Category Archives: Audio Mixing

Behind the Title: Freelance sound editor Cathleen Conte

NAME: Cathleen Conte

COMPANY: Freelancer

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Sound Editor/ Recording Engineer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I use the sound recorded from production shoots, Foley and I also pull from SFX libraries. I clean up the sounds and place them in sync with the visuals. As a sound editor for film shorts and TV spots, I create and modify sounds to match and support the visuals. To create those sounds, I like to first get a feel for and gain an understanding of the story the visuals want or need to tell. I love when the story allows me to record Foley. There is something magical about interpreting what a visual would sound like.

For instance, rain sounds like millions of drops of water falling from the sky at the same time. Instead, I can create a soundscape that makes you feel like you can walk in between the raindrops and not get wet (I love that).

I’m grateful when an editor makes all the production soundtracks available. It makes the workflow much stronger by having the original sounds, being able to clean them up and either use them solo or tuck them under to build a SFX bed. When I don’t do Foley, I pull pre-recorded mastered sounds from a large database — sound effects libraries.

As a recording engineer, working with many different voiceover talents is always a treat. You never know what creative character just walked into your day (laughs). With just a very brief introduction, I can get a sense or tone of the talent and gauge their mood. I try to make them feel very welcome and comfortable in the booth and while on mic.

You don’t always get a chance to get a good mic check for levels. Some voice actors like to just get started. I get asked “are we rolling” while I’m still in the booth adjusting the mic, or with my hands still on the music stand. When you’re lucky, the talent will read through half the script at full delivery, which helps me track their golden voice. I like to take (what I feel) is a non-intrusive approach to small talk. From there I can put myself in a good starting place for levels and how much compression I’ll need to start with, if at all.

It’s important to make a connection with your talent in the booth. Establishing that connection will help capture the best reads, which is what the director wants and needs from the talent. Besides the technical aspects of working the gear and getting a good sound, it’s important to do the groundwork and make that human connection solid. From there, I let the gear do what it was made to do and record beautiful voices and sound.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Copywriting. Many times there are script changes that happen during a session for whatever reason — maybe a script is too long, too short or the legal department has flagged a line. They are almost always deadline driven. I’m often asked what do you think? What can we replace this line with? What will rhyme with it?

My first rule at the start of a session, in addition to establishing the human connection, is to not only become their engineer for the day but to become part of their team.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I have to admit, it’s the people. The clients and voiceover talents bring so much great energy to a room, it’s amazing! Regardless of whether we spend one hour together or 10 hours, everyone in the world is a creative at some level. Humans!

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My least favorite is when the gear decides not to work. It is not often, but it does happen. I’m grateful for tech engineers!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I have to say my favorite time of day is 3pm. It marks the completion of a successful and productive morning, and it’s also the best time for an afternoon coffee.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
This profession chose me. I’ve been tapping on random surfaces and making “noise” since I was a baby. When I was around 10 years old, I was finding ways to play my older cousin Leo’s Casio k10 electronic mini-keyboard. It had dog barking and wind sounds and I could manipulate the pitch. Needless to say, I was a noisy, misunderstood child who appreciated the sounds around me.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
While working at AE Media, I mixed the Monster headphones behind-the-scenes video for Super Bowl LI. It was such a fun piece to work on. Having Monster Products creator Noel Lee talk about creating the headphones. It was also fun working on set with Iggy Azalea, Aerosmith axeman Joe Perry, Internet personality Ricegum, Big Kenny, Yo Gotti, Jonathan Cheban and Nsync’s Joey Fatone.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
All of them! When I’m asked to work on a project, I’m committed from start to finish.
Regardless of what day-to-day events unfold, seeing a project to its successful completion is very gratifying.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Zoom H4n Pro, Rode VideoMic Me, and my iPhone.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d be a veterinarian.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Breathing helps me to de-stress tremendously, and allows me to better focus on the task at hand. Breathing calms the body and helps maintain focus on accuracy and speed with a smile. I don’t allow deadlines to drive any project. Keeping a calm room and working together as a team will always help a session to stay on course and drive it to its destination on cruise control. My approach to stressful situations is nothing more than recognizing them as a challenge and finding a solution for them.

Hobo Audio’s Chris Stangroom discusses Jonestown doc

New York-based audio post house Hobo provided audio post and sound design for A&E’s two-hour doc Jonestown: The Women Behind the Massacre. The film focuses on the four women in Jim Jones’ inner circle who helped plan the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, one of the largest murder-suicide events in modern history.

Hobo is no stranger to the documentaries in the true crime genre, having recently worked on the acclaimed Netflix docs Voyeur and Amanda Knox, as well as multiple series on the Investigation Discovery channel, including Evil Lives Here and My Dirty Little Secret.

Senior engineer Chris Stangroom, who handled the project’s complex audio mix, says that true crime documentaries, an incredibly popular genre in film and TV currently, uniquely challenges sound designers and audio engineers to think about sound differently.

Let’s find out more from Stangroom about this project.

What did you and Hobo contribute to the film overall?
We were quite involved early on. Hobo producer Mary Valentino and I first met with execs at production company Every Hill Films and discussed the project in length. They wanted to include some form of recreation footage in the series, so Mary worked with them to cast both the voiceover and on-camera talent for those segments.

We then brought the voice talent into our studios and did some voice comparisons to the original recordings of the actual women of Jonestown. The talent did a phenomenal job being truthful and accurate to the powerful women of Jonestown, which gave Every Hill a lot to work with to complete the edit and lock the cut.

Once the locked cut was delivered to us we began the full audio post process. Our senior sound designer Diego Jimenez went through the entire two-hour show and layered in sound design to give the re-creation and archival footage a more dramatic texture. He listened closely to the music that the producers had chosen and added in layered drones and synth sounds that made everything a bit more tension-filled. That elevated the entire soundtrack to a deeper and darker place in anticipation of the fateful ending.

I focused on the mix and finessed all of the music, archival dialogue, interviews, sound design and recreation recordings so that the arc of the show was always moving and always keeping the viewer interested in what was being told. There was a significant amount of audio restoration required for the archival, but in the end everything turned out crystal clear.

Was there a specific scene or part of the film that you found most challenging or creatively interesting?
We spent a couple rounds on the recreation voiceovers. We tried keeping the voices full frequency to give them more of a voiceover feeling, but in the end we felt that a slight “futzing” was necessary to make the voiceovers sound like they were coming from a different sound source like a telephone, old speaker or radio. For each character I did something a little different. I even took one of the main voiceovers and recorded it down to an old, used cassette tape. That gave it a nice saturation to the voice and gives a style of compression on the audio that you don’t always get from emulation plugins like Audio Ease’s Speakerphone and ones like it.

The goal was to make the voices feel like they were possibly the actual recordings of these Jonestown women telling their most intimate thoughts. In reality, I believe no recordings of these actually exist but were based on written journal entries from the women at the time.

