Category Archives: Netflix

Netflix’s Lost in Space: New sounds for a classic series

By Jennifer Walden

Netflix’s Lost in Space series, a remake of the 1965 television show, is a playground for sound. In the first two episodes alone, the series introduces at least five unique environments, including an alien planet, a whole world of new tech — from wristband communication systems to medical analysis devices — new modes of transportation, an organic-based robot lifeform and its correlating technologies, a massive explosion in space and so much more.

It was a mission not easily undertaken, but if anyone could manage it, it was four-time Emmy Award-winning supervising sound editor Benjamin Cook of 424 Post in Culver City. He’s led the sound teams on series like Starz’s Black Sails, Counterpart and Magic City, as well as HBO’s The Pacific, Rome and Deadwood, to name a few.

Benjamin Cook

Lost in Space was a reunion of sorts for members of the Black Sails post sound team. Making the jump from pirate ships to spaceships were sound effects editors Jeffrey Pitts, Shaughnessy Hare, Charles Maynes, Hector Gika and Trevor Metz; Foley artists Jeffrey Wilhoit and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit; Foley mixer Brett Voss; and re-recording mixers Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters.

“I really enjoyed the crew on Lost in Space. I had great editors and mixers — really super-creative, top-notch people,” says Cook, who also had help from co-supervising sound editor Branden Spencer. “Sound effects-wise there was an enormous amount of elements to create and record. Everyone involved contributed. You’re establishing a lot of sounds in those first two episodes that are carried on throughout the rest of the season.”

Soundscapes
So where does one begin on such a sound-intensive show? The initial focus was on the soundscapes, such as the sound of the alien planet’s different biomes, and the sound of different areas on the ships. “Before I saw any visuals, the showrunners wanted me to send them some ‘alien planet sounds,’ but there is a huge difference between Mars and Dagobah,” explains Cook. “After talking with them for a bit, we narrowed down some areas to focus on, like the glacier, the badlands and the forest area.”

For the forest area, Cook began by finding interesting snippets of animal, bird and insect recordings, like a single chirp or little song phrase that he could treat with pitching or other processing to create something new. Then he took those new sounds and positioned them in the sound field to build up beds of creatures to populate the alien forest. In that initial creation phase, Cook designed several tracks, which he could use for the rest of the season. “The show itself was shot in Canada, so that was one of the things they were fighting against — the showrunners were pretty conscious of not making the crash planet sound too Earthly. They really wanted it to sound alien.”

Another huge aspect of the series’ sound is the communication systems. The characters talk to each other through the headsets in their spacesuit helmets, and through wristband communications. Each family has their own personal ship, called a Jupiter, which can contact other Jupiter ships through shortwave radios. They use the same radios to communicate with their all-terrain vehicles called rovers. Cook notes these ham radios had an intentional retro feel. The Jupiters can send/receive long-distance transmissions from the planet’s surface to the main ship, called Resolute, in space. The families can also communicate with their Jupiters ship’s systems.

Each mode of communication sounds different and was handled differently in post. Some processing was handled by the re-recording mixers, and some was created by the sound editorial team. For example, in Episode 1 Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell) is frozen underwater in a glacial lake. Whenever the shot cuts to Judy’s face inside her helmet, the sound is very close and claustrophobic.

Judy’s voice bounces off the helmet’s face-shield. She hears her sister through the headset and it’s a small, slightly futzed speaker sound. The processing on both Judy’s voice and her sister’s voice sounds very distinct, yet natural. “That was all Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters,” says Cook. “They mixed this show, and they both bring so much to the table creatively. They’ll do additional futzing and treatments, like on the helmets. That was something that Onna wanted to do, to make it really sound like an ‘inside a helmet’ sound. It has that special quality to it.”

On the flipside, the ship’s voice was a process that Cook created. Co-supervisor Spencer recorded the voice actor’s lines in ADR and then Cook added vocoding, EQ futz and reverb to sell the idea that the voice was coming through the ship’s speakers. “Sometimes we worldized the lines by playing them through a speaker and recording them. I really tried to avoid too much reverb or heavy futzing knowing that on the stage the mixers may do additional processing,” he says.

