Category Archives: Audio Mixing

Cory Melious

Behind the Title: Heard City senior sound designer/mixer Cory Melious

NAME: Cory Melious

COMPANY: Heard City (@heardcity)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are an audio post production company.

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

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I provide final mastering of the audio soundtrack for commercials, TV shows and movies. I combine the production audio recorded on set (typically dialog), narration, music (whether it’s an original composition or artist) and sound effects (often created by me) into one 5.1 surround soundtrack that plays on both TV and Internet.

Heard City

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think most people without a production background think the sound of a spot just “is.” They don’t really think about how or why it happens. Once I start explaining the sonic layers we combine to make up the final mix they are really surprised.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The part that really excites me is the fact that each spot offers its own unique challenge. I take raw audio elements and tweak and mold them into a mix. Working with the agency creatives, we’re able to develop a mix that helps tell the story being presented in the spot. In that respect I feel like my job changes day in and day out and feels fresh every day.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Working late! There are a lot of late hours in creative jobs.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I really like finishing a job. It’s that feeling of accomplishment when, after a few hours, I’m able to take some pretty rough-sounding dialog and manipulate that into a smooth-sounding final mix. It’s also when the clients we work with are happy during the final stages of their project.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?
Avid Pro Tools, Izotope RX, Waves Mercury, Altiverb and Revibe.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
One of my many hobbies is making furniture. My dad is a carpenter and taught me how to build at a very young age. If I never had the opportunity to come to New York and make a career here, I’d probably be building and making furniture near my hometown of Seneca Castle, New York.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION? HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I think this profession chose me. When I was a kid I was really into electronics and sound. I was both the drummer and the front of house sound mixer for my high school band. Mixing from behind the speakers definitely presents some challenges! I went on to college to pursue a career in music recording, but when I got an internship in New York at a premier post studio, I truly fell in love with creating sound for picture.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Recently, I’ve worked on Chobani, Google, Microsoft, and Budweiser. I also did a film called The Discovery for Netflix.

The Discovery for Netflix.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’d probably have to say Chobani. That was a challenging campaign because the athletes featured in it were very busy. In order to capture the voiceover properly I was sent to Orlando and Los Angeles to supervise the narration recording and make sure it was suitable for broadcast. The spots ran during the Olympics, so they had to be top notch.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
iPhone, iPad and depth finder. I love boating and can’t imagine navigating these waters without knowing the depth!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m on the basics — Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. I dabble with SnapChat occasionally and will even open up Twitter once in a while to see what’s trending. I’m a fan of photography and nature, so I follow a bunch of outdoor Instagramers.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I joke with my friends that all of my hobbies are those of retired folks — sailing, golfing, fly fishing, masterful dog training, skiing, biking, etc. I joke that I’m practicing for retirement. I think hobbies that force me to relax and get out of NYC are really good for me.

What it sounds like when Good Girls Revolt for Amazon Studios

By Jennifer Walden

“Girls do not do rewrites,” says Jim Belushi’s character, Wick McFadden, in Amazon Studios’ series Good Girls Revolt. It’s 1969, and he’s the national editor at News of the Week, a fictional news magazine based in New York City. He’s confronting the new researcher Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) who claims credit for a story that Wick has just praised in front of the entire newsroom staff. The trouble is it’s 1969 and women aren’t writers; they’re only “researchers” following leads and gathering facts for the male writers.

When Nora’s writer drops the ball by delivering a boring courtroom story, she rewrites it as an insightful articulation of the country’s cultural climate. “If copy is good, it’s good,” she argues to Wick, testing the old conventions of workplace gender-bias. Wick tells her not to make waves, but it’s too late. Nora’s actions set in motion an unstoppable wave of change.

While the series is set in New York City, it was shot in Los Angeles. The newsroom they constructed had an open floor plan with a bi-level design. The girls are located in “the pit” area downstairs from the male writers. The newsroom production set was hollow, which caused an issue with the actors’ footsteps that were recorded on the production tracks, explains supervising sound editor Peter Austin. “The set was not solid. It was built on a platform, so we had a lot of boomy production footsteps to work around. That was one of the big dialogue issues. We tried not to loop too much, so we did a lot of specific dialogue work to clean up all of those newsroom scenes,” he says.

The main character Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson) was particularly challenging because of her signature leather riding boots. “We wanted to have an interesting sound for her boots, and the production footsteps were just useless. So we did a lot of experimenting on the Foley stage,” says Austin, who worked with Foley artists Laura Macias and Sharon Michaels to find the right sound. All the post sound work — sound editorial, Foley, ADR, loop group, and final mix was handled at Westwind Media in Burbank, under the guidance of post producer Cindy Kerber.

Austin and dialog editor Sean Massey made every effort to save production dialog when possible and to keep the total ADR to a minimum. Still, the newsroom environment and several busy street scenes proved challenging, especially when the characters were engaged in confidential whispers. Fortunately, “the set mixer Joe Foglia was terrific,” says Austin. “He captured some great tracks despite all these issues, and for that we’re very thankful!”

The Newsroom
The newsroom acts as another character in Good Girls Revolt. It has its own life and energy. Austin and sound effects editor Steve Urban built rich backgrounds with tactile sounds, like typewriters clacking and dinging, the sound of rotary phones with whirring dials and bell-style ringers, the sound of papers shuffling and pencils scratching. They pulled effects from Austin’s personal sound library, from commercial sound libraries like Sound Ideas, and had the Foley artists create an array of period-appropriate sounds.

Loop group coordinator Julie Falls researched and recorded walla that contained period appropriate colloquialisms, which Austin used to add even more depth and texture to the backgrounds. The lively backgrounds helped to hide some dialogue flaws and helped to blend in the ADR. “Executive producer/series creator Dana Calvo actually worked in an environment like this and so she had very definite ideas about how it would sound, particularly the relentlessness of the newsroom,” explains Austin. “Dana had strong ideas about the newsroom being a character in itself. We followed her guide and wanted to support the scenes and communicate what the girls were going through — how they’re trying to break through this male-dominated barrier.”

