Category Archives: Sound Design

Behind the Titles: Something’s Awry Productions

NAME: Amy Theorin

NAME: Kris Theorin

NAME: Kurtis Theorin

COMPANY: Something’s Awry Productions

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a family owned production company that writes, creates and produces funny sharable web content and commercials mostly for the toy industry. We are known for our slightly offbeat but intelligent humor and stop-motion animation. We also create short films of our own both animated and live action.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Amy: Producer, Marketing Manager, Business Development
Kris: Director, Animator, Editor, VFX, Sound Design
Kurtis: Creative Director, Writer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Amy: A lot! I am the point of contact for all the companies and agencies we work with. I oversee production schedules, all social media and marketing for the company. Because we operate out of a small town in Pennsylvania we rely on Internet service companies such as Tongal, Backstage.com, Voices.com, Design Crowd and Skype to keep us connected with the national brands and talent we work with who are mostly based in LA and New York. I don’t think we could be doing what we are doing 10 years ago without living in a hub like LA or NYC.

Kris: I handle most of production, post production and some pre-production. Specifically, storyboarding, shooting, animating, editing, sound design, VFX and so on.

Kurtis: A lot of writing. I basically write everything that our company does, including commercials, pitches and shorts. I help out on our live-action shoots and occasionally direct. I make props and sets for our animation. I am also Something Awry’s resident voice actor.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Amy: Probably that playing with toys is something we get paid to do! Building Lego sets and setting up Hot Wheels jumps is all part of the job, and we still get excited when we get a new toy delivery — who wouldn’t? We also get to explore our inner child on a daily basis.

Hot Wheels

Kurtis: A lot of the arts and crafts knowledge I gathered from my childhood has become very useful in my job. We have to make a lot of weird things and knowing how to use clay and construction paper really helps.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Amy: See above. Seriously, we get to play with toys for a living! Being on set and working with actors and crew in cool locations is also great. I also like it when our videos exceed our client’s expectations.

Kris: The best part of my job is being able to work with all kinds of different toys and just getting the chance to make these weird and entertaining movies out of them.

Kurtis: Having written something and seeing others react positively to it.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Amy/Kris: Working through the approval process with rounds of changes and approvals from multiple departments throughout a large company. Sometimes it goes smoothly and sometimes it doesn’t.

Kurtis: Sitting down to write.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
Amy: Since most of the companies we work with are on the West Coast my day kicks into high gear around 4:00pm East Coast time.

Kris: I work best in the morning.

Kurtis: My day often consists of hours of struggling to sit down and write followed by about three to four hours where I am very focused and get everything done. Most often those hours occur from 4pm to 7pm, but it varies a lot.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Amy: Probably helping to organize events somewhere. I am not happy unless I am planning or organizing a project or event of some sort.

Kris: Without this job, I’d likely go into some kind of design career or something involving illustration. For me, drawing is one of my secondary interests after filming.

Kurtis: I’d be telling stories in another medium. Would I be making a living doing it is another question.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Amy: I have always loved advertising and creative projects. When I was younger I was the advertising manager for PNC Bank, but left the corporate world when I had kids and started my own photography business, which I operated for 10 years. Once my kids became interested in film I wanted to foster that interest and here we are!

Kris: Filmmaking is something I’ve always had an interest in. I started when I was just eight years old and from there it’s always something I loved to do. The moment when I first realized this would be something I’d follow for an actual career was really around 10th grade, when I started doing it more on a professional level by creating little videos here and there for company YouTube channels. That’s when it all started to sink in that this could actually be a career for me.

Kurtis: I knew I wanted to tell stories very early on. Around 10 years old or so I started doing some home movies. I could get people to laugh and react to the films I made. It turned out to be the medium I could most easily tell stories in so I have stuck with it ever since.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Amy: We are currently in the midst of two major projects — one is a six-video series for Hot Wheels that involves creating six original song music videos parodying different music genres. The other is a 12-episode series for Warner Bros. Scooby Doo that features live-action and stop-motion animation. Each episode is a mini-mystery that Scooby and the gang solve. The series focuses on the imaginations of different children and the stories they tell.

We also have two short animations currently on the festival circuit. One is a hybrid of Lovecraft and a Scooby-Doo chase scene called Mary and Marsha in the Manor of Madness. The other is dark fairytale called The Gift of the Woods.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Amy: Although I am proud of a lot of our projects I am most proud of the fact that even though we are such a small company, and live in the middle of nowhere, we have been able to work with companies around the world like Lego, Warner Bros. and Mattel. Things we create are seen all over the world, which is pretty cool for us.

Lego

Kris: The Lego Yellow Submarine Beatles film we created is what I’m most proud of. It just turned out to be this nice blend of wacky visuals, crazy action, and short concise storytelling that I try to do with most of my films.

Kurtis: I really like the way Mary and Marsha in the Manor of Madness turned out. So far it is the closest we have come to creating something with a unique feel and a sense of energetic momentum; two long term goals I have for our work. We also recently wrapped filming for a twelve episode branded content web series. It is our biggest project yet and I am proud that we were able to handle the production of it really well.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Amy: Skype, my iPad and the rise of online technology companies such as Tongal, Voices.com, Backstage.com and DesignCrowd that help us get our job done.

Kris: Laptop computers, Wacom drawing tablets and iPhones.

Kurtis: My laptop (and it’s software Adobe Premiere and Final Draft), my iPhone and my Kindle.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Amy: Being in this position I like to know what is going on in the industry so I follow Ad Age, Ad Week, Ad Freak, Mashable, Toy Industry News, iO9, Geek Tyrant, and of course all the social media channels of our clients like Lego, Warner Bros., Hot Wheels and StikBots. We also are on Twitter (@AmyTheorin) Instagram (@Somethingsawryproductions) and Facebook (Somethingsawry).

Kris: Mostly YouTube and Facebook.

Kurtis: I follow the essays of Film Crit Hulk. His work on screenwriting and story-telling is incredibly well done and eye opening. Other than that I try to keep up with news and I follow a handful of serialized web-comics. I try to read, watch and play a lot of different things to get new ideas. You never know when the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone might give you the idea for your next toy commercial.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Amy: I don’t usually but I do like to listen to podcasts. Some of my favorites are: How I Built This, Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad and Fresh Air.