Speaking broadly, is there something unique about the true crime genre of filmmaking and audio/sound design? Does this genre need something specific 

from audio that you see or hear less of in other genres like comedy or drama?The true crime genre is fascinating to me because it challenges us sound designers and audio engineers to realize that sometimes removing sounds is just as powerful as adding them. These stories, especially ones like Jonestown, that are based on a real event, can be dark to their core. Simply hearing someone tell you about it can impact viewers deeply. Adding dramatic hits and heavy drones under the most chilling moments can actually take away from those moments.

In the Jonestown special, one of those moments occurs when the actual people involved with Jim James and his movement are talking about how the parents were asked to send their children to drink the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid first. I can’t even imagine that feeling, so I felt it needed to stand almost on its own without any audio flourishes. The words alone hit you like nothing else could. Less is very much more in that scene.

What technology did you rely on for this project?
Avid Pro Tools 12 HD, Soundminer, Izotope RX6 Advanced, some custom tools created at Hobo for the darker drones and sounds, Audio Ease’s Speakerphone and my timeless old boom-box.

Cinna 4.13

Behind the Title: PlushNYC partner/mixer Mike Levesque, Jr.

NAME: Michael Levesque, Jr.

COMPANY: PlushNYC

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We provide audio post production

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Partner/Mixer/Sound Designer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
The foundation of it all for me is that I’m a mixer and a sound designer. I became a studio owner/partner organically because I didn’t want to work for someone else. The core of my role is giving my clients what they want from an audio post perspective. The other parts of my job entail managing the staff, working through technical issues, empowering senior employees to excel in their careers and coach junior staff when given the opportunity.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Everyday I find myself being the janitor in many ways! I’m a huge advocate of leading by example and I feel that no task is too mundane for any team member to take on. So I don’t cast shade on picking up a mop or broom, and also handle everything else above that. I’m a part of a team, and everyone on the team participates.

During our latest facility remodel, I took a very hands-on approach. As a bit of a weekend carpenter, I naturally gravitate toward building things, and that was no different in the studio!

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?
Avid Pro Tools. I’ve been operating on Pro Tools since 1997 and was one of the early adopters. Initially, I started out on analog ¼-inch tape and later moved to the digital editing system SSL ScreenSound. I’ve been using Pro Tools since its humble beginnings, and that is my tool of choice.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
For me, my favorite part about the job is definitely working with the clients. That’s where I feel I am able to put my best self forward. In those shoes, I have the most experience. I enjoy the conversation that happens in the room, the challenges that I get from the variety of projects and working with the creatives to bring their sonic vision to life. Because of the amount of time i spend in the studio with my clients one of the great results besides the work is wonderful, long-term friendships. You get to meet a lot of different people and experience a lot of different walks of life, and that’s incredibly rewarding for me.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
We’ve been really lucky to have regular growth over the years, but the logistics of that can be challenging at times. Expansion in NYC is a constant uphill battle!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The train ride in. With no distractions, I’m able to get the most work done. It’s quiet and allows me to be able to plan my day out strategically while my clarity is at its peak. That way I can maximize my day and analyze and prioritize what I want to get done before the hustle and bustle of the day begins.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
If I weren’t a mixer/sound designer, I would likely be a general contractor or in a role where I was dealing with building and remodeling houses.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I started when I was 19 and I knew pretty quickly that this was the path for me. When I first got into it, I wanted to be a music producer. Being a novice musician, it was very natural for me.

Borgata

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently worked on a large-scale project for Frito-Lay, a project for ProFlowers and Shari’s Berries for Valentine’s Day, a spot for Massage Envy and a campaign for the Broadway show Rocktopia. I’ve also worked on a number of projects for Vevo, including pieces for The World According To… series for artists — that includes a recent one with Jaden Smith. I also recently worked on a spot with SapientRazorfish New York for Borgata Casino that goes on a colorful, dreamlike tour of the casino’s app.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Back in early 2000s, I mixed a DVD box set called Journey Into the Blues, a PBS film series from Martin Scorsese that won a Grammy for Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
– My cell phone to keep me connected to every aspect of life.
– My Garmin GPS Watch to help me analytically look at where I’m performing in fitness.
– Pro Tools to keep the audio work running!

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I’m an avid triathlete, so personal wellness is a very big part of my life. Training daily is a really good stress reliever, and it allows me to focus both at work and at home with the kids. It’s my meditation time.


Sound Reality: Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris

By Jennifer Walden

Films based on true stories are always popular, and Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood has made his share, including Sully and American Sniper, as well as Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. While those stories were inspired by real people/events, Eastwood has ramped up the reality a notch with his latest. The 15:17 to Paris — about three men who thwarted a terrorist attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris — features the actual trio of heroes, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, as themselves.

Alan R. Murray

Working with non-actors on a feature film could be challenging, so before deciding to cast the heroes in the film, Eastwood did a test run. He called up Warner Bros. Sound’s Oscar-winning supervising sound editor Alan R. Murray, with whom he had collaborated over 40 years. Eastwood mysteriously asked Murray to bring his recording equipment to his office on the Warner’s lot.

The next morning, Eastwood let Murray in on the plan. “Clint wanted to see how these guys would do on camera, so he asked me to walk them around the Warner Bros. lot. They were going to shoot them with a Steadicam, and Clint asked me to record the sound.”

They spent half a day touring the lot with Eastwood and introducing the heroes to people they met. “Walking around Warner Bros. with them, you could see that they were going to be able to pull this off. It was cool to get to talk to them, get to know them and have them re-tell what really happened.”

Capturing Reality
In keeping with his realistic vision for the film, Eastwood chose to shoot the train sequences on an actual Thalys train (the high-speed train on which the attack happened) instead of shooting on a soundstage. According to Murray, production sound mixer Steven Morrow spent five days on a Thalys train recording all the sounds relevant to the terrorist attack — everything from the doors to the train moving. He even captured the sound of an AK-47 jamming up.

“Everything had to be accurate down to the timing,” explains Murray. “With Steve Morrow’s recordings, we were able to recreate the actual events in sound, which was pretty awesome. We also had the recordings he’d done throughout Europe to help us recreate the atmosphere at some of the well-traveled places that these guys visited.”

The production team visited popular destinations in Rome, Venice, Amsterdam and France, following the path that the trio took on their trip through Europe. Eastwood captured the sites and sound mixer Morrow captured the sounds using a Sound Devices 970 64-channel recorder in conjunction with a 5.1 microphone setup.

Murray relied on Morrow’s library of location ambiences and recordings on the train to build a track that was as close to what the heroes experienced as possible. “We had this great library of sounds to work with and you need that when you are telling a true story. I was thankful that we were able to get all of these sound effects and direction on building the sound.”

Though Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos weren’t on-hand during sound editorial to help Murray piece together the sound of what happened, they had discussed every detail with the film’s editor, Blu Murray, who relayed that information to the post sound team.

