Category Archives: Audio

The sound of Netflix’s The Defenders

By Jennifer Walden

Netflix’s The Defenders combines the stories of four different Marvel shows already on the streaming service: Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. In the new show, the previously independent superheroes find themselves all wanting to battle the same foe —a cultish organization called The Hand, which plans to destroy New York City. Putting their differences aside, the superheroes band together to protect their beloved city.

Supervising sound editor Lauren Stephens, who works at Technicolor at Paramount, has earned two Emmy nominations for her sound editing work on Daredevil. And she supervised the sound for each of the aforementioned Marvel series, with the exception of Jessica Jones. So when it came to designing The Defenders she was very conscious of maintaining the specific sonic characteristics they had already established.

“We were dedicated to preserving the palette of each of the previous Marvel characters’ neighborhoods and sound effects,” she explains. “In The Defenders, we wanted viewers of the individual series to recognize the sound of Luke’s Harlem and Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen, for example. In addition, we kept continuity for all of the fight material and design work established in the previous four series. I can’t think of another series besides Better Call Saul that borrows directly from its predecessors’ sound work.”

But it wasn’t all borrowed material. Eventually, Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Iron Fist (Finn Jones) and Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) come together to fight The Hand’s leader Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver). “We experience new locations, and new fighting techniques and styles,” says Stephens. “Not to mention that half the city gets destroyed by The Hand. We haven’t had that happen in the previous series.”

Even though these Netflix/Marvel series are based on superheroes, the sound isn’t overly sci-fi. It’s as though the superheroes have more practical superhuman abilities. Stephens says their fight sounds are all real punches and impacts, with some design elements added only when needed, such as when Iron Fist’s iron fist is activated. “At the heart of our punches, for instance, is the sound of a real fist striking a side of beef,” she says. “It sounds like you’d expect, and then we amp it up when we mix. We record a ton of cloth movement and bodies scraping and sliding and tumbling in Foley. Those elements connect us to the humans on-screen.”

Since most of the violence plays out in hand-to-hand combat, it takes a lot of editing to make those fight scenes, and it involves contributions from several sound departments. Stephens has her hard effects team — led by sound designer Jordon Wilby (who has worked on all the Netflix/Marvel series) cut sound effects for every single punch, grab, flip, throw and land. In addition, they cut metal shings and whooshes, impacts and drops for weapons, crashes and bumps into walls and furniture, and all the gunshot material.

Stephens then has the Technicolor Foley team — Foley artists Zane Bruce and Lindsay Pepper and mixer Antony Zeller —cover all the footsteps, cloth “scuffle,” wall bumps, body falls and grabs. Additionally, she has dialogue editor Christian Buenaventura clean up any dialogue that occurs within or around the fight scenes. With group ADR, they replace every grunt and effort for each individual in the fight so that they have ultimate control over every element during the mix.

Stephens finds Gallery’s SpotStudio to be very helpful for cueing all the group ADR. “I shoot a lot of group ADR for the fights and to help create the right populated feel for NYC. SpotStudio is a slick program that interfaces well with Avid’s Pro Tools. It grabs timecode location of ADR cues and can then output that to many word processing programs. Personally, I use FileMaker Pro. I can make great cuesheets that are easy to format and use for engineers and talent.”

All that effort results in fight scenes that feel “relentless and painful,” says Stephens. “I want them to have movement, tons of detail and a wide range of dynamics. I want the fights to sound great wherever our fans are listening.”

The most challenging fight in The Defenders happens in the season finale, when the superheroes fight The Hand in the sublevels of a building. “That underground fight was the toughest simply because it was endless and shot with a 360-degree turn. I focused on what was on-screen and continued those sounds just until the action passed out of frame. This kept our tracks from getting too cluttered but still gives us the right idea that 60 people are going at it,” concludes Stephens

Audio post vet Paul Rodriguez has passed away

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that post sound vet and all-around nice guy Paul Rodriguez passed away September 26th in Los Angeles of cardiac arrest after a brief hospitalization. He was 65.

Rodriguez was president of South Lake Audio Services and VP of audio services and development at Roundabout Entertainment in Burbank where he oversaw post production sound for projects including HBO’s Westworld. He was also a long-time board member of the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) and served as its treasurer for eight years. He produced the organizations’ annual MPSE Golden Reel Awards ceremony.

An active member of the professional sound community for more than 30 years, Rodriguez served in executive, sales and creative capacities at Todd-AO/Soundelux, Wilshire Stages, 4MC and EFX Systems. He was also co-owner of the Eagle Eye Film Company, a supplier of picture editing systems. He joined Roundabout Entertainment in 2015. Known for his infectious humor and gregarious personality, Rodriguez was a tireless ambassador for the art of entertainment sound and enjoyed universal respect and affection among his industry colleagues and friends.

“Paul will be remembered for the energy, wisdom and true dedication he gave to the sound industry,” said MPSE president Tom McCarthy. “His passing leaves a great void on our board and in the hearts of our members.”

postPerspective had the opportunity to interview Paul at NAB this past April. He was funny and smart and a pleasure to be around. His positive attitude and humor were contagious.

Rodriguez is survived by his son Hunter, daughter-in-law Abbie and granddaughter Charlie; daughter Rachael and son-in-law Manny Wong; daughter Alexa and her partner James Gill; his former wife, Catheryn Rodriguez; and several sisters.