Kris: I listen to whatever pop songs are most popular at the time. Currently, that would be Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Kurtis: I listen to an eclectic mix of soundtracks, classic rock songs I‘ve heard in movies, alternative songs I heard in movies, anime theme songs… basically songs I heard with a movie or game and can’t get out of my head. As for particular artists I am partial to They Might Be Giants, Gorillaz, Queen, and the scores of Ennio Morricone, Darren Korb, Jeff Williams, Shoji Meguro and Yoko Kanno.

IS WORKING WITH FAMILY EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT THAN WORKING/MANAGING IN A REGULAR AGENCY?
Amy: Both! I actually love working with my sons, and our skill sets are very complimentary. I love to organize and my kids don’t. Being family we can be very upfront with each other in terms of telling our opinions without having to worry about hurting each other’s feelings.

We know at the end of the day we will always be there for each other no matter what. It sounds cliché but it’s true I think. We have a network of people we also work with on a regular basis who we have great relationships with as well. Sometimes it is hard to turn work off and just be a family though, and I find myself talking with them about projects more often than what is going on with them personally. That’s something I need to work on I guess!

Kris: It’s great because you can more easily communicate and share ideas with each other. It’s generally a lot more open. After a while, it really is just like working within an agency. Everything is fine-tuned and you have worked out a pipeline for creating and producing your videos.

Kurtis: I find it much easier. We all know how we do our best work and what our strengths are. It certainly helps that my family is very good at what they do. Not to mention working from home means I get to set my own hours and don’t have a commute. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay motivated when you’re not in a professional office setting but overall the pros far outweigh the cons.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Amy: I try to take time out to walk our dog, but mostly I love it so much I don’t mind working on projects all the time. If I don’t have something to work on I am not a happy camper. Sometimes I have to remember that not everyone is working on the weekends, so I can’t bother them with work questions!

Kris: It really helps that I don’t often get stressed. At least, not after doing this job for as long as I have. You really learn how to cope with it all. Oftentimes, it’s more just getting exhausted from working long hours. I’ll often just watch some YouTube videos at the end of a day or maybe a movie if there’s something I really want to see.

Kurtis: I like to read and watch interesting stories. I play a lot games: board games, video games, table-top roleplaying. I also find bike riding improves my mood a lot.

Creating sounds for Battle of the Sexes

By Jennifer Walden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dell 6.15

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.


Behind the Title: 3008 Editorial’s Matt Cimino and Greg Carlson

NAMES: Matt Cimino and Greg Carlson

COMPANY: 3008 Editorial in Dallas

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Cimino: We are sound designers/mixers.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Cimino: Audio is a storytelling tool. Our job is to enhance the story directly or indirectly and create the illusion of depth, space and a sense of motion with creative sound design and then mix that live in the environment of the visuals.

Carlson: And whenever someone asks, I always tend to prioritize sound design before mixing. Although I love every aspect of what we do, when a spot hits my room as a blank slate, it’s really the sound design that can take it down a hundred different paths. And for me, it doesn’t get better than that.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Carlson: I’m not sure a brief job title can encompass what anyone really does. I am a composer as well as a sound designer/mixer, so I bring that aspect into my work. I love musical elements that help stitch a unified sound into a project.

Cimino: That there really isn’t “a button” for that!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Carlson: The freedom. Having the opportunity to take a project where I think it should go and along the way, pushing it to the edge and back. Experimenting and adapting makes every spot a completely new trip.

Matt Cimino

Cimino: I agree. It’s the challenge of creating an expressive and aesthetically pleasing experience by taking the soundtrack to a whole new level.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Cimino: Not Much. However, being an imperfect perfectionist, I get pretty bummed when I do not have enough time to perfect the job.

Carlson: People always say, “It’s so peaceful and quiet in the studio, as if the world is tuned out.” The downside of that is producer-induced near heart attacks. See, when you’re rocking out at max volume and facing away from the door, well, people tend to come in and accidentally scare you to death.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Cimino: I’m a morning person!

Carlson: Time is an abstract notion in a dark room with no windows, so no time in particular. However, the funniest time of day is when you notice you’re listening about 15 dB louder than the start of the day. Loud is better.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Cimino: Carny. Or Evel Knievel.

Carlson: Construction/carpentry. Before audio, I had lots of gritty “hands-on” jobs. My dad taught me about work ethic, to get my hands dirty and to take pride in everything. I take that same approach with every spot I touch. Now I just sit in a nice chair while doing it.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION? HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Cimino: I’ve had a love for music since high school. I used to read all the liner notes on my vinyl. One day I remember going through my father’s records and thinking at that moment, I want to be that “sound engineer” listed in the notes. This led me to study audio at Columbia College in Chicago. I quickly gravitated towards post production audio classes and training. When I wasn’t recording and mixing music, I was doing creative sound design.

Carlson: I was always good with numbers and went to Michigan State to be an accountant. But two years in, I was unhappy. All I wanted was to work on music and compose, so I switched to audio engineering and never looked back. I knew the second I walked into my first studio, I had found my calling. People always say there isn’t a dream job; I disagree.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Cimino: A fun, stress-free environment full of artistry and technology.

Carlson: It is a place I look forward to every day. It’s like a family, solely focused on great creative.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT SPOTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Cimino: Snapple, RAM, Jeep, Universal Orlando, Cricket Wireless, Maserati.

Carlson: AT&T, Lay’s, McDonald’s, Bridgestone Golf.

Greg Carlson

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Carlson: It’s nearly impossible to pick one, but there is a project I see as pivotal in my time here in Dallas. It was shortly after I arrived six years ago. I think it was a boost to my confidence and in turn, enhanced my style. The client was The Home Depot and the campaign was Lets Do This. A creative I admire greatly here in town gave me the chance to spearhead the sonic approach for the work. There are many moments, milestones and memories, but this was a special project to me.

Cimino: There are so many. One of the most fun campaigns I worked on was for Snapple, where each spot opened with the “pop!” of the Snapple cap. I recorded several pops (close-miced) and selected one that I manipulated to sound larger than life but also retain the sound of the brands signature cap pop being opened. After the cap pops, the spot transforms into an exploding fruit infusion. The sound was created by smashing Snapple bottles for the glass break, crushing, smashing and squishing fruit with my hands, and using a hydrophone to record splashing and underwater sounds to create the slow-motion effect of the fruit morphing. So much fun.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Cimino: During a mix, my go-tos are iZotope, Sound Toys and Slate Digital. Outside the studio I can’t live without my Apple!

