Tag Archives: audio post production

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

Netflix’s The Last Kingdom puts Foley to good use

By Jennifer Walden

What is it about long-haired dudes strapped with leather, wielding swords and riding horses alongside equally fierce female warriors charging into bloody battles? There is a magic to this bygone era that has transfixed TV audiences, as evident by the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, History Channel’s Vikings series and one of my favorites, The Last Kingdom, now on Netflix.

The Last Kingdom, based on a series of historical fiction novels by Bernard Cornwell, is set in late 9th century England. It tells the tale of Saxon-born Uhtred of Bebbanburg who is captured as a child by Danish invaders and raised as one of their own. Uhtred gets tangled up in King Alfred of Wessex’s vision to unite the three separate kingdoms (Wessex, Northumbria and East Anglia) into one country called England. He helps King Alfred battle the invading Danish, but Uhtred’s real desire is to reclaim his rightful home of Bebbanburg from his duplicitous uncle.

Mahoney Audio Post
The sound of the series is gritty and rich with leather, iron and wood elements. The soundtrack’s tactile quality is the result of extensive Foley work by Mahoney Audio Post, who has been with the series since the first season. “That’s great for us because we were able to establish all the sound for each character, village, environment and more, right from the first episode,” says Foley recordist/editor/sound designer Arran Mahoney.

Mahoney Audio Post is a family-operated audio facility in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, UK. Arran Mahoney explains the studio’s family ties. “Clare Mahoney (mum) and Jason Swanscott (cousin) are our Foley artists, with over 30 years of experience working on high-end TV shows and feature films. My brother Billy Mahoney and I are the Foley recordists and editors/sound designers. Billy Mahoney, Sr. (dad) is the founder of the company and has been a dubbing mixer for over 40 years.”

Their facility, built in 2012, houses a mixing suite and two separate audio editing suites, each with Avid Pro Tools HD Native systems, Avid Artist mixing consoles and Genelec monitors. The facility also has a purpose-built soundproof Foley stage featuring 20 different surfaces including grass, gravel, marble, concrete, sand, pebbles and multiple variations of wood.

Foley artists Clare Mahoney and Jason Swanscott.

Their mic collection includes a Røde NT1-A cardioid condenser microphone and a Røde NTG3 supercardioid shotgun microphone, which they use individually for close-micing or in combination to create more distant perspectives when necessary. They also have two other studio staples: a Neumann U87 large-diaphragm condenser mic and a Sennheiser MKH-416 short shotgun mic.

Going Medieval
Over the years, the Mahoney Foley team has collected thousands of props. For The Last Kingdom specifically, they visited a medieval weapons maker and bought a whole armory of items: swords, shields, axes, daggers, spears, helmets, chainmail, armor, bridles and more. And it’s all put to good use on the series. Mahoney notes, “We cover every single thing that you see on-screen as well as everything you hear off of it.” That includes all the feet (human and horses), cloth, and practical effects like grabs, pick-ups/put downs, and touches. They also cover the battle sequences.

Mahoney says they use 20 to 30 tracks of Foley just to create the layers of detail that the battle scenes need. Starting with the cloth pass, they cover the Saxon chainmail and the Vikings leather and fur armor. Then they do basic cloth and leather movements to cover non-warrior characters and villagers. They record a general weapons track, played at low volume, to provide a base layer of sound.

Next they cover the horses from head to hoof, with bridles and saddles, and Foley for the horses’ feet. When asked what’s the best way to Foley horse hooves, Mahoney asserts that it is indeed with coconuts. “We’ve also purchased horseshoes to add to the stable atmospheres and spot FX when required,” he explains. “We record any abnormal horse movements, i.e. crossing a drawbridge or moving across multiple surfaces, and sound designers take care of the rest. Whenever muck or gravel is needed, we buy fresh material from the local DIY stores and work it into our grids/pits on the Foley stage.”

The battle scenes also require Foley for all the grabs, hits and bodyfalls. For the blood and gore, they use a variety of fruit and animal flesh.

Then there’s a multitude of feet to cover the storm of warriors rushing at each other. All the boots they used were wrapped in leather to create an authentic sound that’s true to the time. Mahoney notes that they didn’t want to capture “too much heel in the footsteps, while also trying to get a close match to the sync sound in the event of ADR.”

Surfaces include stone and marble for the Saxon castles of King Alfred and the other noble lords. For the wooden palisades and fort walls, Mahoney says they used a large wooden base accompanied by wooden crates, plinths, boxes and an added layer of controlled creaks to give an aged effect to everything. On each series, they used 20 rolls of fresh grass, lots of hay for the stables, leaves for the forest, and water for all the sea and river scenes. “There were many nights cleaning the studio after battle sequences,” he says.

In addition to the aforementioned props of medieval weapons, grass, mud, bridles and leather, Mahoney says they used an unexpected prop: “The Viking cloth tracks were actually done with samurai suits. They gave us the weight needed to distinguish the larger size of a Danish man compared to a Saxon.”

Their favorite scenes to Foley, and by far the most challenging, were the battle scenes. “Those need so much detail and attention. It gives us a chance to shine on the soundtrack. The way that they are shot/edited can be very fast paced, which lends itself well to micro details. It’s all action, very precise and in your face,” he says. But if they had to pick one favorite scene, Mahoney says it would be “Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold.”

Another challenging-yet-rewarding opportunity for Foley was during the slave ship scenes. Uhtred and his friend are sold into slavery as rowers on a Viking ship, which holds a crew of nearly 30 men. The Mahoney team brought the slave ship to life by building up layers of detail. “There were small wood creaks with small variations of wood and big creaks with larger variations of wood. For the big creaks, we used leather and a broomstick to work into the wood, creating a deep creak sound by twisting the three elements against each other. Then we would pitch shift or EQ to create size and weight. When you put the two together it gives detail and depth. Throw in a few tracks of rigging and pulleys for good measure and you’re halfway there,” says Mahoney.

For the sails, they used a two-mic setup to record huge canvas sheets to create a stereo wrap-around feel. For the rowing effects, they used sticks, brooms and wood rubbing, bouncing, or knocking against large wooden floors and solid boxes. They also covered all the characters’ shackles and chains.

Foley is a very effective way to draw the audience in close to a character or to help the audience feel closer to the action on-screen. For example, near the end of Season 2’s finale, a loyal subject of King Alfred has fallen out of favor. He’s eventually imprisoned and prepares to take his own life. The sound of his fingers running down the blade and the handling of his knife make the gravity of his decision palpable.