Austin and Urban also used the backgrounds to reinforce the difference between the hectic state of “the pit” and the more mellow writers’ area. Austin says, “The girls’ area, the pit, sounds a little more shrill. We pitched up the phone’s a little bit, and made it feel more chaotic. The men’s raised area feels less strident. This was subtle, but I think it helps to set the tone that these girls were ‘in the pit’ so to speak.”

The busy backgrounds posed their own challenge too. When the characters are quiet, the room still had to feel frenetic but it couldn’t swallow up their lines. “That was a delicate balance. You have characters who are talking low and you have this energy that you try to create on the set. That’s always a dance you have to figure out,” says Austin. “The whole anarchy of the newsroom was key to the story. It creates a good contrast for some of the other scenes where the characters’ private lives were explored.”

Peter Austin

The heartbeat of the newsroom is the teletype machines that fire off stories, which in turn set the newsroom in motion. Austin reports the teletype sound they used was captured from a working teletype machine they actually had on set. “They had an authentic teletype from that period, so we recorded that and augmented it with other sounds. Since that was a key motif in the show, we actually sweetened the teletype with other sounds, like machine guns for example, to give it a boost every now and then when it was a key element in the scene.”

Austin and Urban also built rich backgrounds for the exterior city shots. In the series opener, archival footage of New York City circa 1969 paints the picture of a rumbling city, moved by diesel-powered buses and trains, and hulking cars. That footage cuts to shots of war protestors and police lining the sidewalk. Their discontented shouts break through the city’s continuous din. “We did a lot of texturing with loop group for the protestors,” says Austin. He’s worked on several period projects over years, and has amassed a collection of old vehicle recordings that they used to build the street sounds on Good Girls Revolt. “I’ve collected a ton of NYC sounds over the years. New York in that time definitely has a different sound than it does today. It’s very distinct. We wanted to sell New York of that time.”

Sound Design
Good Girls Revolt is a dialogue-driven show but it did provide Austin with several opportunities to use subjective sound design to pull the audience into a character’s experience. The most fun scene for Austin was in Episode 5 “The Year-Ender” in which several newsroom researchers consume LSD at a party. As the scene progresses, the characters’ perspectives become warped. Austin notes they created an altered state by slowing down and pitching down sections of the loop group using Revoice Pro by Synchro Arts. They also used Avid’s D-Verb to distort and diffuse selected sounds.

Good Girls Revolt“We got subjective by smearing different elements at different times. The regular sound would disappear and the music would dominate for a while and then that would smear out,” describes Austin. They also used breathing sounds to draw in the viewer. “This one character, Diane (Hannah Barefoot), has a bad experience. She’s crawling along the hallway and we hear her breathing while the rest of the sound slurs out in the background. We build up to her freaking out and falling down the stairs.”

Austin and Urban did their design and preliminary sound treatments in Pro Tools 12 and then handed it off to sound effects re-recording mixer Derek Marcil, who polished the final sound. Marcil was joined by dialog/music re-recording mixer David Raines on Stage 1 at Westwind. Together they mixed the series in 5.1 on an Avid ICON D-Control console. “Everyone on the show was very supportive, and we had a lot of creative freedom to do our thing,” concludes Austin.

G-Tech 6-15

Quick Chat: Monkeyland Audio’s Trip Brock

By Dayna McCallum

Monkeyland Audio recently expanded its facility, including a new Dolby Atmos equipped mixing stage. The Glendale-based Monkeyland Audio, where fluorescent lights are not allowed and creative expression is always encouraged, now offers three mixing stages, an ADR/Foley stage and six editorial suites.

Trip Brock, the owner of Monkeyland, opened the facility over 10 years ago, but the MPSE Golden Reel Award-winning supervising sound editor and mixer (All the Wilderness), started out in the business more than 23 years ago. We reached out to Brock to find out more about the expansion and where the name Monkeyland came from in the first place…

monkeyland audioOne of your two new stages is Dolby Atmos certified. Why was that important for your business?
We really believe in the Dolby Atmos format and feel it has a lot of growth potential in both the theatrical and television markets. We purpose-built our Atmos stage looking towards the future, giving our independent and studio clients a less expensive, yet completely state-of-the-art alternative to the Atmos stages found on the studio lots.

Can you talk specifically about the gear you are using on the new stages?
All of our stages are running the latest Avid Pro Tools HD 12 software across multiple Mac Pros with Avid HDX hardware. Our 7.1 mixing stage, Reposado, is based around an Avid Icon D-Control console, and Anejo, our Atmos stage, is equipped with dual 24-fader Avid S6 M40 consoles. Monitoring on Anejo is based on a 3-way JBL theatrical system, with 30 channels of discrete Crown DCi amplification, BSS processing and the DAD AX32 front end.

You’ve been in this business for over 23 years. How does that experience color the way you run your shop?
I stumbled into the post sound business coming from a music background, and immediately fell in love with the entire process. After all these years, having worked with and learned so much from so many talented clients and colleagues, I still love what I do and look forward to every day at the office. That’s what I look for and try to cultivate in my creative team — the passion for what we do. There are so many aspects and nuances in the audio post world, and I try to express that to my team — explore all the different areas of our profession, find which role really speaks to you and then embrace it!

You’ve got 10 artists on staff. Why is it important to you to employ a full team of talent, and how do you see that benefiting your clients?
I started Monkeyland as primarily a sound editorial company. Back in the day, this was much more common than the all-inclusive, independent post sound outfits offering ADR, Foley and mixing, which are more common today. The sound editorial crew always worked together in house as a team, which is a theme I’ve always felt was important to maintain as our company made the switch into full service. To us, keeping the team intact and working together at the same location allows for a lot more creative collaboration and synergy than say a set of editors all working by themselves remotely. Having staff in house also allows us flexibility when last minute changes are thrown our way. We are better able to work and communicate as a team, which leads to a superior end product for our clients.