Carlson: ProTools, all things iZotope, Native Instruments.

THIS IS A HIGH-STRESS JOB WITH DEADLINES AND CLIENT EXPECTATIONS. WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Cimino: Family and friends. I love watching my kiddos play select soccer. Relaxing pool or beachside with a craft cider. Or on a single path/trail with my mountain bike.

Carlson: I work on my home, build things, like to be outside. When I need to detach for a bit, I prefer dangerous power tools or being on a body of water.


Richard King talks sound design for Dunkirk

Using historical sounds as a reference

By Mel Lambert

Currently garnering critical acclaim for its stunning and immersive soundtrack — particularly the IMAX showcase screenings — writer/director Christopher Nolan’s latest film follows the fate of nearly 400,000 allied soldiers who were marooned on the beaches of Dunkirk, and the extraordinary plans to rescue them using small ships from nearby English seaports. Although, sadly, more than 68,000 soldiers were captured or killed during the Battle of Dunkirk and the subsequent retreat, more than 300,000 were rescued over a nine-day period in May 1940.

Uniquely, Dunkirk’s primary story arcs — the Mole, or harbor from which the larger ships can take off troops; the Sea, focusing on the English flotilla of small boats; and the Air, spotlighting the activities of Spitfire pilots who protect the beaches and ships from German air-force attacks — follow different timelines, with the Mole sequences being spread over a week, the Sea over a day and the Air over an hour. A Warner Bros. release, Dunkirk stars Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh. (An uncredited Michael Caine is the voice heard during various radio communications.)

Richard King

Marking his sixth collaboration with Nolan, supervising sound editor Richard King worked previously on Interstellar (2014), The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, The Dark Knight and The Prestige. He brings his unique sound perspective to these complex narratives, often with innovative sound design. Born in Tampa, King attended the University of South Florida, graduating with a BFA in painting and film, and entered the film industry in 1985. He is the recipient of three Academy Awards for Best Achievement in Sound Editing for Inception, The Dark Knight and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), plus two BAFTA Awards and four MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Best Sound Editing.

The Sound of History
“When we first met to discuss the film,” King recalls, “Chris [Nolan] told me that he wanted Dunkirk to be historically accurate but not slavishly so — he didn’t plan to make a documentary. For example, several [Junkers Ju 87] Stuka dive bombers appear in the film, but there are no high-quality recordings of these aircraft, which had sirens built into the wheel struts for intimidation purposes. There are no Stukas still flying, nor could I find any design drawings so we could build our own. Instead, we decided to re-imagine the sound with a variety of unrelated sound effects and ambiences, using the period recordings as inspiration. We went out into a nearby desert with some real air raid sirens, which we over-cranked to make them more and more piercing — and to add some analog distortion. To this more ‘pure’ version of the sound we added an interesting assortment of other disparate sounds. I find the result scary as hell and probably very close to what the real thing sounded like.”

For other period Axis and Allied aircraft, King was able to locate several British Supermarine Spitfire fighters and a Bristol Blenheim bomber, together with a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. “There are about 200 Spitfires in the world that still fly; three were used during filming of Dunkirk,” King continues. “We received those recordings, and in post recorded three additional Spitfires.”

King was able to place up to 24 microphones in various locations around the airframe near the engine — a supercharged V-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin liquid-cooled model of 27-liter capacity, and later 37-liter Gremlin motors — as well as close to the exhaust and within the cockpit, as the pilots performed a number of aerial movements. “We used both mono and stereo mics to provide a wide selection for sound design,” he says.

King was looking for the sound of an “air ballet” with the aircraft moving quickly across the sky. “There are moments when the plane sounds are minimized to place the audience more in the pilot’s head, and there are sequences where the plane engines are more prominent,” he says. “We also wanted to recreate the vibrations of this vintage aircraft, which became an important sound design element and was inspired by the shuddering images. I remember that Chris went up in a trainer aircraft to experience the sensation for himself. He reported that it was extremely loud with lots of vibration.

To match up with the edited visuals secured from 65/70mm IMAX and Super Panavision 65mm film cameras, King needed to produce a variety of aircraft sounds. “We had an ex-RAF pilot that had flown in modern dogfights to recreate some of those wartime flying gymnastics. The planes don’t actually produce dramatic changes in the sound when throttling and maneuvering, so I came up with a simple and effective way to accentuate this somewhat. I wanted the planes to respond to the pilots stick and throttle movements immediately.”

For armaments, King’s sound effects recordists John Fasal and Eric Potter oversaw the recording of a vintage Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft cannon seen aboard the allied destroyers and support ships. “We found one in Napa Valley,” north of San Francisco, says King. “The owner had to make up live rounds, which we fired into a nearby hill. We also recorded a number of WWII British Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles and German machine guns on a nearby range. We had to recreate the sound of the Spitfire’s guns, because the actual guns fitted to the Spitfires overheat when fired at sea level and cannot maintain the 1,000 rounds/minute rate we were looking for, except at altitude.”

King readily acknowledges the work at Warner Bros Sound Services of sound-effects editor Michael Mitchell, who worked on several scenes, including the ship sinkings, and sound effects editor Randy Torres, who worked with King on the plane sequences.

Group ADR was done primarily in the UK, “where we recorded at De lane Lea and onboard a decommissioned WWII warship owned by the Imperial War Museum,” King recalls. “The HMS Belfast, which is moored on the River Thames in central London, was perfect for the reverberant interiors we needed for the various ships that sink in the film. We also secured some realistic Foley of people walking up and down ladders and on the superstructure.” Hugo Weng served as dialog editor and David Bach as supervising ADR editor.

Sounds for Moonstone, the key small boat whose fortunes the film follows across the English Channel, were recorded out of Marina del Rey in Southern California, “including its motor and water slaps against the hull. “We also secured some nice Foley on deck, as well as opening and closing of doors,” King says.

Conventional Foley was recorded at Skywalker Sound in Northern California by Shelley Roden, Scott Curtis and John Roesch. “Good Foley was very important for Dunkirk,” explains King. “It all needed to sound absolutely realistic and not like a Hollywood war movie, with a collection of WWII clichés. We wanted it to sound as it would for the film’s characters. John and his team had access to some great surfaces and textures, and a wonderful selection of props.” Michael Dressel served as supervising Foley editor.