Mahoney shares another example of using Foley to draw the audience in — during the scene when Sven is eaten by Thyra’s wolves (following Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold). “We used oranges and melons for Sven’s flesh being eaten and for the blood squirts. Then we created some tracks of cloth and leather being ripped. Specially manufactured claw props were used for the frantic, ravenous wolf feet,” he says. “All the action was off-screen so it was important for the audience to hear in detail what was going on, to give them a sense of what it would be like without actually seeing it. Also, Thyra’s reaction needed to reflect what was going on. Hopefully, we achieved that.”

Post developments at the AES Berlin Convention

By Mel Lambert

The AES Convention returned to Berlin after a three-year absence, and once again demonstrated that the Audio Engineering Society can organize a series of well-attended paper programs, seminars and workshops, in addition to an exhibition of familiar brands, for the European tech-savvy post community. 

Held at the Maritim Hotel in the creative heart of Berlin in late May, the 142nd AES Convention was co-chaired by Sascha Spors from University of Rostock in Germany and Nadja Wallaszkovits from the Austrian Academy of Sciences. According to AES executive director Bob Moses, attendance was 1,800 — a figure at least 10% higher than last year’s gathering in Paris — with post professional from several overseas countries, including China and Australia.

During the opening ceremonies, current AES president Alex Case stated that, “AES conventions represent an ideal interactive meeting place,” whereas “social media lacks the one-on-one contact that enhances our communications bandwidth with colleagues and co-workers.” Keynote speaker Dr. Alex Arteaga, whose research integrates aesthetic and philosophical practices, addressed the thorny subject of “Auditory Architecture: Bringing Phenomenology, Aesthtic Practices and Engineering Together,” arguing that when considering the differences between audio soundscapes, “our experience depends upon the listening environment.” His underlying message was that a full appreciation of the various ways in which we hear immersive sounds requires a deeper understanding of how listeners interact with that space.

As part of his Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture, Prof. Dr. Jorg Sennheiser outlined “A Historic Journey in Audio-Reality: From Mono to AMBEO,” during which he reviewed the basis of audio perception and the interdependence of hearing with other senses. “Our enjoyment and appreciation of audio quality is reflected in the continuous development from single- to multi-channel reproduction systems that are benchmarked against sonic reality,” he offered. “Augmented and virtual reality call for immersive audio, with multiple stakeholders working together to design the future of audio.”

Post-Focused Technical Papers
There were several interesting technical papers that covered the changing requirements of the post community, particularly in the field of immersive playback formats for TV and cinema. With the new ATSC 3.0 digital television format scheduled to come online soon, including object-based immersive sound, there is increasing interest in techniques for capturing surround material and then delivering the same to consumer audiences.

In a paper titled “The Median-Plane Summing Localization in Ambisonics Reproduction,” Bosun Xie from the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou explained that, while one aim of Ambisonics playback is to recreate the perception of a virtual source in arbitrary directions, practical techniques are unable to recreate correct high-frequency spectra in binaural pressures that are referred to as front-back and vertical localization cues. Current research shows that changes of interaural time difference/ITD that result from head-turning for Ambisonics playback match with those of a real source, and hence provide dynamic cue for vertical localization, especially in the median plane. In addition, the LF virtual source direction can be approximately evaluated by using a set of panning laws.

“Exploring the Perceptual Sweet Area in Ambisonics,” presented by Matthias Frank from University of Music in Graz, Austria, described how the sweet-spot area does not match the large area needed in the real world. A method was described to experimentally determine the perceptual sweet spot, which is not limited to assessing the localization of both dry and reverberant sound using different Ambisonic encoding orders.

Another paper, “Perceptual Evaluation of Synthetic Early Binaural Room Impulse Responses Based on a Parametric Model,” presented by Philipp Stade from the Technical University of Berlin, described how an acoustical environment can be modeled using sound-field analysis plus spherical head-related impulse response/HRIRs — and the results compared with measured counterparts. Apparently, the selected listening experiment showed comparable performance and, in the main, was independent from room and test signals. (Perhaps surprisingly, the synthesis of direct sound and diffuse reverberation yielded almost the same results as for the parametric model.)

“Influence of Head Tracking on the Externalization of Auditory Events at Divergence between Synthesized and Listening Room Using a Binaural Headphone System,” presented by Stephan Werner from the Technical University of Ilmenau, Germany, reported on a study using a binaural headphone system that considered the influence of head tracking on the localization of auditory events. Recordings were conducted of impulse responses from a five-channel loudspeaker set-up in two different acoustic rooms. Results revealed that head tracking increased sound externalization, but that it did not overcome the room-divergence effect.

Heiko Purnhagen from Dolby Sweden, in a paper called “Parametric Joint Channel Coding of Immersive Audio,” described a coding scheme that can deliver channel-based immersive audio content in such formats as 7.1.4, 5.1.4, or 5.1.2 at very low bit rates. Based on a generalized approach for parametric spatial coding of groups of two, three or more channels using a single downmix channel, together with a compact parametrization that guarantees full covariance re-instatement in the decoder, the coding scheme is implemented using Dolby AC-4’s A-JCC standardized tool.

Hardware Choices for Post Users
Several manufacturers demonstrated compact near-field audio monitors targeted at editorial suites and pre-dub stages. Adam Audio focused on their new near/mid-fieldS Series, which uses the firm’s ART (Accelerating Ribbon Technology) ribbon tweeter. The five models, which are comprised of the S2V, S3H, S3V, S5V and S5H for horizontal or vertical orientation. The firm’s newly innovated LF and mid-range drivers with custom-designed waveguides for the tweeter — and MF driver on the larger, multiway models — are powered by a new DSP engine that “provides crossover optimization, voicing options and expansion potential,” according to the firm’s head of marketing, Andre Zeugner.

The Eve Audio SC203 near-field monitor features a three-inch LF/MF driver plus a AMT ribbon tweeter, and is supplied with a v-shaped rubberized pad that allows the user to decouple the loudspeaker from its base and reduce unwanted resonances while angling it flat or at a 7.5- or 15-degree angle. An adapter enables mounting directly on any microphone or speaker stand with a 3/8-inch thread. Integral DSP and a passive radiator located at the rear are said to reinforce LF reproduction to provide a response to 62Hz (-3dB).

Genelec showcased The Ones, a series of point-source monitors that are comprised of the current three-way Model 8351 plus the new two-way Model 8331 and three-way Model 8341. All three units include a co-axial MF/HF driver plus two acoustically concealed LF drivers for vertical and horizontal operation. A new Minimum Diffraction Enclosure/MDE is featured together with the firm’s loudspeaker management and alignment software via a dedicated Cat5 network port.

The Neumann KH-80 DSP near-field monitor is designed to offer automatic system alignment using the firm’s control software that is said to “mathematically model dispersion to deliver excellent detail in any surroundings.” The two-way active system features a four-inch LF/MF driver and one-inch HF tweeter with an elliptical, custom-designed waveguide. The design is described as offering a wide horizontal dispersion to ensure a wide sweet spot for the editor/mixer, and a narrow vertical dispersion to reduce sound reflections off the mix console.