Monkeyland AudioCan you name some of the projects you are working on and what you are doing for them?
We are currently mixing a film called The King’s Daughter, starring Pierce Brosnan and William Hurt. We also recently completed full sound design and editorial, as well as the native Atmos mix, on a new post-apocalyptic feature we are really proud of called The Worthy. Other recent editorial and mixing projects include the latest feature from Director Alan Rudolph, Ray Meets Helen, the 10-episode series Junior for director Zoe Cassavetes, and Three Days To Live, a new eight-episode true-crime series for NBC/Universal.

Most of your stage names are related to tequila… Why is that?
Haha — this is kind of a take-off from the naming of the company itself. When I was looking for a company name, I knew I didn’t want it to include the word “digital” or have any hint toward technology, which seemed to be the norm at the time. A friend in college used to tease me about my “unique” major in audio production, saying stuff like, “What kind of a degree is that? A monkey could be trained to do that.” Thus Monkeyland was born!

Same theory applied to our stage names. When we built the new stages and needed to name them, I knew I didn’t want to go with the traditional stage “A, B, C” or “1, 2, 3,” so we decided on tequila types — Anejo, Reposado, Plata, even Mezcal. It seems to fit our personality better, and who doesn’t like a good margarita after a great mix!


Sony Pictures Post adds home theater dub stage

By Mel Lambert

Reacting to the increasing popularity of home theater systems that offer immersive sound playback, Sony Pictures Post Production has added a new mix stage to accommodate next-generation consumer audio formats.

Located in the landmark Thalberg Building on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, the new Home Theater Immersive Mix Stage features a flexible array of loudspeakers that can accommodate not only Dolby Atmos and Barco Auro-3D immersive consumer formats, but also other configurations as they become available, including DTS:X, as well as conventional 5.1- and 7.1-channel legacy formats.

The new room has already seen action on an Auro-3D consumer mix for director Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters and director Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven in both Atmos and Auro-3D. It is scheduled to handle home theater mixes for director Morten Tyldum’s new sci-fi drama Passengers, which will be overseen by Kevin O’Connell and Will Files, the re-recording mixers who worked on the theatrical release.

L-R: Nathan Oishi; Diana Gamboa, director of Sony Pictures Post Sound; Kevin O’Connell, re-recording mixer on ‘Passengers’; and Tom McCarthy.

“This new stage keeps us at the forefront in immersive sound, providing an ideal workflow and mastering environment for home theaters,” says Tom McCarthy, EVP of Sony Pictures Post Production Services. “We are empowering mixers to maximize the creative potential of these new sound formats, and deliver rich, enveloping soundtracks that consumers can enjoy in the home.”

Reportedly, Sony is one of the few major post facilities that currently can handle both Atmos and Auro-3D immersive formats. “We intend to remain ahead of the game,” McCarthy says.

The consumer mastering process involves repurposing original theatrical release soundtrack elements for a smaller domestic environment at reduced playback levels suitable for Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD disc and digital delivery. The Home Atmos format involves a 7.4.1 configuration, with a horizontal array of seven loudspeakers — three up-front, two side channels and two rear surrounds — in addition to four overhead/height and a subwoofer/LFE channel. The consumer Auro-3D format, in essence, involves a pair of 5.1-channel loudspeaker arrays — left, center, right plus two rear surround channels — located one above the other, with all speakers approximately six feet from the listening position.

Formerly an executive screening room, the new 600-square-foot stage is designed to replicate the dimensions and acoustics of a typical home-theater environment. According to the facility’s director of engineering, Nathan Oishi, “The room features a 24-fader Avid S6 control surface console with Pan/Post modules. The four in-room Avid Pro Tools HDX 3 systems provide playback and record duties via Apple 12-Core Mac Pro CPUs with MADI interfaces and an 8TB Promise Pegasus hard disk RAID array, plus a wide array of plug-ins. Picture playback is from a Mac Mini and Blackmagic HD Extreme video card with a Brainstorm DCD8 Clock for digital sync.”

An Avid/DAD AX32 Matrix controller handles monitor assignments, which then route to a BSS BLU 806 programmable EQ that handles all of standard B-chain duties for distribution to the room’s loudspeaker array. These comprise a total of 13 JBL LSR-708i two-way loudspeakers and two JBL 4642A dual 15 subwoofers powered by Crown DCI Series networked amplifiers. Atmos panning within Pro Tools is accommodated by the familiar Dolby Rendering and Mastering Unit/RMU.

During September’s “Sound for Film and Television Conference,” Dolby’s Gary Epstein demo’d Atmos. ©2016 Mel Lambert.

“A Delicate Audio custom truss system, coupled with Adaptive Technologies speaker mounts, enables the near-field monitor loudspeakers to be re-arranged and customized as necessary,” adds Oishi. “Flexibility is essential, since we designed the room to seamlessly and fully support both Dolby Atmos and Auro formats, while building in sufficient routing, monitoring and speaker flexibility to accommodate future immersive formats. Streaming and VR deliverables are upon us, and we will need to stay nimble enough to quickly adapt to new specifications.”

Regarding the choice of a mixing controller for the new room, McCarthy says that he is committed to integrating more Avid S6 control surfaces into the facility’s workflow, witnessed by their current use within several theatrical stages on the Sony lot. “Our talent is demanding it,” he states. “Mixing in the box lets our editors and mixers keep their options open until print mastering. It’s a more efficient process, both creatively and technically.”

The new Immersive Mix Stage will also be used as a “Flex Room” for Atmos pre-dubs when other stages on the lot are occupied. “We are also planning to complete a dedicated IMAX re-recording stage early next year,” reports McCarthy.

“As home theaters grow in sophistication, consumers are demanding immersive sound, ultra HD resolution and high-dynamic range,” says Rich Berger, SVP of digital strategy at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “This new stage allows our technicians to more closely replicate a home theater set-up.”

“The Sony mix stage adds to the growing footprint of Atmos-enabled post facilities and gives the Hollywood creative community the tools they need to deliver an immersive experience to consumers,” states Curt Behlmer, Dolby’s SVP of content solutions and industry relations.

