Tag Archives: Foley

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.”

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.

Skywalker’s Randy Thom helps keep it authentic for ‘Peanuts’

By Jennifer Walden

Snoopy, Woodstock, Charlie Brown, Lucy… all the classic Peanuts characters hit the big screen earlier this month thanks to the Blue Sky Studios production The Peanuts Movie (20th Century Fox).

For those of you who might have worried that the Peanuts gang would “go Hollywood,” there is no need for concern. These beloved characters look and sound like they did in the Charles M. Schulz TV specials — which started airing in the 1960s — but they have been updated to fit the theatrical expectations of 2015.

While the latest technology has given depth and texture to these 2D characters, director Steve Martino and the Schulz family made sure the film didn’t stray far from Charles Schulz’s original creations.

Randy Thom

Randy Thom

According to Skywalker Sound supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer Randy Thom, “Steve Martino (from Blue Sky) spent most of the year hanging out in Santa Rosa, California, which is where the Schulz family still lives. He worked with them very closely to make sure that this film had the same feel and look as not only the cartoon strip, but also the TV specials. They did a wonderful job of staying true to all those visual and sonic tropes that we so much associate with Peanuts.”

Thom and the Skywalker sound team, based at the Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California, studied the style of sound effects used in the original Peanuts TV specials and aimed to evoke those sounds as closely as they could for The Peanuts Movie, while also adding a modern vibe. “Often, on animated films, the first thing the director tells us is that it shouldn’t sound like a cartoon — they don’t want it to be cartoony with sound effects,” explains Thom, who holds an Oscar for his sound design on the animated feature The Incredibles, and has two Oscar nominations for his sound editing on The Polar Express and Ratatouille. “In The Peanuts Movie, we were liberated to play around with boings and other classic cartoon type sounds. We even tried to invent some of our own.”

PEANUTS PEANUTS

The Red Baron and Subtle Sounds
The sound design is a mix of Foley effects, performed at Skywalker by Foley artists Sean England and Ronni Pittman, and cartoon classics like zips, boinks and zings. One challenge was creating a kid-friendly machine gun sound for Snoopy’s Red Baron air battles. “It couldn’t be scary, but it had to suggest the kinds of guns that were used on those planes in that era,” says Thom. The solution? Thom vocalized “ett-ett-ett-ett-ett” sounds, which they processed and combined with a “rat-tat-tat-tat-tat” rhythm that they banged out on pots and pans. The result is a faux machine gun that’s easy on little ears.

Another key element in the Red Baron sequences was the sound of the planes. Charles Schulz’s son, Craig, who was very involved with the film, owns a vintage WWI plane that, amazingly, still flies. “Craig [Schulz] flew the plane and a couple of people on our sound team rode in it. They were very brave and kept the recorder running the whole time,” says Thom, who completed the sound edit and premix in Avid Pro Tools 12

PEANUTS

They captured recordings on the plane, as well as from the ground as the plane performed a few acrobatic aerial maneuvers. During the final 7.1 mix in Mix G at Skywalker Sound, via the Neve DFC console, Thom says the challenge was to make the film sound exciting without being too dynamic. The final plane sounds were very mellow without any harsh upper frequencies or growly tones. “We had to be careful of the nature of the sounds,” he says. “If you make the airplanes too scary or intimidating, or sound to animalistic, little kids are going to be scared and cover their ears. We wanted to make sure it was fun without being scary.”

Many of the scenes in The Peanuts Movie have subtle sound design, with Foley being a big part of the track. There are a few places where sound gets to deliver the joke. One of Thom’s favorite scenes was when Charlie Brown visits the library to find the book “Leo’s Toy Store.”

“The library is supposed to be quiet and we had to be very playful with the sound of Charlie’s feet squeaking on the floor and making too much noise,” says Thom. “After he leaves the library, he slides down the hillside in the snow and ice and ends up running right through a house. That was a fun sequence also.”

PEANUTS PEANUTS

One surprising piece of the soundtrack was the music. The name Vince Guaraldi is practically synonymous with Peanuts. His jazzy compositions are part of the Peanuts cultural lexicon. If someone says Peanuts, it instantly recalls to mind the melody of Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” tune. And while “Linus and Lucy” is part of the film’s soundtrack, the majority of the score is orchestral compositions by Christophe Beck. “The music is mostly orchestral but even that has a Peanuts feel somehow,” concludes Thom.