Donations in Rodriguez’s name may be made to Montrose Church, Best Friends Animal Society or Alzheimer’s Association.

 

 

Dell 6.15

Nylon Studios ups composer Zac Colwell to CD

Music and sound boutique Nylon Studios has promoted composer Zac Colwell to creative director of music at their NYC studio. Colwell joined Nylon in 2015 and will become the studio’s first creative director to meet the increased scope of creative projects out of the music and sound shop in the US market.

Colwell is a multi-instrumentalist who has toured the world with numerous groups, including Big Data, Sondre Lerche, Kishi Bashi and others. He has composed original tracks for such top brands as Aetna, M.A.C, Zac Posen, Honey Nut Cheerios and Unicef. As creative director, Colwell will oversee all creative output from the NYC studio, encompassing original compositions, sound design, spatial audio, mix and music licensing. Nylon also has a studio in Sydney.

“Not only is [Zac] an incredibly talented musician, but he also has a deep understanding of how music can enhance pictures to communicate to their most effective and engaging degree,” notes global executive producer Hamish Macdonald.

Colwell, an Austin native, grew up in a musical family, playing drums, piano, guitar, saxophone and flute. A classically-trained jazz composer, he continues to perform and compose outside of Nylon. In addition to his commercial compositions, he is the drummer and producer of Chappo, sings his own songs with Fancy Colors, produces artists of all different genres, and most recently toured with Bleachers.


The challenges of dialogue and ice in Game of Thrones ‘Beyond the Wall’

By Jennifer Walden

Fire-breathing dragons and hordes of battle-ready White Walkers are big attention grabbers on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but they’re not the sole draw for audiences. The stunning visual effects and sound design are just the gravy on the meat and potatoes of a story that has audiences asking for more.

Every line of dialogue is essential for following the tangled web of storylines. It’s also important to take in the emotional nuances of the actors’ performances. Striking the balance between clarity and dynamic delivery isn’t an easy feat. When a character speaks in a gruff whisper because, emotionally, it’s right for the scene, it’s the job of the production sound crew and the post sound crew to make that delivery work.

At Formosa Group’s Hollywood location, an Emmy-winning post sound team works together to put as much of the on-set performances on the screen as possible. They are supervising sound editor Tim Kimmel, supervising dialogue editor Paul Bercovitch and dialogue/music re-recording mixer Onnalee Blank.

Tim Kimmel and Onnalee Blank

“The production sound crew does such a phenomenal job on the show,” says Kimmel. “They have to face so many issues on set, between the elements and the costumes. Even though we have to do some ADR, it would be a whole lot more if we didn’t have such a great sound crew on-set.”

In Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall,” the sound team faced a number of challenges. Starting at the beginning of this episode, Jon Snow [Kit Harington] and his band of fighters trek beyond the wall to capture a White Walker. As they walk across a frozen, windy landscape, they pass the time by getting to know each other more. Here the threads of their individual stories from past seasons start to weave together. Important connections are being made in each line of dialogue.

Those snowy scenes were shot in Iceland and the actors wore metal spikes on their shoes to help them navigate the icy ground. Unfortunately, the spikes also made their footsteps sound loud and crunchy, and that got recorded onto the production tracks.

Another challenge came from their costumes. They wore thick coats of leather and fur, which muffled their dialogue at times or pressed against the mic and created a scratchy sound. Wind was also a factor, sometimes buffeting across the mic and causing a low rumble on the tracks.

“What’s funny is that parts of the scene would be really tough to get cleaned up because the wind is blowing and you hear the spikes on their shoes — you hear costume movements. Then all of a sudden they stop and talk for a minute and the wind stops and it’s the most pristine, quiet, perfect recording you can think of,” explains Kimmel. “It almost sounded like it was shot on a soundstage. In Iceland, when the wind isn’t blowing and the actors aren’t moving, it’s completely quiet and still. So it was tough to get those two to match.”

As supervising sound editor, Kimmel is the first to assess the production dialogue tracks. He goes through an episode and marks priority sections for supervising dialogue editor Bercovitch to tackle first. He says, “That helps Tim [Kimmel] put together his ADR plan. He wants to try to pare down that list as much as possible. For Beyond the Wall, he wanted me to start with the brotherhood’s walk-and-talk north of the wall.”

Bercovitch began his edit by trying to clean up the existing dialogue. For that opening sequence, he used iZotope RX 6’s Spectral Repair to clean up the crunchy footsteps and the rumble of heavy winds. Next, he searched for usable alt takes from the lav and boom tracks, looking for a clean syllable or a full line to cut in as needed. Once Bercovitch was done editing, Kimmel could determine what still needed to be covered in ADR. “For the walk-and-talk beyond the wall, the production sound crew really did a phenomenal job. We didn’t have to loop that scene in its entirety. How they got as good of recordings as they did is honestly beyond me.”

Since most of the principle actors are UK and Ireland-based, the ADR is shot in London at Boom Post with ADR supervisor Tim Hands. “Tim [Hands] records 90% of the ADR for each season. Occasionally, we’ll shoot it here if the actor is in LA,” notes Kimmel.