One of the important aspects of the soundtrack was the build-up of tension prior to the attack on the train. Murray notes that when Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos first get on the train, the effects are at a comfortable level, allowing the audience to sink into the dialogue. Then as the film gets closer to the terrorist attack, the sounds of the train grow darker, more rumbly and ominous. The sound team pushed the train sounds into darker territory through pitch shifting, low-end enhancement, EQ and other processing via iZotope RX 6 Advanced, iZotope Iris 2 and Avid’s Pro Subharmonic and ReVibe II reverb. They also layered in sound design elements. “This helped to create an underlying tension, so that by the time we are finally into the attack we were going full bore with the sound of the train. It was louder there and more intense and harsher,” says Murray.

This isn’t just a film about the thwarted terror attack on the train. It’s also a story of the heroes’ lives — how they became who they are and how they learned the military and medical skills that allowed them to fight the attacker and survive. The most imagined sections of the film were the early lives of the men, since capturing those real sounds would involve a time machine. Recreating the trials of childhood required more emotion than realism, and Murray had to find sounds that could take the audience back to their memories of growing up and playing with friends. “We had to find just the right sounds to spark the audience’s imagination and memories of their childhood to help them relax and get into the story. The sound takes a backseat to the story in the beginning and then it slowly takes over the soundtrack as we work our way through the film.”

The 15:17 to Paris was mixed on Dub Stage 10 at Warner Bros. in Dolby Atmos by re-recording mixers Dean A. Zupancic, John T. Reitz and Jason King (also co-supervising sound editor). When the mix was complete, Eastwood invited Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos to the dub stage to watch the film.

“Being able to glance over at these guys as they watched their lives unfold on screen and see their reactions was priceless,” describes Murray. “We could see their demeanors change as we got into the story about what happened on the train. They were reliving that experience, and you could see it on their faces. They were so thankful at the end.”

When working on a film that’s based on an actual event, Murray says recreating the event as accurately as possible is at the forefront of the job. “We had to do that on Sully, and now The 15:17 to Paris. The difference was actually getting to meet these people and to talk to them in person. You’re so in awe of these guys and what they did and meeting them makes the experience more than a job. There have been so many cool experiences on this movie but that one was priceless,” he concludes.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney.


Ren Klyce: Mixing the score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

There are space battles and epic music, foreign planets with unique and lively biomes, blasters, lightsabers, a universe at war and a force that connects it all. Over the course of eight “Episodes” and through numerous spin-off series and games, fans of Star Wars have become well acquainted with its characteristic sound.

Creating the world, sonically, is certainly a feat, but bringing those sounds together is a challenge of equal measure. Shaping the soundtrack involves sacrifice and egoless judgment calls that include making tough decisions in service of the story.

Ren Klyce

Skywalker Sound’s Ren Klyce was co-supervising sound editor, sound designer and a re-recording mixer on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He not only helped to create the film’s sounds but he also had a hand in shaping the final soundtrack. As re-recording mixer of the music, Klyce got a new perspective on the film’s story.

He’s earned two Oscar nominations for his work on the Rian Johnson-directed The Last Jedi — one for sound editing and another for sound mixing. We reached out to Klyce to ask about his role as a re-recording mixer, what it was like to work with John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score, and what it took for the team to craft The Last Jedi’s soundtrack.

You had all the Skywalker-created effects, the score and all the dialog coming together for the final mix. How did you bring clarity to what could have been be a chaotic soundtrack?
Mostly, it’s by forcing ourselves to potentially get rid of a lot of our hard work for the sake of the story. Getting rid of one’s work can be difficult for anyone, but it’s the necessary step in many instances. When you initially premix sound for a film, there are so many elements and often times we have everything prepared just in case they’re asked for. In the case of Star Wars, we didn’t know what director Rian Johnson might want and not want. So we had everything at the ready in either case.

On Star Wars, we ended up doing a blaze pass where we played everything from the beginning to the end of a reel all at once. We could clearly see that it was a colossal mess in one scene, but not so bad in another. It was like getting a 20-minute Cliff Notes of where we were going to need to spend some time.

Then it comes down to having really skilled mixers like David Parker (dialog) and Michael Semanick (sound effects), whose skill-sets include understanding storytelling. They understand what their role is about — which is making decisions as to what should stay, what should go, what should be loud or quiet, or what should be turned off completely. With sound effects, Michael is very good at this. He can quickly see the forest for the trees. He’ll say, “Let’s get rid of this. These elements can go, or the background sounds aren’t needed here.” And that’s how we started shaping the mix.

After doing the blaze pass, we will then go through and listen to just the music by itself. John Williams tells his story through music and by underscoring particular scenes. A lot of the process is learning what all the bits and pieces are and then weighing them up against each other. We might decide that the music in a particular scene tells the story best.

That is how we would start and then we worked together as a team to continue shaping the mix into a rough piece. Rian would then come in and give his thoughts to add more sound here or less music there, thus shaping the soundtrack.

After creating all of those effects, did you wish you were the one to mix them? Or, are you happy mixing music?
For me personally, it’s a really great experience to listen to and be responsible for the music because I’ve learned so much about the power of the music and what’s important. If it were the other way around, I might be a little more overly focused on the sound effects. I feel like we have a good dynamic. Michael Semanick has such great instincts. In fact, Rian described Michael as being an incredible storyteller, and he really is.

Mixing the music for me is a wonderful way to get a better scope of the entire soundtrack. By not touching the sound effects on the stage, those faders aren’t so precious. Instead, the movie itself and the soundtrack takes precedence instead of the bits and pieces that make it up.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of music?
I think that would have to be the ski speeder sequence on the salt planet of Crait. That was very difficult because there was a lot of dodging and burning in the mix. In other words, Rian wanted to have loud music and then the music would have to dive down to expose a dialogue line, and then jump right back up again for more excitement and then dive down to make way for another dialogue line. Then boom, some sound effects would come in and the Millennium Falcon would zoom by. Then the Star Wars theme would take over and then it had to come down for the dialogue. So we worked that sequence quite a bit.

Our picture editor Bob Ducsay really guided us through the shape of that sequence. What was so great about having the picture editor present was that he was so intimate with the rhythm of the dialogue and his picture cutting. He knew where all of the story points were supposed to be, what motivated a look to the left and so on. Bob would say something like, “When we see Rose here, we really need to make sure we hear her musical theme, but then when we cut away, we need to hear the action.”

Were you working with John Williams’ music stems? Did you feel bad about pulling things out of his score? How do you dissect the score?
Working with John is obviously an incredible experience, and on this film I was lucky enough to work with Shawn Murphy as well, who is really one of my heroes and I’ve known him for years. He is the one who records the orchestra for John Williams and balances everything. Not only does he record the orchestra, but Shawn is a true collaborator with John as well. It’s incredible the way they communicate.