Adds Auro Technologies CEO Wilfried Van Baelen, “Having major releases from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment incorporating Auro-3D helps provide this immersive experience to ensure they are able to enjoy films how the creator intended.”


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.


Industry vet Tim Claman to lead Avid Audio business

Tim Claman, VP, platform and solutions at Avid, is now responsible for all of the company’s audio solutions. This move is intended to further unite the development of Avid’s tools and workflow solutions for media creation, distribution and optimization.

tim-claman

Tim Claman

As part of the company’s platform strategy, Avid will further integrate its audio solutions — including Pro Tools, Sibelius and Avid Venue products — into the MediaCentral Platform, which is their open, integrated platform designed for media.

Claman comes from the artist side of the business, working as an editor, sound designer and mixer. Claman first joined Avid as a senior product manager for Pro Tools in 1998, designing many of the features that led to Pro Tools’ 2004 Academy Award. Over 14 years, he played a major role in shaping the company’s technology and product strategies as he rose through the ranks to become CTO. After working as CTO at Snell Advanced Media (SAM) and Quantel from 2013 through 2015, Claman rejoined Avid in February 2016 as VP, platform and solutions.

“I’m looking forward to working closely with our customer community to shape our collective future in the audio post production, music creation and live sound industries,” says Claman. “Through tight integration with MediaCentral, we’re dedicated to innovating our audio solutions to meet our customers’ emerging needs.”


Margarita Mix’s Pat Stoltz gives us the low-down on VR audio

By Randi Altman

Margarita Mix, one of Los Angeles’ long-standing audio and video post facilities, has taken on virtual reality with the addition of 360-degree sound rooms at their facilities in Santa Monica and Hollywood. This Fotokem company now offers sound design, mix and final print masters for VR video and remixing current spots for a full-surround environment.

Workflows for VR are new and developing every day — there is no real standard. So creatives are figuring it out as they go, but they can also learn from those who were early to the party, like Margarita Mix. They recently worked on a full-length VR concert film with the band Eagles of Death Metal and director/producer Art Haynie of Big Monkey Films. The band’s 2015 tour came to an abrupt end after playing the Bataclan concert hall during last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The film is expected to be available online and via apps shortly.

Eagles of Death Metal film.

We reached out to Margarita Mix’s senior technical engineer, Pat Stoltz, to talk about his experience and see how the studio is tackling this growing segment of the industry.

Why was now the right time to open VR-dedicated suites?
VR/AR is an exciting emerging market and online streaming is a perfect delivery format, but VR pre-production, production and post is in its infancy. We are bringing sound design, editorial and mixing expertise to the next level based on our long history of industry-recognized work, and elevating audio for VR from a gaming platform to one suitable for the cinematic and advertising realms where VR content production is exploding.

What is the biggest difference between traditional audio post and audio post for VR?
Traditional cinematic audio has always played a very important part in support of the visuals. Sound effects, Foley, background ambiance, dialog and music clarity to set the mood have aided in pulling the viewer into the story. With VR and AR you are not just pulled into the story, you are in the story! Having the ability to accurately recreate the audio of the filmed environment through higher order ambisonics, or object-based mixing, is crucial. Audio does not only play an important part in support of the visuals, but is now a director’s tool to help draw the viewer’s gaze to what he or she wants the audience to experience. Audio for VR is a critical component of storytelling that needs to be considered early in the production process.

What is the question you asked the most from clients in terms of sound for VR?
Surprisingly none! VR/AR is so new that directors and producers are just figuring things out as they go. On a traditional production set, you have audio mixers and boom operators capturing audio on set. On a VR/AR set, there is no hiding. No boom operators or audio mixers can be visible capturing high-quality audio of the performance.

Some productions have relied on the onboard camera microphones. Unfortunately, in most cases, this turns out to be completely unusable. When the client gets all the way to the audio post, there is a realization that hidden wireless mics on all the actors would have yielded a better result. In VR especially, we recommend starting the sound consultation in pre-production, so that we can offer advice and guide decisions for the best quality product.

What question should clients ask before embarking on VR?
They should ask what they want the viewer to get out of the experience. In VR, no two people are going to walk away with the same viewing experience. We recommend staying focused on the major points that they would like the viewer to walk away with. They should then expand that to answer: What do I have to do in VR to drive that point home, not only mentally, but drawing their gaze for visual support? Based on the genre of the project, considerations should be made to “physically” pull the audience in the direction to tell the story best. It could be through visual stepping stones, narration or audio pre-cues, etc.

What tools are you using on VR projects?
Because this is a nascent field, new tools are becoming available by the day, and we assess and use the best option for achieving the highest quality. To properly address this question, we ask: Where is your project going to be viewed? If the content is going to be distributed via a general Web streaming site, then it will need to be delivered in that audio file format.

There are numerous companies writing plug-ins that are quite good to deliver these formats. If you will be delivering to a Dolby VR (object-based preparatory format) supported site, such as Jaunt, then you will need to generate the proper audio file for that platform. Facebook (higher order ambisonics) requires even a different format. We are currently working in all these formats, as well as working closely with leaders in VR sound to create and test new workflows and guide developments in this new frontier.

What’s the one thing you think everyone should know about working and viewing VR?
As we go through life, we each have our own experiences or what we choose to experience. Our frame of reference directs our focus on things that are most interesting to us. Putting on VR goggles, the individual becomes the director. The wonderful thing about VR is now you can take that individual anywhere they want to go… both in this world and out of it. Directors and producers should think about how much can be packed into a story to draw people into the endless ways they perceive their world.


The sound of fighting in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

By Jennifer Walden

Tom Cruise is one tough dude, and not just on the big screen. Cruise, who seems to be aging very gracefully, famously likes to do his own stunts, much to the dismay of many film studio execs.

Cruise’s most recent tough guy turn is in the sequel to 2014’s Jack Reacher. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which is in theaters now, is based on the protagonist in author Lee Child’s series of novels. Reacher, as viewers quickly find out, is a hands-on type of guy — he’s quite fond of hand-to-hand combat where he can throw a well-directed elbow or headbutt a bad guy square in the face.