Hands had more lines than usual to cover on Beyond the Wall because of the battle sequence between the brotherhood and the army of the dead. The principle actors came in to record grunts, efforts and breaths, which were then cut to picture. The battle also included Bercovitch’s selects of usable production sound from that sequence.

Re-recording mixer Blank went through all of those elements on dub Stage 1 at Formosa Hollywood using an Avid S6 console to control the Pro Tools 12 session. She chose vocalizations that weren’t “too breathy, or sound like it’s too much effort because it just sounds like a whole bunch of grunts happening,” she says. “I try to make the ADR sound the same as the production dialogue choices by using EQ, and I only play sounds for whoever is on screen because otherwise it just creates too much confusion.”

One scene that required extensive ADR was for Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) on the catwalk at Winterfell. In the seemingly peaceful scene, the sisters share an intimate conversation about their father as snow lightly falls from the sky. Only it wasn’t so peaceful. The snow was created by a loud snow machine that permeated the production sound, which meant the dialogue on the entire scene needed to be replaced. “That is the only dialogue scene that I had no hand in and I’ve been working on the show for three seasons now,” says Bercovitch.

For Bercovitch, his most challenging scenes to edit were ones that might seem like they’d be fairly straightforward. On Dragonstone, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) are in the map room having a pointed discussion on succession for the Iron Throne. It’s a talk between two people in an interior environment, but Bercovitch points out that the change of camera perspective can change the sound of the mics. “On this particular scene and on a lot of scenes in the show, you have the characters moving around within the scene. You get a lot of switching between close-ups and longer shots, so you’re going between angles with a usable boom to angles where the boom is not usable.”

There’s a similar setup with Sansa and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) at Winterfell. The two characters discuss Brienne’s journey to parley with Cersei (Lena Headey) in Sansa’s stead. Here, Bercovitch faced the same challenge of matching mic perspectives, and also had the added challenge of working around sounds from the fireplace. “I have to fish around in the alt takes — and there were a lot of alts — to try to get those scenes sounding a little more consistent. I always try to keep the mic angles sounding consistent even before the dialogue gets to Onnalee (Blank). A big part of her job is dealing with those disparate sound sources and trying to make them sound the same. But my job, as I see it, is to make those sound sources a little less disparate before they get to her.”

One tool that’s helped Bercovitch achieve great dialogue edits is iZotope’s RX 6. “It doesn’t necessarily make cleaning dialogue faster,”he says. “It doesn’t save me a ton of time, but it allows me to do so much more with my time. There is so much more that you can do with iZotope RX 6 that you couldn’t previously do. It still takes nitpicking and detailed work to get the dialogue to where you want it, but iZotope is such an incredibly powerful tool that you can get the result that you want,” he says.

On the dub stage, Blank says one of her most challenging scenes was the opening walk-and-talk sequence beyond the wall. “Half of that was ADR, half was production, and to make it all sound the same was really challenging. Those scenes took me four days to mix.”

Her other challenge was the ADR scene with Arya and Sansa in Winterfell, since every line there was looped. To help the ADR sound natural, as if it’s coming from the scene, Blank processes and renders multiple tracks of fill and backgrounds with the ADR lines and then re-records that back into Avid Pro Tools. “That really helps it sit back into the screen a little more. Playing the Foley like it’s another character helps too. That really makes the scene come alive.”

Bercovitch explains that the final dialogue you hear in a series doesn’t start out that way. It takes a lot of work to get the dialogue to sound like it would in reality. “That’s the thing about dialogue. People hear dialogue all day, every day. We talk to other people and it doesn’t take any work for us to understand when other people speak. Since it doesn’t take any work in one’s life why would it require a lot of work when putting a film together? There’s a big difference between the sound you hear in the world and recorded sound. Once it has been recorded you have to take a lot of care to get those recordings back to a place where your brain reads it as intelligible. And when you’re switching from angle to angle and changing mic placement and perspective, all those recordings sound different. You have to stitch those together and make them sound consistent so it sounds like dialogue you’d hear in reality.”

Achieving great sounding dialogue is a team effort — from production through post. “Our post work on the dialogue is definitely a team effort, from Paul’s editing and Tim Hands’ shooting the ADR so well to Onnalee getting the ADR to match with the production,” explains Kimmel. “We figure out what production we can use and what we have to go to ADR for. It’s definitely a team effort and I am blessed to be working with such an amazing group of people.”


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


Broadway Video’s Sue Pelino and team win Emmy

Sue Pelino and the sound mixing team at New York City’s Broadway Video have won the Emmy for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Series Or Special for their work on the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony that aired on HBO in April. Pelino served as re-recording mixer on the project.

Says Pelino, who is VP of audio post production at Broadway Video, “Our goal in preparing the televised package was to capture the true essence of the night. We wanted viewers to experience the energy and feel as if they were sitting in the tenth row of the Barclays Center. It’s a remarkable feeling to know that we have achieved that goal.”

Pelino is already the proud owner of two Emmy awards and has nine nominations under her belt. Her career as an audio post production engineer rests on her early years playing guitar in rock bands and recording original songs in her home studio.

Additional members of the winning sound team for the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony — produced by HBO entertainment in association with Playtone, Line by Line Productions, Alex Coletti Productions and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation — include Al Centrella, John Harris, Dave Natale, Jay Vicari, Erik Von Ranson and Simon Welch.