Setting the audio tone of ‘Everest’

Glenn Freemantle sounds off on making this film’s audio authentic

By Jennifer Walden

Immovable, but not insurmountable, Mount Everest has always loomed large in the minds of ambitious adventurers who seek to test their mettle against nature’s most imposing obstacle course, with unpredictable weather.

Reaching the summit takes more than just determination, it requires training, teamwork and a bit of stubborn resolve not to die. Even then, there’s no guarantee that what, or who, goes up will come down. Director Baltasar Kormákur’s film Everest, from Universal Studios, is based on the tragic true story of two separate expeditions who sought to reach the summit on the same day, May 10th 1996, only to be bested by a frigid tempest.

Glenn Freemantle

Glenn Freemantle

Supervising sound editor/sound designer Glenn Freemantle at Sound24, based at Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, UK, was in charge of building Everest’s blustery sound personality. All the wind, snow and ice sounds that lash the film’s characters were carefully crafted in post and designed to take the viewer on a journey up the mountain.

“Starting at the bottom and going right to the top, you feel like you are moving through the different camps,” explains Freemantle. “We tried to make each location as interesting as possible. The film is all about nature; it’s all about how the viewer would feel on that mountain. We always wanted the viewer to feel that journey that they were on.”

In addition to Freemantle, Sound24’s crew includes sound design editors Eilam Hoffman, Niv Adiri, Ben Barker, Tom Sayers and sound effects editors Danny Freemantle and Dillon Bennett.

Capturing Wind
Glenn Freemantle and his sound team collected thousands of wind sounds, like strong winter winds from along the shores of western England, Ireland and Scotland. They recorded wide canyon winds and sand storms in the deserts of Israel, and on Santorini, they recorded strong tonal mountain winds. At the base camp on Mount Everest, they set out recorders day and night to capture what it sounded like there at different times. “At the base camp on Everest, even if we didn’t use all the recordings from there, we got the sense of the real environment, exactly what it was like. From a cinematic point of view, we used that as a basis, but obviously we were also trying to tell a story with the sound,” he says.

To capture ambience from various altitudes on Everest, Freemantle sent two small recording set-ups with the camera crew who filmed at the top of Everest. “The equipment had to be small, portable and resistant to the extreme conditions,” he explains. For these set-ups, owner of Telinga Microphones, Klas Strandberg, created a small, custom-made omnidirectional mic for an A/B set-up, as well as a pair of cardioid mics in XY configuration that were connected to two Sony D100 recorders.

The best way to record wind is to have it sing through something, so on their wind capturing outings, Freemantle and crew brought along an assortment of items — sieves, coat hangers, bits of metal, pans, all sorts of oddities that would produce different tones as the wind moved through and around them. They also set up tents, like those used in the film, to capture the tent movements in the wind. “We used a multi-mic set-up to record the sound so you felt like you were in the middle of all of these situations. We put the mics in the corners and in the center of the tent, and then we shook it. We also left them up for the night,” he says.

They used Sennheiser MKH8020s, MKH8050s and MKH8040s paired with multiple Sound Devices 744T and 722 recorders set at 192k/24-bit. For high-frequency winds, they chose the Sanken COS-100k, which can capture sounds up to 100kHz. “This allowed us to pitch down the inaudible wind to audible frequencies (between 20Hz – 20kHz) and create the bass for powerful tonal winds.”

With wind being a main player in the sound, Freemantle’s design focused on its dynamics. Changing the speed of the wind, the harshness of the wind and also the weight of the wind kept it interesting. “We were moving the sound all the time, and that was really effective. There was a 20-minute section of storm in there, which wasn’t easy to build,” explains Freemantle. “We would mix a scene for a day and then walk away. You can exhaust your ears mixing a film like this.”