In Episode 1, Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) finds himself alone in the forest. He tries to call his father, John Robinson (Toby Stephens — a Black Sails alumni as well) via his wristband comm system but the transmission is interrupted by a strange, undulating, vocal-like sound. It’s interference from an alien ship that had crashed nearby. Cook notes that the interference sound required thorough experimentation. “That was a difficult one. The showrunners wanted something organic and very eerie, but it also needed to be jarring. We did quite a few versions of that.”

For the main element in that sound, Cook chose whale sounds for their innate pitchy quality. He manipulated and processed the whale recordings using Symbolic Sound’s Kyma sound design workstation.

The Robot
Another challenging set of sounds were those created for Will Robinson’s Robot (Brian Steele). The Robot makes dying sounds, movement sounds and face-light sounds when it’s processing information. It can transform its body to look more human. It can use its hands to fire energy blasts or as a tool to create heat. It says, “Danger, Will Robinson,” and “Danger, Dr. Smith.” The Robot is sometimes a good guy and sometimes a bad guy, and the sound needed to cover all of that. “The Robot was a job in itself,” says Cook. “One thing we had to do was to sell emotion, especially for his dying sounds and his interactions with Will and the family.”

One of Cook’s trickiest feats was to create the proper sense of weight and movement for the Robot, and to portray the idea that the Robot was alive and organic but still metallic. “It couldn’t be earthly technology. Traditionally for robot movement you will hear people use servo sounds, but I didn’t want to use any kind of servos. So, we had to create a sound with a similar aesthetic to a servo,” says Cook. He turned to the Robot’s Foley sounds, and devised a processing chain to heavily treat those movement tracks. “That generated the basic body movement for the Robot and then we sweetened its feet with heavier sound effects, like heavy metal clanking and deeper impact booms. We had a lot of textures for the different surfaces like rock and foliage that we used for its feet.”

The Robot’s face lights change color to let everyone know if it’s in good-mode or bad-mode. But there isn’t any overt sound to emphasize the lights as they move and change. If the camera is extremely close-up on the lights, then there’s a faint chiming or tinkling sound that accentuates their movement. Overall though, there is a “presence” sound for the Robot, an undulating tone that’s reminiscent of purring when it’s in good-mode. “The showrunners wanted a kind of purring sound, so I used my cat purring as one of the building block elements for that,” says Cook. When the Robot is in bad-mode, the sound is anxious, like a pulsing heartbeat, to set the audience on edge.

It wouldn’t be Lost in Space without the Robot’s iconic line, “Danger, Will Robinson.” Initially, the showrunners wanted that line to sound as close to the original 1960’s delivery as possible. “But then they wanted it to sound unique too,” says Cook. “One comment was that they wanted it to sound like the Robot had metallic vocal cords. So we had to figure out ways to incorporate that into the treatment.” The vocal processing chain used several tools, from EQ, pitching and filtering to modulation plug-ins like Waves Morphoder and Dehumaniser by Krotos. “It was an extensive chain. It wasn’t just one particular tool; there were several of them,” he notes.

There are other sound elements that tie into the original 1960’s series. For example, when Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker) and husband John are exploring the wreckage of the alien ship they discover a virtual map room that lets them see into the solar system where they’ve crashed and into the galaxy beyond. The sound design during that sequence features sound material from the original show. “We treated and processed those original elements until they’re virtually unrecognizable, but they’re in there. We tried to pay tribute to the original when we could, when it was possible,” says Cook.

Other sound highlights include the Resolute exploding in space, which caused massive sections of the ship to break apart and collide. For that, Cook says contact microphones were used to capture the sound of tin cans being ripped apart. “There were so many fun things in the show for sound. From the first episode with the ship crash and it sinking into the glacier to the black hole sequence and the Robot fight in the season finale. The show had a lot of different challenges and a lot of opportunities for sound.”