In terms of sound design, King offers that he used historical sounds as a reference, to conjure up the terror of the Battle for Dunkirk. “I wanted it to feel like a well-recorded version of the original event. The book ‘Voices of Dunkirk,’ written by Joshua Levine and based on a compilation of first-hand accounts of the evacuation, inspired me and helped me shape the explosions on the beach, with the muffled ‘boom’ as the shells and bombs bury themselves in the sand and then explode. The under-water explosions needed to sound more like a body slam than an audible noise. I added other sounds that amped it a couple more degrees.”

The soundtrack was re-recorded in 5.1-channel format at Warner Bros. Sound Services Stage 9 in Burbank during a six-week mix by mixers Gary Rizzo handling dialog, with sound effects and music overseen by Gregg Landaker — this was his last film before his retiring. “There was almost no looping on the film aside from maybe a couple of lines,” King recalls. “Hugo Weng mined the recordings for every gem, and Gary [Rizzo] was brilliant at cleaning up the voices and pushing them through the barrage of sound provided by sound effects and music somehow without making them sound pushed. Production recordist Mark Weingarten faced enormous challenges, contending with strong wind and salt spray, but he managed to record tracks Gary could work with.”

The sound designer reports that he provided some 20 to 30 tracks of dialog and ADR “with options for noisy environments,” plus 40 to 50 tracks of Foley, dependent on the action. This included shoes and hob-nailed army boots, and groups of 20, especially in the ship scenes. “The score by composer Hans Zimmer kept evolving as we moved through the mixing process,” says King. “Music editor Ryan Rubin and supervising music editor Alex Gibson were active participants in this evolution.”

“We did not want to repeat ourselves or repeat others work,” King concludes. “All sounds in this movie mean something. Every scene had to be designed with a hard-hitting sound. You need to constantly question yourself: ‘Is there a better sound we could use?’ Maybe something different that is appropriate to the sequence that recreates the event in a new and fresh light? I am super-proud of this film and the track.”

Nolan — who was born in London to an American mother and an English father and whose family subsequently split their time between London and Illinois — has this quote on his IMDB page: “This is an essential moment in the history of the Second World War. If this evacuation had not been a success, Great Britain would have been obliged to capitulate. And the whole world would have been lost, or would have known a different fate: the Germans would undoubtedly have conquered Europe, the US would not have returned to war. Militarily it is a defeat; on the human plane it is a colossal victory.”

Certainly, the loss of life and supplies was profound — wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill described Operation Dynamo as “the greatest military disaster in our long history.”


Mel Lambert has been involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.


The sounds of Spider-Man: Homecoming

By Jennifer Walden

Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, casts Tom Holland as Spider-Man, a role he first played in 2016 for Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War (directed by Joe and Anthony Russo).

Homecoming reprises a few key character roles, like Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Aunt May Parker (Marisa Tomei), and it picks up a thread of Civil War’s storyline. In Civil War, Peter Parker/Spider-Man helped Tony Stark’s Avengers in their fight against Captain America’s Avengers. Homecoming picks up after that battle, as Parker settles back into his high school life while still fighting crime on the side to hone his superhero skills. He seeks to prove himself to Stark but ends up becoming entangled with the supervillain Vulture (Michael Keaton).

Steven Ticknor

Spider-Man: Homecoming supervising sound editors/sound designers Steven Ticknor and Eric A. Norris — working at Culver City’s Sony Pictures Post Production Services — both brought Spidey experience to the film. Ticknor was a sound designer on director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) and Norris was supervising sound editor/sound designer on director Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). With experiences from two different versions of Spider-Man, together Ticknor and Norris provided a well-rounded knowledge of the superhero’s sound history for Homecoming. They knew what’s worked in the past, and what to do to make this Spider-Man sound fresh. “This film took a ground-up approach but we also took into consideration the magnitude of the movie,” says Ticknor. “We had to keep in mind that Spider-Man is one of Marvel’s key characters and he has a huge fan base.”

Web Slinging
Being a sequel, Ticknor and Norris honored the sound of Spider-Man’s web slinging ability that was established in Captain America: Civil War, but they also enhanced it to create a subtle difference between Spider-Man’s two suits in Homecoming. There’s the teched-out Tony Stark-built suit that uses the Civil War web-slinging sound, and then there’s Spider-Man’s homemade suit. “I recorded a couple of 5,000-foot magnetic tape cores unraveling very fast, and to that I added whooshes and other elements that gave a sense of speed. Underneath, I had some of the web sounds from the Tony Stark suit. That way the sound for the homemade suit had the same feel as the Stark suit but with an old-school flair,” explains Ticknor.

One new feature of Spider-Man’s Stark suit is that it has expressive eye movements. His eyes can narrow or grow wide with surprise, and those movements are articulated with sound. Norris says, “We initially went with a thin servo-type sound, but the filmmakers were looking for something less electrical. We had the idea to use the lens of a DSLR camera to manually zoom it in and out, so there’s no motor sound. We recorded it up close-up in the quiet environment of an unused ADR stage. That’s the primary sound for his eye movement.”

Droney
Another new feature is the addition of Droney, a small reconnaissance drone that pops off of Spider-Man’s suit and flies around. The sound of Droney was one of director Watt’s initial focus-points. He wanted it sound fun and have a bit of personality. He wanted Droney “to be able to vocalize in a way, sort of like Wall-E,” explains Norris.

Ticknor had the idea of creating Droney’s sound using a turbo toy — a small toy that has a mouthpiece and a spinning fan. Blowing into the mouthpiece makes the fan spin, which generates a whirring sound. The faster the fan spins, the higher the pitch of the generated sound. By modulating the pitch, they created a voice-like quality for Droney. Norris and sound effects editor Andy Sisul performed and recorded an array of turbo toy sounds to use during editorial. Ticknor also added in the sound of a reel-to-reel machine rewinding, which he sped up and manipulated “so that it sounded like Droney was fluttering as it was flying,” Ticknor says.

The Vulture
Supervillain the Vulture offers a unique opportunity for sound design. His alien-tech enhanced suit incorporates two large fans that give him the ability to fly. Norris, who was involved in the initial sound design of Vulture’s suit, created whooshes using Whoosh by Melted Sounds — a whoosh generator that runs in Native Instruments Reaktor. “You put individual samples in there and it creates a whoosh by doing a Doppler shift and granular synthesis as a way of elongating short sounds. I fed different metal ratcheting sounds into it because Vulture’s suit almost has these metallic feathers. We wanted to articulate the sound of all of these different metallic pieces moving together. I also fed sword shings into it and came up with these whooshes that helped define the movement as the Vulture was flying around,” he says. Sound designer/re-recording mixer Tony Lamberti was also instrumental in creating Vulture’s sound.