Having the opportunity to revisit the stormy sequences allowed the sound team to compare the different storms and wind-swept scenes, and make adjustments. One of their biggest challenges was making sure each storm didn’t feel too big, or lack dynamics. “We wanted to have something different happening for each storm or camp so the audience could feel the journey of these people. It had to build up to the big storm at the end. We’d have to look at the whole film to make sure we weren’t going wrong. The sound needed to progress.”

In addition to wind, Freemantle and his team recorded sounds of snow and ice. They purchased a few square meters of snow and froze big chunks of ice for their recording sessions. “We got all the gear the actors were wearing and we put the jackets and things into the freezer overnight, so they would have that feeling, that frozen texture, that they would have out there in the weather,” he says. “We tried to do everything we could to make it sound as real as possible. It’s exhausting how that weather makes you feel, and it was all from a human point of view that we tried to create the weather that was around them.”

ADR
The weather sounds weren’t the only thing to be recreated for Everest. The soundtrack also hosts a sizable amount of ADR thanks to massive wind machines that were constantly blowing on set, and the actors having to wear masks didn’t help the dialogue intelligibility either. “That’s why the film is 90 percent re-recorded dialogue,” shares Freemantle. “Sound mixer Adrian Bell did a hell of a job in those conditions, but they are wearing all of these masks so you can hardly hear them. Everything had to be redone.”

The dialogue was so muffled at times that it was difficult for the picture-editing department to cut Everest. Director Kormákur asked for a quick ADR track of the whole film, using sound-alike actors when the real ones weren’t available. In addition, he also asked for a rough sound design and Foley pass, giving Freemantle about a week to mock it up. “You couldn’t follow the film. They couldn’t run it for the producers to get a sense of the story because you couldn’t hear what the actors were saying,” he says. “So we recreated the whole dialogue sequence for the film, and we quickly cut — from our sound libraries — all the footsteps and we did a quick cloth pass so they had a complete soundtrack in a very short period of time.”

During the ADR session for the final tracks, Freemantle notes the actors wore weight vests and straps around their chests to make it difficult for them to breathe and talk, all in an effort to recreate the experience of what is happening to them on screen. As CG was being added to the picture, with more sprays of snow and ice, the actors could react to the environment even more.

“Having to re-create their performances was a curse in one way, but it was a blessing because then we had control over every single sound in the soundtrack. We had control of every part of their breathing, every noise from their gear and outfits. We have everything so we could pull the perspective in the sound at any given moment and not bring along a lot of muck with it.”

Everest was mixed in three immersive formats: Dolby Atmos, Barco Auro-3D and IMAX 12.0. “Each one of the formats works really well and you really feel like you are in the film,” reports Freemantle. “The weight of the sound hits you in the theater. There is a lot of bass in there. With sound, you are moving the air around, so you are feeling it when the storm hits. The presence of the bass hits you in the chest.”

But it’s not a continuous aural onslaught —there are highs and lows, with rumbly wind fighting against the side of the mountain on Hillary Step and hissing wind higher up towards the summit. “You have to have detail and the sounds should be helping to tell the story,” he says. “It’s not about how much you put in — in the end, it’s about what you take out when you finish. That’s very important. You don’t want the film to be just a massive noise.”

The Mix
Everest was mixed natively in the Dolby Atmos theatre at Pinewood Studios by Freemantle and re-recording mixers Niv Adiri, CAS, and Ian Tapp, CAS. Sound24’s tried and tested Avid set-up helped bring the sounds of Everest to life, working on the powerful Avid System 5 large-format console, using Pro Tools 11 with EUCON control. Their goal was to put the audience on the mountain with the climbers without overwhelming them with a constant barrage of sound. “The journey the characters are going through is both mental and physical, and mixing in Atmos helped us bring these emotions to the audience,” says Adiri. Since director Kormákur’s focus was on the human tragedy, the dialogue scenes were intimately shot. This enabled the mixers to shift the bala

nce towards dialogue in these sequences and maintain the emotional contact with the characters. In the Atmos format they could position sounds around the audience to immerse them in the scene without having the sounds sit on top of the dialogue. “The sheer weight and power of the sound that the Atmos system produces was perfect for this film, particularly in the storm sequence, where we were able to make the sound an almost physical experience for the audience, yet still maintain the clarity of the dialogue and not make the whole thing unbearable to watch,” says Tapp.