To handle multiple monitoring sources and loudspeaker arrays, the Trinnov D-Mon Series controllers enable stereo to 7.1-channel monitoring from both analog and digital I/Os using Ethernet- and/or MIDI-based communication protocols and a fast-switching matrix. An internal mixer creates various combinations of stems, main or aux mixes from discrete inputs. An Optimizer processor offers tuning of the loudspeaker array to match studio acoustics.

Unveiled at last year’s AES Convention in Paris, the Eventide H9000 multichannel/multi-element processing system has been under constant development during the past 12 months with new functions targeted at film and TV post, including EQ, dynamics and reverb effects. DSP elements can be run in parallel or in a series to create multiple, fully-programmable channel strips per engine. Control plug-ins for Avid Pro Tools and other DAWs are being finalized, together with Audinate Dante, Thunderbolt, Ravenna/AES67 and AVB networking.

Filmton, the German association for film sound professionals, explained to AES visitors its objective “to reinforce the importance of sound at an elemental level for the film community.” The association promotes the appreciation of film sound, together with the local film industry and its policy toward the public, while providing “an expert platform for technical, creative and legal issues.”

Philipp Sehling

Lawo demonstrated the new mc²96 Grand Audio production console, an IP-based networkable design for video post production, available with up to 200 on-surface faders. Innovative features include automatic gain control across multiple channels and miniature TFT color screens above each fader that display LiveView thumbnails of the incoming channel sources.

Stage Tec showed new processing features for its Crescendo Platinum TV post console, courtesy of v4.3 software, including an automixer based on gain sharing that can be used on every input channel, loudness metering to EBU R128 for sum and group channels, a de-esser on every channel path, and scene automation with individual user-adjustable blend curves and times for each channel.

Avid demonstrated native support for the new 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos channel-bed format — basically the familiar 9.1-channel bed with two height channels — for editorial suites and consumer remastering, plus several upgrades for Pro Tools, including new panning software for object-based audio and the ability to switch between automatable object and buss outputs. Pro Tools HD is said to be the only DAW natively supporting in-the-box Atmos mixing for this 10-channel 7.1.2 format. Full integration for Atmos workflows is now offered for control surfaces such as the Avid S6.

Jon Schorah

There was a new update to Nugen Audio’s popular Halo Upmix plug-in for Pro Tools — in addition to stereo to 5.1, 7.1 or 9.1 conversion it is now capable of delivering 7.1.2-channel mixes for Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

A dedicated Dante Pavilion featured several manufacturers that offer network-capable products, including Solid State Logic, whose Tempest multi-path processing engine and router is now fully Audinate Dante-capable for T Series control surfaces with unique arbitration and ownership functions; Bosch RTS intercom systems featuring Dante connectivity with OCA system control; HEDD/Heinz Electrodynamic Designs, whose Series One monitor speakers feature both Dante and AES67/Ravenna ports; Focusrite, whose RedNet series of modular pre-amps and converters offer “enhanced reliability, security and selectivity” via Dante, according to product specialist for EMEA/Germany, Dankmar Klein; and NTP Technology’s DAD Series DX32R and RV32 Dante/MADI router bridges and control room monitor controllers, which are fully compatible with Dante-capable consoles and outboard systems, according to the firm’s business development manager Jan Lykke.

What’s Next For AES
The next European AES convention will be held in Milan during the spring of 2018. “The society also is planning a new format for the fall convention in New York,” said Moses, as the AES is now aligning with the National Association of Broadcasters. “Next January we will be holding a new type of event in Anaheim, California, to be titled AES @ NAMM.” Further details will be unveiled next month. He also explained there will be no West Coast AES Convention next year. Instead the AES will return to New York in the autumn of 2018 with another joint AES/NAB gathering at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.


Mel Lambert is an LA-based writer and photographer. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.

Creating sounds of science for Bill Nye: Science Guy

By Jennifer Walden

Bill Nye, the science hero of a generation of school children, has expanded his role in the science community over the years. His transformation from TV scientist to CEO of The Planetary Society (the world’s largest non-profit space advocacy group) is the subject of Bill Nye: Science Guy — a documentary directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg.

The doc premiered in the US at the SXSW Film Festival and had its international premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto.

Peter Albrechtsen – Credit: Povl Thomsen

Supervising sound editor/sound designer Peter Albrechtsen, MPSE, started working with directors Alvarado and Sussberg in 2013 on their first feature-length documentary The Immortalists. When they began shooting the Bill Nye documentary in 2015, Albrechtsen was able to see the rough cuts and started collecting sounds and ambiences for the film. “I love being part of projects very early on. I got to discuss some sonic and musical ideas with David and Jason. On documentaries, the actual sound design schedule isn’t typically very long. It’s great knowing the vibe of the film as early as I can so I can then be more focused during the sound editing process. I know what the movie needs and how I should prioritize my work. That was invaluable on a complicated, complex and multilayered movie like this one.”

Before diving in, Albrechtsen, dialogue editor Jacques Pedersen, sound effects editor Morten Groth Brandt and sound effects recordist/assistant sound designer Mikkel Nielsen met up for a jam session — as Albrechtsen calls it — to share the directors’ notes for sound and discuss their own ideas. “It’s a great way of getting us all on the same page and to really use everyone’s talents,” he says.

Albrechtsen and his Danish sound crew had less than seven weeks for sound editorial at Offscreen in Copenhagen. They divided their time evenly between dialogue editing and sound effects editing. During that time, Foley artist Heikki Kossi spent three days on Foley at H5 Film Sound in Kokkola, Finland.

Foley artist Heikki Kossi. Credit: Clas-Olav Slotte

Bill Nye: Science Guy mixes many different media sources — clips from Bill Nye’s TV shows from the ‘90s, YouTube videos, home videos on 8mm film, TV broadcasts from different eras, as well as the filmmakers’ own footage. It’s a potentially headache-inducing combination. “Some of the archival material was in quite bad shape, but my dialogue editor Jacques Pedersen is a magician with iZotope RX and he did a lot of healthy cleaning up of all the rough pieces and low-res stuff,” says Albrechtsen. “The 8mm videos actually didn’t have any sound, so Heikki Kossi did some Foley that helped it to come alive when we needed it to.”

Sound Design
Albrechtsen’s sound edit was also helped by the directors’ dedication to sound. They were able to acquire the original sound effects library from Bill Nye’s ‘90s TV show, making it easy for the post sound team to build out the show’s soundscape from stereo to surround, and also to make it funnier. “A lot of humor in the old TV show came from the imaginative soundtrack that was often quite cartoonish, exaggerated and hilariously funny,” he explains. “I’ve done sound for quite a few documentaries now and I’ve never tried adding so many cartoonish sound effects to a track. It made me laugh.”