Alien technology is prevalent in the film. For instance, it’s a key ingredient to Vulture’s suit. The film’s sound needed to reflect the alien influence but also had to feel realistic to a degree. “We started with synthesized sounds, but we then had to find something that grounded it in reality,” reports Ticknor. “That’s always the balance of creating sound design. You can make it sound really cool, but it doesn’t always connect to the screen. Adding organic elements — like wind gusts and debris — make it suddenly feel real. We used a lot of synthesized sounds to create Vulture, but we also used a lot of real sounds.”

The Washington Monument
One of the big scenes that Ticknor handled was the Washington Monument elevator sequence. Spider-Man stands on the top of the Washington Monument and prepares to jump over a helicopter that looms ever closer. He clears the helicopter’s blades and shoots a web onto the helicopter’s skid, using that to sling himself through a window just in time to shoot another web that grabs onto the compromised elevator car that contains his friends. “When Spider-Man jumps over the helicopter, I couldn’t wait to make that work perfectly,” says Ticknor. “When he is flying over the helicopter blades it sounds different. It sounds more threatening. Sound creates an emotion but people don’t realize how sound is creating the emotion because it is happening so quickly sometimes.”

To achieve a more threatening blade sound, Ticknor added in scissor slicing sounds, which he treated using a variety of tools like zPlane Elastique Pitch 2 and plug-ins from FabFilter plug-ins and Soundtoys, all within the Avid Pro Tools 12 environment. “This made the slicing sound like it was about to cut his head off. I took the helicopter blades and slowed them down and added low-end sweeteners to give a sense of heaviness. I put all of that through the plug-ins and basically experimented. The hardest part of sound design is experimenting and finding things that work. There’s also music playing in that scene as well. You have to make the music play with the sound design.”

When designing sounds, Ticknor likes to generate a ton of potential material. “I make a library of sound effects — it’s like a mad science experiment. You do something and then wonder, ‘How did I just do that? What did I just do?’ When you are in a rhythm, you do it all because you know there is no going back. If you just do what you need, it’s never enough. You always need more than you think. The picture is going to change and the VFX are going to change and timings are going to change. Everything is going to change, and you need to be prepared for that.”

Syncing to Picture
To help keep the complex soundtrack in sync with the evolving picture, Norris used Conformalizer by Cargo Cult. Using the EDL of picture changes, Conformalizer makes the necessary adjustments in Pro Tools to resync the sound to the new picture.

Norris explains some key benefits of Conformalizer. “First, when you’re working in Pro Tools you can only see one picture at a time, so you have to go back and forth between the two different pictures to compare. With Conformalizer, you can see the two different pictures simultaneously. It also does a mathematical computation on the two pictures in a separate window, a difference window, which shows the differences in white. It highlights all the subtle visual effects changes that you may not have noticed.

Eric Norris

For example, in the beginning of the film, Peter leaves school and heads out to do some crime fighting. In an alleyway, he changes from his school clothes into his Spider-Man suit. As he’s changing, he knocks into a trash can and a couple of rats fall out and scurry away. Those rats were CG and they didn’t appear until the end of the process. So the rats in the difference window were bright white while everything else was a dark color.”

Another benefit is that the Conformalizer change list can be used on multiple Pro Tools sessions. Most feature films have the sound effects, including Foley and backgrounds, in one session. For Spider-Man: Homecoming, it was split into multiple sessions, with Foley and backgrounds in one session and the sound effects in another.

“Once you get that change list you can run it on all the Pro Tools sessions,” explains Norris. “It saves time and it helps with accuracy. There are so many sounds and details that match the visuals and we need to make sure that we are conforming accurately. When things get hectic, especially near the end of the schedule, and we’re finalizing the track and still getting new visual effects, it becomes a very detail-oriented process and any tools that can help with that are greatly appreciated.”

Creating the soundtrack for Spider-Man: Homecoming required collaboration on a massive scale. “When you’re doing a film like this, it just has to run well. Unless you’re really organized, you’ll never be able to keep up. That’s the beautiful thing, when you’re organized you can be creative. Everything was so well organized that we got an opportunity to be super creative and for that, we were really lucky. As a crew, we were so lucky to work on this film,” concludes Ticknor.


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


Behind the Title: Nylon Studios creative director Simon Lister

NAME: Simon Lister

COMPANY: Nylon Studios

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Nylon Studios is a New York- and Sydney-based music and sound house offering original composition and sound design for films and commercials. I am based in the Australia location.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I help manage and steer the company, while also serving as a sound designer, client liaison, soundtrack creative and thinker.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
People are constantly surprised with the amount of work that goes into making a soundtrack.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?
I use Avid Pro Tools, and some really cool plugins

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite part of the job is being able to bring a film to life through sound.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
At times, clients can be so stressed and make things difficult. However, sometimes we just need to sit back and look at how lucky we are to be in such a fun industry. So in that case, we try our best to make the client’s experience with us as relaxing and seamless as possible.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Lunchtime.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Anything that involves me having a camera in my hand and taking pictures.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I was pretty young. I got a great break when I was 19 years old in one of the best music studios in New Zealand and haven’t stopped since. Now, I’ve been doing this for 31 years (cough).

Honda Civic spot

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
In the last couple of months I think I’ve counted several different car brand spots we’ve worked on, including Honda, Hyundai, Subaru, Audi and Toyota. All great spots to sink our teeth and ears into.

Also we have been working on the great wildlife series Tales by Light, which is being played on National Geographic and Netflix.

For Every Child

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It would be having the opportunity to film and direct my own commercial, For Every Child, for Unicef global rebranding TVC. We had the amazing voiceover of Liam Neeson and the incredible singing voice of Lisa Gerard (Gladiator, Heat, Black Hawk Down).

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My camera, my computer and my motorbike.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I ride motorbikes throughout Morocco, Baja, Himalayas, Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand and in the traffic of India.


Audio post vet Rex Recker joins Digital Arts in NYC

Rex Recker has joined the team at New York City’s Digital Arts as a full-time audio post mixer and sound designer. Recker, who co-founded NYC’s AudioEngine after working as VP and audio post mixer at Photomag recording studios, is an award-winning mixer with a long list of credits. Over the span of his career he has worked on countless commercials with clients including McCann Erickson JWT, Ogilvy & Mather, BBDO, DDB, HBO and Warner Books.

