Category Archives: TV Series

Capturing, creating historical sounds for AMC’s The Terror

By Jennifer Walden

It’s September 1846. Two British ships — the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror — are on an exploration to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition’s leader, British Royal Navy Captain Sir John Franklin, leaves the Erebus to dine with Captain Francis Crozier aboard the Terror. A small crew rows Franklin across the frigid, ice-choked Arctic Ocean that lies north of Canada’s mainland to the other vessel.

The opening overhead shot of the two ships in AMC’s new series The Terror (Mondays 9/8c) gives the audience an idea of just how large those ice chunks are in comparison with the ships. It’s a stunning view of the harsh environment, a view that was completely achieved with CGI and visual effects because this series was actually shot on a soundstage at Stern Film Studio, north of Budapest, Hungary.

 Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC

Emmy- and BAFTA-award-winning supervising sound editor Lee Walpole of Boom Post in London, says the first cut he got of that scene lacked the VFX, and therefore required a bit of imagination. “You have this shot above the ships looking down, and you see this massive green floor of the studio and someone dressed in a green suit pushing this boat across the floor. Then we got the incredible CGI, and you’d never know how it looked in that first cut. Ultimately, mostly everything in The Terror had to be imagined, recorded, treated and designed specifically for the show,” he says.

Sound plays a huge role in the show. Literally everything you hear (except dialogue) was created in post — the constant Arctic winds, the footsteps out on the packed ice and walking around on the ship, the persistent all-male murmur of 70 crew members living in a 300-foot space, the boat creaks, the ice groans and, of course, the creature sounds. The pervasive environmental sounds sell the harsh reality of the expedition.

Thanks to the sound and the CGI, you’d never know this show was shot on a soundstage. “It’s not often that we get a chance to ‘world-create’ to that extent and in that fashion,” explains Walpole. “The sound isn’t just there in the background supporting the story. Sound becomes a principal character of the show.”

Bringing the past to life through sound is one of Walpole’s specialties. He’s created sound for The Crown, Peaky Blinders, Klondike, War & Peace, The Imitation Game, The King’s Speech and more. He takes a hands-on approach to historical sounds, like recording location footsteps in Lancaster House for the Buckingham Palace scenes in The Crown, and recording the sounds on-board the Cutty Sark for the ships in To the Ends of the Earth (2005). For The Terror, his team spent time on-board the Golden Hind, which is a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship of the same name.

During a 5am recording session, the team — equipped with a Sound Devices 744T recorder and a Schoeps CMIT 5U mic — captured footsteps in all of the rooms on-board, pick-ups and put-downs of glasses and cups, drops of various objects on different surfaces, gun sounds and a selection of rigging, pulleys and rope moves. They even recorded hammering. “We took along a wooden plank and several hammers,” describes Walpole. “We laid the plank across various surfaces on the boat so we could record the sound of hammering resonating around the hull without causing any damage to the boat itself.”

They also recorded footsteps in the ice and snow and reached out to other sound recordists for snow and ice footsteps. “We wanted to get an authentic snow creak and crunch, to have the character of the snow marry up with the depth and freshness of the snow we see at specific points in the story. Any movement from our characters out on the pack ice was track-laid, step-by-step, with live recordings in snow. No studio Foley feet were recorded at all,” says Walpole.

In The Terror, the ocean freezes around the two ships, immobilizing them in pack ice that extends for miles. As the water continues to freeze, the ice grows and it slowly crushes the ships. In the distance, there’s the sound of the ice growing and shifting (almost like tectonic plates), which Walpole created from sourced hydrophone recordings from a frozen lake in Canada. The recordings had ice pings and cracking that, when slowed and pitched down, sounded like massive sheets of ice rubbing against each other.

Effects editor Saoirse Christopherson capturing sounds on board a kayak in the Thames River.

The sounds of the ice rubbing against the ships were captured by one of the show’s sound effects editor, Saoirse Christopherson, who along with an assistant, boarded a kayak and paddled out onto the frozen Thames River. Using a Røde NT2 and a Roland R26 recorder with several contact mics strapped to the kayak’s hull, they spent the day grinding through, over and against the ice. “The NT2 was used to directionally record both the internal impact sounds of the ice on the hull and also any external ice creaking sounds they could generate with the kayak,” says Walpole.

He slowed those recordings down significantly and used EQ and filters to bring out the low-mid to low-end frequencies. “I also fed them through custom settings on my TC Electronic reverbs to bring them to life and to expand their scale,” he says.

The pressure of the ice is slowly crushing the ships, and as the season progresses the situation escalates to the point where the crew can’t imagine staying there another winter. To tell that story through sound, Walpole began with recordings of windmill creaks and groans. “As the situation gets more dire, the sound becomes shorter and sharper, with close, squealing creaks that sound as though the cabins themselves are warping and being pulled apart.”

In the first episode, the Erebus runs aground on the ice and the crew tries to hack and saw the ice away from the ship. Those sounds were recorded by Walpole attacking the frozen pond in his backyard with axes and a saw. “That’s my saw cutting through my pond, and the axe material is used throughout the show as they are chipping away around the boat to keep the pack ice from engulfing it.”

Whether the crew is on the boat or on the ice, the sound of the Arctic is ever-present. Around the ships, the wind rips over the hulls and howls through the rigging on deck. It gusts and moans outside the cabin windows. Out on the ice, the wind constantly groans or shrieks. “Outside, I wanted it to feel almost like an alien planet. I constructed a palette of designed wind beds for that purpose,” says Walpole.

He treated recordings of wind howling through various cracks to create a sense of blizzard winds outside the hull. He also sourced recordings of wind at a disused Navy bunker. “It’s essentially these heavy stone cells along the coast. I slowed these recordings down a little and softened all of them with EQ. They became the ‘holding airs’ within the boat. They felt heavy and dense.”