The directors’ dedication goes even deeper, with director Sussberg handling the production sound himself when they’re out shooting. He records dialogue with both a boom mic and radio mics, and also records wild tracks of room tones and ambience. He even captures special sound signatures for specific locations when applicable.

For example, Nye visits the creationist theme park called Noah’s Ark, built by Christian fundamentalist Ken Ham. The indoor park features life-size dioramas and animatronics to explain creationism. There are lots of sound effects and demonstrations playing from multiple speaker setups. Sussberg recorded all of them, providing Albrechtsen with the means of creating an authentic sound collage.

“People might think we added lots of sounds for these sequences, but actually we just orchestrated what was already there,” says Albrechtsen. “At moments, it’s like a cacophony of noises, with corny dinosaur screams, savage human screams and violent war noises. When I heard the sounds from the theme park that David and Jason had recorded, I didn’t believe my own ears. It’s so extreme.”

Albrechtsen approaches his sound design with texture in mind. Not every sound needs to be clean. Adding texture, like crackling or hiss, can change the emotional impact of a sound. For example, while creating the sound design for the archival footage of several rocket launches, Albrechtsen pulled clean effects of rocket launches and explosions from Tonsturm’s “Massive Explosions” sound effects library and transferred those recordings to old NAGRA tape. “The special, warm, analogue distortion that this created fit perfectly with the old, dusty images.”

In one of Albrechtsen’s favorite sequences in the film, there’s a failure during launch and the rocket explodes. The camera falls over and the video glitches. He used different explosions panned around the room, and he panned several low-pitched booms directly to the subwoofer, using Waves LoAir plug-in for added punch. “When the camera falls over, I panned explosions into the surrounds and as the glitches appear I used different distorted textures to enhance the images,” he says. “Pete Horner did an amazing job on mixing that sequence.”

For the emotional sequences, particularly those exploring Nye’s family history, and the genetic disorder passed down from Nye’s father to his two siblings, Albrechtsen chose to reduce the background sounds and let the Foley pull the audience in closer to Nye. “It’s amazing what just a small cloth rustle can do to get a feeling of being close to a person. Foley artist Heikki Kossi is a master at making these small sounds significant and precise, which is actually much more difficult than one would think.”

For example, during a scene in which Nye and his siblings visit a clinic Albrechtsen deliberately chose harsh, atonal backgrounds that create an uncomfortable atmosphere. Then, as Nye shares his worries about the disease, Albrechtsen slowly takes the backgrounds out so that only the delicate Foley for Nye plays. “I love creating multilayered background ambiences and they really enhanced many moments in the film. When we removed these backgrounds for some of the more personal, subjective moments the effect was almost spellbinding. Sound is amazing, but silence is even better.”

Bill Nye: Science Guy has layers of material taking place in both the past and present, in outer space and in Nye’s private space, Albrechtsen notes. “I was thinking about how to make them merge more. I tried making many elements of the soundtrack fit more with each other.”

For instance, Nye’s brother has a huge model train railway set up. It’s a legacy from their childhood. So when Nye visits his childhood home, Albrechtsen plays the sound of a distant train. In the 8mm home movies, the Nye family is at the beach. Albrechtsen’s sound design includes echoes of seagulls and waves. Later in the film, when Nye visits his sister’s home, he puts in distant seagulls and waves. “The movie is constantly jumping through different locations and time periods. This was a way of making the emotional storyline clearer and strengthening the overall flow. The sound makes the images more connected.”

One significant story point is Nye’s growing involvement with The Planetary Society. Before Carl Sagan’s death, Sagan conceptualized a solar sail — a sail for use in space that could harness the sun’s energy and use it as a means of propulsion. The Planetary Society worked hard to actualize Sagan’s solar sail idea. Albrechtsen needed to give the solar sail a sound in the film. “How does something like that sound? Well, in the production sound you couldn’t really hear the solar sail and when it actually appeared it just sounded like boring, noisy cloth rustle. The light sail really needed an extraordinary, unique sound to make you understand the magnitude of it.”

So they recorded different kinds of materials, in particular a Mylar blanket, which has a glittery and reflective surface. Then Albrechtsen tried different pitches and panning of those recordings to create a sense of its extraordinary size.

While they handled post sound editorial in Denmark, the directors were busy cutting the film stateside with picture editor Annu Lilja. When working over long distances, Albrechtsen likes to send lots of QuickTimes with stereo downmixes so the directors can hear what’s happening. “For this film, I sent a handful of sound sketches to David and Jason while they were busy finishing the picture editing,” he explains. “Since we’ve done several projects together we know each other very well. David and Jason totally trust me and I know that they like their soundtracks to be very detailed, dynamic and playful. They want the sound to be an integral part of the storytelling and are open to any input. For this movie, they even did a few picture recuts because of some sound ideas I had.”

The Mix
For the two-week final mix, Albrechtsen joined re-recording mixer Pete Horner at Skywalker Sound in Marin County, California. Horner started mixing on the John Waters stage — a small mix room featuring a 5.1 setup of Meyer Sound’s Acheron speakers and an Avid ICON D-Command control surface, while Albrechtsen finished the sound design and premixed the effects against William Ryan Fritch’s score in a separate editing suite. Then Albrechtsen sat with Horner for another week, as Horner crafted the final 5.1 mix.

One of Horner’s mix challenges was to keep the dialogue paramount while still pushing the layered soundscapes that help tell the story. Horner says, “Peter [Albrechtsen] provided a wealth of sounds to work with, which in the spirit of the original Bill Nye show were very playful. But this, of course, presented a challenge because there were so many sounds competing for attention. I would say this is a problem that most documentaries would be envious of, and I certainly appreciated it.”

Once they had the effects playing along with the dialogue and music, Horner and Albrechtsen worked together to decide which sounds were contributing the most and which were distracting from the story. “The result is a wonderfully rich, sometimes manic track,” says Horner.

Albrechtsen adds, “On a busy movie like this, it’s really in the mix where everything comes together. Pete [Horner] is a truly brilliant mixer and has the same musical approach to sound as me. He is an amazing listener. The whole soundtrack — both sound and score — should really be like one piece of music, with ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys.”

Horner explains their musical approach to mixing as “the understanding that the entire palette of sound coming through the faders can be shaped in a way that elicits an emotional response in the audience. Music is obviously musical, but sound effects are also very musical since they are made up of pitches and rhythmic sounds as well. I’ve come to feel that dialogue is also musical — the person speaking is embedding their own emotions into the way they speak using both pitch (inflection or emphasis) and rhythm (pace and pauses).”

“I’ll go even further to say that the way the images are cut by the picture editor is inherently musical. The pace of the cuts suggests rhythm and tempo, and a ‘hard cut’ can feel like a strong downbeat, as emotionally rich as any orchestral stab. So I think a musical approach to mixing is simply internalizing the ‘music’ that is already being communicated by the composer, the sound designer, the picture editor and the characters on the screen, and with the guidance of the director shaping the palette of available sounds to communicate the appropriate complexity of emotion,” says Horner.

In the mix, Horner embraces the documentary’s intention of expressing the duality of Nye’s life: his celebrity versus his private life. He gives the example of the film’s opening, which starts with sounds of a crowd gathering to see Nye. Then it cuts to Nye backstage as he’s preparing for his performance by quietly tying his bowtie in a mirror. “Here the exceptional Foley work of Heikki Kossi creates the sense of a private, intimate moment, contrasting with the voice of the announcer, which I treated as if it’s happening through the wall in a distant auditorium.”

Next it cuts to that announcer, and his voice is clearly amplified and echoing all around the auditorium of excited fans. There’s an interview with a fan and his friends who are waiting to take their seats. The fan describes his experience of watching Nye’s TV show in the classroom as a kid and how they’d all chant “Bill, Bill, Bill” as the TV cart rolled in. Underneath, plays the sound of the auditorium crowd chanting “Bill, Bill, Bill” as the picture cuts to Nye waiting in wings.

Horner says, “Again, the Foley here keeps us close to Bill while the crowd chants are in deep echo. Then the TV show theme kicks on, blasting through the PA. I embraced the distorted nature of the production recording and augmented it with hall echo and a liberal use of the subwoofer. The energy in this moment is at a peak as Bill takes the stage exclaiming, “I love you guys!” and the title card comes on. This is a great example of how the scene was already cut to communicate the dichotomy within Bill, between his private life and his public persona. By recognizing that intention, the sound team was able to express that paradox more viscerally.”


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

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

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard Bowler pictured embracing VR.

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

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

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

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

Main Image: Howard Bowler and Jon Mackey

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

NAME: Ed Walker

COMPANYSounding Sweet (@sounding_sweet)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forza Horizon 3 Lamborghini

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

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

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

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

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

Lime opens sound design division led by Michael Anastasi, Rohan Young

Santa Monica’s Lime Studios has launched a sound design division. LSD (Lime Sound Design), featuring newly signed sound designer Michael Anastasi and Lime sound designer/mixer Rohan Young has already created sound design for national commercial campaigns.

“Having worked with Michael since his early days at Stimmung and then at Barking Owl, he was always putting out some of the best sound design work, a lot of which we were fortunate to be final mixing here at Lime,” says executive producer Susie Boyajan, who collaborates closely with Lime and LSD owner Bruce Horwitz and the other company partners — mixers Mark Meyuhas and Loren Silber. “Having Michael here provides us with an opportunity to be involved earlier in the creative process, and provides our clients with a more streamlined experience for their audio needs. Rohan and Michael were often competing for some of the same work, and share a huge client base between them, so it made sense for Lime to expand and create a new division centered around them.”

Boyajan points out that “all of the mixers at Lime have enjoyed the sound design aspect of their jobs, and are really talented at it, but having a new division with LSD that operates differently than our current, hourly sound design structure makes sense for the way the industry is continuing to change. We see it as a real advantage that we can offer clients both models.”

“I have always considered myself a sound designer that mixes,” notes Young. “It’s a different experience to be involved early on and try various things that bring the spot to life. I’ve worked closely with Michael for a long time. It became more and more apparent to both of us that we should be working together. Starting LSD became a no-brainer. Our now-shared resources, with the addition of a Foley stage and location audio recordists only make things better for both of us and even more so for our clients.”

Young explains that setting up LSD as its own sound design division, as opposed to bringing in Michael to sound design at Lime, allows clients to separate the mix from the sound design on their production if they choose.

Anastasi joins LSD from Barking Owl, where he spent the last seven years creating sound design for high-profile projects and building long-term creative collaborations with clients. Michael recalls his fortunate experiences recording sounds with John Fasal, and Foley sessions with John Roesch and Alyson Dee Moore as having taught him a great deal of his craft. “Foley is actually what got me to become a sound designer,” he explains.

Projects that Anastasi has worked on include the PSA on human trafficking called Hide and Seek, which won an AICP Award for Sound Design. He also provided sound design to the feature film Casa De Mi Padre, starring Will Ferrell, and was sound supervisor as well. For Nike’s Together project, featuring Lebron James, a two-minute black-and-white piece, Anastasi traveled back to Lebron’s hometown of Cleveland to record 500+ extras.

Lime is currently building new studios for LSD, featuring a team of sound recordists and a stand-alone Foley room. The LSD team is currently in the midst of a series of projects launching this spring, including commercial campaigns for Nike, Samsung, StubHub and Adobe.

Main Image: Michael Anastasi and Rohan Young.

The sound of John Wick: Chapter 2 — bigger and bolder

The director and audio team share their process.

By Jennifer Walden

To achieve the machine-like precision of assassin John Wick for director Chad Stahelski’s signature gun-fu-style action films, Keanu Reeves (Wick) goes through months of extensive martial arts and weapons training. The result is worth the effort. Wick is fast, efficient and thorough. You cannot fake his moves.

In John Wick: Chapter 2, Wick is still trying to retire from his career as a hitman, but he’s asked for one last kill. Bound by a blood oath, it’s a job Wick can’t refuse. Reluctantly, he goes to work, but by doing so, he’s dragged further into the assassin lifestyle he’s desperate to leave behind.

Chad Stahelski

Stahelski builds a visually and sonically engaging world on-screen, and then fills it full of meticulously placed bullet holes. His inspiration for John Wick comes from his experience as a stunt man and martial arts stunt coordinator for Lily and Lana Wachowski on The Matrix films. “The Wachowskis are some of the best world creators in the film industry. Much of what I know about sound and lighting has to do with their perspective that every little bit helps define the world. You just can’t do it visually. It’s the sound and the look and the vibe — the combination is what grabs people.”

Before the script on John Wick: Chapter 2 was even locked, Stahelski brainstormed with supervising sound editor Mark Stoeckinger and composer Tyler Bates — alumni of the first Wick film — and cinematographer Dan Laustsen on how they could go deeper into Wick’s world this time around. “It was so collaborative and inspirational. Mark and his team talked about how to make it sound bigger and more unique; how to make this movie sound as big as we wanted it to look. This sound team was one of my favorite departments to work with. I’ve learned more from those guys about sound in these last two films then I thought I had learned in the last 15 years,” says Stahelski.

Supervising sound editor Stoeckinger, at the Formosa Group in West Hollywood, knows action films. Mission Impossible II and III, both Jack Reacher films, Iron Man 3, and the upcoming (April) The Fate of the Furious, are just a part of his film sound experience. Gun fights, car chases, punches and impacts — Stoeckinger knows that all those big sound effects in an action film can compete with the music and dialogue for space in a scene. “The more sound elements you have, the more delicate the balancing act is,” he explains. “The director wants his sounds to be big and bold. To achieve that, you want to have a low-frequency punch to the effects. Sometimes, the frequencies in the music can steal all that space.”

The Sound of Music
Composer Bates’s score was big and bold, with lots of percussion, bass and strong guitar chords that existed in the same frequency range as the gunshots, car engines and explosions. “Our composer is very good at creating a score that is individual to John Wick,” says Stahelski. “I listened to just the music, and it was great. I listened to just the sound design, and that was great. When we put them together we couldn’t understand what was going on. They overlapped that much.”

During the final mix at Formosa’s Stage B on The Lot, re-recording mixers Andy Koyama and Martyn Zub — who both mixed the first John Wick — along with Gabe Serrano, approached the fight sequences with effects leading the mix, since those needed to match the visuals. Then Koyama made adjustments to the music stems to give the sound effects more room.

“Andy made some great suggestions, like if we lowered the bass here then we can hear the effects punch more,” says Stahelski. “That gave us the idea to go back to our composers, to the music department and the music editor. We took it to the next level conceptually. We had Tyler [Bates] strip out a lot of the percussion and bass sounds. Mark realized we have so many gunshots, so why not use those as the percussion? The music was influenced by the amount of gunfire, sound design and the reverb that we put into the gunshots.”

Mark Stoeckinger

The music and sound departments collaborated through the last few weeks of the final mix. “It was a really neat, synergistic effect of the sound and music complementing each other. I was super happy with the final product,” says Stahelski.

Putting the Gun in Gun-Fu
As its name suggests, gun-fu involves a range of guns —handguns, shotguns and assault rifles. It was up to sound designer Alan Rankin to create a variety of distinct gun effects that not only sounded different from weapon to weapon but also differentiated between John Wick’s guns and the bad guys’ guns. To help Wick’s guns sound more powerful and complex than his foes, Rankin added different layers of air, boom and mechanical effects. To distinguish one weapon from another, Rankin layered the sounds of several different guns together to make a unique sound.

The result is the type of gun sound that Stoeckinger likes to use on the John Wick films. “Even before this film officially started, Alan would present gun ideas. He’d say, ‘What do you think about this sound for the shotgun? Or, ‘How about this gun sound?’ We went back and forth many times, and once we started the film, he took it well beyond that.”

Rankin developed the sounds further by processing his effects with EQ and limiting to help the gunshots punch through the mix. “We knew we would inevitably have to turn the gunshots down in the mix due to conflicts with music or dialogue, or just because of the sheer quantity of shots needed for some of the scenes,” Rankin says.

Each gun battle was designed entirely in post, since the guns on-screen weren’t shooting live rounds. Rankin spent months designing and evolving the weapons and bullet effects in the fight sequences. He says, “Occasionally there would be a production sound we could use to help sell the space, but for the most part it’s all a construct.”

There were unique hurdles for each fight scene, but Rankin feels the catacombs were the most challenging from a design standpoint, and Zub agrees in terms of mix. “In the catacombs there’s a rapid-fire sequence with lots of shots and ricochets, with body hits and head explosions. It’s all going on at the same time. You have to be delicate with each gunshot so that they don’t all sound the same. It can’t sound repetitive and boring. So that was pretty tricky.”

To keep the gunfire exciting, Zub played with the perspective, the dynamics and the sound layers to make each shot unique. “For example, a shotgun sound might be made up of eight different elements. So in any given 40-second sequence, you might have 40 gunshots. To keep them all from sounding the same, you go through each element of the shotgun sound and either turn some layers off, tune some of them differently or put different reverb on them. This gives each gunshot its own unique character. Doing that keeps the soundtrack more interesting and that helps to tell the story better,” says Zub. For reverb, he used the PhoenixVerb Surround Reverb plug-in to create reverbs in 7.1.

Another challenge was the fight sequence at the museum. To score the first part of Wick’s fight, director Stahelski chose a classical selection from Vivaldi… but with a twist. Instead of relying solely on traditional percussion, “Mark’s team intermixed gunshots with the music,” notes Stahelski. “That is one of my favorite overall sound sequences.”

At the museum, there’s a multi-level mirrored room exhibit with moving walls. In there, Wick faces several opponents. “The mirror room battle was challenging because we had to represent the highly reflective space in which the gunshots were occurring,” explains Rankin. “Martyn [Zub] was really diligent about keeping the sounds tight and contained so the audience doesn’t get worn out from the massive volume of gunshots involved.”

Their goal was to make as much distinction as possible between the gunshot and the bullet impact sounds since visually there were only a few frames between the two. “There was lots of tweaking the sync of those sounds in order to make sure we got the necessary visceral result that the director was looking for,” says Rankin.

Stahelski adds, “The mirror room has great design work. The moment a gun fires, it just echoes through the whole space. As you change the guns, you change the reverb and change the echo in there. I really dug that.”

On the dialogue side, the mirror room offered Koyama an opportunity to play with the placement of the voices. “You might be looking at somebody, but because it’s just a reflection, Andy has their voice coming from a different place in the theater,” Stoeckinger explains. “It’s disorienting, which is what it is supposed to be. The visuals inspired what the sound does. The location design — how they shot it and cut it — that let us play with sound.”

The Manhattan Bridge
Koyama’s biggest challenge on dialogue was during a scene where Laurence Fishburne’s character The Bowery King is talking to Wick while they’re standing on a rooftop near the busy Manhattan Bridge. Koyama used iZotope RX 5 to help clean up the traffic noise. “The dialogue was very difficult to understand and Laurence was not available for ADR, so we had to save it. With some magic we managed to save it, and it actually sounds really great in the film.”

Once Koyama cleaned the production dialogue, Stoeckinger was able to create an unsettling atmosphere there by weaving tonal sound elements with a “traffic on a bridge” roar. “For me personally, building weird spaces is fun because it’s less literal,” says Stoeckinger.

Stahelski strives for a detailed and deep world in his John Wick films. He chooses Stoeckinger to lead his sound team because Stoeckinger’s “work is incredibly immersive, incredibly detailed,” says the director. “The depths that he goes, even if it is just a single sound or tone or atmosphere, Mark has a way to penetrate the visuals. I think his work stands out so far above most other sound design teams. I love my sound department and I couldn’t be happier with them.”