Lost in Space was mixed in the Anthony Quinn Theater at Sony Pictures in 7.1 surround. Interestingly, the show was delivered in Dolby’s Home Atmos format. Cook explains, “When they booked the stage, the producer’s weren’t sure if we were going to do the show in Atmos or not. That was something they decided to do later so we had to figure out a way to do it.”

They mixed the show in Atmos while referencing the 7.1 mix and then played those mixes back in a Dolby Home Atmos room to check them, making any necessary adjustments and creating the Atmos deliverables. “Between updates for visual effects and music as well as the Atmos mixes, we spent roughly 80 days on the dub stage for the 10 episodes,” concludes Cook.

Apache colorists: Cullen Kelly added, Quinn Alvarez promoted

Santa Monica color and post studio Apache has added colorist Cullen Kelly. In addition to Kelly’s hire, the studio also promoted colorist Quinn Alvarez from an assistant’s role.

Kelly joins from Labrador Post, a color grading studio he founded in Austin, Texas. He has relocated to Southern California. Alvarez has been with Apache since 2015, joining from the production company Prettybird, where he handled all post duties and worked closely with its directors and producers.

“We’re currently working on several scripted and documentary shows for Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, in addition to our commercial work for agencies,” says Apache managing partner LaRue Anderson. “We needed additional artists that come with a unique perspective to color grading to handle these assignments, not just helping hands.”

Kelly worked with Apache earlier this year as a freelancer, doing finishing for the debut season of Netflix’s American Vandal series. Kelly, who studied film at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena before launching his career, worked in several post jobs before focusing on color grading. In addition to his work on the Netflix series, his reel includes short films and promos for The History Channel, FX Networks and SXSW.

When asked what drew him to color grading, Kelly said, “I’m a very visual person, and I love the amount of detail and energy that goes into color work. And it’s so collaborative; you’re working with people and helping bring their vision to life.”

A graduate of UC Berkeley, Alvarez says that while working at Prettybird he learned the craft of color grading from a director’s point of view, stressing the importance of story and substance. “I like the pace of color work, too,” he adds. “There’s always a new challenge, and new clients to work with. It keeps me fresh. And color is typically one of the final stages in a project — you’re putting the polish on things, so to speak, so people always leave happy.”

His reel includes work for such brands as Nike, Absolut, Jack Daniels, Tumi, Toyota, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, as well as music videos shot by such directors as Paul Hunter, Eric Wareheim and Andy Hines.

Both Kelly and Alvarez use Blackmagic Resolve.

Apache’s branching out from just color to handling finishing is also driving its need to add more creative talent, reports Anderson: “Keeping the color and finish under the same roof, particularly for long-form projects, allows us to swiftly complete a show. That adds valuable time to our clients’ often-constrained post schedules, without compromising the look and feel of the film. And we’re finding that cinematographers and directors are moving to original series work, because it can offer more creative freedom. With the addition of Cullen and the promotion of Quinn, we now have five colorists to help transform their digital visions into reality.”

Cinna 4.13

Harbor’s Bobby Johanson discusses ADR for TV and film

By Jennifer Walden

A lot of work comes in and out of the ADR department at New York City’s Harbor Picture Company. A lot.

Over the past year alone, ADR mixer Bobby Johanson has been cranking out ADR and loop group for films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Light Between Oceans, Patriots Day, The Girl on the Train, Triple 9, Hail, Caesar! and more.

His expertise goes beyond film though. Johanson also does ADR for series, for shows like Amazon’s Red Oaks and their upcoming series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Netflix’s Master of None, which we will touch on lightly in a bit. First, let’s talk the art of ADR.

According to Johanson, “Last week, I did full days on three different films. Some weeks we record full days, nights and weekends, depending on the season, film festivals, what’s in post, actor availability and everything else that goes on with scheduling. Some sessions will book for two hours out of a day, while another client will want eight hours because of actor availability.”

With so many projects passing through his studio, efficiency is essential, but not at the cost of a job well done. “You have an actor on the stage and the director in the room, and you have to make things efficient,” says Johanson. “You have to play lines back as they are going to be in the show. You want to play the line and hear, ‘Was that ADR?’ Instantly, it’s a whole new world. People have been burned by not so good ADR in the past, and I feel like that compromises the performance. It’s very important for the talent to feel like they’re in good hands, so they forget about the technical side and just focus on their acting.”

