Category Archives: Audio Mixing

Capturing Foley for Epix’s Berlin Station

Now in its second season on Epix, the drama series Berlin Station centers on undercover agents, diplomats and whistleblowers inhabiting a shadow world inside the German capital.

Leslie Bloome

Working under the direction of series supervising sound editor Ruy Garcia, Westchester, New York-based Foley studio Alchemy Post Sound is providing Berlin Station with cinematic sound. Practical effects, like the clatter of weapons and clinking glass, are recorded on the facility’s main Foley stage. Certain environmental effects are captured on location at sites whose ambience is like the show’s settings. Interior footsteps, meanwhile, are recorded in the facility’s new “live” room, a 1,300-square-foot space with natural reverb that’s used to replicate the environment of rooms with concrete, linoleum and tile floors.

Garcia wants a soundtrack with a lot of detail and depth of field,” explains lead Foley artist and Alchemy Post founder Leslie Bloome. “So, it’s important to perform sounds in the proper perspective. Our entire team of editors, engineers and Foley artists need to be on point regarding the location and depth of field of sounds we’re recording. Our aim is to make every setting feel like a real place.”

A frequent task for the Foley team is to come up with sounds for high-tech cameras, surveillance equipment and other spy gadgetry. Foley artist Joanna Fang notes that sophisticated wall safes appear in several episodes, each one featuring differing combinations of electronic, latch and door sounds. She adds that in one episode a character has a microchip concealed in his suit jacket and the Foley team needed to invent the muffled crunch the chip makes when the man is frisked. “It’s one of those little ‘non-sounds’ that Foley specializes in,” she says. “Most people take it for granted, but it helps tell the story.”

The team is also called on to create Foley effects associated with specific exterior and interior locations. This can include everything from seedy safe houses and bars to modern office suites and upscale hotel rooms. When possible, Alchemy prefers to record such effects on location at sites closely resembling those pictured on-screen. Bloome says that recording things like creaky wood floors on location results in effects that sound more real. “The natural ambiance allows us to grab the essence of the moment,” he explains, “and keep viewers engaged with the scene.”

Footsteps are another regular Foley task. Fang points out that there is a lot of cat-and-mouse action with one character following another or being pursued, and the patter of footsteps adds to the tension. “The footsteps are kind of tough,” she says. “Many of the characters are either diplomats or spies and they all wear hard soled shoes. It’s hard to build contrast, so we end up creating a hierarchy, dark powerful heels for strong characters, lighter shoes for secondary roles.”

For interior footsteps, large theatrical curtains are used to adjust the ambiance in the live stage to fit the scene. “If it’s an office or a small room in a house, we draw the curtains to cut the room in half; if it’s a hotel lobby, we open them up,” Fang explains. “It’s amazing. We’re not only creating depth and contrast by using different types of shoes and walking surfaces, we’re doing it by adjusting the size of the recording space.”

Alchemy edits their Foley in-house and delivers pre-mixed and synced Foley that can be dropped right into the final mix seamlessly. “The things we’re doing with location Foley and perspective mixing are really cool,” says Foley editor and mixer Nicholas Seaman. “But it also means the responsibility for getting the sound right falls squarely on our shoulders. There is no ‘fix in the mix.’ From our point of view, the Foley should be able to stand on its own. You should be able to watch a scene and understand what’s going on without hearing a single line of dialogue.”

The studio used Neumann U87 and KMR81 microphones, a Millennia mic-pre and Apogee converter, all recorded into Avid Pro Tools on a C24 console. In addition to recording a lot of guns, Alchemy also borrowed a Doomsday prep kit for some of the sounds.

The challenge to deliver sound effects that can stand up to that level of scrutiny keeps the Foley team on its toes. “It’s a fascinating show,” says Fang. “One moment, we’re inside the station with the usual office sounds and in the next edit, we’re in the field in the middle of a machine gun battle. From one episode to the next, we never know what’s going to be thrown at us.”

Coco’s sound story — music, guitars and bones

By Jennifer Walden

Pixar’s animated Coco is a celebration of music, family and death. In the film, a young Mexican boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of being a musician just like his great-grandfather, even though his family is dead-set against it. On the evening of Día de los Muertos (the Mexican holiday called Day of the Dead), Miguel breaks into the tomb of legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and tries to steal his guitar. The attempted theft transforms Miguel into a spirit, and as he flees the tomb he meets his deceased ancestors in the cemetery.

Together they travel to the Land of the Dead where Miguel discovers that in order to return to life he must have the blessing of his family. The matriarch, great-grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) gives her blessing with one stipulation, that Miguel can never be a musician. Feeling as though he cannot live without music, Miguel decides to seek out the blessing of his musician great-grandfather.

Music is intrinsically tied to the film’s story, and therefore to the film’s soundtrack. Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar is like another character in the film. The Skywalker Sound team handled all the physical guitar effects, from subtle to destructive. Although they didn’t handle any of the music, they covered everything from fret handling and body thumps to string breaks and smashing sounds. “There was a lot of interaction between music and effects, and a fine balance between them, given that the guitar played two roles,” says supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer Christopher Boyes, who was just nominated for a CAS award for his mixing work on Coco. His Skywalker team on the film included co-supervising sound editor J.R. Grubbs, sound effects editors Justin Doyle and Jack Whittaker, and sound design assistant Lucas Miller.

Boyes bought a beautiful guitar from a pawn shop in Petaluma near their Northern California location, and he and his assistant Miller spent a day recording string sounds and handling sounds. “Lucas said that one of the editors wanted us to cut the guitar strings,” says Boyes. “I was reluctant to cut the strings on this beautiful guitar, but we finally decided to do it to get the twang sound effects. Then Lucas said that we needed to go outside and smash the guitar. This was not an inexpensive guitar. I told him there was no way we were going to smash this guitar, and we didn’t! That was not a sound we were going to create by smashing the actual guitar! But we did give it a couple of solid hits just to get a nice rhythmic sound.”

To capture the true essence of Día de los Muertos in Mexico, Boyes and Grubbs sent effects recordists Daniel Boyes, Scott Guitteau, and John Fasal to Oaxaca to get field recordings of the real 2016 Día de los Muertos celebrations. “These recordings were essential to us and director Lee Unkrich, as well as to Pixar, for documenting and honoring the holiday. As such, the recordings formed the backbone of the ambience depicted in the track. I think this was a crucial element of our journey,” says Boyes.

Just as the celebration sound of Día de los Muertos was important, so too was the sound of Miguel’s town. The team needed to provide a realistic sense of a small Mexican town to contrast with the phantasmagorical Land of the Dead, and the recordings that were captured in Mexico were a key building block for that environment. Co-supervising sound editor Grubbs says, “Those recordings were invaluable when we began to lay the background tracks for locations like the plaza, the family compound, the workshop, and the cemetery. They allowed us to create a truly rich and authentic ambiance for Miguel’s home town.”