Below Deck
In addition to the heavy-air atmospheres, another important sound below deck was that of the crew. The ships were entirely occupied by men, so Walpole needed a wide and varied palette of male-only walla to sustain a sense of life on-board. “There’s not much available in sound libraries, or in my own library — and certainly not enough to sustain a 10-hour show,” he says.

So they organized a live crowd recording session with a group of men from CADS — an amateur dramatics society from Churt, just outside of London. “We gave them scenarios and described scenes from the show and they would act it out live in the open air for us. This gave us a really varied palette of worldized effects beds of male-only crowds that we could sit the loop group on top of. It was absolutely invaluable material in bringing this world to life.”

Visually, the rooms and cabins are sometimes quite similar, so Walpole uses sound to help the audience understand where they are on the ship. In his cutting room, he had the floor plans of both ships taped to the walls so he could see their layouts. Life on the ship is mainly concentrated on the lower deck — the level directly below the upper deck. Here is where the men sleep. It also has the canteen area, various cabins and the officers’ mess.

Below that is the Orlop deck, where there are workrooms and storerooms. Then below that is the hold, which is permanently below the waterline. “I wanted to be very meticulous about what you would hear at the various levels on the boat and indeed the relative sound level of what you are hearing in these locations,” explains Walpole. “When we are on the lower two decks, you hear very little of the sound of the men above. The soundscapes there are instead focused on the creaks and the warping of the hull and the grinding of the ice as it crushes against the boat.”

One of Walpole’s favorite scenes is the beginning of Episode 4. Capt. Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) is sitting in his cabin listening to the sound of the pack ice outside, and the room sharply tilts as the ice shifts the ship. The scene offers an opportunity to tell a cause-and-effect story through sound. “You hear the cracks and pings of the ice pack in the distance and then that becomes localized with the kayak recordings of the ice grinding against the boat, and then we hear the boat and Crozier’s cabin creak and pop as it shifts. This ultimately causes his bottle to go flying across the table. I really enjoyed having this tale of varying scales. You have this massive movement out on the ice and the ultimate conclusion of it is this bottle sliding across the table. It’s very much a sound moment because Crozier is not really saying anything. He’s just sitting there listening, so that offered us a lot of space to play with the sound.”

The Tuunbaq
The crew in The Terror isn’t just battling the elements, scurvy, starvation and mutiny. They’re also being killed off by a polar bear-like creature called the Tuunbaq. It’s part animal, part mythical creature that is tied to the land and spirits around it. The creature is largely unseen for the first part of the season so Walpole created sonic hints as to the creature’s make-up.

Walpole worked with showrunner David Kajganich to find the creature’s voice. Kajganich wanted the creature to convey a human intelligence, and he shared recordings of human exorcisms as reference material. They hired voice artist Atli Gunnarsson to perform parts to picture, which Walpole then fed into the Dehumaniser plug-in by Krotos. “Some of the recordings we used raw as well, says Walpole. “This guy could make these crazy sounds. His voice could go so deep.”

Those performances were layered into the track alongside recordings of real bears, which gave the sound the correct diaphragm, weight, and scale. “After that, I turned to dry ice screeches and worked those into the voice to bring a supernatural flavor and to tie the creature into the icy landscape that it comes from.”

Lee Walpole

In Episode 3, an Inuit character named Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen) is sitting in her igloo and the Tuunbaq arrives snuffling and snorting on the other side of the door flap. Then the Tuunbaq begins to “sing” at her. To create that singing, Walpole reveals that he pulled Lady Silence’s performance of The Summoning Song (the song her people use to summon the Tuunbaq to them) from a later episode and fed that into Dehumaniser. “This gave me the creature’s version. So it sounds like the creature is singing the song back to her. That’s one for the diehards who will pick up on it and recognize the tune,” he says.

Since the series is shot on a soundstage, there’s no usable bed of production sound to act as a jumping off point for the post sound team. But instead of that being a challenge, Walpole finds it liberating. “In terms of sound design, it really meant we had to create everything from scratch. Sound plays such a huge role in creating the atmosphere and the feel of the show. When the crew is stuck below decks, it’s the sound that tells you about the Arctic world outside. And the sound ultimately conveys the perils of the ship slowly being crushed by the pack ice. It’s not often in your career that you get such a blank canvas of creation.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.

Netflix’s Altered Carbon: the look, the feel, the post

By Randi Altman

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is a new sci-fi series set in a dystopian future where people are immortal thanks to something called “stacks,” which contain their entire essence — their personalities, their memories, everything. The one setback is that unless you are a Meth (one of the rich and powerful), you need to buy a “sleeve” (a body) for your stack, and it might not have any resemblance to your former self. It could be a different color, a different sex, a different age, a different everything. You have to take what you can get.

Based on a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, it stars Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman.

Jill Bogdanowicz

We reached out to the show’s colorist, Jill Bogdanowicz, as well as post producer Allen Marshall Palmer to find out more about the show’s varied and distinctive looks.

The look has a very Blade Runner-type feel. Was that in homage to the films?
Bogdanowicz: The creators wanted a film noir look. Blade Runner is the same genre, but the show isn’t specifically an homage to Blade Runner.

Palmer: I’ll leave that for fans to dissect.

Jill, can you talk about your process? What tools did you use?
Bogdanowicz: I designed a LUT to create that film noir look before shooting. I actually provided a few options, and they chose my favorite one and used it throughout. After they shot everything and I had all 10 episodes in my bay, I got familiar with the content, wrapped my head around the story and came up with ideas to tell that story with color.

The show covers many different times and places so scenes needed to be treated visually to show audiences where the story is and what’s happened. I colored both HDR (Dolby Vision) and SDR passes using DaVinci Resolve.

I worked very closely with both DPs — Martin Ahlgren and Neville Kidd — in pre-timing the show, and they gave me a nice idea of what they were looking for so I had a great starting point. They were very close knit. The entire team on this project was an absolute pleasure, and it was a great creative collaboration, which comes through in the final product of the show.

The show is shot and posted like a feature and has a feature feel. Was that part of your marching orders?
Bogdanowicz: I’m primarily a features colorist, so I’m very familiar with the film noir look and heavy VFX, and that’s one reason I was included on this project. It was right up my alley.

Palmer: We approached Altered Carbon as a 10-part feature rather than a television series. I coined the term “feature episodic entertainment,” which describes what we were aspiring to — destination viewing instead of something merely disposable. In a world with so many viewing options, we wanted to command the viewer’s full attention, and fans are rewarded for that attention.

We were very concerned about how images, especially VFX, were going to look in HDR so we had weekly VFX approval sessions with Jill, our mastering colorist, in her color timing bay.

Executive producers and studio along with the VFX and post teams were able to sit together — adjusting color corrections if needed before giving final approval on shots. This gave us really good technical and creative quality control. Despite our initial concerns about VFX shots in HDR, we found that with vendors like Double Negative and Milk with their robust 16-bit EXR pipelines we weren’t “breaking” VFX shots when color correcting for HDR.

How did the VFX affect the workflow?
Bogdanowicz: Because I was brought on so early, the LUT I created was shared with the VFX vendors so they had a good estimation of the show’s contrast. That really helped them visualize the look of the show so that the look of the shots was pretty darn close by the time I got them in my bay.

Was there a favorite scene or scenes?
Bogdanowicz: There are so many spectacular moments, but the emotional core for me is in episode 104 when we see the beginning of the Kovacs and Quell love story in the past and how that love gives Kovacs the strength to survive in the present day.

Palmer: That’s a tough question! There are so many, it’s hard to choose. I think the episode that really jumps out is the one in which Joel Kinnaman’s character is being tortured and the content skips back and forth in time, changes and alternates between VR and reality. It was fun to create a different visual language for each space.

Can you talk about challenges in the process and how you overcame them?
Bogdanowicz: The show features a lot of VFX and they all need to look as real as possible, so I had to make sure they felt part of the worlds. Fortunately, VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and his team are amazing and the VFX is top notch. Coming up with different ideas and collaborating with producers James Middleton and Laeta Kalogridis on those ideas was a really fun creative challenge. I used the Sapphire VFX plugin for Resolve to heavily treat and texture VR looks in different ways.

Palmer: In addition to the data management challenges on the picture side, we were dealing with mixing in Dolby Atmos. It was very easy to get distracted with how great the Atmos mix sounds — the downmixes generally translated very well, but monitoring in 5.1 and 2.0 did reveal some small details that we wanted to adjust. Generally, we’re very happy with how both the picture and sound is translating into viewer’s homes.

Dolby Vision HDR is great at taking what’s in the color bay into the home viewing environment, but there are still so many variables in viewing set-ups that you can still end up chasing your own tail. It was great to see the behind the scenes of Netflix’s dedication to providing the best picture and sound quality through the service.

The look of the AI hotel was so warm. I wanted to live there. Can you talk about that look?
Bogdanowicz: The AI hotel look was mostly done in design and lighting. I saw the warm practical lights and rich details in the architecture and throughout the hotel and ran with it. I just aimed to keep the look filmic and inviting.

What about the look of where the wealthy people lived?
Bogdanowicz: The Meth houses are above the clouds, so we kept the look very clean and cool with a lot of true whites and elegant color separation.

Seems like there were a few different looks within the show?
Bogdanowicz: The same LUT for the film noir look is used throughout the show, but the VR looks are very different. I used Sapphire to come up with different concepts and textures for the different VR looks, from rich quality of the high-end VR to the cheap VR found underneath a noodle bar.

Allen, can you walk us through the workflow from production to post?
Palmer: With the exception of specialty shots, the show was photographed on Alexa 65 — mostly in 5K mode, but occasionally in 6.5K and 4K for certain lenses. The camera is beautiful and a large part of the show’s cinematic look, but it generates a lot of data (about 1.9TB/hour for 5K) so this was the first challenge. The camera dictates using the Codex Vault system, and Encore Vancouver was up to the task for handling this material. We wanted to get the amount of data down for post, so we generated 4096×2304 ProRes 4444XQ “mezzanine” files, which we used for almost all of the show assembly and VFX pulls.

During production and post, all of our 4K files were kept online at Efilm using their portal system. This allowed us fast, automated access to the material so we could quickly do VFX pulls, manage color, generate 16-bit EXR frames and send those off to VFX vendors. We knew that time saved there was going to give us more time on the back end to work creatively on the shots so the Portal was a very valuable tool.

How many VFX shots did you average per episode? Seems like a ton, especially with the AI characters. Who provided those and what were those turnarounds like?
Palmer: There were around 2,300 visual effects shots during this season — probably less than most people would think because we built a large Bay City street inside a former newspaper printing facility outside of Vancouver. The shot turnaround varied depending on the complexity and where we were in the schedule. We were lucky that something like episode 1’s “limo ride” sequence was started very early on because it gave us a lot of time to refine our first grand views of Bay City. Our VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and VFX producer Tony Meagher were able to get us out in front of a lot of challenges like the amount of 3D work in the last two episodes by starting that work early on since we knew we would need those shots from the script and prep phase.

Cinna 4.13

The 16th annual VES Award winners

The Visual Effects Society (VES) celebrated artists and their work at the 16th Annual VES Awards, which recognize outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials, video games and special venues.

Seven-time host, comedian Patton Oswalt, presided over more than 1,000 guests at the Beverly Hilton. War for the Planet of the Apes was named photoreal feature film winner, earning four awards. Coco was named top animated film, also earning four awards. Games of Thrones was named best photoreal episode and garnered five awards — the most wins of the night. Samsung; Do What You Can’t; Ostrich won top honors in the commercial field, scoring three awards. These top four contenders collectively garnered 16 of the 24 awards for outstanding visual effects.

President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige presented the VES Lifetime Achievement Award to producer/writer/director Jon Favreau. Academy Award-winning producer Jon Landau presented the Georges Méliès Award to Academy Award-winning visual effects master Joe Letteri, VES. Awards presenters included fan-favorite Mark Hamill, Coco director Lee Unkrich, War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves, Academy Award-nominee Diane Warren, Jaime Camil, Dan Stevens, Elizabeth Henstridge, Sydelle Noel, Katy Mixon and Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias.

Here is a list of the winners:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

Joe Letteri

Ryan Stafford

Daniel Barrett

Dan Lemmon

Joel Whist

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Dunkirk

Andrew Jackson

Mike Chambers

Andrew Lockley

Alison Wortman

Scott Fisher

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

Coco

Lee Unkrich

Darla K. Anderson

David Ryu

Michael K. O’Brien

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall

Joe Bauer

Steve Kullback

Chris Baird

David Ramos

Sam Conway

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Black Sails: XXIX

Erik Henry

Terron Pratt

Yafei Wu

David Wahlberg

Paul Dimmer

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Raphael Lacoste

Patrick Limoges

Jean-Sebastien Guay

Ulrich Haar

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

Diarmid Harrison-Murray

Tomek Zietkiewicz

Amir Bazazi

Martino Madeddu

 

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

Avatar: Flight of Passage

Richard Baneham

Amy Jupiter

David Lester

Thrain Shadbolt

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes: Caesar

Dennis Yoo

Ludovic Chailloleau

Douglas McHale

Tim Forbes

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature

Coco: Hèctor

Emron Grover

Jonathan Hoffman

Michael Honsel

Guilherme Sauerbronn Jacinto

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones The Spoils of War: Drogon Loot Train Attack

Murray Stevenson

Jason Snyman

Jenn Taylor

Florian Friedmann

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

David Bryan

Maximilian Mallmann

Tim Van Hussen

Brendan Fagan

 

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Blade Runner 2049; Los Angeles

Chris McLaughlin

Rhys Salcombe

Seungjin Woo

Francesco Dell’Anna

 

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature

Coco: City of the Dead

Michael Frederickson

Jamie Hecker

Jonathan Pytko

Dave Strick

 

Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones; Beyond the Wall; Frozen Lake

Daniel Villalba

Antonio Lado

José Luis Barreiro

Isaac de la Pompa

 

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Groot Dance/Opening Fight

James Baker

Steven Lo

Alvise Avati

Robert Stipp

 

Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

Blade Runner 2049: LAPD Headquarters

Alex Funke

Steven Saunders

Joaquin Loyzaga

Chris Menges

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

David Caeiro Cebrián

Johnathan Nixon

Chet Leavai

Gary Boyle

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature

Coco

Kristopher Campbell

Stephen Gustafson

Dave Hale

Keith Klohn

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project 

Game of Thrones; The Dragon and the Wolf; Wall Destruction

Thomas Hullin

Dominik Kirouac

Sylvain Nouveau

Nathan Arbuckle

  

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

Christoph Salzmann

Robin Hollander

Ben Warner

Beck Veitch

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones The Spoils of War: Loot Train Attack

Dom Hellier

Thijs Noij

Edwin Holdsworth

Giacomo Matteucci

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

Michael Gregory

Andrew Roberts

Gustavo Bellon

Rashabh Ramesh Butani

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project

Hybrids

Florian Brauch

Romain Thirion

Matthieu Pujol

Kim Tailhades 

 

 

 


Capturing Foley for Epix’s Berlin Station

Now in its second season on Epix, the drama series Berlin Station centers on undercover agents, diplomats and whistleblowers inhabiting a shadow world inside the German capital.

Leslie Bloome

Working under the direction of series supervising sound editor Ruy Garcia, Westchester, New York-based Foley studio Alchemy Post Sound is providing Berlin Station with cinematic sound. Practical effects, like the clatter of weapons and clinking glass, are recorded on the facility’s main Foley stage. Certain environmental effects are captured on location at sites whose ambience is like the show’s settings. Interior footsteps, meanwhile, are recorded in the facility’s new “live” room, a 1,300-square-foot space with natural reverb that’s used to replicate the environment of rooms with concrete, linoleum and tile floors.

Garcia wants a soundtrack with a lot of detail and depth of field,” explains lead Foley artist and Alchemy Post founder Leslie Bloome. “So, it’s important to perform sounds in the proper perspective. Our entire team of editors, engineers and Foley artists need to be on point regarding the location and depth of field of sounds we’re recording. Our aim is to make every setting feel like a real place.”

A frequent task for the Foley team is to come up with sounds for high-tech cameras, surveillance equipment and other spy gadgetry. Foley artist Joanna Fang notes that sophisticated wall safes appear in several episodes, each one featuring differing combinations of electronic, latch and door sounds. She adds that in one episode a character has a microchip concealed in his suit jacket and the Foley team needed to invent the muffled crunch the chip makes when the man is frisked. “It’s one of those little ‘non-sounds’ that Foley specializes in,” she says. “Most people take it for granted, but it helps tell the story.”

The team is also called on to create Foley effects associated with specific exterior and interior locations. This can include everything from seedy safe houses and bars to modern office suites and upscale hotel rooms. When possible, Alchemy prefers to record such effects on location at sites closely resembling those pictured on-screen. Bloome says that recording things like creaky wood floors on location results in effects that sound more real. “The natural ambiance allows us to grab the essence of the moment,” he explains, “and keep viewers engaged with the scene.”

Footsteps are another regular Foley task. Fang points out that there is a lot of cat-and-mouse action with one character following another or being pursued, and the patter of footsteps adds to the tension. “The footsteps are kind of tough,” she says. “Many of the characters are either diplomats or spies and they all wear hard soled shoes. It’s hard to build contrast, so we end up creating a hierarchy, dark powerful heels for strong characters, lighter shoes for secondary roles.”

For interior footsteps, large theatrical curtains are used to adjust the ambiance in the live stage to fit the scene. “If it’s an office or a small room in a house, we draw the curtains to cut the room in half; if it’s a hotel lobby, we open them up,” Fang explains. “It’s amazing. We’re not only creating depth and contrast by using different types of shoes and walking surfaces, we’re doing it by adjusting the size of the recording space.”

Alchemy edits their Foley in-house and delivers pre-mixed and synced Foley that can be dropped right into the final mix seamlessly. “The things we’re doing with location Foley and perspective mixing are really cool,” says Foley editor and mixer Nicholas Seaman. “But it also means the responsibility for getting the sound right falls squarely on our shoulders. There is no ‘fix in the mix.’ From our point of view, the Foley should be able to stand on its own. You should be able to watch a scene and understand what’s going on without hearing a single line of dialogue.”

The studio used Neumann U87 and KMR81 microphones, a Millennia mic-pre and Apogee converter, all recorded into Avid Pro Tools on a C24 console. In addition to recording a lot of guns, Alchemy also borrowed a Doomsday prep kit for some of the sounds.

The challenge to deliver sound effects that can stand up to that level of scrutiny keeps the Foley team on its toes. “It’s a fascinating show,” says Fang. “One moment, we’re inside the station with the usual office sounds and in the next edit, we’re in the field in the middle of a machine gun battle. From one episode to the next, we never know what’s going to be thrown at us.”


House of Moves add Selma Gladney-Edelman, Alastair Macleod

Animation and motion capture studio House of Moves (HOM) has strengthened its team with two new hires — Selma Gladney-Edelman was brought on as executive producer and Alastair Macleod as head of production technology. The two industry vets are coming on board as the studio shifts to offer more custom short- and long-form content, and expands its motion capture technology workflows to its television, feature film, video game and corporate clients.

Selma Gladney-Edelman was most recently VP of Marvel Television for their primetime and animated series. She has worked in film production, animation and visual effects, and was a producer on multiple episodic series at Walt Disney Television Animation, Cartoon Network and Universal Animation. As director of production management across all of the Discovery Channels, she oversaw thousands of hours of television and film programming including TLC projects Say Yes To the Dress, Little People, Big World and Toddlers and Tiaras, while working on the team that garnered an Oscar nom for Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World and two Emmy wins for Best Children’s Animated Series for Tutenstein.

Scotland native Alastair Macleod is a motion capture expert who has worked in production, technology development and as an animation educator. His production experience includes work on films such as Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, 2012, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 and Kubo and the Two Strings for facilities that include Laika, Image Engine, Weta Digital and others.

Macleod pioneered full body motion capture and virtual reality at the research department of Emily Carr University in Vancouver. He was also the head of animation at Vancouver Film School and an instructor at Capilano University in Vancouver. Additionally, he developed PeelSolve, a motion capture solver plug-in for Autodesk Maya.


The sound of Netflix’s The Defenders

By Jennifer Walden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fear the Walking Dead: Encore colorist teams with DPs for parched look

The action of AMC’s zombie-infused Fear the Walking Dead this season is set in a brittle, drought-plagued environment, which becomes progressively more parched as the story unfolds. So when production was about to commence, the show’s principals were concerned that the normally-arid shoot locations in Mexico had undergone record rainfall and were suffused with verdant vegetation as far as the eye could see.

Pankaj Bajpai of Encore, who has color graded the series from the start, and the two new cinematographers hired for this season — Christopher LaVasseur and Scott Peck — conferred early on about how best to handle this surprising development.

It wouldn’t have been practical to move locations or try to “dress” the scenes to look as described on the page, nor would the budget allow for addressing the issue through VFX. Bajpai, who, in addition to his colorist work also oversees new workflows for Encore, realized that although he could produce the desired effect in his FilmLight Baselight toolset through multiple keys and windows, that too would be less than practical.

Instead, he proposed using a technique that’s far from standard operating procedure for a series. “We got ‘under the hood’ of the Baselight,” he says, “and set up color suppression matrices,” which essentially use mathematical equations to define the degree to which each of the primary colors — red, green and blue — can be represented in an image. The technique, he explains, “allows you to be much more specific about suppressing certain hues without affecting everything else as much as you would by keying a color or manipulating saturation.”

Once designed, these restrictions on the green within the imagery could be dialed up or down, primarily affecting just the colors in the foliage that the filmmakers wanted to re-define, without collateral damage to skin tones and other elements that they didn’t want effects. “I knew that the cinematographers could shoot in the location and we could alter the environment as necessary in the grade,” Bajpai says. He showed the DPs how effective the technique was, and they quickly got on board. Peck, who was able to sit in on the grading for the first episode, recalls, “One of the things I was concerned with was this whole question about the green [foliage] because I knew in the story as the season progresses, water becomes less available. So this idea of changing the greens had to be a gradual process up to around episode nine. There was still a lot of discussion about how we are going to do this. But I knew just working with Pankaj at Encore for a day, that we could do it in the color grade.”

Of course, there was more to work out between Bajpai and the cinematographers, who’d been charged by the producers with taking the look in a somewhat new direction. “Wherever possible I wanted to plan as much with the cinematographers early on so that we’re all working toward a common goal,” he says.

Prior to this season’s start of production, Bajpai and the two DPs developed a shooting LUT to use in conjunction with the specific combination of lenses and the Arri sensors they would use to shoot the season. “Scott recommended using the Hawk T1 prime lenses,” says LaVasseur, “and I suggested going with a fairly low-contrast LUT.” Borrowing language from the photochemical days, he explains, “We wanted to start with a soft image and then ‘print’ really hard,” to yield the show’s edgy, contrasty type of look.

Bajpai calibrated the DPs’ laptops so that they’d be able to get the most out of sample-graded images that he would send them as he started coloring episodes. “We would provide notes when Pankaj had completed a pass,” says LaVasseur, but it was usually just a few very small tweaks I was asking for. We were all working toward the same goal so there weren’t surprises in the way he graded anything.”

“Pankaj had it done very quickly, especially the handling of the green,” Peck adds. “The show needed that look to build to a certain point and then stay there, but the actual locations weren’t cooperative. We were able to just shoot and we all knew what it needed to look like after Pankaj worked on it.”

“Communication is so important,” LaVasseur stresses. “You need to have the DPs, production designer and costume designer working together on the look. You need to know that your colorist is part of the discussion so they’re not taking the images in some other direction than intended. I come from the film days and we would always say, ‘Plan your shoot. Shoot your plan.’ That’s how we approached this season, and I think it paid off.”


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

By Jennifer Walden

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

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

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

Tim Kimmel and Onnalee Blank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


DP David Tattersall on shooting Netflix’s Death Note

Based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, a man who obtains a supernatural notebook that gives him the power to exterminate any living person by writing his or her name in the notebook. Willem Dafoe plays Ryuk, a demonic god of death and the creator of the Death Note. The stylized Netflix feature film was directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, You’re Next) and shot by cinematographer David Tattersall (The Green Mile, Star Wars: Episode I, II and III) with VariCam 35s in 4K RAW with Codex VRAW recorders.

Tattersall had previously worked with Wingard on the horror television series, Outcast. Per Tattersall, he wasn’t aware of the manga series of books but during pre-production, he was able to go through a visual treasure trove of manga material that the art department compiled.

Instead of creating a “cartoony” look, Tattersall and Wingard were more influenced by classic horror films, as well as well-crafted movies by David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick. “Adam is a maestro of the horror genre, and he is very familiar with constructing scenes around scary moments and keeping tension,” explains Tattersall. “It wasn’t necessarily whole movies that influenced us — it was more about taking odd sequences that we thought might be relevant to what we were doing. We had a very cool extended foot chase that we referred to The French Connection and Se7en, both of which have a mix of handheld, extreme wides and long lens shots. Also, because of Adam’s love of Kubrick movies, we had compositions with composure and symmetry that are reminiscent of The Shining, or crazy wide-angle stuff from A Clockwork Orange. It sounds like a mish-mash, but we did have rules.”

Dialogue scenes were covered in a realistic non-flashy way and for Tattersall, one of his biggest challenges was dealing with the demon character, Ryuk, both physically and photographically. The team started with a huge puppet character with puppeteers operating it, but it wasn’t a practical approach since many of the scenes were shot in small spaces such as Light’s bedroom.

“Eventually, the practical issue led to us using a mime artist in full costume with the intention of doing face replacement later,” explains Tattersall. “From our testing, the approach of ‘less is more’ became a thing — less light, more shadow and mystery, less visible, more effective. It worked well for this character who is mostly seen hiding in the shadows. It’s similar to the first Jaws movie. The shark is strangely more scary and ominous when you only get a few glimpses in the frame here and there — a suggestion. And that was our approach for the first 75% of the film. You might get a brief lean out of the shadows and a quick lean back in. Often, we would just shoot him out of focus. We’d keep the focus in the foreground for the Light character and Ryuk would be an out-of-focus blob in the background. It’s not until the very end — the final murder sequence — that you get to see him in full head-to-toe clarity.”

Tattersall shot the film with two VariCam 35s as his A and B cameras and had a VariCam LT for backup. He shot in 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) capturing VRAW files to Codex VRAW recorders. For lensing, he shot with Zeiss Master primes with a 2:39:1 extraction. “This set has become a favorite of mine for the past few years and I’ve grown to love them,” says Tattersall. “They are a bit big and heavy, but they open to a T1.3 and they’re so velvety smooth. With this show having so much night work, that extra speed was very useful.”

In terms of RAW capture, Tattersall tried to keep it simple, using Fotokem’s nextLAB for on-set workflow. “It was almost like using a one light printing process,” he explains. “We had three basic looks — a fairly cool dingy look, one that sometimes falls back on the saturation or leans in the cold direction. I have a set of rules, but I occasionally break them. We tried as much as possible to shoot only in the shade — bringing in butterfly nets or shooting on the shady side of buildings during the day. It was Adam’s wish to keep this heavy, moody atmosphere.”

Tattersall used a few tools to capture unique visuals. To capture low angle shots, he used a P+S Skater Scope that lets you shoot low to the ground. “You can also incorporate floating Dutch angles with its motorized internal prism, so this was something we did throughout,” he says. “The horizon line would lean over to one side or the other.” He also used a remote rollover rig, which allowed the camera to roll 180-degrees when on a crane, giving Tattersall a dizzying visual.

“We also shot with a Phantom Flex to shoot 500fps,” continues Tattersall. “We would have low Dutch angles, an 8mm fish eye look and a Lensbaby to degrade the focus even more. The image could get quite wonky on occasion, which is counterpoint to the more classic coverage of the calmer dialogue moments.”

Although he did a lot of night work, Tattersall did not use the native 5,000 ISO. “I have warmed to a new range of LED lights — the Cineo Maverick, Matchbox and Matchstix. They’re all color balanced and they’re all multi-varied Daylight or Tungsten so it’s quick and easy to change the color temperature without the use of gels. We also made use of Arri Skypanels. Outside, we used tried and tested old school HMIs or 9-light or 12-light MaxiBrutes. There’s nothing quite like them in terms of powerful source lights.”

Death Note was finished at Technicolor by colorist Skip Kimball on Blackmagic Resolve. “The grade was mostly about smoothing out the bumps and tweaking the contrast” explains Tattersall. “Since it’s a dark feature, there was an emphasis on a heavy mood — keeping the blacks, with good contrast and saturated colors. But in the end, the photographic stylization came from the camera placement and lens choices working together with the action choreography.

Emmy Awards: OJ: Made in America composer Gary Lionelli

By Jennifer Walden

The aftermath of a tragic event plays out in front of the eyes of the nation. OJ Simpson, wanted for the gruesome murder of his wife and her friend, fails to turn himself in to the authorities. News helicopters follow the police chase that follows Simpson back to his Rockingham residence where they plan to take him into custody. Decades later, three-time Emmy-winning composer Gary Lionelli is presented with the opportunity to score that iconic Bronco chase.

Here, Lionelli talks about his approach to scoring ESPN’s massive documentary OJ: Made in America. His score on Part 3 is currently up for Emmy consideration for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series. The entire OJ: Made in America score is available digitally through Lakeshore Records.

Gary Lionelli

Scoring OJ: Made in America seems like such a huge undertaking. It’s a five-part series, and each part is over 90 minutes long. How did you tackle this beast?
I’d never scored anything that long within such a short timeframe. Because each part was so long, it wasn’t like doing a TV series but more like scoring five 90-minute films back-to-back. I just focused on one cue at a time, putting one foot in front of the other so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the full scope of the work and could relax enough to write the score! I knew I’d get to the finish line at some point, but it seemed so far away most of the time that I just didn’t want to dwell on that.

When you got this project, did they deliver it as one crazy, long piece? Or did they give it to you in its separate parts?
I got everything at once, which was totally mind-boggling. When you get any project, you need to watch it before you start working on it. For this one, it meant watching a seven-and-a-half-hour film, which was a feat in and of itself. The scale was just huge on this. Looking back, my eyelids still twitch.

It was a pretty nerve-racking time because the schedule was really tight. That was one of the most challenging parts of doing this project. I could have used a year to write this music, because five films are ordinarily what I‘d do in a year, not six months. But all of us who write music for film know that you have to work within extreme deadlines as a matter of course. So you say yes, and you find a way to do it.

So you basically locked yourself up for 14 hours a day, and just plugged away at it?
Right, except it was actually about 15 hours a day, seven days a week, with no breaks. I finished the score 11 days before its theatrical release, which is insane. But, hey, that part is all in the past now, and it’s great to see the film out there getting such attention. One thing that made it worthwhile to me in the end was the quality of the filmmaking — I was riveted by the film the whole time I was working on it.

When composing, you worked only on one part at a time and not with an overall story arc in mind?
I watched all five parts over the course of four days. Once I’d watched the first two parts, I couldn’t wait to start writing so I did that for a bit and then went back to watch the rest.

The director Ezra Edelman wanted me to first score the infamous Bronco chase, which is in Part 3. It’s a 30-minute segment of that particular episode. It was a long sequence of events, all having to do with the chase itself, the events leading up to it and the aftermath of it. So that is what I scored first. It’s kind of strange to dive into a film by first scoring such a pivotal, iconic event. But it worked out — what I wrote for that segment stuck.

It was strange to be writing music for something I had seen on television 20 years before – just to think that there I was, watching the Bronco chase on TV along with everyone else, not having the remotest idea that 20 years down the line I was going to be writing music for this real-life event. It’s just a very odd thing.

The Bronco chase wasn’t a high-speed chase. It was a long police escort back to OJ’s house. The music you wrote for this segment was so brooding and it fit perfectly…
I loved when Zoe Tur, the helicopter pilot, said they were giving OJ a police motorcade. That’s exactly what he got. So I didn’t want to score the sequence by commenting literally on what was happening — what people were doing, or the fact that this was a “chase.” What I tried to do was focus on the subtext, which was the tragedy of the circumstances, and have that direct the course of the music, supplying an overarching musical commentary.

For your instrumentation, did the director let you be carried away by your own muse? Or did he request specific instruments?
He was specific about two things: one, that there would be a trumpet in the score, and two, he wanted an oboe. Other than those two instruments, it was up to me. I have a trumpet player, Jeff Bunnell, who I’ve worked with before. It’s a great partnership because he’s a gifted improviser, and sometimes he knows what I want even when I don’t. He did a fantastic job on the score.

I also had a 40-piece string section recorded at the Eastman Scoring Stage at Warner Bros. Studios. We used players here in town and they added a lot, really bringing the score to life.

Were you conducting the orchestra? Or did you stay close to the engineer in the booth?
I wanted to be next to the recording engineer so I could hear everything as it was being recorded. I had a conductor instead. Besides, I’m a terrible conductor.

What instruments did you choose for the Bronco chase score?
For one of the scenes, I used layers of distorted electric guitars. Another element of the score was musical sound manipulation of acoustic instruments through electronics. It’s a time-consuming way to conjure up sounds, with all the trial and error involved, but the results can sometimes give a film an identity beyond what you can do with an orchestra alone.

So you recorded real instruments and then processed them? Can you share an example of your processing chain?
Sometimes I will get my guitar out and play a phrase. I’ll take that phrase and play it backwards, drop it two octaves, put it through a ring modulator, and then I’ll chop it up into short segments and use that to create a rhythmic pattern. The result is nothing like a real guitar. I didn’t necessarily know what I was going for at the start, but then I’d end up with this cool beat. Then I’d build a cue around that.

The original sound could be anything. I could tap a pencil on a desk and then drop that three octaves, time compress it and do all sorts of other processing. The result is a weird drum sound that no one’s ever heard before. It’s all sorts of experimentation, with the end result being a sound that has some originality and that piques the interest of the person watching the film.

To break that down a little further, what program do you work in?
I work in Pro Tools. I went from Digital Performer to Logic — I think most film composers use Logic or Cubase, but there are a growing number who actually use Pro Tools. I don’t need MIDI to jump through a lot of hoops. I just need to record basic lines because most of that stuff gets replaced by real players anyhow.

When you work in Pro Tools, it’s already the delivery format for the orchestra, so you eliminate a conversion step. I’ve been using Pro Tools for the past four years, and so far it’s been working out great. It has some limitations in MIDI, but not that many and nothing that I can’t work around.

What are some of your favorite processing plug-ins?
For pitching, I use Melodyne by Celemony and Serato’s Pitch ‘n’ Time. There’s a new pitch shifter in Pro Tools called X-Form that’s also good. I also use Waves SoundShifter — whatever seems to do a better job for what I’m working on. I always experiment to see which one works the best to give me the sound I’m looking for.

Besides pitch shifters, I use GRM Tools by Ina-GRM. They make weird plug-ins, like one called Shift, that really convolute sound to the point where you can take a drum or rhythmic guitar and turn it into a high-hat sound. It doesn’t sound like a real high-hat. It sounds like a weird high-hat, not a real one. You never know what you’re going to get from this plug-in, and that’s why I like it so much.

I also use a lot of Soundtoys plug-ins, like Crystallizer, which can really change sounds in unexpected ways. Soundtoys has great distortion plug-ins too. I’m always on the hunt for something new.

A lot of times I use hardware, like guitar pedals. It’s great to turn real knobs and get results and ideas from that. Sometimes the hardware will have a punchier sound, and maybe you can do more extreme things with it. It’s all about experimentation.

You’ve talked before about using a Guitarviol. Was that how you created the long, suspended bass notes in the Bronco chase score?
Yes, I did use the Guitarviol in that and in other places in the score, too. It’s a very weird instrument, because it looks like a cello but doesn’t sound like one, and it definitely doesn’t sound like a guitar. It has a weird, almost Middle Eastern sound to it, and that makes you want to play in that scale sometimes. Sometimes I’ll use it to write an idea, and then I’ll have my cellist play the same thing on cello.

The Guitarviol is built by Jonathan Wilson, who lives in Los Angeles. He had no idea when he invented this thing that it was going to get adopted by the film composer community here in town. But it has, and he can’t make them fast enough.

Do you end up layering the Guitarviol and the cello in the mix? Or do you just go with straight cello?
It’s usually just straight cello. There are a couple of cellists I use who are great. I don’t want to dilute their performance by having mine in the background. The Guitarviol is an inspiration to write something for the cellists to hear, and then I’ll just have them take over from there.

The overall sound of Part 3 is very brooding, and the percussion choices have complementary deep tones. Can you tell me about some of the choices you made there?
Those are all real drums. I don’t use any samples. I love playing real drums. I have a real timpani, a big Brazilian Surdo drum, a gigantic steel bass drum that sounds like a Caribbean steel drum but only two octaves lower (it has a really odd sound), and I have a classic Ludwig Beatles drum kit. I have a marimba and a collection of small percussion instruments. I use them all.

Sometimes I will pitch the recordings down to make them sound bigger. The Surdo by itself sounds huge, and when you pitch that down half an octave it’s even bigger. So I used all of those instruments and I played them. I don’t think I used a single drum sample on the entire score.

When you use percussion samples, you have to hunt around in your entire hard drive for a great tom-tom or a Taiko drum. It’s so much easier to run over to one in your studio and just play it. You never know how it’s going to sound, depending on how you mic it that day. And it’s more inspiring to play the real thing. You get great variation. Every time you hit the drum it sounds different, but a sample sound pretty much sounds the same every time you trigger it.

For striking, did you choose mallets, brushes, sticks, your hands, or other objects?
For the Surdo, I used my hands. I use marimba mallets and timpani mallets for the other instruments. For example, I’ll use timpani mallets for the big steel bass drum. Sometimes I’ll use timpani mallets on my drum kit’s bass drum, because it gives a different sound. It has a more orchestral sound, not like a kick drum from a rock band.

I’m always experimenting. I use brushes a lot on cymbals, and I use the brushes on the steel drum because it gives it a weird sound. You can even use brushes on the timpani, and that creates a strange sound. There are definitely no rules. Whatever you think or can imagine having an effect on the drum, you just try it out. You never know what you’ll get — it’s always good to give it a chance.

In addition to the Bronco chase scene, are there any other tracks that stood out for you in Part 3?
When you score something this long, at a certain point everything starts to run together in your mind. You don’t remember what cue belongs to what scene. But there are many that I can remember. During the jury section of that episode, I used an oboe for Johnny Cochran speaking to the jury. That was an interesting pairing, the oboe and Johnny Cochran. In a way, the oboe became an extension of his voice during his closing argument. I can’t really explain why it worked, but somehow it was the right match.

For the beginning of Part 3, when the police arrive because there was a phone call from Nicole Brown Simpson saying she was afraid of OJ, the cue there was very understated. It had a lot of strange, low sounds to it. That one comes to mind.

At the end of Part 3, they go to OJ’s Rockingham residence, and his lawyers had staged the setting. I did a cue there that was sort of quizzical in a way, just to show the ridiculousness of the whole thing. It was like a farce, the way they set up his residence. So I made the score take a right turn into a different area for that part. It gets away from the dark, brooding undercurrent that the rest of Part 3’s score had.

Of all the parts you could have submitted for Emmy consideration, why did you choose Part 3?
It was a toss-up between Part 2 and Part 3. Part 2 had some of the more major trumpet themes, more of the signature sound with the trumpet and the orchestra. But there were a few examples of that in Part 3, too.

I just felt the Bronco chase, score-wise, had a lot of variation to it, and that it moved in a way that was unpredictable. I ultimately thought that was the way to go, though it was a close race between Part 2 and Part 3.

I found out later that ESPN had submitted Part 3 for Emmy consideration in other categories, so there is a bit of synergy there.

—————-

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