Supervising sound editor Mark P. Stoeckinger, based at Formosa Group’s Santa Monica location, has worked on numerous Cruise films, including both Jack Reachers, Mission: Impossible II and III, The Last Samurai and he helped out on Edge of Tomorrow. Stoeckinger has a ton of respect for Cruise, “He’s my idol. Being about the same age, I’d love to be as active and in shape as he is. He’s a very amazing guy because he is such a hard worker.”

The audio post crew on ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.’ Mark Stoeckinger is on the right.

Because he does his own stunts, and thanks to the physicality of Jack Reacher’s fighting style, sometimes Cruise gets a bruise or two. “I know he goes through a fair amount of pain, because he’s so extreme,” says Stoeckinger, who strives to make the sound of Reacher’s punches feel as painful as they are intended to be. If Reacher punches through a car window to hit a guy in the face, Stoeckinger wants that sound to have power. “Tom wants to communicate the intensity of the impacts to the audience, so they can appreciate it. That’s why it was performed that way in the first place.”

To give the fights that Reacher feel of being visceral and intense, Stoeckinger takes a multi-frequency approach. He layers high-frequency sounds, like swishes and slaps to signify speed, with low-end impacts to add weight. The layers are always an amalgamation of sound effects and Foley.

Stoeckinger prefers pulling hit impacts from sound libraries, or creating impacts specifically with “oomph” in mind. Then he uses Foley to flesh out the fight, filling in the details to connect the separate sound effects elements in a way that makes the fights feel organic.

The Sounds of Fighting
Under Stoeckinger’s supervision, a fight scene’s sound design typically begins with sound effects. This allows his sound team to start immediately, working with what they have at hand. On Jack Reacher: Never Go Back this task was handed over to sound effects editor Luke Gibleon at Formosa Group. Once the sound effects were in place, Stoeckinger booked the One Step Up Foley stage with Foley artist Dan O’Connell. “Having the effects in place gives us a very clear idea of what we want to cover with Foley,” he says. “Between Luke and Dan, the fight soundscapes for the film came to life.”

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackThe culminating fight sequence, where Reacher inevitably prevails over the bad guy, was Stoeckinger’s favorite to design. “The arc of the film built up to this fight scene, so we got to use some bigger sounds. Although, it still needed to seem as real as a Hollywood fight scene can be.”

The sound there features low-frequency embellishments that help the audience to feel the fight and not just hear it. The fight happens during a rowdy street festival in New Orleans in honor of the Day of the Dead. Crowds cavort with noisemakers, bead necklaces rain down, music plays and fireworks explode. “Story wise, the fireworks were meant to mask any gunshots that happened in the scene,” he says. “So it was about melding those two worlds — the fight and the atmosphere of the crowds — to help mask what we were doing. That was fun and challenging.”

The sounds of the street festival scene were all created in post since there was music playing during filming that wasn’t meant to stay on the track. The location sound did provide a sonic map of the actual environment, which Stoeckinger considered when rebuilding the scene. He also relied on field recordings captured by Larry Blake, who lives in New Orleans. “Then we searched for other sounds that were similar because we wanted it to sound fun and festive but not draw the ear too much since it’s really just the background.”

Stoeckinger sweetened the crowd sounds with recordings they captured of various noisemakers, tambourines, bead necklaces and group ADR to add mid-field and near-field detail when desired. “We tried to recreate the scene, but also gave it a Hollywood touch by adding more specifics and details to bring it more to life in various shots, and bring the audience closer to it or further away from it.”

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackStoeckinger also handled design on the film’s other backgrounds. His objective was to keep the locations feeling very real, so he used a combination of practical effects they recorded and field recordings captured by effect editor Luke Gibleon, in addition to library effects. “Luke [Gibleon] has a friend with access to an airport, so Luke did some field recordings of the baggage area and various escalators with people moving around. He also captured recordings of downtown LA at night. All of those field recordings were important in giving the film a natural sound.”

There where numerous locations in this film. One was when Reacher meets up with a teenage girl who he’s protecting from the bad guys. She lives in a sketchy part of town, so to reinforce the sketchiness of the neighborhood, Stoeckinger added nearby train tracks to the ambience and created street walla that had an edgy tone. “It’s nothing that you see outside of course, but sound-wise, in the ambient tracks, we can paint that picture,” he explains.
In another location, Stoeckinger wanted to sell the idea that they were on a dock, so he added in a boat horn. “They liked the boat horn sound so much that they even put a ship in the background,” he says. “So we had little sounds like that to help ground you in the location.”

Tools and the Mix
At Formosa, Stoeckinger has his team work together in one big Avid Pro Tools 12 sessions that included all of their sounds: the Foley, the backgrounds, sound effects, loop group and design elements. “We shared it,” he says. “We had a ‘check out’ system, like, ‘I’m going to check out reel three and work on this sequence.’ I did some pre-mixing, where I went through a scene or reel and decided what’s working or what sections needed a bit more. I made a mark on a timeline and then handed that off to the appropriate person. Then they opened it up and did some work. This master session circulated between two or three of us that way.” Stoeckinger, Gibleon and sound designer Alan Rankin, who handled guns and miscellaneous fight sounds, worked on this section of the film.

All the sound effects, backgrounds, and Foley were mixed on a Pro Tools ICON, and kept virtual from editorial to the final mix. “That was helpful because all the little pieces that make up a sound moment, we were able to adjust them as necessary on the stage,” explains Stoeckinger.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackPremixing and the final mixes were handled at Twentieth Century Fox Studios on the Howard Hawks Stage by re-recording mixers James Bolt (effects) and Andy Nelson (dialogue/music). Their console arrangement was a hybrid, with the effects being mixed on an Avid ICON, and the dialogue and music mixed on an AMS Neve DFC console.

