin) are our Foley artists, with over 30 years of experience working on high-end TV shows and feature films. My brother Billy Mahoney and I are the Foley recordists and editors/sound designers. Billy Mahoney, Sr. (dad) is the founder of the company and has been a dubbing mixer for over 40 years.”

Their facility, built in 2012, houses a mixing suite and two separate audio editing suites, each with Avid Pro Tools HD Native systems, Avid Artist mixing consoles and Genelec monitors. The facility also has a purpose-built soundproof Foley stage featuring 20 different surfaces including grass, gravel, marble, concrete, sand, pebbles and multiple variations of wood.

Foley artists Clare Mahoney and Jason Swanscott.

Their mic collection includes a Røde NT1-A cardioid condenser microphone and a Røde NTG3 supercardioid shotgun microphone, which they use individually for close-micing or in combination to create more distant perspectives when necessary. They also have two other studio staples: a Neumann U87 large-diaphragm condenser mic and a Sennheiser MKH-416 short shotgun mic.

Going Medieval
Over the years, the Mahoney Foley team has collected thousands of props. For The Last Kingdom specifically, they visited a medieval weapons maker and bought a whole armory of items: swords, shields, axes, daggers, spears, helmets, chainmail, armor, bridles and more. And it’s all put to good use on the series. Mahoney notes, “We cover every single thing that you see on-screen as well as everything you hear off of it.” That includes all the feet (human and horses), cloth, and practical effects like grabs, pick-ups/put downs, and touches. They also cover the battle sequences.

Mahoney says they use 20 to 30 tracks of Foley just to create the layers of detail that the battle scenes need. Starting with the cloth pass, they cover the Saxon chainmail and the Vikings leather and fur armor. Then they do basic cloth and leather movements to cover non-warrior characters and villagers. They record a general weapons track, played at low volume, to provide a base layer of sound.

Next they cover the horses from head to hoof, with bridles and saddles, and Foley for the horses’ feet. When asked what’s the best way to Foley horse hooves, Mahoney asserts that it is indeed with coconuts. “We’ve also purchased horseshoes to add to the stable atmospheres and spot FX when required,” he explains. “We record any abnormal horse movements, i.e. crossing a drawbridge or moving across multiple surfaces, and sound designers take care of the rest. Whenever muck or gravel is needed, we buy fresh material from the local DIY stores and work it into our grids/pits on the Foley stage.”

The battle scenes also require Foley for all the grabs, hits and bodyfalls. For the blood and gore, they use a variety of fruit and animal flesh.

Then there’s a multitude of feet to cover the storm of warriors rushing at each other. All the boots they used were wrapped in leather to create an authentic sound that’s true to the time. Mahoney notes that they didn’t want to capture “too much heel in the footsteps, while also trying to get a close match to the sync sound in the event of ADR.”

Surfaces include stone and marble for the Saxon castles of King Alfred and the other noble lords. For the wooden palisades and fort walls, Mahoney says they used a large wooden base accompanied by wooden crates, plinths, boxes and an added layer of controlled creaks to give an aged effect to everything. On each series, they used 20 rolls of fresh grass, lots of hay for the stables, leaves for the forest, and water for all the sea and river scenes. “There were many nights cleaning the studio after battle sequences,” he says.

In addition to the aforementioned props of medieval weapons, grass, mud, bridles and leather, Mahoney says they used an unexpected prop: “The Viking cloth tracks were actually done with samurai suits. They gave us the weight needed to distinguish the larger size of a Danish man compared to a Saxon.”

Their favorite scenes to Foley, and by far the most challenging, were the battle scenes. “Those need so much detail and attention. It gives us a chance to shine on the soundtrack. The way that they are shot/edited can be very fast paced, which lends itself well to micro details. It’s all action, very precise and in your face,” he says. But if they had to pick one favorite scene, Mahoney says it would be “Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold.”

Another challenging-yet-rewarding opportunity for Foley was during the slave ship scenes. Uhtred and his friend are sold into slavery as rowers on a Viking ship, which holds a crew of nearly 30 men. The Mahoney team brought the slave ship to life by building up layers of detail. “There were small wood creaks with small variations of wood and big creaks with larger variations of wood. For the big creaks, we used leather and a broomstick to work into the wood, creating a deep creak sound by twisting the three elements against each other. Then we would pitch shift or EQ to create size and weight. When you put the two together it gives detail and depth. Throw in a few tracks of rigging and pulleys for good measure and you’re halfway there,” says Mahoney.

For the sails, they used a two-mic setup to record huge canvas sheets to create a stereo wrap-around feel. For the rowing effects, they used sticks, brooms and wood rubbing, bouncing, or knocking against large wooden floors and solid boxes. They also covered all the characters’ shackles and chains.