Eleven’s Ben Freer celebrates 10 years, Jordan Meltzer now mixer

Eleven, a Santa Monica-based audio boutique, has some mixer news. Ben Freer is celebrating his 10th year with the studio, and Jordan Meltzer has been promoted to mixer and sound designer.

A Manchester-native with a California upbringing, Freer was inspired by all things sound from a young age and was first introduced to Eleven as an intern in 2007. Mentored by Eleven founder/mixer Jeff Payne and quickly climbing the ranks to become an official staff member the same year. Freer has mixed for renowned clients in the advertising and multimedia industries, including Toyota, GMC, T-Mobile, Nike, H&R Block, The Weeknd and Lorde.

“When I started at Eleven, I didn’t know much about audio mixing, I just knew that I wanted to immerse myself in it,” says Freer. “Working with the industry’s best and eventually getting my own mix room has been an incredibly humbling experience.”

Los Angeles native Jordan Meltzer got hooked on sound and began gravitating toward the craft after seeing The Who perform at the Hollywood Bowl at age 9. He played in bands while growing up in the San Fernando Valley, eventually completing his BA in audio post production from Emerson College. After joining Eleven as an intern, similar to Freer, he climbed the ranks and took on a newfound role as assistant mixer, building his portfolio on a variety of films and commercials with clients HP, Dodge, Disney, FitBit and Sam Smith. Meltzer’s contributions led him to a recent promotion as mixer and sound designer.

“Climbing the Eleven ladder has been fulfilling, satisfying and challenging,” says Meltzer. “I remember sitting in the studio as an intern with Ben and Jeff, trying to learn and absorb it all. I always saw myself sitting in the chair, and it’s truly an honor to now be recognized as a mixer at such a warm, supportive and creative company.”

Main Image: L-R: Ben Freer and Jordan Meltzer


Review: Røde Mic’s Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote

By Brady Betzel

There are a ton of microphone types out there, and when it comes to adding an external mic to a camera you need to know what kind of mic works best in different situations. For interviews, you most likely want a microphone that picks up the audio that is placed directly in front of the microphone. If you are recording a music performance or ambience, you may want something that records in multiple directions without concentrating in any one specific location. I wanted to talk about Røde Microphones, which makes many of the on camera mics you see used YouTube content creators, Podcasters and filmmakers.

The way a microphone picks up audio is typically described as a polar pattern. The most common polar patterns in microphones are Cardioid, Super Cardioid and Omnidirectional. A Cardioid microphone will record mostly audio directly in front of it; a Super Cardioid will record mostly audio in the front, but also some directly in the rear; and an Omnidirectional will pick up audio equally from all directions. To further complicate the matter, if you record in stereo you can have a pickup pattern like X-Y Cardioid.

So after all that description of microphone polar patterns (you are welcome), here I’m going to focus on the Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote, which has an X-Y Cardioid polar pattern. You may be familiar with Rode’s famous VideoMic Pro, which is a great Super Cardioid, dual-mono microphone. The VideoMic Pro would be a great mic for recording a discussion outdoors, focusing on the conversation, but also picking up a little of the ambience. The Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote uses its X-Y Cardioid to record a stereo scene without a focus on a smaller specific area. In plain language, the Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote is great for recording ambience or performances. It is not the mic you want to use for an interview; that would be a job for the VideoMic Pro or better yet a directional mic like the Rode NTG series, which will give an intense focus on the area it is pointed at.

Capturing Ambience Outdoors
So why would someone want the Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote? If you record scenes outdoors, like at a baseball or soccer game, where you want to generally focus your audio on an area but also catch the surrounding ambience of the crowd… or at an outdoor group performance. Something I see missing a lot in videography is ambience in timelapses or b-roll, the Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote is exactly the on-camera mic you need to grab some great stereo ambience and add life to any b-roll shot, instantly. If you record traffic b-roll with cars crossing the camera from left to right or right to left, the stereo recording will convey traffic movement in a much more natural way engaging the viewer more than a mono recording of traffic that will not convey movement.

For all of the technical nerds out there, the Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote features a frequency range of 40Hz ~ 20,000Hz but can be limited with the built-in High Pass Filter that clips anything below 75Hz, matched pair ½” condenser capsules in X-Y stereo configuration, three position level control -10dB, 0 and +20dB. It uses a single 9V battery, measures 4.5” x 3.1” x 5.3”. It connects using a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack and weighs only .26 lbs.

The Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote is an updated version from the original Stereo VideoMic Pro, which includes the nearly indestructible Rycote Lyre shock mount, new condenser capsule setup, new Kevlar reinforced braided cable and improved foam windscreen. Best of all it comes with a 10-year warranty (one-year warranty plus nine additional years when you register your microphone). If you read any online comments about Røde microphones, you will notice one common theme: great customer service. More often than not you will see someone talk about how they needed an addition piece or how their warranty ran out but Rode still helped them out free of charge.

Putting it to the Test
To test the Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro I tried a few different scenarios including some outdoor scenes where I showcased stereo and mono recording. You can check out my YouTube video. I recorded everything on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which is notorious for having low audio recording levels. Luckily, the Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote has the three position level control and I was able to boost the recording by +20dB with very little noise. Otherwise my levels would have to be boosted when editing and that would definitely introduce more noise than I would have liked. While I did pick up a little bit of handling noise when recording, the Rycote Lyre shock-mount limited the little movements that other mics without this shock mount would have picked up. In terms of noise recorded on the mic, you can hear a little bit but nothing you couldn’t easily take out if it bothered you.