Over the years, Recker has developed a following of clients who seek him out for his audio post mixer talents — they seek his expertise in surround sound audio mixing for commercials airing via broadcast, Web and cinemas. In addition to spots, Recker also mixes long-form projects, including broadcast specials and documentaries.

Since joining the Digital Arts team, Recker has already worked on several commercial campaigns, promos and trailers for such clients as Samsung, SlingTV, Ford, Culturelle, Orvitz, NYC Department of Health, and HBO Documentary Films.

Digital Arts, owned by Axel Ericson, is an end-to-end production, finishing and audio facility.


Sound — Wonder Woman’s superpower

By Jennifer Walden

When director Patty Jenkins first met with supervising sound editor James Mather to discuss Warner Bros. Wonder Woman, they had a conversation about the physical effects of low-frequency sound energy on the human body, and how it could be used to manipulate an audience.

“The military spent a long time investigating sound cannons that could fire frequencies at groups of people and debilitate them,” explains Mather. “They found that the lower frequencies were far more effective than the very high frequencies. With the high frequencies, you can simply plug your ears and block the sound. The low-end frequencies, however, impact the fluid content of the human body. Frequencies around 5Hz-9Hz can’t be heard, but can have physiological, almost emotional effects on the human body. Patty was fascinated by all of that. So, we had a very good sound-nerd talk at our first meeting — before we even talked about the story of the film.”

Jenkins was fascinated by the idea of sound playing a physical role as well as a narrative one, and that direction informed all of Mather’s sound editorial choices for Wonder Woman. “I was amazed by Patty’s intent, from the very beginning, to veer away from very high-end sounds. She did not want to have those featured heavily in the film. She didn’t want too much top-end sonically,” says Mather, who handled sound editorial at his Soundbyte Studios in West London.

James Mather (far right) and crew take to the streets.

Soundbyte Studios offers creative supervision, sound design, Foley and dialog editing. The facility is equipped with Pro Tools 12 systems and Avid S6 and S3 consoles. Their client list includes top studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Fox, Paramount, DreamWorks, Aardman and Pathe. Mather’s team includes dialog supervisor Simon Chase, and sound effects editors Jed Loughran and Samir Fočo. When Mather begins a project, he likes to introduce his team to the director as soon as possible “so that they are recognized as contributors to the soundtrack,” he says. “It gives the team a better understanding of who they are working with and the kind of collaboration that is expected. I always find that if you can get everyone to work as a collaborative team and everyone has an emotional investment or personal investment in the project, then you get better work.”

Following Jenkins’s direction, Mather and his team designed a tranquil sound for the Amazonian paradise of Themyscira. They started with ambience tracks that the film’s sound recordist Chris Munro captured while they were on-location in Italy. Then Mather added Mediterranean ambiences that he and his team had personally collected over the years. Mather embellished the ambience with songbirds from Asia, Australasia and the Amazon. Since there are white peacocks roaming the island, he added in modified peacock sounds. Howler monkeys and domestic livestock, like sheep and goats, round out the track. Regarding the sheep and goats, Mather says, “We pitched them and manipulated them slightly so that they didn’t sound quite so ordinary, like a natural history film. It was very much a case of keeping the soundtrack relatively sparse. We did not use crickets or cicadas — although there were lots there while they were filming, because we wanted to stay away the high-frequency sounds.”

Waterfalls are another prominent feature of Themyscira, according to Mather, but thankfully they weren’t really on the island so the sound recordings were relatively clean. The post sound team had complete control over the volume, distance and frequency range of the waterfall sounds. “We very much wanted the low-end roar and rumble of the waterfalls rather than high-end hiss and white noise.”

The sound of paradise is serene in contrast to London and the front lines of World War I. Mather wanted to exaggerate that difference by overplaying the sound of boats, cars and crowds as Steve [Chris Pine] and Diana [Gal Gadot] arrived in London. “This was London at its busiest and most industria

l time. There were structures being built on a major scale so the environment was incredibly active. There were buses still being drawn by horses, but there were also cars. So, you have this whole mishmash of old and new. We wanted to see Diana’s reaction to being somewhere that she has never experienced before, with sounds that she has never heard and things she has never seen. The world is a complete barrage of sensory information.”

They recorded every vehicle they could in the film, from planes and boats to the motorcycle that Steve uses to chase after Diana later on in the film. “This motorcycle was like nothing we had ever seen before,” explains Mather. “We knew that we would have to go and record it because we didn’t have anything in our sound libraries for it.”

The studio spent days preparing the century-old motorcycle for the recording session. “We got about four minutes of recording with it before it fell apart,” admits Mather. “The chain fell off, the sprockets broke and then it went up in smoke. It was an antique and probably shouldn’t have been used! The funny thing is that it sounded like a lawnmower. We could have just recorded a lawnmower and it would’ve sounded the same!”

(Mather notes that the motorcycle Steve rides on-screen was a modern version of the century-old one they got to record.)

Goosing Sounds
Mather and his sound team have had numerous opportunities to record authentic weapons, cars, tanks, planes and other specific war-era machines and gear for projects they’ve worked on. While they always start with those recordings as their sound design base, Mather says the audience’s expectation of a sound is typically different from the real thing. “The real sound is very often disappointing. We start with the real gun or real car that we recorded, but then we start to work on them, changing the texture to give them a little bit more punch or bite. We might find that we need to add some gun mechanisms to make a gun sound a bit snappier or a bit brighter and not so dull. It’s the same with the cars. You want the car to have character, but you also want it to be slightly faster or more detailed than it actually sounds. By the nature of filmmaking, you will always end up slightly embellishing the real sound.”

Take the gun battles in Wonder Woman, for instance. They have an obvious sequentiality. The gun fires, the bullet travels toward its target and then there is a noticeable impact. “This film has a lot of slow-motion bullets firing, so we had to amp up the sense of what was propelling that very slow-motion bullet. Recording the sound of a moving bullet is very hard. All of that had to be designed for the film,” says Mather.