Once the final Atmos mix was approved by director Kormákur, the tracks were taken to Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium, for the Barco 3D-Auro mix, and then it was on to Toronto’s Technicolor for the 12.0 IMAX mix. Despite the change in format, the integrity of the film was kept the same. The mix they defined in Atmos was the blueprint for the other formats.

For Freemantle, the best part of making Everest was being able to capture the journey. To make the audience feel like they are moving up the mountain, and make them feel cold and distressed. “You want to feel that contact, that physical contact like you are in it, like the snow is hitting your face and the jacket around you. When people watch it you want them to experience it because it’s a true story and you want them to feel it. If they are feeling it, then they are feeling the emotion of it.”

For more on Everest, read out interview with editor Mick Audsley.

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

Creating the sonic world of ‘Macbeth’

By Jennifer Walden

On December 4, we will all have the opportunity to hail Michael Fassbender as he plays Macbeth in director Justin Kurzel’s film adaption of the classic Shakespeare play. And while Macbeth is considered to be the Bard’s darkest tragedy, audiences at the Cannes Film Festival premiere felt there was nothing tragic about Kurzel’s fresh take on it.

As evidenced in his debut film, The Snowton Murders, Kurzel’s passion for dark imagery fits The Weinstein Co’s Macbeth like a custom-fitted suit of armor. “The Snowtown Murders was brutal, beautiful, uncompromising and original, and I felt sure Justin would approach Macbeth with the same vision,” says freelance supervising sound editor Steve Single. “He’s a great motivator and demanded more of the team than almost any director I’ve worked with, but we always felt that we were an important part of the process. We all put more of ourselves into this film, not only for professional pride, but to make sure we were true to Justin’s expectations and vision.”

Single, who was also the re-recording mixer on the dialogue/music, worked with London-based sound designers Markus Stemler and Alastair Sirkett to translate Kurzel’s abstract and esoteric ideas — like imagining the sound of mist — and place them in the reality of Macbeth’s world. Whether it was the sound of sword clashes or chimes for the witches, Kurzel looked beyond traditional sound devices. “He wanted the design team to continually look at what elements they were adding from a very different perspective,” explains Single.

L-R: Gilbert Lake, Steve Single and Alastair Sirkett.

L-R: Gilbert Lake, Steve Single and Alastair Sirkett.

Sirkett notes that Kurzel’s bold cinematic style — immediately apparent by the slow-motion-laced battle sequence in the opening — led him and Stemler to make equally bold choices in sound. Adds Stemler, “I love it when films have a strong aesthetic, and it was the same with the sound design. Justin certainly pushed all of us to go for the rather unconventional route here and there.  In terms of the creative process, I think that’s a truly wonderful situation.”

Gathering, Creating Sounds
Stemler and Sirkett split up the sound design work by different worlds, as Kurzel referred to them, to ensure that each world sounded distinctly different, with its own, unique sonic fingerprint. Stemler focused on the world of the battles, the witches and the village of Inverness. “The theme of the world of the witches was certainly a challenge. Chimes had always been a key element in Justin’s vision,” says Stemler, whose approach to sound design often begins with a Schoeps mic and a Sound Devices recorder.

As he started to collect and record a variety of chimes, rainmakers and tiny bells, Stemler realized that just shaking them wasn’t going to give him the atmospheric layer he was looking for. “It needed to be way softer and smoother. In the process I found some nacre chimes (think mother-of-pearl shells) that had a really nice resonance, but the ‘clonk’ sound just didn’t fit. So I spent ages trying to kind of pet the chimes so I would only get their special resonance. That was quite a patience game.”

By having distinct sonic themes for each “world,” re-recording mixers Single and Gilbert Lake (who handled the effects/Foley/backgrounds) were able to transition back and forth between those sonic themes, diving into the next ‘world’ without fully leaving the previous one.

There’s the “gritty reality of the situation Macbeth appears to be forging, the supernatural world of the witches whose prophecy has set out his path for him, the deterioration of Macbeth’s mental state, and how Macbeth’s actions resonate with the landscape,” says Lake, explaining the contrast between the different worlds. “It was a case of us finding those worlds together and then being conscious about how they relate to one another, sometimes contrasting and sometimes blending.”