Stoeckinger feels that Nelson did an excellent job of managing the dialogue, particularly for moments where noisy locations may have intruded upon subtle line deliveries. “In emotional scenes, if you have a bunch of noise that happens to be part of the dialogue track, that detracts from the scene. You have to get all of the noise under control from a technical standpoint.” On the creative side, Stoeckinger appreciated Nelson’s handling of Henry Jackman’s score.

On effects, Stoeckinger feels Bolt did an amazing job in working the backgrounds into the Dolby Atmos surround field, like placing PA announcements in the overheads, pulling birds, cars or airplanes into the surrounds. While Stoeckinger notes this is not an overtly Atmos film, “it helped to make the film more spatial, helped with the ambiences and they did a little bit of work with the music too. But, they didn’t go crazy in Atmos.”


Behind the Title: Sound mixer/sound designer Rob DiFondi

Name: Rob DiFondi

Company: New York City’s Sound Lounge

Can you describe your company?
Sound Lounge is an audio post company that provides creative services for TV and radio commercials, feature films, television series, digital campaigns, gaming and other emerging media. Artist-owned and operated, we’re made up of an incredibly diverse, talented and caring group of people who all love the advertising and film worlds.

We recently celebrated Sound Lounge’s 18th birthday. I’m proud to say I’ve been a part of the SL family for over 13 years now, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends to hang out with every day.

What’s your job title?
Senior Mixer/Sound Designer

What does that entail?
I have actors in my booth all day recording VO (voiceover) for different commercials. My clients (usually brands, ad agencies, production companies, or editorials) hang in my room, and together we get the best possible read from the actor while they’re in the booth. I then craft sound design for the spot by either pulling sound effects from my library or recreating the necessary sounds myself (a.k.a. “Foley”). Once that’s set, I’ll take the lines the actor recorded, the sound effects I created, and any music, and then mix them all together so the spot sounds perfect (and is legal for TV broadcast)!

Being a mixer in the advertising post world isn’t easy. I also have to be able to provide a solid lunch recommendation — I always need to make sure I know where my clients can get the best sushi in the Flatiron district!

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
That most of us are musicians who wanted to be rock stars but thought better of it. Maybe that isn’t so surprising though.

Sound Lounge

What’s your favorite part of the job?
The people, and the social part of the advertising industry. This business is filled with so many kind, funny and talented people, and it’s so nice to have them be a part of your life. And how can you beat partying every year at the MOMA for the AICP Gala?

What’s your least favorite?
Probably the lack of travel. I love our office, but it would be fun to do my job in different cities once in a while.

What is your favorite time of the day?
Walking in my front door and seeing my wife and kids.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Something that involves beaches and nice weather.

How early on did you know this would be your path?
I totally fell into this profession. I went to school to become a music engineer/producer. I had no idea there was a whole industry for mixing TV spots. Once I got into it though, I knew immediately that I loved it.

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I worked on some really nice pieces for Maybelline, Google, Lincoln and TD Ameritrade.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
Miracle Stain, a Super Bowl commercial that I mixed for Tide a few years back. I finished the mix at 10pm on Thursday and got a call at 2am that there had been some changes, so I had to come back to work in the middle of the night. I tweaked the mix until the sun came up and had it ready to ship by 9am. It was one of those very epic projects that had all the classic markings of a Super Bowl spot.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
My iPhone, my DSLR camera and iZotope RX.

What social media channels do you follow?
I’m a big Instagram guy. I love seeing people’s lives told through photos. Facebook is so 2015.

Do you listen to music while you work? Care to share your favorite music to work to?
Since I work in audio I can’t listen to music while I work, but when I’m not working I listen to a lot of modern country music, Dave Matthews Band (not afraid to say it!), prog metal and pretty much everything in between.

This is a high stress job with deadlines and client expectations. What do you do to de-stress from it all?
I just leased a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. There’s nothing like putting the top down and taking a drive to the beach!


The sound of two worlds for The Lost City of Z

By Jennifer Walden

If you are an explorer, your goal is to go where no one has gone before, or maybe it’s to unearth and re-discover a long-lost world. Director James Gray (The Immigrant), takes on David Grann’s non-fiction novel The Lost City of Z, which follows the adventures of British explorer Colonel Percival Fawcett, who in 1925 disappeared with his son in the Amazon jungle while on a quest to locate an ancient lost city.

Gray’s biographical film, which premiered October 15 at the 54th New York Film Festival, takes an interpretive approach to the story by exploring Fawcett’s inner landscape, which is at odds with his physical location — whether he’s in England or the Amazon, his thoughts drift between the two incongruent worlds.

Once Gray returned from filming The Lost City of Z in the jungles of Colombia, he met up with supervising sound editor/sound designer Robert Hein at New York’s Harbor Picture Company. Having worked together on The Immigrant years ago, Hein says he and Gray have an understanding of each other’s aesthetics. “He has very high goals for himself, and I try to have that also. I enjoy our collaboration; we keep pushing the envelope. We have a mutual appreciation for making a film the greatest it can be. It’s an evolution, and we keep pushing the film to new places.”

The Sound of Two Worlds
Gray felt Hein and Harbor Picture Company would be the perfect partner to handle the challenging sound job for The Lost City of Z. “It involved the creation of two very different worlds: Victorian England, and the jungle. Both feature the backdrop of World War I. Therefore, we wanted someone who naturally thinks outside the box, someone who doesn’t only look at the images on the screen, but takes chances and does things outside the realm of what you originally had in mind, and Bob [Hein] and his crew are those people.”

Bob Hein

Gray tasked Hein with designing a soundscape that could merge Fawcett’s physical location with his inner world. Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is presented with physical attacks and struggles, but it’s his inner struggle that Gray wanted to focus on. Hein explains, “Fawcett is a conflicted character. A big part of the film is his longing for two worlds: the Amazon and England. When he’s in one place, his mind is in the other, so that was very challenging to pull off.”