Foley is a very effective way to draw the audience in close to a character or to help the audience feel closer to the action on-screen. For example, near the end of Season 2’s finale, a loyal subject of King Alfred has fallen out of favor. He’s eventually imprisoned and prepares to take his own life. The sound of his fingers running down the blade and the handling of his knife make the gravity of his decision palpable.

Mahoney shares another example of using Foley to draw the audience in — during the scene when Sven is eaten by Thyra’s wolves (following Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold). “We used oranges and melons for Sven’s flesh being eaten and for the blood squirts. Then we created some tracks of cloth and leather being ripped. Specially manufactured claw props were used for the frantic, ravenous wolf feet,” he says. “All the action was off-screen so it was important for the audience to hear in detail what was going on, to give them a sense of what it would be like without actually seeing it. Also, Thyra’s reaction needed to reflect what was going on. Hopefully, we achieved that.”


VR audio terms: Gaze Activation v. Focus

By Claudio Santos

Virtual reality brings a lot of new terminology to the post process, and we’re all having a hard time agreeing on the meaning of everything. It’s tricky because clients and technicians sometimes have different understandings of the same term, which is a guaranteed recipe for headaches in post.

Two terms that I’ve seen being confused a few times in the spatial audio realm are Gaze Activation and Focus. They are both similar enough to be put in the same category, but at the same time different enough that most of the times you have to choose completely different tools and distribution platforms depending on which technology you want to use.

Field of view

Focus
Focus is what the Facebook Spatial Workstation calls this technology, but it is a tricky one to name. As you may know, ambisonics represents a full sphere of audio around the listener. Players like YouTube and Facebook (which uses ambisonics inside its own proprietary .tbe format) can dynamically rotate this sphere so the relative positions of the audio elements are accurate to the direction the audience is looking at. But the sounds don’t change noticeably in level depending on where you are looking.

If we take a step back and think about “surround sound” in the real world, it actually makes perfect sense. A hair clipper isn’t particularly louder when it’s in front of our eyes as opposed to when its trimming the back of our head. Nor can we ignore the annoying person who is loudly talking on their phone on the bus by simply looking away.

But for narrative construction, it can be very effective to emphasize what your audience is looking at. That opens up possibilities, such as presenting the viewer with simultaneous yet completely unrelated situations and letting them choose which one to pay attention to simply by looking in the direction of the chosen event. Keep in mind that in this case, all events are happening simultaneously and will carry on even if the viewer never looks at them.

This technology is not currently supported by YouTube, but it is possible in the Facebook Spatial Workstation with the use of high Focus Values.

Gaze Activation
When we talk about focus, the key thing to keep in mind is that all the events happen regardless of the viewer looking at them or not. If instead you want a certain sound to only happen when the viewer looks at a certain prop, regardless of the time, then you are looking for Gaze Activation.

This concept is much more akin to game audio then to film sound because of the interactivity element it presents. Essentially, you are using the direction of the gaze and potentially the length of the gaze (if you want your viewer to look in a direction for x amount of seconds before something happens) as a trigger for a sound/video playback.

This is very useful if you want to make impossible for your audience to miss something because they were looking in the “wrong” direction. Think of a jump scare in a horror experience. It’s not very scary if you’re looking in the opposite direction, is it?

This is currently only supported if you build your experience in a game engine or as an independent app with tools such as InstaVR.

Both concepts are very closely related and I expect many implementations will make use of both. We should all keep an eye on the VR content distribution platforms to see how these tools will be supported and make the best use of them in order to make 360 videos even more immersive.


Claudio Santos is a sound editor and spatial audio mixer at Silver Sound. Slightly too interested in technology and workflow hacks, he spends most of his waking hours tweaking, fiddling and tinkering away on his computer.


Post developments at the AES Berlin Convention

By Mel Lambert

The AES Convention returned to Berlin after a three-year absence, and once again demonstrated that the Audio Engineering Society can organize a series of well-attended paper programs, seminars and workshops, in addition to an exhibition of familiar brands, for the European tech-savvy post community. 

Held at the Maritim Hotel in the creative heart of Berlin in late May, the 142nd AES Convention was co-chaired by Sascha Spors from University of Rostock in Germany and Nadja Wallaszkovits from the Austrian Academy of Sciences. According to AES executive director Bob Moses, attendance was 1,800 — a figure at least 10% higher than last year’s gathering in Paris — with post professional from several overseas countries, including China and Australia.

During the opening ceremonies, current AES president Alex Case stated that, “AES conventions represent an ideal interactive meeting place,” whereas “social media lacks the one-on-one contact that enhances our communications bandwidth with colleagues and co-workers.” Keynote speaker Dr. Alex Arteaga, whose research integrates aesthetic and philosophical practices, addressed the thorny subject of “Auditory Architecture: Bringing Phenomenology, Aesthtic Practices and Engineering Together,” arguing that when considering the differences between audio soundscapes, “our experience depends upon the listening environment.” His underlying message was that a full appreciation of the various ways in which we hear immersive sounds requires a deeper understanding of how listeners interact with that space.