Skirett notes that the sonic themes were particularly important when crafting Macbeth’s craziness. “Justin wanted to use sound to help with Macbeth’s deterioration into paranoia and madness, whether it be using the sound of the witches, harking back to the prophecy or the initial battle and the violence that had occurred there. Weaving that into the scenes as we moved forward was alMACBETHways going to be a tricky balancing act, but I think with the sounds that we created, the fantastic music from composer Jed Kurzel, and with Steve [Single] and Gilly [Lake] mixing, we’ve achieved something quite amazing.”

Sirkett details a moment of Macbeth’s madness in which he recalls the memory of war. “I spent a lot of time finding elements from the opening battle — whether it be swords, clashes or screams — that worked well once they were processed to feel as though they were drifting in and out of his mind without the audience being able to quite grasp what they were hearing, but hopefully sensing what they were and the implication of the violence that had occurred.”

Sirkett used Audio Ease’s Altiverb 7 XL in conjunction with a surround panning tool called Spanner by The Cargo Cult “to get some great sounds and move them accurately around the theatre to help give a sense of unease for those moments that Justin wanted to heighten Macbeth’s state of mind.”

The Foley, Score, Mix
The Foley team on Macbeth included Foley mixer Adam Mendez and Foley artist Ricky Butt from London’s Twickenham Studios. Additional Foley for the armies and special sounds for the witches was provided by Foley artist Carsten Richter and Foley mixer Marcus Sujata at Tonstudio Hanse Warns in Berlin, Germany. Sirkett points out that the sonic details related to the costumes that Macbeth and Banquo (Paddy Considine) wore for the opening battle. “Their costumes look huge, heavy and bloodied by the end of the opening battle. When they were moving about or removing items, you felt the weight, blood and sweat that was in them and how it was almost sticking to their bodies,” he says.

Composer Jed Kurzel’s score often interweaves with the sound design, at times melting into the soundscape and at other times taking the lead. Stemler notes the quiet church scene in which Lady Macbeth sits in the chapel of an abandoned village. Dust particles gently descend to the sound of delicate bells twinkling in the background. “They prepare for the moment where the score is sneaking in almost like an element of the wind.  It took us some time in the mix to find that perfect balance between the score and our sound elements. We had great fun with that kind of dance between the elements.”

MACBETHDuring the funeral of Macbeth’s child in the opening of the film, Jed Kurzel’s score (the director’s brother) emotes a gentle mournfulness as it blends with the lashing wind and rain sound effects. Single feels the score is almost like another character. “Bold and unexpected, it was an absolute pleasure to bring each cue into the mix. From the rolling reverse percussion of the opening credits to the sublime theme for Lady Macbeth’s decline into madness, he crafted a score that is really very special.”

Single and Lake mixed Macbeth in 5.1 at Warner Bros.’ De Lane Lea studio in London, using an AMS Neve DFC console. On Lake’s side of the board, he loved mixing the final showdown between Macbeth and Macduff — a beautifully edited sequence where the rhythm of the fighting perfectly plays against Jed Kurzel’s score.

“We wanted the action to feel like Macbeth and Macduff were wrenching their weapons from the earth and bringing the full weight of their ambitions down on one another,” says Lake. “Markus [Stemler] steered clear of traditional sword hits and shings and I tried to be as dynamic as possible and to accentuate the weight and movement of their actions.”

To create original sword sounds, Stemler took the biggest screw wrench he could find and recorded himself banging on every big piece of metal available in their studio’s warehouse. “I hit old heaters, metal staircases, stands and pipes. I definitely left a lot of damage,” he jokes. After a bit of processing, those sounds became major elements in the sword sounds.

Director Kurzel wanted the battle sequences to immerse the audience in the reality of war, and to show how deeply it affects Macbeth to be in the middle of all that violence. “I think the balance between “real” action and the slo-mo gives you a chance to take in the horror unfolding,” says Lake. “Jed’s music is very textural and it was about finding the right sounds to work with it and knowing when to back off with the effects and let it become more about the score. It was one of those rare and fortunate events where everyone is pulling in the same direction without stepping on each other’s toes!”