To help convey Fawcett’s emotional and mental conflicts, Hein introduced the sounds of England into the Amazon, and vice-versa, subtly blending the two worlds. Through sound, the audience escapes the physical setting and goes into Fawcett’s mind. For example, the film opens with the sounds of the jungle, to which Hein added an indigenous Amazonian battle drum that transforms into the drumming of an English soldier, since Fawcett is physically with a group of soldiers preparing for a hunt. Hein explains that Fawcett’s belief that the Amazonians were just as civilized as Europeans (maybe even more so) was a controversial idea at the time. Merging their drumming wasn’t just a means of carrying the audience from the Amazon to England; it was also a comment on the two civilizations.

“In a way, it’s kind of emblematic of the whole sound design,” explains Hein. “It starts out as one thing but then it transforms into another. We did that throughout the film. I think it’s very beautiful and engaging. Through the sound you enter into his world, so we did a lot of those transitions.”

In another scene, Fawcett is traveling down a river in the jungle and he’s thinking about his family in England. Here, Hein adds an indigenous bird calling, and as the scene develops he blends the sound of that bird with an English church bell. “It’s very subtle,” he says. “The sounds just merge. It’s the merging of two worlds. It’s a feeling more than an obvious trick.”

During a WWI battle scene, Fawcett leads a charge of troops out of their trench. Here Hein adds sounds related to the Amazon in juxtaposition of Fawcett’s immediate situation. “Right before he goes into war, he’s back in the jungle even though he is physically in the trenches. What you hear in his head are memories of the jungle. You hear the indigenous Amazonians, but unless you’re told what it is you might not know.”

A War Cry
According to Hein, one of the big events in the film occurs when Fawcett is being attacked by Amazonians. They are shooting at him but he refuses to accept defeat. Fawcett holds up his bible and an arrow goes tearing into the book. At that moment, the film takes the audience inside Fawcett’s mind as his whole life flashes by. “The sound is a very big part of that because you hear memories of England and memories of his life and his family, but then you start to hear an indigenous war cry that I changed dramatically,” explains Hein. “It doesn’t sound like something that would come out of a human voice. It’s more of an ethereal, haunted reference to the war cry.”

As Fawcett comes back to reality that sound gets erased by the jungle ambience. “He’s left alone in the jungle, staring at a tribe of Indians that just tried to kill him. That was a very effective sound design moment in this film.”

To turn that war cry into an ethereal sound, Hein used a granular synthesizer plug-in called Paulstretch (or Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch) created by Software Engineer by Paul Nasca. “Paulstretch turns sounds almost into music,” he says. “It’s an old technology, but it does some very special things. You can set it for a variety of effects. I would play around with it until I found what I liked. There were a lot of versions of a lot of different ideas as we went along.”

It’s all part of the creative process, which Gray is happy to explore. “What’s great is that James [Gray] is excited about sound,” says Hein. “He would hang out and we would play things together and we would talk about the film, about the main character, and we would arrive at sounds together.”

Drones
Additionally, Hein sound designed drones to highlight the anxiety and trepidation that Fawcett feels. “The drones are low, sub-frequency sounds but they present a certain atmosphere that conveys dread. These elements are very subtle. You don’t get hit over the head with them,” he says.

The drones and all the sound design were created from natural sounds from the Amazon or England. For example, to create a low-end drone, they would start with jungle sounds — imagine a bee’s nest or an Amazonian instrument — and then manipulate those. “Everything was done to immerse the audience in the world of The Lost City of Z in its purest sense,” says Hein, who worked closely with Harbor’s sound editors Glenfield Payne, Damian Volpe and Dave Paterson. “They did great work and were crucial in the sound design.”

The Amazon
Gray also asked that Hein design the indigenous Amazon world exactly the way that it should be, as real as it could be. Hein says, “It’s very hard to find the correct sound to go along with the images. A lot of my endeavor was researching and finding people who did recordings in the Amazon.”

He scoured the Smithsonian Institute Archives, and did hours of research online, looking for audio preservationists who captured field recordings of indigenous Amazonians. “There was one amazing coincidence,” says Hein. “There’s a scene in the movie where the Indians are using an herbal potion to stun the fish in the river. That’s how they do it so as not to over-fish their environment. James [Gray] had found this chant that he wanted to have there, but that chant wasn’t actually a fishing chant. Fortunately, I found a recording of the actual fishing chant online. It’s beautifully done. I contacted the recordist and he gave us the rights to use it.”

Filming in the Amazon, under very difficult conditions presented Hein with another post production challenge. “Location sound recording in the jungle is challenging because there were loud insects, rain and thunder. There were even far-afield trucks and airplanes that didn’t exist at the time.”

Gray was very concerned that sections of the location dialogue would be unusable. “The performances in the film are so great because they went deep into the Amazon jungle to shoot this film. Physically being in that environment I’m sure was very stressful, and that added a certain quality to the actors’ performances that would have been very difficult to replace with ADR,” says Hein, who carefully cleaned up the dialogue using several tools, including iZotope’s RX 5 Advanced audio restoration software. “With RX 5 Advanced, we could microscopically choose which sounds we wanted to keep and which sounds we wanted to remove, and that’s done visually. RX gives you a visual map of the audio and you can paint out sounds that are unnecessary. It’s almost like Photoshop for sound.”

Hein shared the cleaned dialogue tracks with Gray, who was thrilled. “He was so excited about them. He said, “I can use my location sound!” That was a big part of the project.”

ADR and The Mix
While much of the dialogue was saved, there were still a few problematic scenes that required ADR, including a scene that was filmed during a tropical rainstorm, and another that was shot on a noisy train as it traveled over the mountains in Colombia. Harbor’s ADR supervisor Bobby Johanson, who has worked with Gray on previous films, recorded everything on Harbor’s ADR stage that is located just down the hall from Hein’s edit suite and the dub stage.

Gray says, “Harbor is not just great for New York; it’s great, period. It is this fantastic place where they’ve got soundstages that are 150 feet away from the editing rooms, which is incredibly convenient. I knew they could handle the job, and it was really a perfect scenario.”