John is really mixing his own soundtrack when he’s up there on the podium conducting, and he’s making initial choices as to which instruments are louder than others — how loud the woodwinds play, how loud the brass plays, how loud the percussion is and how loud the strings are. He’s really shaping it. Between Williams and Murphy, they work on intonation, tuning and performance. They go through and record and then do pickups for this measure and that measure to make sure that everything is as good as it can be.

I actually got to witness John Williams do this incredible thing — which was during the recording of the score for the Crait scene. There was this one section where the brass was playing and John (who knows every single person’s name in that orchestra) called out to three people by name and said something like, “Mark, on bar 63, from beat two to beat six, can you not play please. I just want a little more clarity with two instruments instead of three. Thank you.” So they backed up and did a pick-up on that bar and that gentleman dropped out for those few beats. It was amazing.

In the end, it really is John who is creating that mix. Then, editorially, there would be moments where we had to change things. Ramiro Belgardt, another trusted confidant of John Williams, was our music editor. Once the music is recorded and premixed, it was up to Ramiro to keep it as close to what John intended throughout all of the picture changes.

A scene would be tightened or opened up, and the music isn’t going to be re-performed. That would be impossible to do, so it has to be edited or stretched or looped or truncated. Ramiro had the difficult job of making the music seem exactly how it was on the day it was performed. But in truth, if you look at his Pro Tools session, you’ll see all of these splices and edits that he did to make everything function properly.

Does a particular scene stick out?
There was one scene where Rey ignites the lightsaber for the very first time on Jedi Island, and there we did change the balance within the music. She’s on the cliff by the ocean and Luke is watching her as she’s swinging the lightsaber. Right when she ignites the lightsaber, her theme comes in, which is this beautiful piano melody. The problem was when they mixed the piano they didn’t have a really loud lightsaber sound going with it. We were really struggling because we couldn’t get that piano melody to speak right there. I asked Ramiro if there was any way to get that piano separately because I would love it if we could hear that theme come in just as strong as that lightsaber. Those are the types of little tiny things that we would do, but those are few and far between. For the most part, the score is how John and Shawn intended the mix to be.

It was also wonderful having Ramiro there as John’s spokesperson. He knew all of the subtle little sacred moments that Williams had written in the score. He pointed them out and I was able to push those and feature those.

Was Rian observing the sessions?
Rian attended every single scoring session and knew the music intricately. He was really excited for the music and wanted it to breathe. Rian’s knowledge of the music helped guide us.

Where did they perform and record the score?
This was recorded at the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage on the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, California.

Are there any Easter eggs in terms of the score?
During the casino sequence there’s a beautiful piece of music that plays throughout, which is something like an homage that John Williams wrote, going back to the Cantina song that he wrote for the original Star Wars.

So, the Easter egg comes as the Fathiers are wreaking havoc in the casino and we cut to the inside of a confectionery shop. There’s an abrupt edit where all the music stops and you hear this sort of lounge piano that’s playing, like a piece of source music. That lounge piano is actually John Williams playing “The Long Goodbye,” which is the score that he wrote for the film The Long Goodbye. Rian is a huge fan of that score and he somehow managed to get John Williams to put that into the Star Wars film. It’s a wonderful little Easter egg.

John Williams is, in so many ways, the closest thing we have to Beethoven or Brahms in our time. When you’re in his presence — he’s 85 years old now — it’s humbling. He still writes all of his manuscripts by hand.

On that day that John sat down and played “The Long Goodbye” piano piece, Rian was so excited that he pulled out his iPhone and filmed the whole thing. John said, “Only for you, Rian, do I do this.” It was a very special moment.

The other part of the Easter egg is that John’s brother Donald Williams is a timpanist in the orchestra. So what’s cool is you hear John playing the piano and the very next sound is the timpani, played by his brother. So you have these two brothers and they do a miniature solo next to each other. So those are some of the fun little details.

John Williams earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Music Score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It’s an incredible score. One of the fortunate things that occurred on this film was that Rian and producer Ram Bergman wanted to give John Williams as much time as possible so they started him really early. I think he had a year to compose, which was great. He could take his time and really work diligently through each sequence. When you listen to just the score, you can hear all of the little subtle nuances that John composed.

For example, Rose stuns Finn and she’s dragging him on this little cart and they’re having this conversation. If you listen to just the music through there, the way that John has scored every single little emotional beat in that sequence is amazing. With all the effects and dialogue, you’re not really noticing the musical details. You hear two people arguing and then agreeing. They hate each other and now they like each other. But when you deconstruct it, you hear the music supporting each one of those moments. Williams does things like that throughout the entire film. Every single moment has all these subtle musical details. All the scenes with Snoke in his lair have these ominous, dark musical choir phrases for example. It’s phenomenal.

The moments where the choice was made to remove the score completely, was that a hard sell for the director? Or, was he game to let go of the score in those effects-driven moments?
No, it wasn’t too difficult. There was one scene that we did revert on though. It was on Crait, and Rian wanted to get rid of the whole big music sequence when Leia sees that the First Order is approaching and they have to shut the giant door. There was originally a piece of music, and that was when the crystal foxes were introduced. So we got rid of the music there. Then we watched the film and Rian asked us to put that music back.

A lot of the music edits were crafted in the offline edit, and those were done by music editor Joseph Bonn. Joe would craft those moments ahead of time and test them. So a lot of that was decided before it got to my hands.

But on the stage, we were still experimenting. Ramiro would suggest trying to lose a cue and we’d mute it from the sequence. That was a fun part of collaborating with everyone. It’s a live experiment. I would say that on this film most of the music editorial choices were decided before we got to the final mix. Joe Bonn spent months and months crafting the music guide, which helped immensely.

What is one audio tool that you could not have lived without on the mix? Why?
Without a doubt, it’s our Avid Pro Tools editing software. All the departments —dialog, Foley, effects and music were using Pro Tools. That is absolutely hands-down the one tool that we are addicted to. At this point, not having Pro Tools is like not having a hammer.

But you used a console for the final mix, yes?
Yes. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not an in-the-box mix. We mixed it on a Neve DFC Gemini console in the traditional manner. It was not a live Pro Tools mix. We mixed it through the DFC console, which had its own EQ, dynamics processing, panning, reverb sends/returns, AUX sends/returns and LFE sends/returns.

The pre-pre-mixing was done in Pro Tools. Then, looking at the sound effects for example, that was shaped roughly in the offline edit room, and then that would go to the mix stage. Michael Semanick would pre-mix the effects through the Neve DFC in a traditional premixing format that we would record to 9.1 pre-dubs and objects. A similar process was done with the dialogue. So that was done with the console.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney


CAS celebrates Dunkirk, GoT and more at 54th Awards show

The 54th CAS Awards took place this weekend at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel. The event, hosted by comedian Michael Kosta, was a celebration of people and projects that featured the best sound mixing as well as what the Cinema Audio Society consider the top audio products from 2017.

Re-recording mixer Anna Behlmer was honored  with the CAS Career Achievement AwardShe  is the first woman to receive the CAS Career Achievement Honor. 

The following are all the winners from the evening: 

MOTION PICTURE – LIVE ACTION

Dunkirk

Production Mixer – Mark Weingarten, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Gregg Landaker

Re-recording Mixer – Gary Rizzo, CAS

Scoring Mixer – Alan Meyerson, CAS

ADR Mixer – Thomas J. O’Connell

Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

(The Dunkirk team is our main image.)

(Photo: Alex J. Berliner / ABImages)

The Coco team. 

MOTION PICTURE—ANIMATED

Coco

Original Dialogue Mixer – Vince Caro

Re-recording Mixer – Christopher Boyes

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Scoring Mixer – Joel Iwataki

Foley Mixer – Blake Collins

MOTION PICTURE—DOCUMENTARY

Jane

Production Mixer – Lee Smith

Re-recording Mixer – David E. Fluhr, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Warren Shaw

Scoring Mixer – Derek Lee

ADR Mixer – Chris Navarro, CAS

Foley Mixer – Ryan Maguire

TELEVISION MOVIE or MINI-SERIES

Black Mirror: USS Callister

Production Mixer – John Rodda, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Cavagin

Re-recording Mixer – Dafydd Archard

Re-recording Mixer – William Miller

ADR Mixer – Nick Baldock

Foley Mixer – Sophia Hardman

TELEVISION SERIES – 1 HOUR 

Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall

Production Mixer – Ronan Hill, CAS

Production Mixer – Richard Dyer, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Onnalee Blank, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Mathew Waters, CAS

Foley Mixer – Brett Voss, CAS

Anna Behlmer with her CAS Career Achievement Award.

TELEVISION SERIES – 1/2 HOUR

Silicon Valley: Episode 9 “Hooli-Con”

Production Mixer – Benjamin A. Patrick, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Elmo Ponsdomenech

Re-recording Mixer – Todd Beckett

TELEVISION NON-FICTION, VARIETY or MUSIC SERIES or SPECIALS

Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge

Production Mixer – David Hocs

Production Mixer – Tom Tierney

Re-Recording Mixer – Tom Fleischman, CAS

OUTSTANDING PRODUCT – PRODUCTION

 Sound Devices’ Mix Pre- 10T Recorder

OUTSTANDING PRODUCT – POST PRODUCTION

 iZotope’s RX 6 Advanced

STUDENT RECOGNITION AWARD

Xing  Li

Chapman University – Orange, California


All Images: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages


Michael Semanick: Mixing SFX, Foley for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Michael Semanick from Skywalker Sound mixed the sound effects, Foley and backgrounds on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has earned an Oscar nomination for Sound Mixing.

Technically, this is not Semanick’s first experience with the Star Wars franchise — he’s credited as an additional mixer on Rogue One — but on The Last Jedi he was a key figure in fine-tuning the film’s soundtrack. He worked alongside re-recording mixers Ren Klyce and David Parker, and with director Rian Johnson, to craft a soundtrack that was bold and dynamic. (Look for next week’s Star Wars story, in which re-recording mixer Ren Klyce talks about his approach to mixing John Williams’ score.)

Michael Semanick

Recently, Semanick shared his story of what went into mixing the sound effects on The Last Jedi. He mixed at Skywalker in Nicasio, California, on the Kurosawa Stage.

You had all of these amazing elements — Skywalker’s effects, John Williams’ score and the dialogue. How did you bring clarity to what could potentially be a chaotic soundtrack?
Yes, there are a lot of elements that come in, and you have to balance these things. It’s easy on a film like this to get bombastic and assault the audience, but that’s one of the things that Rian didn’t want to do. He wanted to create dynamics in the track and get really quiet so that when it does get loud it’s not overly loud.

So when creating that I have to look at all of the elements coming in and see what we’re trying to do in each specific scene. I ask myself, “What’s this scene about? What’s this storyline? What’s the music doing here? Is that the thread that takes us to the next scene or to the next place? What are the sound effects? Do we need to hear these background sounds, or do we need just the hard effects?”

Essentially, it’s me trying to figure out how many frequencies are available and how much dialogue has to come through so the audience doesn’t lose the thread of the story. It’s about deciding when it’s right to feature the sound effects or take the score down to feature a big explosion and then bring the score back up.

It’s always a balancing act, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and throw it all in there. I might need a line of dialogue to come through, so the backgrounds go. I don’t want to distract the audience. There is so much happening visually in the film that you can’t put sound on everything. Otherwise, the audience wouldn’t know what to focus on. At least that’s my approach to it.

How did you work with the director?
As we mixed the film with Rian, we found what types of sounds defined the film and what types of moments defined the film in terms of sound. For example, by the time you reach the scene when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) jumps to hyperspace into the First Order’s fleet, everything goes really quiet. The sound there doesn’t go completely out — it feels like it goes out, but there’s sound. As soon as the music peaks, I bring in a low space tone. Well, if there was a tone in space, I imagine that is what it would sound like. So there is sound constantly through that scene, but the quietness goes on for a long time.

One of the great things about that scene was that it was always designed that way. While I noted how great that scene was, I didn’t really get it until I saw it with an audience. They became the soundtrack, reacting with gasps. I was at a screening in Seattle, and when we hit that scene and you could hear that the people were just stunned, and one guy in the audience went, “Yeah!”

There are other areas in the film where we go extremely quiet or take the sound out completely. For example, when Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) first force-connect, the sound goes out completely… you only hear a little bit of their breathing. There’s one time when the force connection catches them off guard — when Kylo had just gotten done working out and Rey was walking somewhere — we took the sound completely out while she was still moving.

Rian loved it because when we were working on that scene we were trying to get something different. We used to have sound there, all the way through the scene. Then Rian said, “What happens if you just start taking some of the sounds out?” So, I started pulling sounds out and sure enough, when I got the sound all the way out — no music, no sounds, no backgrounds, no nothing — Rian was like, “That’s it! That just draws you in.” And it does. It pulls you into their moment. They’re pulled together even though they don’t want to be. Then we slowly brought it back in with their breathing, a little echo and a little footstep here or there. Having those types of dynamics worked into the film helped the scene at the end.

Rian shot and cut the picture so we could have these moments of quiet. It was already set up, visually and story-wise, to allow that to happen. When Rey goes into the mirror cave, it’s so quiet. You hear all the footsteps and the reverbs and reflections in there. The film lent itself to that.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of the effects?
The moment Kylo Ren and Rey touch hands via the force connection. That was a real challenge. They’re together in the force connection, but they weren’t together physically. We were cutting back and forth from her place to Kylo Ren’s place. We were hearing her campfire and her rain. It was a very delicate balance between that and the music. We could have had the rain really loud and the music blasting, but Rian wanted the rain and fire to peel away as their hands were getting closer. It was so quiet and when they did touch there was just a bit of a low-end thump. Having a big sound there just didn’t have the intimacy that the scene demanded. It can be so hard to get the balance right to where the audience is feeling the same thing as the characters. The audience is going, “No, oh no.” You know what’s going to come, but we wanted to add that extra tension to it sonically. For me, that was one of the hardest scenes to get.