In the end the, Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro is a high-level external microphone that will add production value to any camera recording. It is priced between $279 and $300, although I found differing prices. Visit here to find a retailer near you, and one that will make sure you can take advantage of the tremendous warranty and customer service they offer. I also noticed that many retailers are including the Dead Kitten wind muff for free with purchase for when you are recording in a windy area.

When you listen to the difference between recording stereo with the Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote vs. recording mono on a mic like the Røde VideoMic Go, you can really feel your b-roll opening up. It adds a great level of depth to what would ordinarily be straight up the middle audio with no sense of left or right panning.

The Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote has an incredible recording and product build quality that will add depth to any footage you film. If you record outdoor b-roll, performances, or any other non-interview type footage. The Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote is going to be a vital piece of equipment you need to have in your bag.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.


Emmy Awards: American Horror Story: Roanoke

A chat with supervising sound editor Gary Megregian

By Jennifer Walden

Moving across the country and buying a new house is an exciting and scary process, but when it starts raining teeth at that new residence the scary factor pretty much makes the exciting feelings void. That’s the situation that Matt and Shelby, a couple from Los Angeles, find themselves in for American Horror Story’s sixth season on FX Networks. After moving into an old mansion in Roanoke, North Carolina, they discover that the dwelling and the local neighbors aren’t so accepting of outsiders.

American Horror Story: Roanoke explores a true-crime-style format that uses re-enactments to play out the drama. The role of Matt is played by Andre Holland in “reality” and by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the re-enactments. Shelby is played by Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulson, respectively. It’s an interesting approach that added a new dynamic to an already creative series.

Emmy-winning Technicolor at Paramount supervising sound editor Gary Megregian is currently working on his seventh season of American Horror Story, coming to FX in early September. He took some time out to talk about Season 6, Episode 1, Chapter 1, for which he and his sound editorial team have been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series. They won the Emmy in 2013, and this year marks their sixth nomination.

American Horror Story: Roanoke is structured as a true-crime series with re-enactments. What opportunities did this format offer you sound-wise?
This season was a lot of fun in that we had both the realistic world and the creative world to play in. The first half of the series dealt more with re-enactments than the reality-based segments, especially in Chapter 1. Aside from some interview segments, it was all re-enactments. The re-enactments were where we had more creative freedom for design. It gave us a chance to create a voice for the house and the otherworldly elements.

Gary Megregian

Was series creator Ryan Murphy still your point person for sound direction? For Chapter 1, did he have specific ideas for sound?
Ryan Murphy is definitely the single voice in all of his shows but my point person for sound direction is his executive producer Alexis Martin Woodall, as well as each episode’s picture editor.

Having been working with them for close to eight years now, there’s a lot of trust. I usually have a talk with them early each season about what direction Ryan wants to go and then talk to the picture editor and assistant as they’re building the show.

The first night in the house in Roanoke, Matt and Shelby hear this pig-like scream coming from outside. That sound occurs often throughout the episode. How did that sound come to be? What went into it?
The pig sounds are definitely a theme that goes through Season 6, but they started all the way back in Season 1 with the introduction of Piggy Man. Originally, when Shelby and Matt first hear the pig we had tried designing something that fell more into an otherworldly sound, but Ryan definitely wanted it to be real. Other times, when we see Piggy Man we went back to the design we used in Season 1.

The doors in the house sound really cool, especially that back door. What were the sources for the door sounds? Did you do any processing on the recordings to make them spookier?
Thanks. Some of the doors came from our library at Technicolor and some were from a crowd-sourced project from New Zealand-based sound designer Tim Prebble. I had participated in a project where he asked everyone involved to record a complete set of opens, closes, knocks, squeaks, etc. for 10 doors. When all was said and done, I gained a library of over 100GB of amazing door recordings. That’s my go-to for interesting doors.

As far as processing goes, nothing out of the ordinary was used. It’s all about finding the right sound.

When Shelby and Lee (Adina Porter) are in the basement, they watch this home movie featuring Piggy Man. Can you tell me about the sound work there?
The home movie was a combination of the production dialogue, Foley, the couple instances of hearing pig squeals and Piggy Man design along with VHS and CRT noise. For dialogue, we didn’t clean up the production tracks too much and Foley was used to help ground it. Once we got to the mix stage, re-recording mixers Joe Earle and Doug Andham helped bring it all together in their treatment.

What was your favorite scene to design? Why? What went into the sound?
One of my favorite scenes is the hail/teeth storm when Shelby’s alone in the house. I love the way it starts slow and builds from the inside, hearing the teeth on the skylight and windows. Once we step outside it opens up to surround us. I think our effects editor/designer Tim Cleveland did a great job on this scene. We used a number of hail/rain recordings along with Foley to help with some of the detail work, especially once we step outside.