The Lost City of Z was mixed in 5.1 surround on an Avid/Euphonix System 5 console by re-recording mixers Tom Johnson (dialogue/music) and Josh Berger (effects, Foley, backgrounds) in Studio A at Harbor Sound’s King Street location in Soho. It was also reviewed on the Harbor Grand stage, which is the largest theatrical mix stage in New York. The team used the 5.1 environment to create the feeling of being engulfed by the jungle. Fawcett’s trips, some which lasted years, were grueling and filled with disease and death. “The jungle is a scary place to be! We really wanted to make sure that the audience understood the magnitude of Percy’s trips to the Amazon,” says Berger. “There are certain scenes where we used sound to heighten the audience’s perspective of how erratic and punishing the jungle can be, i.e. when the team gets caught in rapids or when they come under siege from various Indian tribes.”

Johnson, who typically mixes at Skywalker Sound, had an interesting approach to the final mix. Hein explains that Johnson would first play a reel with every available sound in it — all the dialogue and ADR, all the sound effects and Foley — and the music. “We played it all in the reel,” says Hein. “It would be overwhelming. It would be unmixed and at times chaotic. But it gave us a very good idea of how to approach the mix.”

As they worked through the film, the sound would evolve in unexpected ways. What they heard toward the end of the first pass influenced their approach on the beginning of the second pass. “The film became a living being. We became very flexible about how the sound design was coming in and out of different scenes. The sound became very integrated into the film as a whole. It was really great to experience that,” shares Hein.

As Johnson and Berger mixed, Hein was busy creating new sound design elements for the visual effects that were still coming in at the last minute. For example, the final version of the arrows that were shot in the film didn’t come in until the last minute. “The arrows had to have a real special quality about them. They were very specific in communicating just how dangerous the situation actually was and what they were up against,” says Hein.

Later in the film, Amazonians throw tomahawks at Fawcett and his son as they run through the jungle. “Those tomahawks were never in the footage,” he says. “We had just an idea of them until days before we finished the mix. There was also a jaguar that comes out of the jungle and threatens them. That also came in at the last minute.”

While Hein created new sound elements in his edit suite next to the dub stage, Gray was able to join him for critique and collaboration before those sounds were sent next door to the dub stage. “Working with James is a high-energy, creative blast and super fun. He’s constantly coming up with new ideas and challenges. He spends every minute in the mix encouraging us, challenging us and, best of all, making us laugh a lot. He’s a great storyteller, and his knowledge of film and film history is remarkable. Working with James Gray is a real highlight in my career,” concludes Hein.


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

AES Conference focuses on immersive audio for VR/AR

By  Mel Lambert

The AES Convention, which was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in early October, attracted a broad cross section of production and post professionals looking to discuss the latest technologies and creative offerings. The convention had approximately 13,000 registered attendees and more than 250 brands showing wares in the exhibits halls and demo rooms.

Convention Committee co-chairs Valerie Tyler and Michael MacDonald, along with their team, created the comprehensive schedule of workshops, panels and special events for this year’s show. “The Los Angeles Convention Center’s West Hall was a great new location for the AES show,” said MacDonald. “We also co-located the AVAR conference, and that brought 3D audio for gaming and virtual reality into the mainstream of the AES.”

“VR seems to be the next big thing,” added AES executive director Bob Moses, “[with] the top developers at our event, mapping out the future.”

The two-day, co-located Audio for Virtual and Augmented Reality Conference was expected to attract about 290 attendees, but with aggressive marketing and outreach to the VR and AR communities, pre-registration closed at just over 400.

Aimed squarely at the fast-growing field of virtual/augmented reality audio, this conference focused on the creative process, applications workflow and product development. “Film director George Lucas once stated that sound represents 50 percent of the motion picture experience,” said conference co-chair Andres Mayo. “This conference demonstrates that convincing VR and AR productions require audio that follows the motions of the subject and produces a realistic immersive experience.”

Spatial sound that follows head orientation for headsets powered either by dedicated DSP, game engines or smartphones opens up exciting opportunities for VR and AR producers. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and other systems are attracting added consumer interest for the coming holiday season. Many immersive-audio innovators, including DST and Dolby, are offering variants of their cinema systems targeted at this booming consumer marketplace via binaural headphone playback.

Sennheiser’s remarkable new Ambeo VR microphone (pictured left) can be used to capture 3D sound and then post produced to prepare different spatial perspectives — a perfect adjunct for AR/VR offerings. At the high end, Nokia unveiled its Ozo VR camera, equipped with eight camera sensors and eight microphones, as an alternative to a DIY assembly of GoPro cameras, for example.

Two fascinating keynotes bookended the AVAR Conference. The opening keynote, presented by Philip Lelyveld, VR/AR initiative program manager at the USC Entertainment Technology Center, Los Angeles, and called “The Journey into Virtual and Augmented Reality,” defined how virtual, augmented and mixed reality will impact entertainment, learning and social interaction. “Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality have the potential of delivering interactive experiences that take us to places of emotional resonance, give us agency to form our own experiential memories, and become part of the everyday lives we will live in the future,” he explained.

“Just as TV programming progressed from live broadcasts of staged performances to today’s very complex language of multithread long-form content,” Lelyveld stressed, “so such media will progress from the current early days of projecting existing media language with a few tweaks to a headset experience into a new VR/AR/MR-specific language that both the creatives and the audience understand.”

Is his closing keynote, “Future Nostalgia, Here and Now: Let’s Look Back on Today from 20 Years Hence,” George Sanger, director of sonic arts at Magic Leap, attempted to predict where VR/AR/MR will be in two decades. “Two decades of progress can change how we live and think in ways that boggle the mind,” he acknowledged. “Twenty years ago, the PC had rudimentary sound cards, now the entire ‘multitrack recording studio’ lives on our computers. By 2036, we will be wearing lightweight portable devices all day. Our media experience will seamlessly merge the digital and physical worlds; how we listen to music will change dramatically. We live in the Revolution of Possibilities.”

According to conference co-chair Linda Gedemer, “It has been speculated by Wall Street [pundits] that VR/AR will be as game changing as the advent of the PC, so we’re in for an incredible journey!”

Mel Lambert, who also gets photo credit on pictures from the show, is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA