Category Archives: Audio

Recording live musicians in 360

By Luke Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jason Moss composes music for ABC’s The Toy Box

By Jennifer Walden

Children may not be the best source for deciding when bedtime should be, or deciding what’s for dinner (chicken nuggets again?), but who better to decide what toys kids want to play with? A large part of the Tom Hanks film Big was based on this premise.

ABC’s new inventor-centric series, The Toy Box, which premiered in April, features four young judges who are presented with new toy inventions. They then get to decide which toy prototypes would be popular with others in their demographic. Toy inventors competing on the show first meet with a set of “expert mentors,” a small group of adults who delve into the specifics of the toy and offer advice.

Jason Moss

If the toy makes it past that panel, it gets put into the “toy box.” The toy is then presented to the four young judges, who get to play with it, ask questions and give their critique to the toy inventor. The four young judges deliberate and make a final decision on which toy will advance to the next round. At the end of the season, the judges will chose one winning toy to be made by Mattel and sold exclusively at Toys ‘R’ Us.

The Toy Box needed a soundtrack that could both embody the essence of juvenile joviality and portray the pseudo-seriousness its pre-teen decision makers. It’s not a job for your average reality show composer. It required askew musical sensibilities. “The music is fun and super-pop sounding with cool analog synths and video game sounds. It’s really energetic and puts a smile on your face,” says the series composer/music supervisor Jason Moss at Super Sonic Noise in Los Angeles. “Then for the decision-making cues, as the kids decide whether they like a toy and what they’re going to do, it had to be something other than what you’d expect. It couldn’t sound too dark. It still had to be quirky.”

Moss knows quirky. He was the composer on IFC’s Gigi Does It, starring David Krumholtz as an eccentric Jewish grandmother living in Florida. Moss also composed the theme music for the Seeso original series Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, a partially improvised comedy series that pokes fun at real estate reality shows.

Moss covered all of The Toy Box’s musical needs — from high-energy pop and indie rock tracks when the kids are playing with the toys to comedic cues infused with ukulele and kitschy strings, and tension tracks for moments of decision. He wrote original music as well as curated selections from the Bulletproof Bear music catalog. Bulletproof Bear offers a wide variety of licensable tracks written by Moss, plus other music catalogs they represent. “It’s a big collection with over 33,000 tracks. We can really compete with bigger music license companies because we have a huge amount of diverse music that can cover the whole production from head to toe,” he says.

The Gear
Moss composes in Apple’s Logic Pro X. He performed live guitars, bass and ukulele (using the Kala U-Bass bass ukulele). For mics, he chose Miktek Audio’s CV4 large diaphragm condense tube and their C5 small diaphragm pencil condenser, each paired with Empirical Labs Mike-E pre-amps.

Moss combined the live sounds with virtual instruments, particularly those from Spectrasonics. XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums were his go-to for classic and modern drum sounds. For synths, he used reFX’s Nexus, libraries from Native Instrument’s Kontakt, Arturia’s Analog Lab and their VOX Continental V. He also called on the ROLI Equator sound engine via the ROLI Rise 25 key MIDI controller, which features soft squishy silicone keys much different from a traditional keyboard controller. The Akai MPK88 weighted key controller is Moss’ choice in that department. For processing and effects, he chose plug-ins by Soundtoys and PSP Audioware. He also incorporated various toy and video game sounds into the tracks.

The Score
The show’s two-minute opener combines three separate segments — the host (Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet), the expert mentor introductions and the judges introductions. Each has its own musical vibe. The host and the expert mentors have original music that Moss wrote specifically for the show. The judges have a dramatic pulsing-string track that is licensed from Bulletproof Bear’s catalog. In addition, a five-second tag for The Toy Box logo is licensed from the Bulletproof Bear catalog. That tag was composed by Jon LaCroix, who is one of Moss’ business partners. In regards to the dramatic strings on the kids’ entrance, Moss, who happened to write that cue, says, “The way they filmed the kids… it’s like they are little mini adults. So the theme has some seriousness to it. In context, it’s really cute.”

For the decision-making cues, Moss wanted to stay away from traditional tension strings. To give the track a more playful feel that would counterbalance the tension, he used video game sounds and 808 analog drum sounds. “I also wanted to use organic sounds that were arpeggiated and warm. They are decision-making tick-tock tracks, but I wanted to make it more fun and interesting,” says Moss.

“We were able to service the show on the underscore side with Bulletproof Bear’s music catalog in conjunction with my original music. It was a great opportunity for us to keep all the music within our company and give the client a one-stop shop, keeping the music process organized and easy,” he explains. “It was all about finding the right sound, or the right cue, for each of those segments. At the end of the day, I want to make sure that everybody is happy, acknowledge the showrunners’ musical vision and strive to capture that. It was a super-fun experience, and hopefully it will come back for a second, third and tenth season! It’s one of those shows you can watch with your kids. The kid judges are adorable and brutally honest, and with the myriad of adult programming out there, it’s refreshing to see a show like The Toy Box get green-lit.”

MTI 4.28

Nutmeg and Nickelodeon team up to remix classic SpongeBob songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard Bowler pictured embracing VR.

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

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

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

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

Main Image: Howard Bowler and Jon Mackey


Creating a sonic world for The Zookeeper’s Wife

By Jennifer Walden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Behind the Title: Sounding Sweet audio producer/MD Ed Walker

NAME: Ed Walker

COMPANYSounding Sweet (@sounding_sweet)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STUDIO?
We are a UK-based independent recording and audio production company with a recording studio in Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire, and separate postproduction facilities in Leamington Spa. Our recording studio is equipped with the latest technology, including a 7.1 surround sound dubbing suite and two purpose-built voiceover booths, which double as Foley studios and music recording spaces when necessary. We are also fully equipped to record ADR, via Source Connect and ISDN.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Audio producer, sound engineer and managing director — take your pick.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As we are a small business and I am very hands-on., and my responsibilities change on a daily basis. They may include pitching to new clients, liaising with existing clients, overseeing projects from start to finish and ensuring our audio deliveries as a team are over and above what the client is expecting.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Creating and implementing interactive sound into video games is a technical challenge. While I don’t write code myself, as part of working in this industry, I have had to develop a technical understanding of game development and software programming in order to communicate effectively and achieve my audio vision.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I often get the opportunity to go out and record supercars and motorbikes, as well as occasionally recording celebrity voiceovers in the studio. We work with clients both locally and globally, often working across different time zones. We are definitely not a 9-to-5 business.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Working through the night during crunch periods is hard. However, we understand that the main audio effort is usually applied toward the end of a project, so we are kind of used to it.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I would have to say first thing in the morning. My studio is so close to home that I get to see my family before I go to work.

IF YOU DID NOT HAVE THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
If I wasn’t producing audio I would have to be doing something equally creative. I need an outlet for my thoughts and emotions, perhaps video editing or creating visual effects.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I have always loved music, as both my parents are classically trained musicians. After trying to learn lots of different instruments, I realized that I had more of an affinity with sound recording. I studied “Popular Music and Recording” at university. Later on, I realized that a lot of the music recording skills I had learned were transferable to creating sound effects for computer games.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
– BMW Series 7 launch in Bahrain — sound design
– Jaguar F Pace launch in Bahrain — sound design
Forza Horizon 3 for Microsoft/Playground Games —  audio design
Guitar Hero Live for Activision — audio design

Forza Horizon 3 Lamborghini

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I worked as a sound designer at Codemasters for several years, and I have very fond memories of working on Dirt 2. It sounded awesome back in 2009 in surround sound on the Xbox 360! More recently, Sounding Sweet’s work for Playground Games on Forza Horizon 3 was a lot of fun, and I am very proud of what we achieved.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
A portable sound recorder, an iPhone and a kettle.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
All kinds of music — classics, reggae, rock, electronic, the Stones, Led Zeppelin… the list is truly endless.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
My wife is half Italian, so we often visit her “homeland” to see the family. This really is the time when I get to switch off.


The importance of audio in VR

By Anne Jimkes

While some might not be aware, sound is 50 percent of the experience in VR, as well as in film, television and games. Because we can’t physically see the audio, it might not get as much attention as the visual side of the medium. But the balance and collaboration between visual and aural is what creates the most effective, immersive and successful experience.

More specifically, sound in VR can be used to ease people into the experience, what we also call “on boarding.” It can be used subtly and subconsciously to guide viewers by motivating them to look in a specific direction of the virtual world, which completely surrounds them.

In every production process, it is important to discuss how sound can be used to benefit the storytelling and the overall experience of the final project. In VR, especially the many low-budget independent projects, it is crucial to keep the importance and use of audio in mind from the start to save time and money in the end. Oftentimes, there are no real opportunities or means to record ADR after a live-action VR shoot, so it is important to give the production mixer ample opportunity to capture the best production sound possible.

Anne Jimkes at work.

This involves capturing wild lines, making sure there is time to plant and check the mics, and recording room tone. Things that are already required, albeit not always granted, on regular shoots, but even more important on a set where a boom operator cannot be used due to the 360 degree view of the camera. The post process is also very similar to that for TV or film up to the point of actual spatialization. We come across similar issues of having to clean up dialogue and fill in the world through sound. What producers must be aware of, however, is that after all the necessary elements of the soundtrack have been prepared, we have to manually and meticulously place and move around all the “audio objects” and various audio sources throughout the space. Whenever people decide to re-orient the video — meaning when they change what is considered the initial point of facing forward or “north” — we have to rewrite all this information that established the location and movement of the sound, which takes time.

Capturing Audio for VR
To capture audio for virtual reality we have learned a lot about planting and hiding mics as efficiently as possible. Unlike regular productions, it is not possible to use a boom mic, which tends to be the primary and most naturally sounding microphone. Aside from the more common lavalier mics, we also use ambisonic mics, which capture a full sphere of audio and matches the 360 picture — if the mic is placed correctly on axis with the camera. Most of the time we work with Sennheiser and use their Ambeo microphone to capture 360 audio on set, after which we add the rest of the spatialized audio during post production. Playing back the spatialized audio has become easier lately, because more and more platforms and VR apps accept some form of 360 audio playback. There is still a difference between the file formats to which we can encode our audio outputs, meaning that some are more precise and others are a little more blurry regarding spatialization. With VR, there is not yet a standard for deliverables and specs, unlike the film/television workflow.

What matters most in the end is that people are aware of how the creative use of sound can enhance their experience, and how important it is to spend time on capturing good dialogue on set.


Anne Jimkes is a composer, sound designer, scholar and visual artist from the Netherlands. Her work includes VR sound design at EccoVR and work with the IMAX VR Centre. With a Master’s Degree from Chapman University, Jimkes previously served as a sound intern for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.


The new Tom and Jerry Show score combines vintage and modern sounds

By Jennifer Walden

Tom and Jerry have been locked in conflict since the 1940s when animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera pitted cat against mouse in a theatrical animated series for MGM’s cartoon studio. Their Academy Award-winning Tom and Jerry short films spurred numerous iterations over the years by different directors and animation studios.

The latest reboot, The Tom and Jerry Show, produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Renegade Animation, and directed by Darrell Van Citters, started airing on Cartoon Network in 2014. It didn’t really come into its own until Season 2, which began airing in 2016.

Vivek Maddala

Vivek Maddala is co-composer on the series. “The storytelling is getting better and better. Ostensibly, it’s a children’s show but what I’m finding is the writers seem to be having a lot of fun with allegorical references. It features layered storytelling that children probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate. For example, Tom’s love interest, a cat named Toodles, is an aspiring dancer by night but her day job is being a spot welder for heavy construction. Obviously, this is a Flashdance reference, so I was able to thread oblique references to Flashdance in the score.”

New episodes of The Tom and Jerry Show are currently airing on Cartoon Network, and Maddala will be composing 39 of the episodes in Season 3.

As with Hanna-Barbera’s animated theatrical shorts, the characters of Tom and Jerry rarely talk, although other recurring characters are voiced. Music plays an essential role in describing the characters’ actions and reactions. Maddala’s compositions are reminiscent of composer Scott Bradley’s approach to the original Tom and Jerry animations. Comfortable cartoon tropes like trumpet blasts and trombone slides, pizzicato plucks and timpani bounces punctuate a string-and woodwind-driven score. “Scott Bradley’s scoring technique is the gold standard. It is beautiful writing,” he says.

In their initial conversations, director Van Citters regularly referenced Bradley’s scoring technique. Maddala studied those scores carefully and frequently revisits them while writing his own scores for the show. Maddala also listens to “music that is completely unrelated, like Led Zeppelin or Marvin Gaye, to help jog my imagination. The music I’m writing for the show very much sounds like me. I’m taking some of the approaches that Scott Bradley used but, ultimately, I am using my own musical vocabulary. I have a certain way of hearing drama and hearing action, and that’s what the score sounds like.”

Maddala’s vintage-meets-modern compositions incorporate contemporary instrumentation and genres like blues guitar for when the cool stray cat comes onto the scene, and an electro-organ of the muziak persuasion for a snack food TV commercial. His musical references to Flashdance can heard in the “Cat Dance Fever” episode, and he gives a nod to Elmer Bernstein’s score for The Magnificent Seven in the episode “Uncle Pecos Rides Again.”

Each new musical direction or change of instrument doesn’t feel abrupt. It all melts into the quintessential Tom and Jerry small orchestra sound. “Darrell Van Citters and Warner Bros. are giving me quite a bit of autonomy in coming up with my own musical solutions to the action on-screen and the situations that the characters are experiencing. I’m able to draw from a lot of different things that inspire me,” explains Maddala.

Instruments & Tools
His score combines live recordings with virtual instruments. His multi-room studio in Los Angeles houses a live room, his main composing room and a separate piano room. Maddala keeps a Yamaha C3 grand piano and a drum kit always mic’d up so he can perform those parts whenever he needs. He also records small chamber groups there, like double-string quartets and woodwind quartets. The string ensembles sometimes consist of seven violins (four first and three second), three violas and three cellos, captured using a Blumlein pair recording configuration (a stereo recording technique that produces a realistic stereo image) with ribbon mics to evoke a vintage sound. He chooses AEA N8 ribbon mics matched with AEA’s RPQ 500 mic pre-amps.

Maddala also uses several large diaphragm tube condenser mics he designed for Avid years ago, such as the Sputnik. “The Sputnik is a cross between a classic Neumann U47 capsule with the original M7 design, and an AKG C 12 mic with the original CK12 capsule. The capsule is sort of like a cross between those two mics. The head amp is based on the Telefunken ELA M 251.”

Maddala’s composing room.

Maddala uses three different DAWs. He composes in Cakewalk’s Sonar on a PC and runs video through Steinberg’s Cubase on a Mac. The two systems are locked together via SMPTE timecode. On the Mac, he also runs Avid Pro Tools 12 for delivering stems to the dub stage. “The dub is done in Pro Tools so they usually ask to have a Pro Tools session delivered to them. Once the score is approved, I copy the stems into a Pro Tools session so it’s self-contained, save that and post it to the FTP server.”

Maddala got his start in composing for film by scoring classic silent films from the 1920s, which Warner Bros. and TCM restored in order to release them to today’s audiences. He worked with recording/mix engineer Dan Blessinger on those silent films, and Blessinger — the sound designer on The Tom and Jerry Show, recommended Maddala for the gig. “A lot of the classic silent films from the 1920s never had a score associated with them because the technology didn’t exist to marry sound and picture. About 10 or 15 years ago, when TCM was releasing these films to modern audiences, they needed new scores. So I started doing that, which built up my chops for scoring something like a Tom & Jerry cartoon where there is wall-to-wall music,” concludes Maddala.


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


Music house Wolf at the Door opens in Venice

Wolf at the Door has opened in Venice, California, providing original music, music supervision and sound design for the ad industry and, occasionally, films. Founders Alex Kemp and Jimmy Haun have been making music for some time: Kemp was composer at Chicago-based Catfish Music and Spank, and was the former creative director of Hum in Santa Monica. Haun spent over 10 years as the senior composer at Elias, in addition to being a session musician.

Between the two of them they’ve been signed to four major labels, written music for 11 Super Bowl spots, and have composed music for top agencies, including W+K, Goodby, Chiat Day, Team One and Arnold, working with directors like David Fincher, Lance Acord, Stacy Wall and Gore Verbinski.

In addition to making music, Kemp linked up with his longtime friend Scott Brown, a former creative director at agencies including Chiat Day, 72and Sunny and Deutsch, to start a surf shop and brand featuring hand-crafted surf boards — Lone Wolfs Objets d’Surf.

With the Wolf at the Door recording studio and production office existing directly behind the Lone Wolfs retail store, Kemp and his partners bounce between different creative projects daily: writing music for spots, designing handmade Lone Wolfs surfboards, recording bands in the studio, laying out their own magazine, or producing their own original branded content.

Episodes of their original surf talk show/Web series Everything’s Not Working have featured guest pro surfers, including Dion Agius, Nabil Samadani and Eden Saul.

Wolf at the Door recently worked on an Experian commercial directed by the Malloy Brothers for the Martin Agency, as well as a Century Link spot directed by Malcom Venville for Arnold Worldwide. Kemp worked closely with Venville on the casting and arrangement for the spot, and traveled to Denver to record the duet of singer Kelvin Jones’ “Call You Home” with Karissa Lee, a young singer Kemp found specifically for the project.

“Our approach to music is always driven by who the brand is and what ideas the music needs to support,” says Kemp. “The music provides the emotional context.” Paying attention to messaging is something that goes hand in hand with carving out their own brand and making their own content. “The whole model seemed ready for a reset. And personally speaking, I like to live and work at a place where being inspired dictates the actions we take, rather than the other way around.”

Main Image L-R:  Jimmy Haun and Alex Kemp.

Sound editor/mixer Korey Pereira on 3D audio workflows for VR

By Andrew Emge

As the technologies for VR and 360 video rapidly advance and become more accessible, media creators are realizing the crucial role that sound plays in achieving realism. Sound designers are exploring this new frontier of 3D audio at the same time that tools for the medium are being developed and introduced. When everything is so new and constantly evolving, how does one learn where to start or decide where to invest time and experimentation?

To better understand this process, I spoke with Korey Pereira, a sound editor and mixer based in Austin, Texas. He recently entered the VR/360 audio world and has started developing a workflow.

Can you provide some background about who you are, the work you’ve done, and what you’ve been up to lately?
I’m the owner/creative director at Soularity Sound, an Austin-based post company. We primarily work with indie filmmakers, but also do some television and ad work. In addition to my work at Soularity, I also work as a sound editor and mixer at a few other Austin post facilities, including Soundcrafter. My credits with them include Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some, as well as TV shows such as Shipping Wars and My 600lb Life.

You recently purchased the Pro Sound Effects NYC Ambisonics library. Can you talk about some VR projects you are working on?
In the coming months I plan to start creating audio content for VR with a local content creator, Deepak Chetty. Over the years we have collaborated on a number of projects, most recently I worked on his stereoscopic 3D sci-fi/action film, Hard Reset, which won the 2016 “Best 3D Live Action Short” from the Advanced Imaging Society.

Deepak Chetty shooting a VR project.

I love sci-fi as a genre, because there really are no rules. It lets you really go for it as far as sound. Deepak has been shifting his creative focus toward 360 content and we are hoping to start working together in that aspect in the near future.

The content Deepak is currently mostly working on non-fiction and documentary-based content in 360 — mainly environment capture with a through line of audio storytelling that serves as the backbone of the piece. He is also looking forward to experimenting with fiction-based narratives in the 360 space, especially with the use of spatial audio to enhance immersion for the viewer.

Prior to meeting Deepak, did you have any experience working with VR/3D audio?
No, this is my first venture into the world of VR audio or 3D audio. I have been mixing in surround for over a decade, but I am excited about the additional possibilities this format brings to the table.

What have been the most helpful sources for studying up and figuring out a workflow?
The Internet! There is such a wealth of information out there, and you kind of just have to dive in. The benefit of 360 audio being a relatively new format is that people are still willing to talk openly about it.

Was there anything particularly challenging to get used to or wrap your head around?
In a lot of ways designing audio for VR is not that different from traditional sound mixing for film. You start with a bed of ambiences and then place elements within a surround space. I guess the most challenging part of the transition is anticipating how the audience might hear your mix. If the viewer decides to watch a whole video facing the surrounds, how will it sound?

Can you describe the workflow you’ve established so far? What are some decisions you’ve made regarding DAW, monitoring, software, plug-ins, tools, formats and order of operation?
I am a Pro Tools guy, so my main goal was finding a solution that works seamlessly inside the Pro Tools environment. As I started looking into different options, the Two Big Ears Spatial Workstation really stood out to me as being the most intuitive and easiest platform to hit the ground running with. (Two Big Ears recently joined Facebook, so Spatial Workstation is now available for free!)

Basically, you install a Pro Tools plug-in that works as a 3D audio engine and gives you a Pro Tools project with all the routing and tracks laid out for you. There are object-based tracks that allow you to place sounds within a 3D environment as well as ambience tracks that allow you to add stereo or ambisonic beds as a basis for your mix.

The coolest thing about this platform is that it includes a 3D video player that runs in sync with Pro Tools. There is a binaural preview pathway in the template that lets you hear the shift in perspective as you move the video around in the player. Pretty cool!

In September 2016, another audio workflow for VR in Pro Tools entered the market from the Dutch company Audio Ease and their 360 pan suite. Much like the Spatial Workstation, the suite offers an object-based panner (360 pan) that when placed on every audio track allows you to pan individual items within the 360-degree field of view. The 360 pan suite also includes the 360 monitor, which allows you to preview head tracking within Pro Tools.

Where the 360 pan suite really stands out is with their video overlay function. By loading a 360 video inside of Pro Tools, Audio Ease adds an overlay on top of the Pro Tools video window, letting you pan each track in real time, which is really useful. For the features it offers, it is relatively affordable. The suite does not come with its own template, but they have a quick video guide to get you up and going fairly easily.

Are there any aspects that you’re still figuring out?
Delivery is still a bit up in the air. You may need to export in multiple formats to be able to upload to Facebook, YouTube, etc. I was glad to see that YouTube is supporting the ambisonic format for delivery, but I look forward to seeing workflows become more standardized across the board.

Any areas in which you see the need for further development, and/or where the tech just isn’t there yet?
I think the biggest limitation with VR is the lack of affordable and easy-to-use 3D audio capture devices. I would love to see a super-portable ambisonic rig that filmmakers can easily use in conjunction with shooting 360 video. Especially as media giants like YouTube are gravitating toward the ambisonic format for delivery, it would be great for them to be able to capture the actual space in the same format.

In January 2017, Røde announced the VideoMic Soundfield — an on-camera ambisonic, 360-degree surround sound microphone — though pricing and release dates have not yet been made public.

One new product I am really excited about is the Sennheiser Ambeo VR mic, which is around $1,650. That’s a bit pricey for the most casual user once you factor in a 4-track recorder, but for the professional user that already has a 788T, the Ambeo VR mic offers a nice turnkey solution. I like that the mic looks a little less fragile than some of the other options on the market. It has a built-in windscreen/cage similar to what you would see on a live handheld microphone. It also comes with a Rycote shockmount and cable to 4-XLR, which is nice.

Some leading companies have recently selected ambisonics as the standard spatial audio format — can you talk a bit about how you use ambisonics for VR?
Yeah, I think this is a great decision. I like the “future proof” nature of the ambisonic format. Even in traditional film mixing, I like having the option to export to stereo, 5.1 or 7.1 depending on the project. Until ambisonic becomes more standardized, I like that the Two Big Ears/FB 360 encoder allows you to export to the .tbe B-Format (FuMa or ambiX/YouTube) as well as quad-binaural.

I am a huge fan of the ambisonic format in general. The Pro Sound Effects NYC Ambisonics Library (and now Chicago and Tokyo as well) was my first experience using the format and I was blown away. In a traditional mixing environment it adds another level of depth to the backgrounds. I really look forward to being able to bring it to the VR format as well.


Andrew Emge is operations manager at Pro Sound Effects.