Bone Collecting
Another prominent set of sounds in Coco are the bones. Boyes notes that director Unkrich had specific guidelines for how the bones should sound. Characters like Héctor (Gael García Bernal), who are stuck in the Land of the Dead and are being forgotten by those still alive, needed to have more rattle-y sounding bones, as if the skeleton could come apart easily. “Héctor’s life is about to dissipate away, just as we saw with his friend Chicharrón [Edward James Olmos] on the docks, so their skeletal structure is looser. Héctor’s bones demonstrated that right from the get-go,” he explains.

In contrast, if someone is well remembered, such as de la Cruz, then the skeletal structure should sound tight. “In Miguel’s family, Papá Julio [Alfonso Arau] comically bursts apart many times, but he goes back together as a pretty solid structure,” explains Boyes. “Lee [Unkrich] wanted to dig into that dynamic first of all, to have that be part of the fabric that tells the story. Certain characters are going to be loose because nobody remembers them and they’re being forgotten.”

Creating the bone sounds was the biggest challenge for Boyes as a sound designer. Unkrich wanted to hear the complexity of the bones, from the clatter and movement down to the detail of cartilage. “I was really nervous about the bones challenge because it’s a sound that’s not easily embedded into a track without calling attention to itself, especially if it’s not done well,” admits Boyes.

Boyes started his bone sound collection by recording a mobile he built using different elements, like real bones, wooden dowels, little stone chips and other things that would clatter and rattle. Then one day Boyes stumbled onto an interesting bone sound while making a coconut smoothie. “I cracked an egg into the smoothie and threw the eggshell into the empty coconut hull and it made a cool sound. So I played with that. Then I was hitting the coconut on concrete, and from all of those sources I created a library of bone sounds.” Foley also contributed to the bone sounds, particularly for the literal, physical movements, like walking.

According to Grubbs, the bone sounds were designed and edited by the Skywalker team and then presented to the directors over several playbacks. The final sound of the skeletons is a product of many design passes, which were carefully edited in conjunction with the Foley bone recordings and sometimes used in combination with the Foley.

L-R: J.R. Grubbs and Chris Boyes

Because the film is so musical, the bone tracks needed to have a sense of rhythm and timing. To hit moments in a musical way, Boyes loaded bone sounds and other elements into Native Instruments’ Kontakt and played them via a MIDI keyboard. “One place for the bones that was really fun was when Héctor went into the security office at the train station,” says Boyes.

Héctor comes apart and his fingers do a little tap dance. That kind of stuff really lent to the playfulness of his character and it demonstrated the looseness of his skeletal structure.”

From a sound perspective, Boyes feels that Coco is a great example of how movies should be made. During editorial, he and Grubbs took numerous trips to Pixar to sit down with the directors and the picture department. For several months before the final mix, they played sequences for Unkrich that they wanted to get direction on. “We would play long sections of just sound effects, and Lee — being such a student of filmmaking and being an animator — is quite comfortable with diving down into the nitty-gritty of just simple elements. It was really a collaborative and healthy experience. We wanted to create the track that Lee wanted and wanted to make sure that he knew what we were up to. He was giving us direction the whole way.”

The Mix
Boyes mixed alongside re-recording mixer Michael Semanick (music/dialogue) on Skywalker’s Kurosawa Stage. They mixed in native Dolby Atmos on a DFC console. While Boyes mixed, effects editor Doyle handled last-minute sound effects needs on the stage, and Grubbs ran the logistics of the show. Grubbs notes that although he and Boyes have worked together for a long time this was the first time they’ve shared a supervising credit.

“J.R. [Grubbs] and I have been working together for probably 30 years now.” Says Boyes. “He always helped to run the show in a very supervisory way, so I just felt it was time he started getting credit for that. He’s really kept us on track, and I’m super grateful to him.”

One helpful audio tool for Boyes during the mix was the Valhalla Room reverb, which he used on Miguel’s footsteps inside de la Cruz’s tomb. “Normally, I don’t use plug-ins at all when I’m mixing. I’m a traditional mixer who likes to use a console and TC Electronic’s TC 6000 and the Leixcon 480 reverb as outboard gear. But in this one case, the Valhalla Room plug-in had a preset that really gave me a feeling of the stone tomb.”

Unkrich allowed Semanick and Boyes to have a first pass at the soundtrack to get it to a place they felt was playable, and then he took part in the final mix process with them. “I just love Lee’s respect for us; he gives us time to get the soundtrack into shape. Then, he sat there with us for 9 to 10 hours a day, going back and forth, frame by frame at times and section by section. Lee could hear everything, and he was able to give us definitive direction throughout. The mix was achieved by and directed by Lee, every frame. I love that collaboration because we’re here to bring his vision and Pixar’s vision to the screen. And the best way to do that is to do it in the collaborative way that we did,” concludes Boyes.

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

Cinna 1.2

The 54th annual CAS Award nominees

The Cinema Audio Society announced the nominees for the 54th Annual CAS Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing. There are seven creative categories for 2017, and the Outstanding Product nominations were revealed as well.

Here are this year’s nominees:

Baby Driver

Motion Picture – Live Action

Baby Driver

Production Mixer – Mary H. Ellis, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Julian Slater, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Cavagin

Scoring Mixer – Gareth Cousins, CAS

ADR Mixer – Mark Appleby

Foley Mixer – Glen Gathard


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

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Production Mixer – Stuart Wilson, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – David Parker

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Re-recording Mixer – Ren Klyce

Scoring Mixer – Shawn Murphy

ADR Mixer – Doc Kane, CAS

Foley Mixer – Frank Rinella

The Shape of Water

Production Mixer – Glen Gauthier

Re-recording Mixer – Christian T. Cooke, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Brad Zoern, CAS

Scoring Mixer – Peter Cobbin

ADR Mixer – Chris Navarro, CAS

Foley Mixer – Peter Persaud, CAS

Wonder Woman

Production Mixer – Chris Munro, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Chris Burdon

Re-recording Mixer – Gilbert Lake, CAS

Scoring Mixer – Alan Meyerson, CAS

ADR Mixer – Nick Kray

Foley Mixer – Glen Gathard


Motion Picture Animated

The Lego Batman Movie

Cars 3

Original Dialogue Mixer – Doc Kane, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tom Meyers

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Re-recording Mixer – Nathan Nance

Scoring Mixer – David Boucher

Foley Mixer – Blake Collins


Original Dialogue Mixer – Vince Caro

Re-recording Mixer – Christopher Boyes

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Scoring Mixer – Joel Iwataki

Foley Mixer – Blake Collins

Despicable Me 3

Original Dialogue Mixer – Carlos Sotolongo

Re-recording Mixer – Randy Thom, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Nielson

Re-recording Mixer – Brandon Proctor

Scoring Mixer – Greg Hayes

Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis


Original Dialogue Mixer – Bill Higley, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Randy Thom, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Lora Hirschberg

Re-recording Mixer – Leff Lefferts

Scoring Mixer – Shawn Murphy

Foley Mixer – Scott Curtis

The Lego Batman Movie

Original Dialogue Mixer – Jason Oliver

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Semanick

Re-recording Mixer – Gregg Landaker

Re-recording Mixer – Wayne Pashley

Scoring Mixer – Stephen Lipson

Foley Mixer – Lisa Simpson


Motion Picture – Documentary

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Production Mixer – Gabriel Monts

Re-recording Mixer – Kent Sparling

Re-recording Mixer – Gary Rizzo, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Zach Martin

Scoring Mixer – Jeff Beal

Foley Mixer – Jason Butler

Long Strange Trip

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Cavagin

Re-recording Mixer – William Miller

ADR Mixer – Adam Mendez, CAS

Gaga: Five Feet Two

Re-recording Mixer – Jonathan Wales, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Jason Dotts


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

Long Strange Trip

Production Mixer – David Silberberg

Re-recording Mixer – Bob Chefalas

Re-recording Mixer – Jacob Ribicoff


Television Movie Or Mini-Series

Big Little Lies: “You Get What You Need”

Production Mixer – Brendan Beebe, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Gavin Fernandes, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Louis Gignac

Black Mirror: “USS Callister”

Production Mixer – John Rodda, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Tim Cavagin


Re-recording Mixer – Dafydd Archard

Re-recording Mixer – Will Miller

ADR Mixer – Nick Baldock

Foley Mixer – Sophia Hardman

Fargo: ”The Narrow Escape Problem”

Production Mixer – Michael Playfair, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Kirk Lynds, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Martin Lee

Scoring Mixer – Michael Perfitt

Sherlock: “The Lying Detective”

Production Mixer –John Mooney, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Howard Bargroff

Scoring Mixer – Nick Wollage

ADR Mixer – Peter Gleaves, CAS

Foley Mixer – Jamie Talbutt

Twin Peaks: “Gotta Light?”

Production Mixer – Douglas Axtell

Re-recording Mixer –Dean Hurley

Re-recording Mixer – Ron Eng


Television Series – 1-Hour

Better Call Saul: “Lantern”

Production Mixer – Phillip W. Palmer, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Larry B. Benjamin, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Kevin Valentine

ADR Mixer – Matt Hovland

Foley Mixer – David Michael Torres, CAS

Game of Thrones: “Beyond the Wall”

Game of Thrones

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

Stranger Things: “The Mind Flayer”

Production Mixer – Michael P. Clark, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Joe Barnett

Re-recording Mixer – Adam Jenkins

ADR Mixer – Bill Higley, CAS

Foley Mixer – Anthony Zeller, CAS

The Crown: “Misadventure”

Production Mixer – Chris Ashworth

Re-recording Mixer – Lee Walpole

Re-recording Mixer – Stuart Hilliker

Re-recording Mixer – Martin Jensen

ADR Mixer – Rory de Carteret

Foley Mixer – Philip Clements

The Handmaid’s Tale: “Offred”

Production Mixer – John J. Thomson, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Lou Solakofski

Re-recording Mixer – Joe Morrow

Foley Mixer – Don White


Television Series – 1/2 Hour

Ballers: “Yay Area”

Production Mixer – Scott Harber, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Richard Weingart, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Michael Colomby, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Mitch Dorf

Black-ish: “Juneteenth, The Musical”

Production Mixer – Tom N. Stasinis, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Peter J. Nusbaum, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Whitney Purple

Modern Family: “Lake Life”

Production Mixer – Stephen A. Tibbo, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Dean Okrand, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Brian R. Harman, CAS

Silicon Valley: “Hooli-Con”

Production Mixer – Benjamin A. Patrick, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Elmo Ponsdomenech

Re-recording Mixer – Todd Beckett

Veep: “Omaha”

Production Mixer – William MacPherson, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – John W. Cook II, CAS

Re-recording Mixer – Bill Freesh, CAS


Television Non-Fiction, Variety Or Music Series Or Specials

American Experience: “The Great War – Part 3”

Production Mixer – John Jenkins

Re-Recording Mixer – Ken Hahn

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Oman”

Re-Recording Mixer – Benny Mouthon, CAS

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Deadliest Catch: “Last Damn Arctic Storm”

Re-Recording Mixer – John Warrin

Rolling Stone: “Stories from the Edge”

Production Mixer – David Hocs

Production Mixer – Tom Tierney

Re-Recording Mixer – Tom Fleischman, CAS

Who Killed Tupac?: “Murder in Vegas”

Production Mixer – Steve Birchmeier

Re-Recording Mixer – John Reese


Nominations For Outstanding Product – Production

DPA – DPA Slim

Lectrosonics – Duet Digital Wireless Monitor System

Sonosax – SX-R4+

Sound Devices – Mix Pre- 10T Recorder

Zaxcom – ZMT3-Phantom


Nominations For Outstanding Product – Post Production

Dolby – Dolby Atmos Content Creation Tools

FabFilter – Pro Q2 Equalizer

Exponential Audio – R4 Reverb

iZotope – RX 6 Advanced

Todd-AO – Absentia DX

The Awards will be presented at a ceremony on February 24 at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza. This year’s CAS Career Achievement Award will be presented to re-recording mixer Anna Behlmer, the CAS Filmmaker Award will be given to Joe Wright and the Edward J. Greene Award for the Advancement of Sound will be presented to Tomlinson Holman, CAS. The Student Recognition Award winner will also be named and will receive a cash prize.

Main Photo: Wonder Woman

Mixing the sounds of history for Marshall

By Jennifer Walden

Director Reginald Hudlin’s courtroom drama Marshall tells the story of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) during his early career as a lawyer. The film centers on a case Marshall took in Connecticut in the early 1940s. He defended a black chauffeur named Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) who was charged with attempted murder and sexual assault of his rich, white employer Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).

At that time, racial discrimination and segregation were widespread even in the North, and Marshall helped to shed light on racial inequality by taking on Spell’s case and making sure he got a fair trial. It’s a landmark court case that is not only of huge historical consequence but is still relevant today.

Mixers Anna Behlmer and Craig Mann

Marshall is so significant right now with what’s happening in the world,” says Oscar-nominated re-recording mixer Anna Behlmer, who handled the effects on the film. “It’s not often that you get to work on a biographical film of someone who lived and breathed and did amazing things as far as freedom for minorities. Marshall began the NAACP and argued Brown vs. Dept. of Education for stopping the segregation of the schools. So, in that respect, I felt the weight and the significance of this film.”

Oscar-winning supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Craig Mann handled the dialogue and music. Behlmer and Mann mixed Marshall in 5.1 surround on a Euphonix System 5 console on Stage 2 at Technicolor at Paramount in Hollywood.

In the film, crowds gather on the steps outside the courthouse — a mixture of supporters and opponents shouting their opinions on the case. When dealing with shouting crowds in a film, Mann likes to record the loop group for those scenes outside. “We recorded in Technicolor’s backlot, which gives a nice slap off all the buildings,” says Mann, who miked the group from two different perspectives to capture the feeling that they’re actually outside. For the close-mic rig, Mann used an L-C-R setup with two Schoeps CMC641s for left and right and a CMIT 5U for center, feeding into a TASCAM HSP-82 8-channel recorder.

“We used the CMIT 5U mic because that was the production boom mic and we knew we’d be intermingling our recordings with the production sound, because they recorded some sound on the courthouse stairs,” says Mann. “We matched that up so that it would anchor everything in the center.”

For the distant rig, Mann went with a Sanken CSS-5 set to record in stereo, feeding a Sound Devices 722. Since they were running two setups simultaneously, Mann says they beeped everyone with a bullhorn to get slate sync for the two rigs. Then to match the timing of the chanting with production sound, they had a playback rig with eight headphone feeds out to chosen leaders from the 20-person loop group. “The people wearing headphones could sync up to the production chanting and those without headphones followed along with the people who had them on.”

Inside the courtroom, the atmosphere is quiet and tense. Mann recorded the loop group (inside the studio this time) reacting as non-verbally as possible. “We wanted to use the people in the gallery as a tool for tension. We do all of that without being too heavy handed, or too hammy,” he says.

Sound Effects
On the effects side, the Foley — provided by Foley artist John Sievert and his team at JRS Productions in Toronto — was a key element in the courtroom scenes. Each chair creak and paper shuffle plays to help emphasize the drama. Behlmer references a quiet scene in which Thurgood is arguing with his other attorney defending the case, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad). “They weren’t arguing with their voices. Instead, they were shuffling papers and shoving things back and forth. The defendant even asks if everything is ok with them. Those sounds helped to convey what was going on without them speaking,” she says.

You can hear the chair creak as Judge Foster (James Cromwell) leans forward and raises an eyebrow and hear people in the gallery shifting in their seats as they listen to difficult testimony or shocking revelations. “Something as simple as people shifting on the bench to underscore how uncomfortable the moment was, those sounds go a long way when you do a film like this,” says Behlmer.

During the testimony, there are flashback sequences that illustrate each person’s perception of what happened during the events in question. The flashback effect is partially created through the picture (the flashbacks are colored differently) and partially through sound. Mann notes that early on, they made the decision to omit most of the sounds during the flashbacks so that the testimony wouldn’t be overshadowed.

“The spoken word was so important,” adds Behlmer. “It was all about clarity, and it was about silence and tension. There were revelations in the courtroom that made people gasp and then there were uncomfortable pauses. There was a delicacy with which this mix had to be done, especially with regards to Foley. When a film is really quiet and delicate and tense, then every little nuance is important.”

Away from the courthouse, the film has a bit of fun. There’s a jazz club scene in which Thurgood and his friends cut loose for the evening. A band and a singer perform on stage to a packed club. The crowd is lively. Men and women are talking and laughing and there’s the sound of glasses clinking. Behlmer mixed the crowds by following the camera movement to reinforce what’s on-screen.

On the music side, Mann’s challenge was to get the brass — the trumpet and trombone — to sit in a space that didn’t interfere too much with the dialogue. On the other hand, Mann still wanted the music to feel exciting. “We had to get the track all jazz-clubbed up. It was about finding a reverb that was believable for the space. It was about putting the vocals and brass upfront and having the drums and bass be accompaniment.”

Having the stems helped Mann to not only mix the music against the dialogue but to also fit the music to the image on-screen. During the performance, the camera is close-up and sweeping along the band. Mann used the music stems to pan the instruments to match the scene. The shot cuts away from the performance to Thurgood and his friends at a table in the back of the club. Using the stems, Mann could duck out of the singer’s vocals and other louder elements to make way for the dialogue. “The music was very dynamic. We had to be careful that it didn’t interfere too much with the dialogue, but at the same time we wanted it to play.”

On the score, Mann used Exponential Audio’s R4 reverb to set the music back into the mix. “I set it back a bit farther than I normally would have just to give it some space, so that I didn’t have to turn it down for dialogue clarity. It got it to shine but it was a little distant compared to what it was intended to be.”

Behlmer and Mann feel the mix was pretty straightforward. Their biggest obstacle was the schedule. The film had to be mixed in just ten days. “I didn’t even have pre-dubs. It was just hang and go. I was hearing everything for the first time when I sat down to mix it — final mix it,” explains Behlmer.

With Mann working the music and dialogue faders, co-supervising sound editor Bruce Tanis was supplying Behlmer with elements she needed during the final mix. “I would say Bruce was my most valuable asset. He’s the MVP of Marshall for the effects side of the board,” she says.

On the dialogue side, Mann says his gear MVP was iZotope RX 6. With so many quiet moments, the dialogue was exposed. It played prominently, without music or busy backgrounds to help hide any flaws. And the director wanted to preserve the on-camera performances so ADR was not an option.

“We tried to use alts to work our way out of a few problems, and we were successful. But there were a few shots in the courtroom that began as tight shots on boom and then cuts wide, so the boom had to pull back and we had to jump onto the lavs there,” concludes Mann. “Having iZotope to help tie those together, so that the cut was imperceptible, was key.”

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

Blade Runner 2049’s dynamic and emotional mix

By Jennifer Walden

“This film has more dynamic range than any movie we’ve ever mixed,” explains re-recording mixer Doug Hemphill of the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. He and re-recording mixer Ron Bartlett, from Formosa Group, worked with director Denis Villeneuve to make sure the audio matched the visual look of the film. From the pounding sound waves of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score to the overwhelming wash of Los Angeles’s street-level soundscape, there’s massive energy in the film’s sonic peaks.

L-R: Ron Bartlett, Denis Villeneuve, Joe Walker, Ben Wallfisch and Doug Hemphill. Credit: Clint Bennett

The first time K (Ryan Gosling) arrives in Los Angeles in the film, the audience is blasted with a Vangelis-esque score that is reminiscent of the original Blade Runner, and that was ultimately the goal there — to envelope the audience in the Blade Runner experience. “That was our benchmark for the biggest, most enveloping sound sequence — without being harsh or loud. We wanted the audience to soak it in. It was about filling out the score, using all the elements in Hans Zimmer’s and Ben Wallfisch’s arsenal there,” says Bartlett, who handled the dialogue and music in the mix.

He and Villeneuve went through a wealth of musical elements — all of which were separated so Villeneuve could pick the ones he liked. His preference gravitated toward the analog synth sounds, like the Yamaha CS-80, which composer Vangelis used in his 1982 Blade Runner composition. “We featured those synth sounds throughout the movie,” says Bartlett. “I played with the spatial aspects, spreading certain elements into the room to envelope you into the score. It was very immersive that way.”

Bartlett notes that initially there were sounds from the original Blade Runner in their mix, like huge drum hits from the original score that were converted into 7.1 versions by supervising sound editor Mark Mangini at Formosa Group. Bartlett used those drum hits as punctuation throughout the film, for scene changes and transitions. “Those hits were everywhere. Actually, they’re the first sound in the movie. Then you can hear those big drum hits in the Vegas walk. That Vegas walk had another score with it, but we kept stripping it away until we were down to just those drum hits. It’s so dramatic.”

But halfway into the final mix for Blade Runner 2049, Mangini phoned Bartlett to tell him that the legal department said they couldn’t use any of those sounds from the original film. They’d need to replace them immediately. “Since I’m a percussionist, Mark asked if I could remake the drum hits. I stayed up until 3am and redid them all in my studio in 7.1, and then brought them in and replaced them throughout the movie. Mark had to make all these new spinner sounds and replace those in the film. That was an interesting moment,” reveals Bartlett.

Sounds of the City
Los Angeles 2049 is a multi-tiered city. Each level offers a different sonic experience. The zen-like prayer that’s broadcast at the top level gradually transforms into a cacophony the closer one gets to street-level. Advertisements, announcements, vehicles, music from storefronts and vending machine sounds mix with multi-language crowds — there’s Russian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and the list goes on. The city is bursting with sound, and Hemphill enhanced that experience by using Cargo Cult’s Spanner on the crowd effects during the scene where K is sitting outside of Bibi’s Bar to put the crowds around the theater and “give the audience a sense of this crush of humanity,” he says.

The city experience could easily be chaotic, but Hemphill and Bartlett made careful choices on the stage to “rack the focus” — determining for the audience what they should be listening to. “We needed to create the sense that you’re in this overpopulated city environment, but it still had to make sense. The flow of the sound is like ‘musique concrète.’ The sounds have a rhythm and movement that’s musical. It’s not random. There’s a flow,” explains Hemphill, who has an Oscar for his work on The Last of the Mohicans.

Bartlett adds that their goal was to keep a sense of clarity as the camera traveled through the street scene. If there was a big, holographic ad in the forefront, they’d focus on that, and as the scene panned away another sound would drive the mix. “We had to delete some of the elements and then move sounds around. It was a difficult scene and we took a long time on it but we’re happy with the clarity.”

On the quiet end of the spectrum, the film’s soundtrack shines. Spaces are defined with textural ambiences and handcrafted reverbs. Bartlett worked with a new reverb called DSpatial created by Rafael Duyos. “Mark Mangini and I helped to develop DSpatial. It’s a very unique reverb,” says Bartlett.

According to the website, DSpatial Reverb is a space modeler and renderer that offers 48 decorrelated outputs. It doesn’t use recorded impulse responses; instead it uses modeled IRs. This allows the user to select and tweak a series of parameters, like surface texture and space size, to model the acoustic and physical characteristics of any room. “It’s a decorrelated reverb, meaning you can add as many channels as you like and pan them into every Dolby Atmos speaker that is in the room. That wasn’t the only reverb we used, but it was the main one we used in specific environments in the film,” says Bartlett.

In combination with DSpatial, Bartlett used Audio Ease’s Altiverb, FabFilter reverbs and Cargo Cult’s Slapper delay to help create the multifaceted reflections that define the spaces on-screen so well. “We tried to make each space different, “says Bartlett. “We tried to evoke an emotion through the choices of reverbs and delays. It was never just one reverb or delay. I used two or three. It was very interesting creating those textures and creating those rooms.”

For example, in the Tyrell Corporation building, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto)’s private office is a cold, lonely space. Water surrounds a central platform; reflections play on the imposing stone walls. “The way that Roger Deakins lit it was just stunning,” says Bartlett. “It really evoked a cool emotion. That’s what is so intangible about what we do, creating those emotions out of sound.” In addition to DSpatial, Altiverb and FabFilter reverbs, he used Cargo Cult’s Slapper delay, which “added a soft rolling, slight echo to Jared Leto’s voice that made him feel a little more God-like. It gave his voice a unique presence without being distracting.”

Another stunning example of Bartlett’s reverb work was K’s entrance into Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) casino hideout. The space is dead quiet then K opens the door and the sound rings out and slowly dissipates. It conveys the feeling that this is a vast, isolated, and empty space. “It was a combination of three reverbs and a delay that made that happen, so the tail had a really nice shine to it,” says Bartlett.

One of the most difficult rooms to find artistically, says Bartlett, was that of the memory maker, Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri). “Everyone had a different idea of what that dome might sound like. We experimented with four or five different approaches to find a good place with that.”

The reverbs that Bartlett creates are never static. They change to fit the camera perspective. Bartlett needed several different reverb and delay processing chains to define how Dr. Stelline’s voice would react in the environment. For example, “There are some long shots, and I had a longer, more distant reverb. I bled her into the ceiling a little bit in certain shots so that in the dome it felt like the sound was bouncing off the ceiling and coming down at you. When she gets really close to the glass, I wanted to get that resonance of her voice bouncing off of the glass. Then when she’s further in the dome, creating that birthday memory, there is a bit broader reverb without that glass reflection in it,” he says.

On K’s side of the glass, the reverb is tighter to match the smaller dimensions and less reflective characteristics of that space. “The key to that scene was to not be distracting while going in and out of the dome, from one side of the glass to the other,” says Bartlett. “I had to treat her voice a little bit so that it felt like she was behind the glass, but if she was way too muffled it would be too distracting from the story. You have to stay with those characters in the story, otherwise you’re doing a disservice by trying to be clever with your mixing.

“The idea is to create an environment so you don’t feel like someone mixed it. You don’t want to smell the mixing,” he continues. “You want to make it feel natural and cool. If we can tell when we’ve made a move, then we’ll go back and smooth that out. We try to make it so you can’t tell someone’s mixing the sound. Instead, you should just feel like you’re there. The last thing you want to do is to make something distracting. You want to stay in the story. We are all about the story.”

Mixing Tools
Bartlett and Hemphill mixed Blade Runner 2049 at Sony Pictures Post in the William Holden Theater using two Avid S6 consoles running Avid Pro Tools 12.8.2, which features complete Dolby Atmos integration. “It’s nice to have Atmos panners on each channel in Pro Tools. You just click on the channel and the panner pops up. You don’t want to go to just one panner with one joystick all the time so it was nice to have it on each channel,” says Bartlett.

Hemphill feels the main benefit of having the latest gear — the S6 consoles and the latest version of Pro Tools — is that it gives them the ability to carry their work forward. “In times past, before we had this equipment and this level of Pro Tools, we would do temp dubs and then we would scrap a lot of that work. Now, we are working with main sessions all the way from the temp mix through to the final. That’s very important to how this soundtrack was created.”

For instance, the dialogue required significant attention due to the use of practical effects on set, like weather machines for rain and snow. All the dialogue work they did during the temp dubs was carried forward into the final mix. “Production sound mixer Mac Ruth did an amazing job while working in those environments,” explains Bartlett. “He gave us enough to work with and we were able to use iZotope RX 6 to take out noise that was distracting. We were careful not to dig into the dialogue too much because when you start pulling out too many frequencies, you ruin the timbre and quality of the dialogue— the humanness.”

One dialogue-driven scene that made a substantial transformation from temp dub to final mix was the underground sequence in which Freysa [Hiam Abbass] makes a revelation about the replicant child. “The actress was talking in this crazy accent and it was noisy and hard to understand what was happening. It’s a very strong expositional moment in the movie. It’s a very pivotal point,” says Bartlett. They looped the actress for that entire scene and worked to get her ADR performance to sound natural in context to the other sounds. “That scene came such a long way, and it really made the movie for me. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to tell the story properly but we got it. When K sits down in the chair, you feel the weight. You feel that he’s crushed by that news. You really feel it because the setup was there.”

Blade Runner 2049 is ultimately a story that questions the essence of human existence. While equipment and technique were an important part of the post process, in the end it was all about conveying the emotion of the story through the soundtrack.

“With Denis [Villeneuve], it’s very much feel-based. When you hear a sound, it brings to mind memories immediately. Denis is the type of director that is plugged into the emotionality of sound usage. The idea more than anything else is to tell the story, and the story of this film is what it means to be a human being. That was the fuel that drove me to do the best possible work that I could,” concludes Hemphill.

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

MPSE to present John Paul Fasal with Career Achievement Award

The Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) will present sound designer and sound recordist John Paul Fasal with its 2018 MPSE Career Achievement Award. A 30-year veteran of the sound industry, Fasal has contributed to more than 150 motion pictures and is best known for his work in field recording.

Among his many credits are Top Gun, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Interstellar, The Dark Knight, American Sniper and this year’s Dunkirk. Fasal will receive his award at the MPSE Golden Reel Awards ceremony, February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles.

“John is a master of his craft, an innovator who has pioneered many new recording techniques, and a restless, creative spirit who will stop at nothing to capture the next great sound,” says MPSE president Tom McCarthy.

The MPSE Career Achievement Award recognizes “sound artists who have distinguished themselves by meritorious works as both an individual and fellow contributor to the art of sound for feature film, television and gaming and for setting an example of excellence for others to follow.”

Fasal joins a distinguished list of sound innovators, including 2017 Career Achievement recipient Harry Cohen, Richard King, John Roesch, Skip Lievsay, Randy Thom, Larry Singer, Walter Murch and George Watters II.

“Sound artists typically work behind the scenes, out of the limelight, and so to be recognized in this way by my peers is humbling,” says Fasal. “It is an honor to join the past recipients of this award, many of whom are both colleagues and friends.”

Fasal began his career as a musician and songwriter, but gravitated toward post production sound in the 1980s. Among his first big successes was Top Gun for which he recorded and designed many of the memorable jet aircraft sound effects. He has been a member of the sound teams on several films that have won Academy Awards in sound categories, including Inception, The Dark Knight, Letters From Iwo Jima, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Hunt for Red October and Pearl Harbor.

Fasal has worked as a sound designer and recordist throughout his career, but in recent years has increasingly focused on field recording. He enjoys especially high regard for his ability to capture the sounds of planes, ships, automobiles and military weaponry. “The equipment has changed dramatically over the course of my career, but the philosophy behind the craft remains the same,” he says. “It still involves the layering of sounds to create a sonic picture and help tell the story.”


Creating sounds for Battle of the Sexes

By Jennifer Walden

Fox Searchlight’s biographical sports, drama Battle of the Sexes, delves into the personal lives of tennis players Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) during the time surrounding their famous televised tennis match in 1973, known as the Battle of the Sexes. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris faithfully recreated the sports event using real-life tennis players Vince Spadea and Kaitlyn Christian as body doubles for Carell and Stone, and they used the original event commentary by announcer Howard Cosell to add an air of authenticity.

Oscar-nominated supervising sound editors Ai-Ling Lee (also sound designer/re-recording mixer) and Mildred Iatrou, from Fox Studios Post Production in LA, began their work during the director’s cut. Lee was on-site at Hula Post providing early sound support to film editor Pamela Martin, feeding her era-appropriate effects, like telephones, cars and cameras, and working on scenes that the directors wanted to tackle right away.

For director Dayton, the first priority scene was Billie Jean’s trip to a hair salon where she meets Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). It’s the beginnings of a romantic relationship and Dayton wanted to explore the idea of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response, mainly an aural experience that causes the skin on the scalp and neck to tingle in a pleasing way) to make the hair cut feel close and sensual. Lee explains that ASMR videos are popular on YouTube, and topping the list of experience triggers are hair dryers blowing, cutting hair and running fingers through hair. After studying numerous examples, Lee discovered “the main trick to ASMR is to have the sound source be very close to the mic and to use slow movements,” she says. “If it’s cutting hair, the scissors move very slow and deliberate, and they’re really close to the mic and you have close-up breathing.”

Lee applied those techniques to the recordings she made for the hair salon scene. Using a Sennheiser MKH 8040 and MKH 30 in an MS setup, Lee recorded the up-close sound of slowly cutting a wig’s hair. She also recorded several hair dryers slowly panning back and forth to find the right sound and speed that would trigger an ASMR feeling. “For the hairdryers, you don’t want an intense sound or something that’s too loud. The right sound is one that’s soothing. A lot of it comes down to just having quiet, close-up, sensual movement,” she says.

Ai-Ling Lee capturing the sound of hair being cut.

Recording the sounds was the easy part. Getting that experience to translate in a theater environment was the challenge because most ASMR videos are heard through headphones as a binaural, close experience. “In the end, I just took the mid-side recording and mixed it by slowly panning the sound across the front speakers and a little bit into the surrounds,” explains Lee. “Another trick to making that scene work was to slowly melt away the background sounds of the busy salon, so that it felt like it was just the two of them there.”

Updating the Commentary
As Lee was working on the ASMR sound experience, Iatrou was back at Fox Studios working on another important sequence — the final match. The directors wanted to have Howard Cosell’s original commentary play in the film but the only recording available was a mixed mono track of the broadcast, complete with cheering crowds and a marching band playing underneath.

“At first, the directors sent us the pieces that they wanted to use and we brightened it a little because it was very dull sounding. They also asked us if we could get rid of the music, which we were not able to do,” says Iatrou.

As a work-around, the directors asked Iatrou to record Cosell’s lines using a soundalike. “We did a huge search. Our ADR/group leader Johnny Gidcomb at Loop De Loop held auditions of people who could do Howard Cosell. We did around 50 auditions and sent those to the directors. Finally, we got one guy they really liked.”

L-R: Mildred Iatrou and Ai-Ling Lee.

They spent a day recording the Cosell soundalike, using the same make and model mic that was used by Cosell and nearly all newscasters of that period — the Electro-Voice 635A Apple. Even with the “new” Cosell and the proper mic, the directors felt it still wasn’t right. “They really wanted to use Howard Cosell,” says Iatrou. “We ended up using all Howard Cosell in the film except for a word or a few syllables here and there, which we cut in from the Cosell soundalike. During the mix, re-recording mixer Ron Bartlett (dialogue/music) had to do very severe noise reduction in the segments with the music underneath. Then we put other music on top to help mask the degree of noise reduction that we did.”

Another challenge to the Howard Cosell commentary was that he wasn’t alone. Rosie Casals was also a commentator at the event. In the film, Rosie is played by actress Natalie Morales. Iatrou recorded Morales performing Casals’ commentary using the Electro-Voice 635A Apple mic. She then used iZotope RX 6’s EQ Match feature to help her lines sound similar to Cosell’s. “For the final mix, Ron Bartlett put more time and energy into getting the EQ to match. It’s interesting because we didn’t want Rosie’s lines to be as distressed as Cosell’s. We had to find this balance between making it work with Howard Cosell’s material but also make it a tiny bit better.”

After cutting Rosie’s new lines with Cosell’s original commentary, Iatrou turned her attention to the ambience. She played through the original match’s 90-minute mixed mono track to find clear sections of crowds, murmuring and cheering to cut under Rosie’s lines, so they would have a natural transition into Cosell’s lines. “For example, if there was a swell of the cheer on Howard Cosell’s line then I’d have to find a similar cheer to extend the sound under the actress’s line to fill it in.”

Crowd Sounds
To build up authentic crowd sounds for the recreated Battle of the Sexes match, Iatrou had the loop group perform call-outs that she and Lee heard in the original broadcast, like a woman yelling, “Come on Billie!” and a man shouting, “Come on Bobby baby!”

“The crowd is another big character in the match,” says Lee. “As the game went on, it felt like more of the women were cheering for Billie Jean and more of the men were cheering for Bobby Riggs. In the real broadcast, you hear one guy cheer for Bobby Riggs and then a woman would immediately cheer on Billie Jean. The guy would try to out cheer her and she would cheer back. It’s this whole secondary situation going on and we have that in the film because we wanted to make sure we were as authentic as possible.”

Lee also wanted the tennis rackets to sound authentic. She tracked down a wooden racket and an aluminum racket and had them restrung with a gut material at a local tennis store. She also had them strung with less tension than a modern racket. Then Lee and an assistant headed to an outdoor tennis court and recorded serves, bounces, net impacts, ball-bys and shoe squeaks using two mic setups — both with a Schoeps MK 41 and an MK 8 in an MS setup, paired with Sound Devices 702 and 722 recorders. “We miked it close and far so that it has some natural outdoor sound.”

Lee edited her recordings of tennis sounds and sporting event crowds with the production effects captured by sound mixer Lisa Pinero. “Lisa did a really good job of miking everything, and we were able to use some of the production crowd sounds, especially for the Margaret Court vs. Bobby Riggs match that happens before the final Battle of the Sexes match. In the final match, some of the tennis ball hits were layers of what I recorded and the production hits.”

Another key sonic element in the recreated Battle of the Sexes match was the Foley work by Dan O’Connell and John Cucci of One Step Up, located on the Fox Studios lot. During the match, Billie Jean’s strategy was to wear out the older and out-of-shape Bobby Riggs by making him run all over the court. “As the game went on, I wanted Bobby’s footsteps to feel heavier, with more thumps, as though he’s running out of steam trying to get the ball,” explains Lee. “Dan O’Connell did a good job of creating that heavy stomping foot, but with a slight wood resonance too. We topped that with shoe squeaks — some that Dan did and some that I recorded.”

The final Battle of the Sexes match was by far the most challenging scene to mix, says Lee. Re-recording mixers Bartlett and Doug Hemphill, as well as Lee, mixed the film in 7.1 surround at Formosa Group’s Hollywood location on Stage A using Avid S6 consoles. In the final match, they had Cosell’s original commentary blended with actress Morales commentary as Rosie Casals. There was music and layered crowds with call-outs. Production sound, field recordings, and Foley meshed to create the diegetic effects. “There were so many layers involved. Deciding how the sounds build and choosing what to play when — the crowds being tied to Howard Cosell, made it challenging to balance that sequence,” concludes Lee.

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

Jeff Haboush and Chris Newman join Cinema Audio Society board

The Cinema Audio Society has added re-recording mixer Jeffrey J. Haboush, CAS, and production sound mixer Chris Newman, CAS, to its board. They will be filling the vacancies left by the recent passing of production mixer Ed Greene, CAS and the retirement of re-recording mixer Mary Jo Lang, CAS.

“Adding new board members at this time is bittersweet, but we are proud and inspired by the fact that we can welcome two dynamic and valued members of the sound community to fill shoes that we thought might be impossible to fill,” says CAS president Mark Ulano.

With over 200 feature and television mixing credits, Haboush has four Oscar nominations along with CAS, BAFTA and Emmy nominations. One of those Emmy nominations led to a win. His career began in 1978 at B&B Sound Studios Burbank. In 1989 he moved to Warner Bros./Goldwyn sound and in 1999 move to Sony Studios. Currently, Haboush can be found bouncing between Technicolor and Smart Post Sound mixing stages.

In a career that spans more than 40 years, Newman has been the production sound mixer on more than 85 feature films and garnered eight Oscar nominations with three wins for The English Patient, Amadeus and The Exorcist.