Were there any audio tools that were helpful when working on Chapter 1? Can you share specific examples of how you used them?
I’m going to sound like many others in this profession, but I’d say iZotope RX. Ryan is not a big fan of ADR, so we have to make the production work. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve had any actors in for ADR last season. That’s a testament to our production mixer Brendan Beebe and dialogue editor Steve Stuhr. While the production is well covered and recorded well, Steve still has his work cut out for him to present a track that’s clean. The iZotope RX suite helps with that.

Why did you choose Chapter 1 for Emmy consideration for its sound editorial?
One of the things I love about working on American Horror Story is that every season is like starting a new show. It’s fun to establish the sound and the tone of a show, and Chapter 1 is no exception. It’s a great representation of our crew’s talent and I’m really happy for them that they’re being recognized for it. It’s truly an honor.


Emmy Awards: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Re-recording mixer Brian Bracken and supervising sound editor Benny Mouthon

By Jennifer Walden

CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown is an award-winning travel series about food and politics. Or is it a food series about travel and politics? Perhaps it’s best described as a three-course mind-meal of food, travel and regional political/economic commentary with a dash of history. Whatever it is, it’s addicting, and Bourdain’s candor is refreshing. And if even some of the dishes that Bourdain consumes seem less than appetizing, the show itself is totally binge-worthy. Now on Netflix, all nine season are available for mass consumption.

Benny Mouthon

From its inception, String & Can in New York City has handled the post sound on Parts Unknown. Sound designers/re-recording mixers Benny Mouthon and Brian Bracken have amassed a total of nine Emmy nominations for their sound work on the show. This year Mouthon is nominated for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Nonfiction Program on Season 8, Episode 1 “Hanoi,” and Bracken is nominated for Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Nonfiction Program on Season 8’s finale, Episode 9 “Rome.”

Even though their nominations are specifically for sound editing and sound mixing, Mouthon and Bracken handle all the audio post needs for each episode they work on, from dialogue editing and sound design to final mix. It’s a substantial amount of work per episode considering Bourdain generally doesn’t use a production sound mixer. Sound-wise, it’s often just a case of catch what you can on the busy streets and crowded eateries.

Here, Mouthon and Bracken share details about what went into their Emmy-nominated episodes.

You’re nine seasons into Parts Unknown and the show just gets better and better. Sound-wise, how has the show grown? What’s changed over the years?
Benny Mouthon: We usually don’t have a location sound mixer on the show, but I feel that the camera crew has been paying more attention to mic placements. Also, the converters on the cameras have gotten better as the cameras have evolved. They can record much better quality sound than a few years ago, though still not as good as a high-end field sound recorder.

The bulk of the dialogue that we get is a lavaliere on Tony Bourdain and his guest or guests. Then they have Sanken shotgun mics on the cameras. As they move around the subjects in the frame, the shotguns tend to not be very usable so we rely on the lav mics a lot. Since the producers are the only ones that spend time both in the field and in the mix, we have had many discussions after the screenings over the years as to what works, what doesn’t and how things can be done better next time. Thanks to this dialogue I can definitely say that the quality of the audio has gotten better with time.

On the post side, we have more powerful tools than we did when the series first started. With the iZotope RX tools we’ve been able to clean up tracks that would have been unusable before. We often have to deal with distortion, or clothing rustle, or wind noise, and now all of those issues are easier to deal with.

Editors will often send us problematic audio scenes during the edit to see if they can be salvaged. In the past we used to turn down many, but in the last couple of years our “success rate” has gotten much better.

Brian Bracken

Brian Bracken: The cinematic landscape lends itself to us being able to enhance the show more by using the production audio. For instance, in the “Rome” episode, there’s a highway scene with fast “car-bys.” Those were very well recorded, and the cars sound very powerful when they pass by. That wasn’t really how it was delivered to us back in the earlier seasons. Like Benny said, with the equipment getting better the recordings get better and the attention to detail in terms of sound has really paid off.

Mouthon: As the show evolves, the cameramen get to play with nicer toys, and they’re also recording more b-roll. They started to use the Canon D5 early on for this, with better lenses — lenses that gave the show a much more filmic look. Tony also likes to pay homage to films quite a lot, Brian’s “Rome” episode is just one great example.

As this “cinema-style” became more the norm, I think they realized that the edits can be limited if they don’t have very specific sounds that were recorded while they were in a particular place. So they have grown more aware of what will make for a better edit and therefore a better soundscape afterwards for us.

Talking about soundscapes, let’s look at the “Hanoi” episode. You start with a rural soundscape of wind in grass, chickens and bugs, and then it changes to urban sounds like motorbikes and horns. How much sound was taken from production?
Mouthon: A fair amount was taken from production, and I have to give a big credit to Hunter Gross, the picture editor on that episode. He’s very good at laying out a lot of the B-roll and complementing that with sound effects so that I have a great starting point. The huge advantage I had was that I was in Hanoi about 10 years ago on a personal holiday and I had a little Zoom recorder with me. I was able to use a lot of my own recordings of Hanoi, which included a lot of great stereo street sounds.

The downside to not having a location sound mixer is that the camera crew gets everything they can but it’s in mono. They don’t have the time to go back to a location with a stereo recorder or an X/Y mic configuration on a camera to record that way. There’s just no time. So I was able to use a lot of my own recordings to complement what they had gotten in mono, along with my memory of how absolutely insane traffic is in Hanoi.

It’s busy even on the smaller side streets. I remember just standing on the curb on my first day and not knowing how to cross the street. It is just completely flooded with scooters everywhere. There was an old lady standing next to me who looked at me pitifully and she just walked right out into the street, staring straight ahead to where she was going. I decided to just follow her and miraculously the scooters just avoid you and you just trust that you won’t be hit.

Sound-wise, I remember that everyone honks, and they go pretty fast. So I was given a lot of B-roll from Hunter to complement the scenes. I really like to pan the sound and follow an individual scooter from left to right. I also put in a lot of my stereo recordings to complement their sound a bit better and I was able to add a lot of Italian scooter sounds, as well as some Honda bikes. I try to stay as true as possible to what I am seeing but the idea was to make the sound feel a little bit claustrophobic.

What sounds would you say are characteristic of Hanoi’s soundscape? What sounds make that city sound like that city?
Mouthon: The two-stroke engine. There are a lot of scooters, very whiney and mid-ranged. The sound of motorbikes is relentless, and it’s coming from everywhere — left, right, up, down — you are constantly making sure that you’re not getting in the way of someone who is driving very fast.

The scooter sounds were useful in another way. We could take you out of one scene and bring you into a completely different situation, one that is much more present. It can be loud, fill the space and give your senses a shock.

For the first half of the episode, Bourdain is eating outside on the street and there’s traffic and crowds. Tell me about the principle dialog for those locations. It seems like it would have been quite a challenge to clean and edit the dialog there.
Mouthon: There was a lot of street noise, but that’s kind of the charm — having Bourdain sitting on a plastic stool on the pavement, eating a bowl of soup. Thankfully, the camera work is such that they do pan over into the street and you see a bunch of scooters going back and forth.

As a viewer, it’s easier to accept the sound of the scooters and the noise when you get to see how dense the traffic is. But it was still tricky. There were a lot of scooter sounds and traffic noises that had to be finessed out of sentences because the noise sounded cut off. Often I had to grab B-roll sound to help match that sentence into the upcoming sentence that they decided to use.

In general, the rain was more problematic than the traffic noise. There is a scene where he is outside late in the evening and it’s pouring rain. That was harder to deal with. I used a little bit of EQ and compression to control it a little but the sound overall is pretty true to what it sounded like there.

President Obama shows up in Hanoi. How cool is that? Sound-wise, was there anything to note about that sequence?
Mouthon: The scene was shot in a restaurant and they asked people not to speak too loudly but, as is often the case in those smaller restaurants, the walls are very straight and parallel, and the floor is made of tile and the sound just echoes. There isn’t much in there to absorb the sound, so it was a little bit echoey, a little live, but not unmanageable.

I did add a little bit of stereo rain as former President Obama was coming out of the limousine because he was holding an umbrella. I also added in a little bit of crowd sounds just to enhance it a bit overall. At the end of act four, we see Tony walking through the rain and I complemented that with stereo ambience of growling thunder.

The “Hanoi” episode wraps up on an emotional note. The music does a lot to carry the emotion. Did you do anything sound-wise to help support that?
Mouthon: Hunter and the producer Tom Vitale often like to end on an emotional note. They like it to be a little poetic, and I agree with that. There were just a couple little hints of B-roll sound there, but I kept it very low because it’s the music that’s supposed to take the show out. Also, ending on music was a great way to tie it back to the beginning.

For “Rome,” the mood is very tongue-in-cheek. The episode opens with a street performer singing a spirited song, and the lyrics are about killing her lover. From a mix standpoint Brian, were you able to enhance the playfulness of this episode?
Bracken: Hunter did this episode as well. He was the one who really sold that tongue-in-cheek aspect of the episode, and I just tried to enhance it. I was there to support that performance in the mix. During that scene you have two performers in the market, and the market sounds were getting in the way of their guitars, and it wasn’t an easy task to make it sound as clean as it did.

In terms of the mix, what were some creative opportunities you had on the “Rome” episode?
Bracken: There were some cool things during the Mussolini section where they showed archival footage. Recreating the sound for that, making it feel as real as possible was fun. I like doing all of that marching stuff, with the very militant crowds. That was fun to do.

I also really liked doing that car scene — where the cars are whizzing by on the highway. It starts out far back and you hear this gentle rumble, then all of a sudden when that first car passes it’s like a punch in the face. The power continues throughout that whole little section until it is over-the-top loud. It’s almost like you’re standing on the side of the road. I was able to take their production audio and enhance that with other car-bys to really give it that sweeping stereo image. When a car goes by it just doesn’t cut away — you hear it decay a lot longer as the next car comes by.

The boxing scene was fun too because there were those hits. When they punch each other, I basically wanted it to sound the way Bourdain describes it: as a slap of leather against wet skin. When you hear him say that you have this picture in your head of what it should sound like and hopefully it matches everybody’s expectations when they hear those punches being thrown and landing.

What was the most challenging scene for you to mix in this episode, and how did you handle it?
Bracken: There’s a scene where Bourdain is talking with a group of people and they are in a café right on the side of the road. There are cars driving by, but I didn’t have that camera pan-over to show that there was traffic. I had to cut out all the stuff in between but not have gaps in the ambience. That’s a challenge you face all the time with any restaurant scene. So I cut out what I didn’t like.