L-R Alastair Sirkett, Steve Single and Gilbert Lake.

L-R Alastair Sirkett, Steve Single and Gilbert Lake.

To paraphrase the famous quote, “Copy is King” holds true for any project, in a Shakespeare adaptation, the copy is as untouchable as Vito Corleone in The Godfather. “You have in Macbeth some of the most beautiful and insightful language ever written and you have to respect that,” says Single. His challenge was to make every piece of poetic verse intelligible while still keeping the intimacy that director Kurzel and the actors had worked for on-set, which Single notes, was not an easy task. “The film was shot entirely on location, during the worst storms in the UK for the past 100 years. Add to this an abundance of smoke machines and heavy Scottish accents and it soon became apparent that no matter how good production sound mixer Stuart Wilson’s recordings were — he did a great job under very tough conditions — there was going to be a lot of cleaning to do and some difficult decisions about ADR.”

Even though there was a good bit of ADR recorded, in the end Single found he was able to restore and polish much of the original recordings, always making sure that in the process of achieving clarity the actors’ performances were maintained. In the mix, Single says it was about placing the verse in each scene first and then building up the soundtrack around that. “This was made especially easy by having such a good effects mixer in Gilly Lake,” he concludes.

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

Going back in time sonically for ‘Outlander’ series

By Jennifer Walden

While on the surface, it might seem surprising that writer Ron Moore, with his extensive Star Trek credits, created the popular Starz Originals period drama Outlander, but as you dig a bit deeper it all starts to make sense. Outlander is more than just a period piece; it’s about time travel. Who doesn’t love themselves a little time travel?

Outlander, based on the book series by Diana Gabaldon, follows Claire Randall, a British combat nurse on vacation in Scotland with her husband. After touching one large stone in an ancient stone circle she gets transported back in time, from 1945 to 1743. While time travel is sci-fi, that element of the story is but a minuscule moment, with the majority of the storyline happening in 1743. But her being from a different time and place is always front and center to the story, and that is the world that Moore knows well.

Outlander 2014 Outlander 2014

His sci-fi heavy resume includes starting as a writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) before becoming a producer on the show. That was just the beginning of his path to “where no man has gone before.” Work on Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and, finally, Star Trek: Voyager followed. He also had a hand in the Battlestar Galactica franchise, and most recently worked on the sci-fi series Caprica and Helix.

Speaking of Battlestar Galactica, when it came time to get the team together for Outlander’s audio post, Moore called on a familiar face: supervising sound editor/dialogue editor, Vince Balunas, from audio post facility AnEFX in Burbank. Balunas previously worked with both Moore and Outlander’s picture editor, Michael O’Halloran, on Battlestar Galactica.

The Sound of 1743
Balunas says all that prior sci-fi experience may not be applicable to Outlander, but having that knowledge of what Moore and O’Halloran are looking for helped more than anything else when developing the overall sound for Outlander. “There’s a certain grit to the show. Yes it was shot in HD, and next season will possibly be shot in 4K, but there is still a visual grit to it much like there was on Battlestar,” says Balunas. Sonically, Outlander is like Battlestar Galactica in that both focus on sounds that make the world on screen seem tangible.

Vince Balunas

Vince Balunas

“In Battlestar, the ship would be constantly groaning and you’d hear all of this metal creaking,” he says. “There is this tactile feel of the CIC (Combat Information Center of the ship’s bridge). We grounded Outlander the same way; it’s like actually being there in 1743.”

Balunas notes the scope of Outlander, visually and sonically, is huge. Without any big music moments to hide behind, Balunas needed sound for every movement that happened on screen because without it, he says, the scene felt naked. He worked with lead sound designer/effects editor Jeff Brunello at AnEFX. “We understood that we were going to be building this show a whole lot bigger than other shows,” says Balunas. They filled out the soundtrack with elaborate backgrounds made from wind, rain and rivers — everything you’d find in the Scottish Highlands. “It’s a very wide build compared to other shows we do for network television.”