Newman was honored in 2013 with the CAS Career Achievement Award.  He also won a CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing for The English Patient and has BAFTA wins for Fame and Amadeus. Prior to working on feature films he spent a decade working on documentaries, including working for Ted Yates’s NBC unit in Southeast Asia in 1966. Having taught sound and filmmaking in Europe, Brazil, Mexico and at NYU and Columbia University, Newman currently teaches both sound and production at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Main Image: (L-R) Chris Newman and Jeff Haboush.

Sonic Union adds Bryant Park studio targeting immersive, broadcast work

New York audio house Sonic Union has launched a new studio and creative lab. The uptown location, which overlooks Bryant Park, will focus on emerging spatial and interactive audio work, as well as continued work with broadcast clients. The expansion is led by principal mix engineer/sound designer Joe O’Connell, now partnered with original Sonic Union founders/mix engineers Michael Marinelli and Steve Rosen and their staff, who will work out of both its Union Square and Bryant Park locations. O’Connell helmed sound company Blast as co-founder, and has now teamed up with Sonic Union.

In other staffing news, mix engineer Owen Shearer advances to also serve as technical director, with an emphasis on VR and immersive audio. Former Blast EP Carolyn Mandlavitz has joined as Sonic Union Bryant Park studio director. Executive creative producer Halle Petro, formerly senior producer at Nylon Studios, will support both locations.

The new studio, which features three Dolby Atmos rooms, was created and developed by Ilan Ohayon of IOAD (Architect of Record), with architectural design by Raya Ani of RAW-NYC. Ani also designed Sonic’s Union Square studio.

“We’re installing over 30 of the new ‘active’ JBL System 7 speakers,” reports O’Connell. “Our order includes some of the first of these amazing self-powered speakers. JBL flew a technician from Indianapolis to personally inspect each one on site to ensure it will perform as intended for our launch. Additionally, we created our own proprietary mounting hardware for the installation as JBL is still in development with their own. We’ll also be running the latest release of Pro Tools (12.8) featuring tools for Dolby Atmos and other immersive applications. These types of installations really are not easy as retrofits. We have been able to do something really unique, flexible and highly functional by building from scratch.”

Working as one team across two locations, this emerging creative audio production arm will also include a roster of talent outside of the core staff engineering roles. The team will now be integrated to handle non-traditional immersive VR, AR and experiential audio planning and coding, in addition to casting, production music supervision, extended sound design and production assignments.

Main Image Caption: (L-R) Halle Petro, Steve Rosen, Owen Shearer, Joe O’Connell, Adam Barone, Carolyn Mandlavitz, Brian Goodheart, Michael Marinelli and Eugene Green.


Tackling VR storytelling challenges with spatial audio

By Matthew Bobb

From virtual reality experiences for brands to top film franchises, VR is making a big splash in entertainment and evolving the way creators tell stories. But, as with any medium and its production, bringing a narrative to life is no easy feat, especially when it’s immersive. VR comes with its own set of challenges unique to the platform’s capacity to completely transport viewers into another world and replicate reality.

Making high-quality immersive experiences, especially for a film franchise, is extremely challenging. Creators must place the viewer into a storyline crafted by the studios and properly guide them through the experience in a way that allows them to fully grasp the narrative. One emerging strategy is to emphasize audio — specifically, 360 spatial audio. VR offers a sense of presence no other medium today can offer. Spatial audio offers an auditory presence that augments a VR experience, amplifying its emotional effects.

My background as audio director for VR experiences includes top film franchises such as Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema’s IT: Float — A Cinematic VR Experience, The Conjuring 2 — Experience Enfield VR 360, Annabelle: Creation VR — Bee’s Room, and the upcoming Greatest Showman VR experience for 20th Century Fox. In the emerging world of VR, I have seen production teams encounter numerous challenges that call for creative solutions. For some of the most critical storytelling moments, it’s crucial for creators to understand the power of spatial audio and its potential to solve some of the most prevalent challenges that arise in VR production.

Most content creators — even some of those involved in VR filmmaking — don’t fully know what 360 spatial audio is or how its implementation within VR can elevate an experience. With any new medium, there are early adopters who are passionate about the process. As the next wave of VR filmmakers emerge, they will need to be informed about the benefits of spatial audio.

Guiding Viewers
Spatial audio is an incredible tool that helps make a VR experience feel believable. It can present sound from several locations, which allows viewers to identify their position within a virtual space in relation to the surrounding environment. With the ability to provide location-based sound from any direction and distance, spatial audio can then be used to produce directional auditory cues that grasp the viewer’s attention and coerce them to look in a certain direction.

VR is still unfamiliar territory for a lot of people, and the viewing process isn’t as straightforward as a 2D film or game, so dropping viewers into an experience can leave them feeling lost and overwhelmed. Inexperienced viewers are also more apprehensive and rarely move around or turn their heads while in a headset. Spatial audio cues prompting them to move or look in a specific direction are critical, steering them to instinctively react and move naturally. On Annabelle: Creation VR — Bee’s Room, viewers go into the experience knowing it’s from the horror genre and may be hesitant to look around. We strategically used audio cues, such as footsteps, slamming doors and a record player that mysteriously turns on and off, to encourage viewers to turn their head toward the sound and the chilling visuals that await.

Lacking Footage
Spatial audio can also be a solution for challenging scene transitions, or when there is a dearth of visuals to work with in a sequence. Well-crafted aural cues can paint a picture in a viewer’s mind without bombarding the experience with visuals that are often unnecessary.

A big challenge when creating VR experiences for beloved film franchises is the need for the VR production team to work in tandem with the film’s production team, making recording time extremely limited. When working on IT: Float, we were faced with the challenge of having a time constraint for shooting Pennywise the Clown. Consequently, there was not an abundance of footage of him to place in the promotional VR experience. Beyond a lack of footage, they also didn’t want to give away the notorious clown’s much-anticipated appearance before the film’s theatrical release. The solution to that production challenge was spatial audio. Pennywise’s voice was strategically used to lead the experience and guide viewers throughout the sewer tunnels, heightening the suspense while also providing the illusion that he was surrounding the viewer.

Avoiding Visual Overkill
Similar to film and video games, sound is half of the experience in VR. With the unique perspective the medium offers, creators no longer have to fully rely on a visually-heavy narrative, which can overwhelm the viewer. Instead, audio can take on a bigger role in the production process and make the project a well-rounded sensory experience. In VR, it’s important for creators to leverage sensory stimulation beyond visuals to guide viewers through a story and authentically replicate reality.

As VR storytellers, we are reimagining ways to immerse viewer in new worlds. It is crucial for us to leverage the power of audio to smooth out bumps in the road and deliver a vivid sense of physical presence unique to this medium.

Matthew Bobb is the CEO of the full-service audio company Spacewalk Sound. He is a spatial audio expert whose work can be seen in top VR experiences for major film franchises.