In addition to the real era-appropriate vehicles, Wonder Woman has imaginary, souped-up creations too, like a massive bomber. For the bomber’s sound, Mather sought out artist Joe Rush who builds custom Mad Max-style vehicles. They recorded all of Rush’s vehicles, which had a variety of different V8, V12 and V6 engines. “They all sound very different because the engines are on solid metal with no suspension,” explains Mather. “The sound was really big and beefy, loud and clunky and it gave you a sense of a giant war monster. They had this growl and weight and threat that worked well for the German machines, which were supposed to feel threatening. In London, you had these quaint buses being drawn by horses, and the counterpoint to that were these military machines that the Germans had, which had to be daunting and a bit terrifying.

“One of the limitations of the WWI-era soundscapes is the lack of some very useful atmospheric sounds. We used tannoy (loudspeaker) effects on the German bomb factory to hint at the background activity, but had to be very sparing as these were only just invented in that era. (Same thing with the machine guns — a far more mechanical version than the ‘retatatat’ of the familiar WWII versions).”

One of Mather’s favorite scenes to design starts on the frontlines as Diana makes her big reveal as Wonder Woman. She crosses No Man’s Land and deflects the enemies’ fire with her bulletproof bracelets and shield. “We played with that in so many different ways because the music was such an important part of Patty’s vision for the film. She very much wanted the music to carry the narrative. Sound effects were there to be literal in many ways. We were not trying to overemphasize the machismo of it. The story is about the people and not necessarily the action they were in. So that became a very musical-based moment, which was not the way I would have normally done it. I learned a lot from Patty about the different ways of telling the story.”

The Powers
Following that scene, Wonder Woman recaptured the Belgian village they were fighting for by running ahead and storming into the German barracks. Mather describes it as a Guy Ritchie-style fight, with Wonder Woman taking on 25 German soldiers. “This is the first time that we really get to see her use all of her powers: the lasso, her bracelets, her shield, and even her shin guards. As she dances her way around the room, it goes from realtime into slow motion and back into realtime. She is repelling bullets, smashing guns with her back, using her shield as a sliding mat and doing slow-motion kicks. It is a wonderfully choreographed scene and it is her first real action scene.”

The scene required a fluid combination of realistic sounds and subdued, slow-motion sounds. “It was like pushing and pulling the soundtrack as things slowed down and then sped back up. That was a lot of fun.”

The Lasso
Where would Wonder Woman be without her signature lasso of truth? In the film, she often uses the lasso as a physical weapon, but there was an important scene where the lasso was called upon for its truth-finding power. Early in the film, Steve’s plane crashes and he’s washed onto Themyscira’s shore. The Amazonians bind Steve with the lasso and interrogate him. Eventually the lasso of truth overpowers him and he divulges his secrets. “There is quite a lot of acting on Chris Pine’s part to signify that he’s uncomfortable and is struggling,” says Mather. “We initially went by his performance, which gave the impression that he was being burned. He says, ‘This is really hot,’ so we started with sizzling and hissing sounds as if the rope was burning him. Again, Patty felt strongly about not going into the high-frequency realm because it distracts from the dialogue, so we wanted to keep the sound in a lower, more menacing register.”

Mather and his team experimented with adding a multitude of different elements, including low whispering voices, to see if they added a sense of personality to the lasso. “We kept the sizzling, but we pitched it down to make it more watery and less high-end. Then we tried a dozen or so variations of themes. Eventually we stayed with this blood-flow sound, which is like an arterial blood flow. It has a slight rhythm to it and if you roll off the top end and keep it fairly muted then it’s quite an intriguing sound. It feels very visceral.”

The last elements Mather added to the lasso were recordings he captured of two stone slabs grinding against each other in a circular motion, like a mill. “It created this rotating, undulating sound that almost has a voice. So that created this identity, this personality. It was very challenging. We also struggled with this when we did the Harry Potter films, to make an inert object have a character without making it sound a bit goofy and a bit sci-fi. All of those last elements we put together, we kept that very low. We literally raised the volume as you see Steve’s discomfort and then let it peel away every time he revealed the truth. As he was fighting it, the sound would rise and build up. It became a very subtle, but very meaningful, vehicle to show that the rope was actually doing something. It wasn’t burning him but it was doing something that was making him uncomfortable.”

The Mix
Wonder Woman was mixed at De Lane Lea (Warner Bros. London) by re-recording mixers Chris Burdon and Gilbert Lake. Mather reveals that the mixing process was exhausting, but not because of the people involved. “Patty is a joy to work with,” he explains. “What I mean is that working with frequencies that are so low and so loud is exhausting. It wasn’t even the volume; it was being exposed to those low frequencies all day, every day for nine weeks or so. It was exhausting, and it really took its toll on everybody.”

In the mix, Jenkins chose to have Rupert Gregson-Williams’s score lead nearly all of the action sequences. “Patty’s sensitivity and vision for the soundtrack was very much about the music and the emotion of the characters,” says Mather. “She was very aware of the emotional narrative that the music would bring. She did not want to lean too heavily on the sound effects. She knew there would be scenes where there would be action and there would be opportunities to have sound design, but I found that we were not pushing those moments as hard as you would expect. The sound design highs weren’t so high that you felt bereft of momentum and pace when those sound design heavy scenes were finished. We ended up maintaining a far more interesting soundtrack that way.”

With DC films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Spider-Man, the audience expects a sound design-heavy track, but Jenkins’s music-led approach to Wonder Woman provides a refreshing spin on superhero film soundtracks. “The soundtrack is less supernatural and more down to earth,” says Mather. “I don’t think it could’ve been any other way. It’s not a predictable soundtrack and I really enjoyed that.”

Mather really enjoys collaborating with people who have different ideas and different approaches. “What was exciting about doing this film was that I was able to work with someone who had an incredibly strong idea about the soundtrack and yet was very happy to let us try different routes and options. Patty was very open to listening to different ideas, and willing to take the best from those ideas while still retaining a very strong vision of how the soundtrack was going to play for the audience. This is Patty’s DC story, her opportunity to open up the DC universe and give the audience a new look at a character. She was an extraordinary person to work with and for me that was the best part of the process. In the time of remakes, it’s nice to have a film that is fresh and takes a different approach.”


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

FX’s Fargo features sounds as distinctive as its characters

By Jennifer Walden

In Fargo, North Dakota, in the dead of winter, there’s been a murder. You might think you’ve heard this story before, but Noah Hawley keeps coming up with a fresh, new version of it for each season of his Fargo series on FX. Sure, his inspiration was the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning Fargo film, but with Season 3 now underway it’s obvious that Hawley’s series isn’t simply a spin-off.

Martin Lee and Kirk Lynds.

Every season of the Emmy-winning Fargo series follows a different story, with its own distinct cast of characters, set in its own specified point in time. Even the location isn’t always the same — Season 3 takes place in Minnesota. What does link the seasons together is Hawley’s distinct black humor, which oozes from these disparate small-town homicides. He’s a writer and director on the series, in addition to being the showrunner and an executive producer. “Noah is very hands-on,” confirms re-recording mixer Martin Lee at Tattersall Sound & Picture in Toronto, part of the SIM Group family of companies, who has been mixing the show with re-recording mixer Kirk Lynds since Season 2.

Fargo has a very distinct look, feel and sound that you have to maintain,” explains Lee. “The editors, producers and Noah put a lot of work into the sound design and sound ideas while they are cutting the picture. The music is very heavily worked while they are editing the show. By the time the soundtrack gets to us there is a pretty clear path as to what they are looking for. It’s up to us to take that and flesh it out, to make it fill the 5.1 environment. That’s one of the most unique parts of the process for us.”

Season 3 follows rival brothers, Emmit and Ray Stussy (both played by Ewan McGregor). Their feud over a rare postage stamp leads to a botched robbery attempt that ultimately ends in murder (don’t worry, neither Ewan character meets his demise…yet??).

One of the most challenging episodes to mix this season, so far, was Episode 3, “The Law of Non-Contradiction.” The story plays out across four different settings, each with unique soundscapes: Minnesota, Los Angeles in 2010, Los Angeles in 1975 and an animated sci-fi realm. As police officer Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) unravels the homicide in Eden Valley, Minnesota, her journey leads her to Los Angeles. There the story dives into the past, to 1975, to reveal the life story of science fiction writer Thaddeus Mobley (Thomas Mann). The episode side-trips into animation land when Gloria reads Mobley’s book titled The Planet Wyh.

One sonic distinction between Los Angeles in 2010 and Los Angeles of 1975 was the density of traffic. Lee, who mixed the dialogue and music, says, “All of the scenes that were taking place in 2010 were very thick with traffic and cars. That was a technical challenge, because the recordings were very heavy with traffic.”

Another distinction is the pervasiveness of technology in social situations, like the bar scene where Gloria meets up with a local Los Angeles cop to talk about her stolen luggage. The patrons are all glued to their cell phones. As the camera pans down the bar, you hear different sounds of texting playing over a contemporary, techno dance track. “They wanted to have those sounds playing, but not become intrusive. They wanted to establish with sound that people are always tapping away on their phones. It was important to get those sounds to play through subtly,” explains Lynds.

In the animated sequences, Gloria’s voice narrates the story of a small android named MNSKY whose spaceman companion dies just before they reach Earth. The robot carries on the mission and records an eon’s worth of data on Earth. The robot is eventually reunited with members of The Federation of United Planets, who cull the android’s data and then order it to shut down. “Because it was this animated sci-fi story, we wanted to really fill the room with the environment much more so than we can when we are dealing with production sound,” says Lee. “As this little robotic character is moving through time on Earth, you see something like the history of man. There’s voiceover, sound effects and music through all of it. It required a lot of finesse to maintain all of those elements with the right kind of energy.”

The animation begins with a spaceship crashing into the moon. MNSKY wakes and approaches the injured spaceman who tells the android he’s going to die. Lee needed to create a vocal process for the spaceman, to make it sound as though his voice is coming through his helmet. With Audio Ease’s Altiverb, Lee tweaked the settings on a “long plastic tube” convolution reverb. Then he layered that processed vocal with the clean vocal. “It was just enough to create that sense of a helmet,” he says.

At the end, when MNSKY rejoins the members of the Federation on their spaceship it’s a very different environment from Earth. The large, ethereal space is awash in long, warm reverbs which Lynds applied using plug-ins like PhoenixVerb 5.1 and Altiverb. Lee also applied a long reverb treatment to the dialogue. “The reverbs have quite a significant pre-delay, so you almost have that sense of a repeat of the voice afterwards. This gives it a very distinctive, environmental feel.”

Lynds and Lee spend two days premixing their material on separate dub stages. For the premix, Lynds typically has all the necessary tracks from supervising sound editor Nick Forshager while Lee’s dialogue and music tracks come in more piecemeal. “I get about half the production dialogue on day one and then I get the other half on day two,” says Lee. “ADR dribbles in the whole time, including well into the mixing process. ADR comes in even after we have had several playbacks already.”

Fortunately, the show doesn’t rely heavily on ADR. Lee notes that they put a lot of effort into preserving the production. “We use a combination of techniques. The editors find the cleanest lines and takes (while still keeping the performance), then I spent a lot of time cleaning that up,” he says.

This season Lee relies more on Cedar’s DNS One plug-in for noise reduction and less on the iZotope RX5 (Connect version). “I’m finding with Fargo that the showrunners are uniquely sensitive to the effects of the iZotope processing. This year it took more work to find the right sound. It ends up being a combination of both the Cedar and the RX5,” reports Lee.

After premixing, Lee and Lynds bring their tracks together on Tattersall’s Stage 1. They have three days for the 5.1 final mix. They spend one (very) long day building the episode in 5.1 and then send their mix to Los Angeles for Forshager and co-producer Gregg Tilson to review. Then Lee and Lynds address the first round of notes the next morning and send the mix back to Los Angeles for another playback. Each consecutive playback is played for more people. The last playback is for Hawley on the third day.

“One of the big challenges with the workflow is mixing an episode in one day. It’s a long mix day. At least the different time zones help. We send them a mix to listen to typically around 6-7pm PST, so it’s not super late for them. We start at 8am EST the next morning, which is three hours ahead of their time. By the time they’re in the studio and ready to listen, it is 10am their time and we’ve already spent three or four hours handling the revisions. That really works to our advantage,” says Lee.

Sound in the Fargo series is not an afterthought. It’s used to build tension, like a desk bell that rings for an uncomfortably long time, or to set the mood of a space, like an overly noisy fish tank in a cheap apartment. By the time the tracks have made it to the mixers, there’s been “a lot of time and effort spent thinking about what the show was going to sound like,” says Lynds. “From that sense, the entire mix for us is a creative opportunity. It’s our chance to re-create that in a 5.1 environment, and to make that bigger and better.”

You can catch new episodes of Fargo on FX Networks, Wednesdays at 10pm EST.


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