Small sound details help ground the show in reality, and pull the audience in close to the action. When the characters are on horses walking through the rolling fields of Scotland, Moore and the Starz team wanted to hear every step of that horse. “They wanted to hear a little bit of rattle, leather creaks and other small details to bring the scene to life,” says Balunas. “My Foley track count doubled in size for this show.”

AnEFX handles all of Outlander’s Foley in-house, with a team led by supervising Foley editor Sam Lewis and Foley artist Brian Straub. “Our two main Foley guys both recorded Foley and edited the Foley,” reports Balunas. “More than anything, the Foley on the show is very detailed and very specific.”

Outlander 2014 Outlander 2014

As expected with scenes set in 1743, it’s absolutely unacceptable to hear modern sounds, like airplanes or traffic. Luckily, Balunas didn’t have trouble in that department. The production tracks from sound mixer Brian Milliken were tremendously clean. “There was no evidence of any kind of modern sounds throughout the whole entire production of the first season. Brian [Miliken] did a really good job of giving us good clean audio to work with. There weren’t any challenges with the production dialogue.”

In contrast, for scenes that take place in 1945, Balunas and his team added sounds to intentionally emphasize technology. “When we’re in the police station, we really want to hear the phones ringing and cars go by,” says Balunas. “We want to make sure that people know that scene is in 1945 in Scotland.”

Balunas feels that starting with good production sound was really a key to the show sounding great. Without having to sync up tons of ADR, or heavily process the dialogue to improve clarity, he was able to focus on his sound team. “The biggest thing about Outlander is its size. It’s a very large show with a lot of elements to manage.”

Sound editorial, Foley, most ADR, and premixes were completed at AnEFX. Balunas and his team typically spent 8-10 days per episode on sound editorial. “The schedule was spread apart and we worked on the series in waves. We would do three episodes one month and then take a month and a half off before doing another two episodes.”

Their sound editorial schedule was dependent on how long it took for picture to lock. “We had a very liquid schedule that wasn’t your standard TV schedule of five days to get an episode done, and then next week it’s another five days for the next episode,” he says. “It wasn’t remotely close to that.”

The final mix happened with re-recording mixers Nello Torri and Alan Decker at BluWave Audio at NBC Universal in Studio B. Working with four days per episode, Torri and Decker mixed the show in 7.1 with delivery to Starz for air in 5.1. “For episodes like the witch trial episode, we needed every second of that four-day mix,” says Balunas. “We had everyone and their mother talking on-camera. That was a really big show for us.”

The Season 1 finale of Outlander was May 30, but feel free to binge watch on Starz.

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

Quick Chat: Lucky Post’s Scottie Richardson on ‘Reclaim the Kitchen’

Wolf Appliances and agency The Richards Group recently launched the “Reclaim the Kitchen” campaign meant to inspire families to prepare and eat meals together. At the center of this initiative is a film that shows audiences the joys of home cooking. Lucky Post’s Scottie Richardson, based in Dallas, created the sound design, music edit and the final mix for the three-minute, stop-motion piece directed by Brikk.

In Reclaim the Kitchen the viewer’s perspective is sitting at a dinner table or making tasty dishes. There are statistics, meal suggestions and recipes. You can see the film on http://www.reclaimthekitchen.com, a site created to offer “tools to cook with confidence.”

We checked in with Richardson in order to dig a bit deeper into the sound and music.

When did you first meet with the agency?
I was put on hold by The Richards Group producer David Rucker, but didn’t truly know what the job would be. I only knew that I was working on a video for Wolf and I had two days to work on my own before the creative team would come in.  David and I had just worked on a huge Chrysler campaign so there was a strong trust factor going in.

Scottie Richardson

Scottie Richardson

What direction did they give or were they open to ideas?
The concept behind the Wolf project is “reclaim the kitchen,” getting people together to share home-cooked meals. It’s not meant to badger viewers; it’s more like, “Wow, what have I been missing? I can do this!” Inspiring and whimsical. In terms of the sound, I was just told to “do what I do.” That’s a dream on any project — to have the time to immerse yourself in the narrative. I wanted the sound design to match the integrity of this initiative.