What about the action scenes?
They are tough because they take time to mix. You have to decide what you want to play. For example, when the ships are exploding as they’re trying to get away before Holdo rams her ship into the First Order’s, you have all of that stuff falling from the ceiling. We had to pick our moments. There’s all of this fire in the background and TIE fighters flying around, and you can’t hear them all or it will be a jumbled mess. I can mix those scenes pretty well because I just follow the story point. We need to hear this to go with that. We have to have a sound of falling down, so let’s put that in.

Is there a scene you had fun with?
The fight in Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) room, between Rey and Kylo Ren. That was really fun because it was like wham-bam, and you have the lightsaber flying around. In those moments, like when Rey throws the lightsaber, we drop the sound out for a split second so when Kylo turns it on it’s even more powerful.

That scene was the most fun, but the trickiest one was that force-touch scene. We went over it a hundred different ways, to just get it to feel like we were with them. For me, if the sound calls too much attention to itself, it’s pulling you out of the story, and that’s bad mixing. I wanted the audience to lean in and feel those hands about to connect. When you take the sound out and the music out, then it’s just two hands coming together slowly. It was about finding that balance to make the audience feel like they’re in that moment, in that little hut, and they’re about to touch and see into each other’s souls, so to speak. That was a challenge, but it was fun because when you get it, and you see the audience react, everyone feels good about that scene. I feel like I did something right.

What was one audio tool that you couldn’t live without on this mix?
For me, it was the AMS Neve DFC Gemini console. All the sounds came into that. The console was like an instrument that I played. I could bring any sound in from any direction, and I could EQ it and manipulate it. I could put reverb on it. I could give the director what he wanted. My editors were cutting the sound, but I had to have that console to EQ and balance the sounds. Sometimes it was about EQing frequencies out to make a sound fit better with other sounds. You have to find room for the sounds.

I could move around on it very quickly. I had Rian sitting behind me saying, “What if you roll back and adjust this or try that.” I could ease those faders up and down and hit it just right. I know how to use it so well that I could hear stuff ahead of what I was doing.

The Neve DFC was invaluable. I could take all the different sound formats and sample rates and it all came through the console, and in one place. It could blend all those sources together; it’s a mixing bowl. It brought all the sounds together so they could all talk to each other. Then I manipulated them and sent them out and that was the soundtrack — all driven by the director, of course.

Can you talk about working with the sound editor?
The editors are my right-hand people. They can shift things and move things and give me another sound. Maybe I need one with more mid-range because the one in there isn’t quite reading. We had a lot of that. Trying to get those explosions to work and to come through John Williams’ score, sometimes we needed something with more low-end and more thump or more crack. There was a handoff in some scenes.

On The Last Jedi, I had sound effects editor Jon Borland with me on the stage. Bonnie Wild had started the project and had prepped a lot of the sounds for several reels — her and Jon and Ren Klyce, who oversaw the whole thing. But Jon was my go-to person on the stage. He did a great job. It was a bit of a daunting task, but Jon is young and wants to learn and gave it everything he had. I love that.

What format was the main mix?
Everything was done in Atmos natively, then we downmixed to 7.1 and 5.1 and all the other formats. We were very diligent about having the downmixed versions match the Atmos mix the best that they could.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’m so glad that Rian chose me to be part of the mix. This film was a lot of fun and a real collaborative effort. Rian is the one who really set that tone. He wanted to hear our ideas and see what we could do. He wasn’t sold on one thing. If something wasn’t working, he would try things out until it did. It was literally sorting out frequencies and getting transitions to work just right. Rian was collaborative, and that creates a room of collaboration. We wanted a great track for the audience to enjoy… a track that went with Rian’s picture.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney


Super Bowl: Sound Lounge’s audio post for Pepsi, NFL and more

By Jennifer Walden

Super Bowl Sunday is an unofficial national holiday in this country, with almost as much excitement for the commercials that air as for the actual game. And regardless of which teams are playing, New York’s advertising and post communities find themselves celebrating, because they know the work they are providing will be seen by millions and talked about repeatedly in offices and on social media. To land a Super Bowl ad is a pretty big deal, and audio post facility Sound Lounge has landed seven!

Tom Jucarone

In this story, president/mixer/sound designer Tom Jucarone, mixer/sound designer Rob DiFondi and mixer/sound designer Glen Landrum share details on how they helped to craft the Super Bowl ads for Pepsi, E*Trade, the NFL and more.

Pepsi This is the Pepsi via Pepsi’s in-house creative team
This spot looks at different Pepsi products through the ages and features different pop-culture icons — like Cindy Crawford — who have endorsed Pepsi over the years. The montage-style ad is narrated by Jimmy Fallon.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Jucarone: What’s unique about this spot is the voiceover — it’s Jimmy Fallon. Sound-wise, the spot was about him and the music more than anything else. The sound effects were playing a very secondary role.

Pepsi had a really interesting vision of how they wanted Jimmy to sound. We spent a lot of time making his voice work well against the music. The Pepsi team wanted Fallon’s voice to have a fullness yet still be bright enough to cut through the heavy-duty music track. They wanted his voice to sound big and full, but without losing the personality.

What tools helped?
I used a few plug-ins on his voice. Obviously, there was some EQ but I also used one plug-in called MaxxBass by Waves, which is a bass enhancement plug-in. With that, I was able to manipulate where on the low-end I could affect his voice with more fullness. Then we added a touch of reverb to make it a bit bigger. For that, I used Audio Ease’s Altiverb but it’s very slight.

Persil Game-Time Stain-Time via DDB New York
In this spot, there’s a time-out during the big game and an announcer on TV taps on the television’s glass — from the inside. He points out a guacamole stain on one viewer’s shirt, then comes through the TV and offers up a jug of laundry detergent. The man’s shirt flies off, goes into the washer and comes out perfect. Suddenly, the shirt is back on the viewer’s body and the announcer returns to inside the TV.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Jucarone: It’s an interesting spot because it’s so totally different from what you’d expect to see during the Super Bowl. It’s this fun, little quirky spot. This guy comes out of the TV and turns all these people onto this product that cleans their clothes. There was no music, just a few magical sound effects. It’s a dialogue-driven spot, so the main task there was to clean up the dialogue and make it clear.

iZotope is my go-to tool for dialogue clean up. I love that program. There are so many different ways to attack the clean up. I’m working on a spot now that has dialogue that is basically not savable, but I think I can save it with iZotope. It’s a great tool — one of the best ones to have. I used RX 6 a lot on the Persil spot, particularly for this one guy who whispers, “What is going on?” The room tone was pretty heavy on that line, and it was one of the funniest lines, so we really wanted that one to be clear.