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

Quick Chat: Scott Gershin from The Sound Lab at Technicolor

By Randi Altman

Veteran sound designer and feature film supervising sound editor Scott Gershin is leading the charge at the recently launched The Sound Lab at Technicolor, which, in addition to film and television work, focuses on immersive storytelling.

Gershin has more than 100 films to his credit, including American Beauty (which earned him a BAFTA nomination), Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. But films aren’t the only genre that Gershin has tackled — in addition to television work (he has an Emmy nom for the TV series Beauty and the Beast), this audio post pro has created the sound for game titles such as Resident Evil, Gears of War and Fable. One of his most recent projects was contributing to id Software’s Doom.

We recently reached out to Gershin to find out more about his workflow and this new Burbank-based audio entity.

Can you talk about what makes this facility different than what Technicolor has at Paramount? 
The Sound Lab at Technicolor works in concert with our other audio facilities, tackling film, broadcast and gaming projects. In doing so we are able to use Technicolor’s world-class dubbing, ADR and Foley stages.

One of the focuses of The Sound Lab is to identify and use cutting-edge technologies and workflows not only in traditional mediums, but in those new forms of entertainment such as VR, AR, 360 video/films, as well as dedicated installations using mixed reality. The Sound Lab at Technicolor is made up of audio artists from multiple industries who create a “brain trust” for our clients.

Scott Gershin and The Sound Lab team.

As an audio industry veteran, how has the world changed since you started?
I was one of the first sound people to use computers in the film industry. When I moved from the music industry into film post production, I brought that knowledge and experience with me. It gave me access to a huge number of tools that helped me tell better stories with audio. The same happened when I expanded into the game industry.

Learning the interactive tools of gaming is now helping me navigate into these new immersive industries, combining my film experience to tell stories and my gaming experience using new technologies to create interactive experiences.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is that there are so many opportunities for the audience to ingest entertainment — creating competition for their time — whether it’s traveling to a theatre, watching TV (broadcast, cable and streaming) on a new 60- or 70-inch TV, or playing video games alone on a phone or with friends on a console.

There are so many choices, which means that the creators and publishers of content have to share a smaller piece of the pie. This forces budgets to be smaller since the potential audience size is smaller for that specific project. We need to be smarter with the time that we have on projects and we need to use the technology to help speed up certain processes — allowing us more time to be creative.

Can you talk about your favorite tools?
There are so many great technologies out there. Each one adds a different color to my work and provides me with information that is crucial to my sound design and mix. For example, Nugen has great metering and loudness tools that help me zero in on my clients LKFS requirements. With each client having their own loudness requirements, the tools allow me to stay creative, and meet their requirements.

Audi’s The Duel

What are some recent projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve been working on a huge variety of projects lately. Recently, I finished a commercial for Audi called The Duel, a VR piece called My Brother’s Keeper, 10 Webisodes of The Strain and a VR music piece for Pentatonix. Each one had a different requirement.

What is your typical workflow like?
When I get a job in, I look at what the project is trying to accomplish. What is the story or the experience about? I ask myself, how can I use my craft, shaping audio, to better enhance the experience. Once I understand how I am going to approach the project creatively, I look at what the release platform will be. What are the technical challenges and what frequencies and spacial options are open to me? Whether that means a film in Dolby Atmos or a VR project on the Rift. Once I understand both the creative and technical challenges then I start working within the schedule allotted me.

Speed and flow are essential… the tools need to be like musical instruments to me, where it goes from brain to fingers. I have a bunch of monitors in front of me, each one supplying me with different and crucial information. It’s one of my favorite places to be — flying the audio starship and exploring the never-ending vista of the imagination. (Yeah, I know it’s corny, but I love what I do!)

The A-List: The sound of La La Land

By Jennifer Walden

Director/writer Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land has landed an incredible 14 Oscar nominations — not to mention fresh BAFTA wins for Best Film, Best Cinematography, Original Music and Best Leading Actress, in addition to many, many other accolades.

The story follows aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) who meets the talented-but-struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) at a dinner club, where he’s just been fired from his gig of plinking out classic Christmas tunes for indifferent diners. Mia throws out a compliment as Sebastian approaches, but he just breezes right past, ignoring her completely. Their paths cross again at a Los Angeles pool party, and this time Mia makes a lasting impression on Sebastian. They eventually fall in love, but their life together is complicated by the realities of making their own dreams happen.

Sounds of the City
La La Land is a love story but it’s also a love letter to Los Angeles, says supervising sound editor Ai-Ling Lee, who shares an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Editing on the film with co-supervising sound editor Mildred Iatrou Morgan. One of Chazelle’s initial directives was to have the cityscape sound active and full of life. “He gave me film references, like Boogie Nights and Mean Streets, even though the latter was a New York film. He liked the amount of sound coming out from the city, but wanted a more romantic approach to the soundscape on La La Land. He likes the idea of the city always being bustling,” says Lee.

Mildred Iatrou Morgan and Ai-Ling Lee. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Harlacker

In addition to La La Land’s musical numbers, director Chazelle wanted to add musical moments throughout the film, some obvious, like the car radios in the opening traffic jam, and some more subtle. Lee explains, “You always hear music coming from different sources in the city, like music coming out of a car going by or mariachi music coming from down the hallway of Sebastian’s apartment building.” The culturally diverse incidental music, traffic sounds, helicopters, and local LA birds, like mourning doves, populate the city soundscape and create a distinct Los Angeles vibe.

For Lee’s sound editorial and sound design, she worked in a suite at EPS-Cineworks in Burbank — the same facility where the picture editor and composer were working. “Damien and Tom Cross [film editor] were cutting the picture there, and Justin Hurwitz the composer was right next door to them, and I was right across the hall from them. It was a very collaborative environment so it was easy to bring someone over to review a scene or sounds. I could pop over there to see them if I had any questions,” says Lee, who was able to design sound against the final music tracks. That was key to helping those two sound elements gel into one cohesive soundtrack.

Bursting Into Song
Director Chazelle’s other initial concern for sound was the music, particularly how the spoken dialogue would transitions into the studio recorded songs. That’s where supervising sound editor Morgan got to flex her dialogue editing muscles. “Milly [Morgan] knows this style of ADR, having worked on musicals before,” says Lee. “Damien wanted the dialogue to seamlessly transition into a musical moment. He didn’t want it to feel like suddenly we’re playing a pre-recorded song. He liked to have things sound more natural, with realistic grounded sounds, to help blend the music into the scene,” says Lee.

To achieve a smooth dialogue transition, Morgan recorded ADR for every line that led into a song to ensure she had a good transition between production dialogue and studio recorded dialogue, which would transition more cleanly into the studio-recorded music. “I cued that way for La La Land, but I ended up not having to use a lot of that. The studio recorded vocals and the production sound were beautifully recorded using the same mics in both cases. They were matching very well and I was able to go with the more emotional, natural sounding songs that were sung on-set in some cases,” says Morgan, who worked from her suite at 20th Century Fox studios along with ADR editor Galen Goodpaster.

Mia’s audition song, “The Fools Who Dream,” was one track that Morgan and the director were most concerned about. As Mia gives her impromptu audition she goes from speaking softly to suddenly singing, and then she starts singing louder. That would have been difficult to recreate in post because her performance on-set — captured by production mixer Steven Morrow — was so beautiful and emotional. The trouble was there were creaking noises on the track. Morgan explains, “As Mia starts singing, the camera moves in on her. It moves through the office and through the desk. It was a breakaway desk and they broke it apart so that the camera could move through it. That created all the creaking I heard on the track.”

Morgan was able to save the live performance by editing in clean ambience between words, and finding alternate takes that weren’t ruined by the creaking noise. She used Elastic Audio inside Pro Tools, as well as the Pro Tools TCE tool (time compression/expansion tool) to help tweak the alt takes into place. “I had to go through all of the outtakes, word by word, syllable by syllable, and find ones that fit in with the singing, and didn’t have creaks on them… and fit in terms of sync. It was very painstaking. It took me a couple of days to do it but it was a very rewarding result. That took a lot of time but it was so worth it because that was a really important moment in the movie,” says Morgan.

Reality Steps In
Not all on-set song performances could be used in the final track, so putting the pre-recorded songs in the space helped to make the transition into musical moments feel more realistic. Precisely crafted backgrounds, made with sounds that fit the tone of the impending song, gradually step aside as the music takes over. But not all of the real-world sounds go away completely. Foley helped to ground a song into the reality on screen by marrying it to the space. For example, Mia’s roommates invite her to a party in a song called “Someone in the Crowd.” Diegetic sounds, such as the hairdryer, the paper fan flicking open, occasional footsteps, and clothing rustles helped the pre-recorded song fit naturally into the scene. Additionally, Morgan notes that production mixer Morrow “did an excellent job of miking the actors with body mics and boom mics, even during the musical numbers that were sung to playback, like ‘Someone in the Crowd,’ just in case there was something to capture that we could use. There were a couple of little vocalizations that we were able to use in the number.”

Foley also played a significant role in the tap dance song “A Lovely Night.” Originally performed as a soft shoe dance number, director Chazelle decided to change it to a tap dance number in post. Lee reveals, “We couldn’t use the production sound since there was music playback in the scene for the actors to perform to. So, we had to fully recreate everything with the sound. Damien had a great idea to try to replace the soft shoe sound with tap shoes. It was an excellent idea because the tap sound plays so much better with the dance music than the soft shoe sound does.”

Lee enlisted Mandy Moore, the dance choreographer on the film, and several dancers to re-record the Foley on that scene. Working with Foley artist Dan O’Connell, of One Step Up located on The Jane Russell Foley Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios, they tried various weights of tap shoes on different floor surfaces before narrowing it down to the classic “Fred and Ginger” sound that Chazelle was looking for. “Even though they are dancing on asphalt, we ended up using a wooden floor surface on the Foley stage. Damien was very precise about playing up a step here and playing up a scuff there, because it plays better against the music. It was really important to have the taps done to the rhythm of the song as opposed to being in sync with the picture. It fools your brain. Once you have everything in rhythm with the music, the rest flows like butter,” says Lee. She cut the tap dance Foley to picture according to Chazelle’s tastes, and then invited Moore to listen to the mix to make sure that the tap dance routine was realistic from a dancer’s point of view.

Inside the Design
One of Lee’s favorite scenes to design was the opening sequence of the film, which starts with the sound of a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway. The sound begins in mono with a long horn honk over a black and white Cinemascope logo. As the picture widens and the logo transitions into color, Lee widens the horn honk into stereo and then into the surrounds. From that, the sound builds to a few horns and cars idling. Morgan recorded a radio announcer to establish the location as Los Angeles. The 1812 Overture plays through a car radio, and the sound becomes futzed as the camera pans to the next car in the traffic jam. With each car the camera passes the radio station changes. “This is Los Angeles and it is a mixed cultural city. Damien wanted to make sure there was a wide variety of music styles, so Justin [Hurwitz] gave me a bunch of different music choices, an eclectic selection to choose from,” says Lee. She added radio tuning sounds, car idling sounds, and Foley of tapping on the steering wheel to ground the scene in reality. “We made sure that the sound builds but doesn’t overpower the first musical number. The first trumpet hit comes through this traffic soundscape, and gradually the real city sounds give way to the first song, ‘Another Day of Sun.’”

One scene that stood out for Morgan was after Mia’s play, when she’s in her dressing room feeling sad that the theater was mostly empty for her performance. Not even Sebastian showed up. As she’s sitting there, we hear two men from the audience disparaging her and her play. Initially, Chazelle and his assistant recorded a scratch track for that off-stage exchange, but he asked Morgan to reshoot it with actors. “He wanted it to sound very naturalistic, so we spent some time finding just the right actors who didn’t sound like actors. They sound like regular people,” says Morgan.

She had the actors improvise their lines on why they hated the play, how superficial it was and how pretentious it was. Following some instruction from Chazelle, they cut the scene together. “We screened it and it was too mean, so we had to tone it back a little,” shares Morgan. “That was fun because I don’t always get to do that, to create an ADR scene from scratch. Damien is meticulous. He knows what he wants and he knows what he doesn’t want. But in this case, he didn’t know exactly what they should say. He had an idea. So I do my version and he gave me ideas and it went back and forth. That was a big challenge for me but a very enjoyable one.”

The Mix
In addition to sound editing, Lee also mixed the final soundtrack with re-recording mixer Andy Nelson at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. She and Nelson share an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing on La La Land. Lee says, “Andy and I had made a film together before, called Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. So it made sense for me to do both the sound design and to mix the effects. Andy mixed the music and dialogue. And Jason Ruder was the music editor.”

From design to mix, Chazelle’s goal was to have La La Land sound natural — as though it was completely natural for these people to burst into song as they went through their lives. “He wanted to make sure it sounded fluid. With all the work we did, we wanted to make the film sound natural. The sound editing isn’t in your face. When you watch the movie as a whole, it should feel seamless. The sound shouldn’t take you out of the experience and the music shouldn’t stand apart from the sound. The music shouldn’t sound like a studio recording,” concludes Lee. “That was what we were trying to achieve, this invisible interaction of music and sound that ultimately serves the experience.”


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