As part of his Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture, Prof. Dr. Jorg Sennheiser outlined “A Historic Journey in Audio-Reality: From Mono to AMBEO,” during which he reviewed the basis of audio perception and the interdependence of hearing with other senses. “Our enjoyment and appreciation of audio quality is reflected in the continuous development from single- to multi-channel reproduction systems that are benchmarked against sonic reality,” he offered. “Augmented and virtual reality call for immersive audio, with multiple stakeholders working together to design the future of audio.”

Post-Focused Technical Papers
There were several interesting technical papers that covered the changing requirements of the post community, particularly in the field of immersive playback formats for TV and cinema. With the new ATSC 3.0 digital television format scheduled to come online soon, including object-based immersive sound, there is increasing interest in techniques for capturing surround material and then delivering the same to consumer audiences.

In a paper titled “The Median-Plane Summing Localization in Ambisonics Reproduction,” Bosun Xie from the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou explained that, while one aim of Ambisonics playback is to recreate the perception of a virtual source in arbitrary directions, practical techniques are unable to recreate correct high-frequency spectra in binaural pressures that are referred to as front-back and vertical localization cues. Current research shows that changes of interaural time difference/ITD that result from head-turning for Ambisonics playback match with those of a real source, and hence provide dynamic cue for vertical localization, especially in the median plane. In addition, the LF virtual source direction can be approximately evaluated by using a set of panning laws.

“Exploring the Perceptual Sweet Area in Ambisonics,” presented by Matthias Frank from University of Music in Graz, Austria, described how the sweet-spot area does not match the large area needed in the real world. A method was described to experimentally determine the perceptual sweet spot, which is not limited to assessing the localization of both dry and reverberant sound using different Ambisonic encoding orders.

Another paper, “Perceptual Evaluation of Synthetic Early Binaural Room Impulse Responses Based on a Parametric Model,” presented by Philipp Stade from the Technical University of Berlin, described how an acoustical environment can be modeled using sound-field analysis plus spherical head-related impulse response/HRIRs — and the results compared with measured counterparts. Apparently, the selected listening experiment showed comparable performance and, in the main, was independent from room and test signals. (Perhaps surprisingly, the synthesis of direct sound and diffuse reverberation yielded almost the same results as for the parametric model.)

“Influence of Head Tracking on the Externalization of Auditory Events at Divergence between Synthesized and Listening Room Using a Binaural Headphone System,” presented by Stephan Werner from the Technical University of Ilmenau, Germany, reported on a study using a binaural headphone system that considered the influence of head tracking on the localization of auditory events. Recordings were conducted of impulse responses from a five-channel loudspeaker set-up in two different acoustic rooms. Results revealed that head tracking increased sound externalization, but that it did not overcome the room-divergence effect.

Heiko Purnhagen from Dolby Sweden, in a paper called “Parametric Joint Channel Coding of Immersive Audio,” described a coding scheme that can deliver channel-based immersive audio content in such formats as 7.1.4, 5.1.4, or 5.1.2 at very low bit rates. Based on a generalized approach for parametric spatial coding of groups of two, three or more channels using a single downmix channel, together with a compact parametrization that guarantees full covariance re-instatement in the decoder, the coding scheme is implemented using Dolby AC-4’s A-JCC standardized tool.

Hardware Choices for Post Users
Several manufacturers demonstrated compact near-field audio monitors targeted at editorial suites and pre-dub stages. Adam Audio focused on their new near/mid-fieldS Series, which uses the firm’s ART (Accelerating Ribbon Technology) ribbon tweeter. The five models, which are comprised of the S2V, S3H, S3V, S5V and S5H for horizontal or vertical orientation. The firm’s newly innovated LF and mid-range drivers with custom-designed waveguides for the tweeter — and MF driver on the larger, multiway models — are powered by a new DSP engine that “provides crossover optimization, voicing options and expansion potential,” according to the firm’s head of marketing, Andre Zeugner.

The Eve Audio SC203 near-field monitor features a three-inch LF/MF driver plus a AMT ribbon tweeter, and is supplied with a v-shaped rubberized pad that allows the user to decouple the loudspeaker from its base and reduce unwanted resonances while angling it flat or at a 7.5- or 15-degree angle. An adapter enables mounting directly on any microphone or speaker stand with a 3/8-inch thread. Integral DSP and a passive radiator located at the rear are said to reinforce LF reproduction to provide a response to 62Hz (-3dB).

Genelec showcased The Ones, a series of point-source monitors that are comprised of the current three-way Model 8351 plus the new two-way Model 8331 and three-way Model 8341. All three units include a co-axial MF/HF driver plus two acoustically concealed LF drivers for vertical and horizontal operation. A new Minimum Diffraction Enclosure/MDE is featured together with the firm’s loudspeaker management and alignment software via a dedicated Cat5 network port.

The Neumann KH-80 DSP near-field monitor is designed to offer automatic system alignment using the firm’s control software that is said to “mathematically model dispersion to deliver excellent detail in any surroundings.” The two-way active system features a four-inch LF/MF driver and one-inch HF tweeter with an elliptical, custom-designed waveguide. The design is described as offering a wide horizontal dispersion to ensure a wide sweet spot for the editor/mixer, and a narrow vertical dispersion to reduce sound reflections off the mix console.

To handle multiple monitoring sources and loudspeaker arrays, the Trinnov D-Mon Series controllers enable stereo to 7.1-channel monitoring from both analog and digital I/Os using Ethernet- and/or MIDI-based communication protocols and a fast-switching matrix. An internal mixer creates various combinations of stems, main or aux mixes from discrete inputs. An Optimizer processor offers tuning of the loudspeaker array to match studio acoustics.

Unveiled at last year’s AES Convention in Paris, the Eventide H9000 multichannel/multi-element processing system has been under constant development during the past 12 months with new functions targeted at film and TV post, including EQ, dynamics and reverb effects. DSP elements can be run in parallel or in a series to create multiple, fully-programmable channel strips per engine. Control plug-ins for Avid Pro Tools and other DAWs are being finalized, together with Audinate Dante, Thunderbolt, Ravenna/AES67 and AVB networking.

Filmton, the German association for film sound professionals, explained to AES visitors its objective “to reinforce the importance of sound at an elemental level for the film community.” The association promotes the appreciation of film sound, together with the local film industry and its policy toward the public, while providing “an expert platform for technical, creative and legal issues.”

Philipp Sehling

Lawo demonstrated the new mc²96 Grand Audio production console, an IP-based networkable design for video post production, available with up to 200 on-surface faders. Innovative features include automatic gain control across multiple channels and miniature TFT color screens above each fader that display LiveView thumbnails of the incoming channel sources.

Stage Tec showed new processing features for its Crescendo Platinum TV post console, courtesy of v4.3 software, including an automixer based on gain sharing that can be used on every input channel, loudness metering to EBU R128 for sum and group channels, a de-esser on every channel path, and scene automation with individual user-adjustable blend curves and times for each channel.

Avid demonstrated native support for the new 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos channel-bed format — basically the familiar 9.1-channel bed with two height channels — for editorial suites and consumer remastering, plus several upgrades for Pro Tools, including new panning software for object-based audio and the ability to switch between automatable object and buss outputs. Pro Tools HD is said to be the only DAW natively supporting in-the-box Atmos mixing for this 10-channel 7.1.2 format. Full integration for Atmos workflows is now offered for control surfaces such as the Avid S6.

Jon Schorah

There was a new update to Nugen Audio’s popular Halo Upmix plug-in for Pro Tools — in addition to stereo to 5.1, 7.1 or 9.1 conversion it is now capable of delivering 7.1.2-channel mixes for Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

A dedicated Dante Pavilion featured several manufacturers that offer network-capable products, including Solid State Logic, whose Tempest multi-path processing engine and router is now fully Audinate Dante-capable for T Series control surfaces with unique arbitration and ownership functions; Bosch RTS intercom systems featuring Dante connectivity with OCA system control; HEDD/Heinz Electrodynamic Designs, whose Series One monitor speakers feature both Dante and AES67/Ravenna ports; Focusrite, whose RedNet series of modular pre-amps and converters offer “enhanced reliability, security and selectivity” via Dante, according to product specialist for EMEA/Germany, Dankmar Klein; and NTP Technology’s DAD Series DX32R and RV32 Dante/MADI router bridges and control room monitor controllers, which are fully compatible with Dante-capable consoles and outboard systems, according to the firm’s business development manager Jan Lykke.

What’s Next For AES
The next European AES convention will be held in Milan during the spring of 2018. “The society also is planning a new format for the fall convention in New York,” said Moses, as the AES is now aligning with the National Association of Broadcasters. “Next January we will be holding a new type of event in Anaheim, California, to be titled AES @ NAMM.” Further details will be unveiled next month. He also explained there will be no West Coast AES Convention next year. Instead the AES will return to New York in the autumn of 2018 with another joint AES/NAB gathering at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.


Mel Lambert is an LA-based writer and photographer. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.


Recording live musicians in 360

By Luke Allen

I’ve had the opportunity to record live musicians in a couple of different in-the-field scenarios for 360 video content. In some situations — such as the ubiquitous 360 rock concert video — simply having access to the board feed is all one needs to create a pretty decent spatial mix (although the finer points of that type of mix would probably fill up a whole different article).

But what if you’re shooting in an acoustically interesting space where intimacy and immersion are the goal? What if you’re in the field in the middle of a rainstorm without access to AC power? It’s clear that in most cases, some combination of ambisonic capture and close micing is the right approach.

What I’ve found is that in all but a few elaborate set-ups, a mobile ambisonic recording rig (in my case, built around the Zaxcom Nomad and Soundfield SPS-200) — in addition to three to four omni-directional lavs for close micing — is more than sufficient to achieve excellent results. Last year, I had the pleasure of recording a four-piece country ensemble in a few different locations around Ireland.

Micing a Pub
For this particular job, I had the SPS and four lavs. For most of the day I had planted one Sanken COS-11 on the guitar, one on the mandolin, one on the lead singer and a DPA 4061 inside the upright bass (which sounded great!). Then, for the final song, the band wanted to add a fiddle to the mix — yet I was out of mics to cover everything. We had moved into the partially enclosed porch area of a pub with the musicians perched in a corner about six feet from the camera. I decided to roll the dice and trust the SPS to pick up the fiddle, which I figured would be loud enough in the small space that a lav wouldn’t be used much in the mix anyways. In post, the gamble paid off.

I was glad to have kept the quieter instruments mic’d up (especially the singer and the bass) while the fiddle lead parts sounded fantastic on the ambisonic recordings alone. This is one huge reason why it’s worth it to use higher-end Ambisonic mics, as you can trust them to provide fidelity for more than just ambient recordings.

An Orchestra
In another recent job, I was mixing for a 360 video of an orchestra. During production we moved the camera/sound rig around to different locations in a large rehearsal stage in London. Luckily, on this job we were able to also run small condensers into a board for each orchestra section, providing flexibility in the mix. Still, in post, the director wanted the spatial effect to be very perceptible and dynamic as we jump around the room during the lively performance. The SPS came in handy once again; not only does it offer good first-order spatial fidelity but a wide enough dynamic range and frequency response to be relied on heavily in the mix in situations where the close-mic recordings sounded flat. It was amazing opening up those recordings and listening to the SPS alone through a decent HRTF — it definitely exceeded my expectations.

It’s always good to be as prepared as possible when going into the field, but you don’t always have the budget or space for tons of equipment. In my experience, one high-quality and reliable ambisonic mic, along with some auxiliary lavs and maybe a long shotgun, are a good starting point for any field recording project for 360 video involving musicians.


Sound designer and composer Luke Allen is a veteran spatial audio designer and engineer, and a principal at SilVR in New York City. He can be reached at luke@silversound.us.


Nutmeg and Nickelodeon team up to remix classic SpongeBob songs

New York creative studio Nutmeg Creative was called on by Nickelodeon to create trippy music-video-style remixes of some classic SpongeBob SquarePants songs for the kids network’s YouTube channel. Catchy, sing-along kids’ songs have been an integral part of SpongeBob since its debut in 1999.

Though there are dozens of unofficial fan remixes on YouTube, Nickelodeon frequently turns to Nutmeg for official remixes: vastly reimagined versions accompanied by trippy, trance-inducing visuals that inevitably go viral. It all starts with the music, and the music is inspired by the show.

Infused with the manic energy of classic Warner Bros. Looney Toons, SpongeBob is simultaneously slapstick and surreal with an upbeat vibe that has attracted a cult-like following from the get-go. Now in its 10th season, SpongeBob attracts fans that span two generations: kids who grew up watching SpongeBob now have kids of their own.

The show’s sensibility and multi-generational audience informs the approach of Nutmeg sound designer, mixer and composer JD McMillin, whose remixes of three popular and vintage SpongeBob songs have become viral hits: Krusty Krab Pizza and Ripped My Pants from 1999, and The Campfire Song Song (yes, that’s correct) from 2004. With musical styles ranging from reggae, hip-hop and trap/EDM to stadium rock, drum and bass and even Brazilian dance, McMillin’s remixes expand the appeal of the originals with ear candy for whole new audiences. That’s why, when Nickelodeon provides a song to Nutmeg, McMillin is given free rein to remix it.

“No one from Nick is sitting in my studio babysitting,” he says. “They could, but they don’t. They know that if they let me do my thing they will get something great.”

“Nickelodeon gives us a lot of creative freedom,” says executive producer Mike Greaney. “The creative briefs are, in a word, brief. There are some parameters, of course, but, ultimately, they give us a track and ask us to make something new and cool out of it.”

All three remixes have collectively racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, with The Campfire Song Song remix generating 655K views in less than 24 hours on the SpongeBob Facebook page.

McMillin credits the success to the fact that Nutmeg serves as a creative collaborative force: what he delivers is more reinvention than remix.

“We’re not just mixing stuff,” he says. “We’re making stuff.”

Once Nick signs off on the audio, that approach continues with the editorial. Editors Liz Burton, Brian Donnelly and Drew Hankins each bring their own unique style and sensibility, with graphic Effects designer Stephen C. Walsh adding the finishing touches.

But Greaney isn’t always content with cut, shaken and stirred clips from the show, going the extra mile to deliver something unexpected. Case in point: he recently donned a pair of red track pants and high-kicked in front of a greenscreen to add a suitably outrageous element to the Ripped My Pants remix.

In terms of tools used for audio work, Nutmeg used Ableton Live, Native Instruments Maschine and Avid Pro Tools. For editorial they called on Avid Media Composer, Sapphire and Boris FX. Graphics were created in Adobe After Effects, and Mocha Pro.


Hobo’s Howard Bowler and Jon Mackey on embracing full-service VR

By Randi Altman

New York-based audio post house Hobo, which offers sound design, original music composition and audio mixing, recently embraced virtual reality by launching a 360 VR division. Wanting to offer clients a full-service solution, they partnered with New York production/post production studios East Coast Digital and Hidden Content, allowing them to provide concepting through production, post, music and final audio mix in an immersive 360 format.

The studio is already working on some VR projects, using their “object-oriented audio mix” skills to enhance the 360 viewing experience.

We touched base with Hobo’s founder/president, Howard Bowler, and post production producer Jon Mackey to get more info on their foray into VR.

Why was now the right time to embrace 360 VR?
Bowler: We saw the opportunity stemming from the advancement of the technology not only in the headsets but also in the tools necessary to mix and sound design in a 360-degree environment. The great thing about VR is that we have many innovative companies trying to establish what the workflow norm will be in the years to come. We want to be on the cusp of those discoveries to test and deploy these tools as the ecosystem of VR expands.

As an audio shop you could have just offered audio-for-VR services only, but instead aligned with two other companies to provide a full-service experience. Why was that important?
Bowler: This partnership provides our clients with added security when venturing out into VR production. Since the medium is relatively new in the advertising and film world, partnering with experienced production companies gives us the opportunity to better understand the nuances of filming in VR.

How does that relationship work? Will you be collaborating remotely? Same location?
Bowler: Thankfully, we are all based in West Midtown, so the collaboration will be seamless.

Can you talk a bit about object-based audio mixing and its challenges?
Mackey: The challenge of object-based mixing is not only mixing based in a 360-degree environment or converting traditional audio into something that moves with the viewer but determining which objects will lead the viewer, with its sound cue, into another part of the environment.

Bowler: It’s the creative challenge that inspires us in our sound design. With traditional 2D film, the editor controls what you see with their cuts. With VR, the partnership between sight and sound becomes much more important.

Howard Bowler pictured embracing VR.

How different is your workflow — traditional broadcast or spot work versus VR/360?
Mackey: The VR/360 workflow isn’t much different than traditional spot work. It’s the testing and review that is a game changer. Things generally can’t be reviewed live unless you have a custom rig that runs its own headset. It’s a lot of trial and error in checking the mixes, sound design, and spacial mixes. You also have to take into account the extra time and instruction for your clients to review a project.

What has surprised you the most about working in this new realm?
Bowler: The great thing about the VR/360 space is the amount of opportunity there is. What surprised us the most is the passion of all the companies that are venturing into this area. It’s different than talking about conventional film or advertising; there’s a new spark and its fueling the rise of the industry and allowing larger companies to connect with smaller ones to create an atmosphere where passion is the only thing that counts.

What tools are you using for this type of work?
Mackey: The audio tools we use are the ones that best fit into our Avid ProTools workflow. This includes plug-ins from G-Audio and others that we are experimenting with.

Can you talk about some recent projects?
Bowler: We’ve completed projects for Samsung with East Coast Digital, and there are more on the way.

Main Image: Howard Bowler and Jon Mackey


Creating a sonic world for The Zookeeper’s Wife

By Jennifer Walden

Warsaw, Poland, 1939. The end of summer brings the beginning of war as 140 German planes, Junkers Ju-87 Stukas, dive-bomb the city. At the Warsaw Zoo, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina Żabiński (Jessica Chastain) watch as their peaceful sanctuary crumbles: their zoo, their home and their lives are invaded by the Nazis. Powerless to fight back openly, the zookeeper and his wife join the Polish resistance. They transform the zoo from an animal sanctuary into a place of sanctuary for the people they rescue from the Warsaw Ghetto.

L-R: Anna Behlmer, Terry_Porter and Becky Sullivan.

Director Niki Caro’s film The Zookeeper’s Wife — based on Antonina Żabińska’s true account written by Diane Ackerman — presents a tale of horror and humanity. It’s a study of contrasts, and the soundtrack matches that, never losing the thread of emotion among the jarring sounds of bombs and planes.

Supervising sound editor Becky Sullivan, at the Technicolor at Paramount sound facility in Los Angeles, worked closely with re-recording mixers Anna Behlmer and Terry Porter to create immersive soundscapes of war and love. “You have this contrast between a love story of the zookeeper and his wife and their love for their own people and this horrific war that is happening outside,” explains Porter. “It was a real challenge in the mix to keep the war alive and frightening and then settle down into this love story of a couple who want to save the people in the ghettos. You have to play the contrast between the fear of war and the love of the people.”

According to Behlmer, the film’s aerial assault on Warsaw was entirely fabricated in post sound. “We never see those planes, but we hear those planes. We created the environment of this war sonically. There are no battle sequence visual effects in the movie.”

“You are listening to the German army overtake the city even though you don’t really see it happening,” adds Sullivan. “The feeling of fear for the zookeeper and his wife, and those they’re trying to protect, is heightened just by the sound that we are adding.”

Sullivan, who earned an Oscar nom for sound editing director Angelina Jolie’s WWII film Unbroken, had captured recordings of actual German Stukas and B24 bomber planes, as well as 70mm and 50mm guns. She found library recordings of the Stuka’s signature Jericho siren. “It’s a siren that Germans put on these planes so that when they dive-bombed, the siren would go off and add to the terror of those below,” explains Sullivan. Pulling from her own collection of WWII plane recordings, and using library effects, she was able to design a convincing off-screen war.

One example of how Caro used sound and clever camera work to effectively create an unseen war was during the bombing of the train station. Behlmer explains that the train station is packed with people crying and sobbing. There’s an abundance of activity as they hustle to get on the arriving trains. The silhouette of a plane darkens the station. Everyone there is looking up. Then there’s a massive explosion. “These actors are amazing because there is fear on their faces and they lurch or fall over as if some huge concussive bomb has gone off just outside the building. The people’s reactions are how we spotted explosions and how we knew where the sound should be coming from because this is all happening offstage. Those were our cues, what we were mixing to.”

“Kudos to Niki for the way she shot it, and the way she coordinated these crowd reactions,” adds Porter. “Once we got the soundscape in there, you really believe what is happening on-screen.”

The film was mixed in 5.1 surround on Stage 2 at Technicolor Paramount lot. Behlmer (who mixed effects/Foley/backgrounds) used the Lexicon 960 reverb during the train station scene to put the plane sounds into that space. Using the LFE channel, she gave the explosions an appropriate impact — punchy, but not overly rumbly. “We have a lot of music as well, so I tried really hard to keep the sound tight, to be as accurate as possible with that,” she says.

ADR
Another feature of the train station’s soundscape is the amassed crowd. Since the scene wasn’t filmed in Poland, the crowd’s verbalizations weren’t in Polish. Caro wanted the sound to feel authentic to the time and place, so Sullivan recorded group ADR in both Polish and German to use throughout the film. For the train station scene, Sullivan built a base of ambient crowd sounds and layered in the Polish loop group recordings for specificity. She was also able to use non-verbal elements from the production tracks, such as gasps and groans.

Additionally, the group ADR played a big part in the scenes at the zookeeper’s house. The Nazis have taken over the zoo and are using it for their own purposes. Each day their trucks arrive early in the morning. German soldiers shout to one another. Sullivan had the German ADR group perform with a lot of authority in their voices, to add to the feeling of fear. During the mix, Porter (who handled the dialogue and music) fit the clean ADR into the scenes. “When we’re outside, the German group ADR plays upfront, as though it’s really their recorded voices,” he explains. “Then it cuts to the house, and there is a secondary perspective where we use a bit of processing to create a sense of distance and delay. Then when it cuts to downstairs in the basement, it’s a totally different perspective on the voices, which sounds more muffled and delayed and slightly reverberant.”

One challenge of the mix and design was to make sure the audience knew the location of a sound by the texture of it. For example, the off-stage German group ADR used to create a commotion outside each morning had a distinct sonic treatment. Porter used EQ on the Euphonix System 5 console, and reverb and delay processing via Avid’s ReVibe and Digidesign’s TL Space plug-ins to give the sounds an appropriate quality. He used panning to articulate a sound’s position off-screen. “If we are in the basement, and the music and dialogue is happening above, I gave the sounds a certain texture. I could sweep sounds around in the theater so that the audience was positive of the sound’s location. They knew where the sound is coming from. Everything we did helped the picture show location.”

Porter’s treatment also applied to diegetic music. In the film, the zookeeper’s wife Antonina would play the piano as a cue to those below that it was safe to come upstairs, or as a warning to make no sound at all. “When we’re below, the piano sounds like it’s coming through the floor, but when we cut to the piano it had to be live.”

Sound Design
On the design side, Sullivan helped to establish the basement location by adding specific floor creaks, footsteps on woods, door slams and other sounds to tell the story of what’s happening overhead. She layered her effects with Foley provided by artist Geordy Sincavage at Sinc Productions in Los Angeles. “We gave the lead German commander Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl) a specific heavy boot on wood floor sound. His authority is present in his heavy footsteps. During one scene he bursts in, and he’s angry. You can feel it in every footstep he takes. He’s throwing doors open and we have a little sound of a glass falling off of the shelf. These little tiny touches put you in the scene,” says Sullivan.

While the film often feels realistic, there were stylized, emotional moments. Picture editor David Coulson and director Caro juxtapose images of horror and humanity in a sequence that shows the Warsaw Ghetto burning while those lodged at the zookeeper’s house hold a Seder. Edits between the two locations are laced together with sounds of the Seder chanting and singing. “The editing sounds silky smooth. When we transition out of the chanting on-camera, then that goes across the cut with reverb and dissolves into the effects of the ghetto burning. It sounds continuous and flowing,” says Porter. The result is hypnotic, agrees Behlmer and Sullivan.

The film isn’t always full of tension and destruction. There is beauty too. In the film’s opening, the audience meets the animals in the Warsaw Zoo, and has time to form an attachment. Caro filmed real animals, and there’s a bond between them and actress Chastain. Sullivan reveals that while they did capture a few animal sounds in production, she pulled many of the animal sounds from her own vast collection of recordings. She chose sounds that had personality, but weren’t cartoony. She also recorded a baby camel, sea lions and several elephants at an elephant sanctuary in northern California.

In the film, a female elephant is having trouble giving birth. The male elephant is close by, trumpeting with emotion. Sullivan says, “The birth of the baby elephant was very tricky to get correct sonically. It was challenging for sound effects. I recorded a baby sea lion in San Francisco that had a cough and it wasn’t feeling well the day we recorded. That sick sea lion sound worked out well for the baby elephant, who is struggling to breathe after it’s born.”

From the effects and Foley to the music and dialogue, Porter feels that nothing in the film sounds heavy-handed. The sounds aren’t competing for space. There are moments of near silence. “You don’t feel the hand of the filmmaker. Everything is extremely specific. Anna and I worked very closely together to define a scene as a music moment — featuring the beautiful storytelling of Harry Gregson-Williams’ score, or a sound effects moment, or a blend between the two. There is no clutter in the soundtrack and I’m very proud of that.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

Lime opens sound design division led by Michael Anastasi, Rohan Young

Santa Monica’s Lime Studios has launched a sound design division. LSD (Lime Sound Design), featuring newly signed sound designer Michael Anastasi and Lime sound designer/mixer Rohan Young has already created sound design for national commercial campaigns.

“Having worked with Michael since his early days at Stimmung and then at Barking Owl, he was always putting out some of the best sound design work, a lot of which we were fortunate to be final mixing here at Lime,” says executive producer Susie Boyajan, who collaborates closely with Lime and LSD owner Bruce Horwitz and the other company partners — mixers Mark Meyuhas and Loren Silber. “Having Michael here provides us with an opportunity to be involved earlier in the creative process, and provides our clients with a more streamlined experience for their audio needs. Rohan and Michael were often competing for some of the same work, and share a huge client base between them, so it made sense for Lime to expand and create a new division centered around them.”

Boyajan points out that “all of the mixers at Lime have enjoyed the sound design aspect of their jobs, and are really talented at it, but having a new division with LSD that operates differently than our current, hourly sound design structure makes sense for the way the industry is continuing to change. We see it as a real advantage that we can offer clients both models.”

“I have always considered myself a sound designer that mixes,” notes Young. “It’s a different experience to be involved early on and try various things that bring the spot to life. I’ve worked closely with Michael for a long time. It became more and more apparent to both of us that we should be working together. Starting LSD became a no-brainer. Our now-shared resources, with the addition of a Foley stage and location audio recordists only make things better for both of us and even more so for our clients.”

Young explains that setting up LSD as its own sound design division, as opposed to bringing in Michael to sound design at Lime, allows clients to separate the mix from the sound design on their production if they choose.

Anastasi joins LSD from Barking Owl, where he spent the last seven years creating sound design for high-profile projects and building long-term creative collaborations with clients. Michael recalls his fortunate experiences recording sounds with John Fasal, and Foley sessions with John Roesch and Alyson Dee Moore as having taught him a great deal of his craft. “Foley is actually what got me to become a sound designer,” he explains.

Projects that Anastasi has worked on include the PSA on human trafficking called Hide and Seek, which won an AICP Award for Sound Design. He also provided sound design to the feature film Casa De Mi Padre, starring Will Ferrell, and was sound supervisor as well. For Nike’s Together project, featuring Lebron James, a two-minute black-and-white piece, Anastasi traveled back to Lebron’s hometown of Cleveland to record 500+ extras.

Lime is currently building new studios for LSD, featuring a team of sound recordists and a stand-alone Foley room. The LSD team is currently in the midst of a series of projects launching this spring, including commercial campaigns for Nike, Samsung, StubHub and Adobe.

Main Image: Michael Anastasi and Rohan Young.