The approach to all these spots was to find out what unique sonic pieces are important to the story, and those are the ones you want to highlight. Back before the CALM Act, everyone was trying to make their commercial louder than everybody else’s. Now that we have that regulation, we’re a bit more open to making a spot more cinematic. We have a greater opportunity for storytelling.

E*Trade This is Getting Old via MullenLowe
In this spot, a collection of senior citizens sing about still being in the workforce — “I’m eighty-five, and I want to go home.” It’s set to the music of Harry Belafonte’s song “Day-O.” From lifeguard to club DJ, their careers are interesting, sure, but they really want nothing more than to retire.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Jucarone: That spot was difficult because of all the different voices involved, all the different singers. The agency worked with mixer Rob DiFondi and me on this one. Rob did the final mix.

The spot has a music track with solo and group performances. They had recorded the performers at a recording studio and then brought those tracks to us as a playlist of roughly 20 different versions. There were multiple people with multiple different versions, and the challenge was going through all of those to find the most unique and funniest voices for each person. So that took some time. Then, we had to match all of those voices so they sounded similar in tone. We had to re-mix each voice as we found it and used it because it wasn’t already processed. Then we had to also craft the group.
I worked with the agency to get the solo performances finalized and then Rob, the other mixer on it, took over and created the group performances. He had to combine all of these singular voices to make it sound like they were all singing together in a group, which was pretty difficult. It turned out to be a very complex session. We had multiple versions because they wanted to have choices after the fact.

What tools did you use?
There were a couple of different reverbs that really helped on this spot. We used the Waves Renaissance Reverb, and Avid’s Reverb One. We used a fun analog modeling EQ called Waves V-EQ4, which is modeled after a Neve 1081 console EQ. We wanted the individual voices to sound like they were singing together, one after another.

Any particular challenge?
DiFondi: My big job was the background chorus. We had to make a group of eight elderly background singers sound much larger. The problem there was layering the same eight people four times doesn’t net you the same as having 32 individuals. So what I did was treat each track separately. I varied the timing of each layer and I put each one in a separate room using different reverb settings and in the end that gave us the sound of a much larger chorus though we had only eight people.

Super Bowl NFL Celebrations to Come via Grey New York
NY Giants players Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. re-enact the famous last dance from Dirty Dancing, including the legendary lift at the end. The spot starts out realistic with on-camera dialogue for Eli and Odell during a team practice, but then it transitions into more of a music video as the players get wrapped up in the dance.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Landrum: There was lots of mastering on the main music track to get it to pop and be loud on-air. I used the iZotope Neutron for my music track mastering. I love that plug-in and have been using it and learning more about it. It has great multi-band compression, and the exciter is a cool addition to really finesse frequencies.

I think the most interesting part of the process was working with the director and agency creatives and producers to edit the music to match the storyboard they had before the actual shoot. We cut a few versions of varying lengths to give some flexibility. They used the music edits on-set so the guys could dance to it. I thought this was so smart because they would know what’s working and what isn’t while on-set and could adjust accordingly. I know they had a short shoot day so this had to help.

Everything worked out perfectly. I think they edited in less than a week (editor Geoff Hounsell from Arcade Edit, NY) and we mixed in a day or less. The creatives and producers involved with this spot and the NFL account are an awesome group. They make decisions and get it done and the result was amazing. Also, our expert team of producers here made the process smooth as silk during the stressful Super Bowl time.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.  Follow her on Twitter @AudioJeney.


Oscar Watch: The Shape (and sound) of Water

Post production sound mixers Christian Cooke and Brad Zoern, who are nominated (with production mixer Glen Gauthier) for their work on Fox’s The Shape of Water, have sat side-by-side at mixing consoles for nearly a decade. The frequent collaborators, who handle mixing duties at Deluxe Toronto, faced an unusual assignment given that the film’s two lead characters never utter a single word of actual dialogue. In The Shape of Water, which has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is mute and the creature she falls in love with makes undefined sounds. This creative choice placed more than the usual amount of importance on the rest of the soundscape to support the story.

L-R: Nathan Robitaille, J. Miles Dale, Brad Zoern, director Guillermo del Toro, Christian Cooke, Nelson Ferreira, Filip Hosek, Cam McLauchlin, video editor Sidney Wolinsky, Rob Hegedus, Doug Wilkinson.

Cooke, who focused on dialogue and music, and Zoern, who worked with effects, backgrounds and Foley, knew from the start that their work would need to fit into the unique and delicate tone that infused the performances and visuals. Their work began, as always, with pre-dubs followed by three temp mixes of five days each, which allowed for discussion and input from director Guillermo del Toro. It was at the premixes that the mixers got a feel for del Toro’s conception for the film’s soundtrack. “We were more literal at first with some of the sounds,” says Zoern. “He had ideas about blending effects and music. By the time we started on the five-week-long mix, we had a very clear idea about what he was looking for.”

The final mix took place in one of Deluxe Toronto’s five stages, which have identical acoustic qualities and the same Avid Pro Tools-based Harrison MP4D/Avid S6 hybrid console, JBL M2 speakers and Crown amps.

The mixers worked to shape sonic moments that do more than represent “reality,” but create mood and tension. This includes key moments such as the sound of a car’s windshield wipers that build in volume until they take over the track in the form of a metronome-like beat underlining the tension of the moment. One pivotal scene finds Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) paying a visit to Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). As Strickland speaks, Zelda’s husband Brewster (Martin Roach) watches television. “It was an actual mono track from a real show,” Cooke explains. “It starts out sounding roomy and distant as it would really have sounded. As the scene progresses, it expands, getting more prominent and spreading out around the speakers [for the 5.1 version]. By the end of the scene, the audio from the TV has become something totally different from what it started the scene as and then we melded that seamlessly into Alexandre Desplat’s score.”

Beyond the aesthetic work of building a sound mix, particularly one so fluid and expressionistic, post production mixers must also collaborate on a large number of technical decisions during the mix to ensure the elements have the right amount of emotional punch without calling attention to themselves. Individual sounds, even specific frequencies, vie for audience attention and the mixers orchestrate and layer them.

“It’s raining outside when they come into the room,” Zoern notes about the above scene. “We want to initially hear the sound of the rain to have a context for the scene. You never just want dialogue coming out of nowhere; it needs to live in a space. But then we pull that back to focus on the dialogue, and then the [augmented] audio from the TV gains prominence. During the final mix, Chris and I are always working together, side by side, to meld the hundreds of sounds the editors have built in a way that reflects the story and mood of the film.”

“We’re like an old married couple,” Cooke jokes. “We finish each other’s sentences. But it’s very helpful to have that kind of shorthand in this job. We’re blending so many pieces together and if people notice what we’ve done, we haven’t done our jobs.”