I cut out the sound between words and layered in a nice crowd bed in mono. Then I did a separate bed in stereo. I find that when I only do the bed in stereo it sounds too wide. So I need something to marry the wide aspect of the scene and the narrow aspect of the voices. So between the mono bed, the dialogue, and the stereo bed I can do fader movements to make it sound smooth.

Of all the episodes in Season 8, why did you choose the mix on “Rome” for Emmy consideration?
Bracken: The episode really had great production audio. I had a lot to work with. They did a great job out there in the field.

Also, the episode is very cinematic. I love how Hunter and Tom end on a low note. They do that for this episode as well. I love the echoey footsteps that are leading you through the Palazzo Del Congressi. To me, the “Rome” episode sounded the best, and it was the most artistic one that I worked on this season.

Benny, of all the episodes in Season 8, why did you choose the sound editing on “Hanoi” for Emmy consideration?
Mouthon: For me, it was a mixture of having enjoyed playing around with all of the sounds of the scooters and knowing that they were almost a secondary character in the episode. But it was also a very nostalgic episode for me since it reminded me of the week I spent there and so maybe it was a bit more present in my head than the other episodes. No offense to the other episodes of course!


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

Quick Chat: The making of Big Chicken Small Movie

Big Chicken Small Movie is an animated short film that pays homage to Marietta, Georgia’s beloved 56-foot-tall steel fowl. This iconic attraction is part of the local KFC franchise that recently underwent a massive renovation. In the film, a young boy, who is a bit of an outcast, finds a friend in the gigantic chicken and they go on an adventure in North Georgia.

We reached out to agency W+K, animation company Awesome Inc and music company Bluetube about this unique opportunity to honor the local monument in a charming, design-driven tale of friendship.

How did the idea for a film celebrating the Big Chicken come about? What was your inspiration?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: We wanted to celebrate the re-opening of the Big Chicken KFC with something that locals would love because they’ve given this big steel vaguely chicken-like structure a lot of love since it was built in 1956. It is such an imposing steel structure it seemed funny that it could come to life, befriend a boy and go on a fun adventure while inadvertently leaving a path of destruction in its wake. We were inspired by animation classics from our childhood and, of course, The Iron Giant was mentioned a couple times when we were developing the concept.

Why was animation your favored route to bring it to life?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: Our first plan was to bring the Big Chicken to life using artificial intelligence and Japanese robotics, but it turns out that an animated film was way more feasible and less dangerous for restaurant visitors.

How did you select Awesome Inc was the right partner for the project?
Matthew Carol and Mike Egan, Wieden+Kennedy: While we did have an Atlantan on our team, we’re way up in Portland, Oregon, so we hoped we would find an Atlanta-based studio who would put some passion and local insights into the project. Awesome Inc really took ownership of the story, character design and all the little details that help the story feel like a celebration of Marietta and the Big Chicken’s place there.

Tell us a little about the style inspiration?
Craig Sheldon, Awesome Inc: With almost all of our projects, color scheme and style are the first things we begin to sort out. We knew that this was a simple story with a lot of emotion, so we chose a limited but bold color palette to bring it to life. Using basic shapes in an illustrative style seemed to aid in our storytelling as well, so we looked to examples with a like-minded philosophy for inspiration, some newer and some more classic.

What did you learn along the way?
Craig Sheldon, Awesome Inc: As far as animation technique, we learned a great deal. We tried out new methods of character rigging and integrating 3D in a seamless way that we hadn’t before. We learned some valuable storytelling techniques during the boarding and animatic phase that we’d not yet encountered on previous projects. We also learned that not only is the phrase “less is more” true in style, but also in storytelling, as we ended up deciding to take out a number of almost completed scenes that weren’t advancing the overall narrative of the piece. It is tough to see so many hours of work hit the cutting room floor, but in the end it made for a better film.

How did you decide on the style of music for the film?
Michael Kohler, Bluetube: I think with most scoring situations, the style of the composition is heavily influenced by the content, look and execution of a scene. With Big Chicken, the character design and animation really helped shape the story, and without any dialogue the music had to complement that feel. The only track that was written before seeing any moving animation was the one that plays as the boy and chicken go on their adventures — that track was the first piece created for this project, and it was started based only on the amazing storyboards.

Can you talk a little about your balance of traditional instruments to digital tools/plug-ins used for the soundtrack?
Michael Kohler, Bluetube: I’ve always been a fan of using both traditional and digital instrumentation when the opportunity presents itself. I think both have positive and negative aspects depending on the situation. For this particular genre of music I tend to start with and almost always incorporate guitar. That was my first instrument and still the one I’m most comfortable with. After that, the sky is the limit with the amazing digital instruments and tools we have at our disposal, giving us opportunities we didn’t have previously.

What was the collaboration like with the W&K team?
Allison Sanders, Awesome Inc: W+K approached us with strong ideas and open minds, presenting an excellent platform for collaboration. They gave us a great deal of creative freedom while at the same time providing the bedrock concept that made this short great. They provided quality feedback if something wasn’t quite working, with the added bonus of positive encouragement along the way. With their understanding of the client’s goals and our first-hand knowledge of the surrounding area, we were able to create a film that sparked interest in the refurbished franchise, while evoking a fond sense of nostalgia for Georgia residents and Big Chicken devotees.