Johanson got his start in ADR at New York’s Sound One facility, first as a messenger running reels around, and then moving up to the machine room when there was an opening for Sound One’s new ADR stage. “We didn’t really have anyone teaching us. The job was shown to us once; then we just had to figure out how to thread the dubbers and the projector. Once we got those hung, we would sit in the ADR studio and watch. I picked up a lot of my skills old-school. I’ve learned to incorporate those techniques into current technology and that works well for us.”

Tools
Gear-wise, one staple of his ADR career has been the Soundmaster ADR control system. Johanson calls it an “old-school tool,” probably 25 years old at this point, but he hasn’t found anything faster for recording ADR. “I used it at Sound One, and I used it at Digital Cinema, and now I use it here at Harbor. Until someone can invent another ADR synchronizer, this is the best for me.”

Johanson integrates the Soundmaster system with Avid Pro Tools 12 and works as a two-man team with ADR recordist Mike Rivera. “You can’t beat the efficiency and the attention to detail that you can get with the two-man team.”

Rivera tags the takes and makes minor edits while Johanson focuses on the director and the talent. “Because we are working on a synchronizer, the ADR recordist can do things that you couldn’t do if you were just shooting straight to Pro Tools,” explains Johanson. “We can actually edit on the fly and instantly playback the line in sync. I have the time to get the reverb on it and sweeten it. I can mix the line in because I’m not cutting it or pulling it into the track. That is being done while the system is moving on the pre-roll for a playback.”

For reverb, Johanson chooses an outboard Lexicon PCM80. This puts the controls easily within reach, and he can quickly add or change the reverb on the fly, helping the clean ADR line to sync into the scene. “The reverb unit is pretty old, but it is single-handedly the easiest reverb unit that you can use. There are four room sizes, and then you can adjust the delay of the reverb four times. I have been using this reverb for so many years now that I can match any reverb from any movie or TV show because I know this unit so well.”

Another key piece of gear in his set-up is an outboard Eventide H3000 SE sampler, which Johanson uses to sample the dialogue line they need to replace and play it back over and over for the actor to re-perform. “We offer a variety of ways to do ADR, like using beeps and having the actor perform to picture, but many actors prefer an older method that goes back to ‘looping.’ Back in the day, you would just run a line over and over again and the actor would emulate it. Then we put the select take of that line to picture. It’s a method that 60 percent of our actors who come in here love to do, and I can do that using the sampler.”

He also uses the sampler for playback. By sampling background noise from the scene, he can play that under the ADR line during playback and it helps the ADR to sit in the scene. “I keep the sampler and reverb as outboard gear because I can control them quickly. I’m doing things freestyle and we don’t have to stop the session. We don’t have to stop the system and wait for a playback or wait to do a record pass. Because we are a two-man operation, I can focus on these pieces of gear while Mike is tagging the takes with their cue numbers and managing them in the Pro Tools session for delivery. I can’t find an easier or quicker way to do what I do.”

While Johanson’s set-up may lack the luster of newly minted audio tools, it’s hard to argue with results. It’s not a case of “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it,” but rather a case of “don’t mess with perfection.”

Master of None
The set-up served them well while recording ADR and loop group for Netflix’s Emmy-winning comedy series Master of None. “Kudos to production sound mixer Michael Barosky because there wasn’t too much dialogue that we needed to replace with ADR for Season 2,” says Johanson. “But we did do a lot of loop group — sweetening backgrounds and walla, and things like that.”

For the Italian episodes, they brought in bilingual actors to record Italian language loop group. One scene that stood out for Johanson was the wedding scene in Italy, where the guests start jumping into the swimming pool. “We have a nice-sized ADR stage and so that frees us up to do a lot of movement. We were directing the actors to jump in front of the mic and run by the mic, to give us the effect of people jumping into the pool. That worked quite nicely in the track.”