Super Bowl: Heard City’s audio post for Tide, Bud and more

By Jennifer Walden

New York audio post house Heard City put their collaborative workflow design to work on the Super Bowl ad campaign for Tide. Philip Loeb, partner/president of Heard City, reports that their facility is set up so that several sound artists can work on the same project simultaneously.

Loeb also helped to mix and sound design many of the other Super Bowl ads that came to Heard City, including ads for Budweiser, Pizza Hut, Blacture, Tourism Australia and the NFL.

Here, Loeb and mixer/sound designer Michael Vitacco discuss the approach and the tools that their team used on these standout Super Bowl spots.

Philip Loeb

Tide’s It’s a Tide Ad campaign via Saatchi & Saatchi New York
Is every Super Bowl ad really a Tide ad in disguise? A string of commercials touting products from beer to diamonds, and even a local ad for insurance, are interrupted by David Harbour (of Stranger Things fame). He declares that those ads are actually just Tide commercials, as everyone is wearing such clean clothes.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Loeb: These spots, four in total, involved sound design and mixing, as well as ADR. One of our mixers, Evan Mangiamele, conducted an ADR session with David Harbour, who was in Hawaii, and we integrated that into the commercial. In addition, we recorded a handful of different characters for the lead-ins for each of the different vignettes because we were treating each of those as different commercials. We had to be mindful of a male voiceover starting one and then a female voiceover starting another so that they were staggered.

There was one vignette for Old Spice, and since the ads were for P&G, we did get the Old Spice pneumonic and we did try something different at the end — with one version featuring the character singing the pneumonic and one of him whistling it. There were many different variations and we just wanted, in the end, to get part of the pneumonic into the joke at the end.

The challenge with the Tide campaign, in particular, was to make each of these vignettes feel like it was a different commercial and to treat each one as such. There’s an overall mix level that goes into that but we wanted certain ones to have a little bit more dynamic range than the others. For example, there is a cola vignette that’s set on a beach with people taking a selfie. David interrupts them by saying, “No, it’s a Tide ad.”

For that spot, we had to record a voiceover that was very loud and energetic to go along with a loud and energetic music track. That vignette cuts into the “personal digital assistant” (think Amazon’s Alexa) spot. We had to be very mindful of these ads flowing into each other while making it clear to the viewer that these were different commercials with different products, not one linear ad. Each commercial required its own voiceover, its own sound design, its own music track, and its own tone.

One vignette was about car insurance featuring a mechanic in a white shirt under a car. That spot isn’t letterbox like the others; it’s 4:3 because it’s supposed to be a local ad. We made that vignette sound more like a local ad; it’s a little over-compressed, a little over-equalized and a little videotape sounding. The music is mixed a little low. We wanted it to sound like the dialogue is really up front so as to get the message across, like a local advertisement.

What’s your workflow like?
Loeb: At Heard City, our workflow is unique in that we can have multiple mixers working on the same project simultaneously. This collaborative process makes our work much more efficient, and that was our original intent when we opened the company six years ago. The model came to us by watching the way that the bigger VFX companies work. Each artist takes a different piece of the project and then all of the work is combined at the end.

We did that on the Tide campaign, and there was no other way we could have done it due to the schedule. Also, we believe this workflow provides a much better product. One sound artist can be working specifically on the sound design while another can be mixing. So as I was working on mixing, Evan was flying in his sound design to me. It was a lot of fun working on it like that.

What tools helped you to create the sound?
One plug-in we’re finding to be very helpful is the iZotope Neutron. We put that on the master bus and we have found many settings that work very well on broadcast projects. It’s a very flexible tool.

Vitacco: The Neutron has been incredibly helpful overall in balancing out the mix. There are some very helpful custom settings that have helped to create a dynamic mix for air.

Tourism Australia Dundee via Droga5 New York
Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth star in this movie-trailer-turned-tourism-ad for Australia. It starts out as a movie trailer for a new addition to the Crocodile Dundee film franchise — well, rather, a spoof of it. There’s epic music featuring a didgeridoo and title cards introducing the actors and setting up the premise for the “film.” Then there’s talk of miles of beaches and fine wine and dining. It all seems a bit fishy, but finally Danny McBride confirms that this is, in fact, actually a tourism ad.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Vitacco: In this case, we were creating a fake movie trailer that’s a misdirect for the audience, so we aimed to create sound design that was both in the vein of being big and epic and also authentic to the location of the “film.”

One of the things that movie trailers often draw upon is a consistent mnemonic to drive home a message. So I helped to sound design a consistent mnemonic for each of the title cards that come up.

For this I used some Native Instruments toolkits, like “Rise & Hit” and “Gravity,” and Tonsturm’s Whoosh software to supplement some existing sound design to create that consistent and branded mnemonic.

In addition, we wanted to create an authentic sonic palette for the Australian outback where a lot of the footage was shot. I had to be very aware of the species of animals and insects that were around. I drew upon sound effects that were specifically from Australia. All sound effects were authentic to that entire continent.

Another factor that came into play was that anytime you are dealing with a spot that has a lot of soundbites, especially ones recorded outside, there tends to be a lot of noise reduction taking place. I didn’t have to hit it too hard because everything was recorded very well. For cleanup, I used the iZotope RX 6 — both the RX Connect and the RX Denoiser. I relied on that heavily, as well as the Waves WNS plug-in, just to make sure that things were crisp and clear. That allowed me the flexibility to add my own ambient sound and have more control over the mix.

Michael Vitacco

In RX, I really like to use the Denoiser instead of the Dialogue Denoiser tool when possible. I’ll pull out the handles of the production sound and grab a long sample of noise. Then I’ll use the Denoiser because I find that works better than the Dialogue Denoiser.

Budweiser Stand By You via David Miami
The phone rings in the middle of the night. A man gets out of bed, prepares to leave and kisses his wife good-bye. His car radio announces that a natural disaster is affecting thousands of families who are in desperate need of aid. The man arrives at a Budweiser factory and helps to organize the production of canned water instead of beer.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Loeb: For this spot, I did a preliminary mix where I handled the effects, the dialogue and the music. We set the preliminary tone for that as to how we were going to play the effects throughout it.

The spot starts with a husband and wife asleep in bed and they’re awakened by a phone call. Our sound focused on the dialogue and effects upfront, and also the song. I worked on this with another fantastic mixer here at Heard City, Elizabeth McClanahan, who comes from a music background. She put her ears to the track and did an amazing job of remixing the stems.

On the master track in the Pro Tools session, she used iZotope’s Neutron, as well as the FabFilter Pro-L limiter, which helps to contain the mix. One of the tricks on a dynamic mix like that — which starts off with that quiet moment in the morning and then builds with the music in the end — is to keep it within the restrictions of the CALM Act and other specifications that stipulate dynamic range and not just average loudness. We had to be mindful of how we were treating those quiet portions and the lower portions so that we still had some dynamic range but we weren’t out of spec.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @AudioJeney.