There are many layers of sounds — the home, cooking, technology. What were you trying to convey with the audio?
The creatives did an unbelievable job creating a sweeping yet simple message. Preparing a meal isn’t just about the food. Time is ticking, money matters and family are all important. These factors are influenced by myriad circumstances, but rather than ignore them, they’re addressed head-on. The sounds outside the kitchen are designed to resonate with viewers, to put them in these moments that influence their meal decisions. Phones are often seen as tools that distract us from our family time, but they can be used to help with family participation — Googling recipes, meal-planning apps, converting measurements — there are ways to use these tools mindfully and together.  Fast food may be a modern solution to creating more time with your family, but if that time is allocated to a mission in the kitchen, your time is invested in camaraderie.

In some cases the sound was meant to add atmosphere, while in other cases it was to specifically key off of what was happening on screen. We used it to interplay with the voiceover script. There is a scene nearing the end that is a tight close-up of a food scale. Meanwhile, you hear a ticking from a stopwatch as the camera pulls out to reveal that it is a food scale. That sound was to accent the voiceover talking about “time” rather than the image, but it provides a nice juxtaposition. Overall, the goal was to key off of the verbal cues and visuals with both sound design and music edits so they were additional characters in the narrative. In some sections, we chose an absence of sound to allow moments to breathe and stand out. This piece was designed to inspire people to recalibrate, be somewhat introspective and learn, but not feel intimidated, so creating moments to process were crucial.

Can you talk about creating the sounds?
I have a large sound effects library that I’ve built over the last 20 years. I start with using the logical pre-recorded, time-tested sounds as a baseline. On this particular job I pulled from my stock library but also Foley’d lots of sounds. I like to be musical with sound design, so I am constantly making sure the sounds work with the music track in tone or pitch. Sometimes that’s using verb and delay to match the music and its space, or pitching things up or down. Being a musician I like to use musical effects like cymbals or shakers to accent things as well.  These elements integrated well on this project because Breed’s music track was so lively and elegant.

What about the mix?
At the end of the day what the voiceover is saying is important, like the vocals to a great song. I made sure all of that was clear, then I experimented with the music and sound design. I built a nice bed for the voice to lay in that would hopefully let the poignancy of the message resonate. Sometimes it’s best to just feel the sound and not actually be able to articulate what it is. You miss it if it is gone but you can’t actually say, “That was a scooter running over an umbrella.”

You wore a few different hats on this one. Can you talk about that?
Well at first it was as a sound designer. I created a sound scape from beginning to end of the cut. Then I brought in the editor’s sound design and went through to see if anything clashed or to see what needed to be replaced or enhanced. When agency creative Dave Longfield came into the session, he had very specific things he wanted to try with the music, so we spent a half-day cutting up the music stems and trying out things to hit with picture. Breed’s music was amazing. It balanced the narrative with energy and the intelligence of the message. After that, we edited dialog, trying out various takes and pacing that felt right. This was followed by the mixing stage to bring it all together.

What tools do you call on?
This was all built and mixed in Avid Pro Tools. One tool I use often on sound design is Omnisphere by Spectrasonics. This allows me to make more music sound effects and really transform them into something new.

ReclaimTheKitchenmain

Where do you find inspiration?
Honestly all over. Art, movies, music. One of my favorite groups as a young kid was The Art Of Noise. I just loved how they made music out of door slams and breaking glass. I love how layering many sounds together make one solid sound. I enjoy seeing a good movie and hearing how they use a sound you wouldn’t think of for what you are seeing, or how the absence of sound speaks better than having one.

Finally, how did this project influence you personally?
I am truly the healthiest I have been in a long, long time. I have not had fast food in over three months and we have been cooking as a family every night for dinner. I’m avidly researching recipes and trying to one-up the next meal. This is a project that changed my lifestyle for the better. I didn’t see that coming.

Oscar-winner Ben Wilkins on Whiplash’s audio mix, edit

This BAFTA- and Oscar-winner walks us through his process.

By Randi Altman

When I first spoke with Ben Wilkins, he was freshly back from the Oscar-nominee luncheon in Hollywood and about to head to his native England to attend the BAFTAs. Wilkins was nominated by both academies for his post sound work on Sony Picture Classics’ Whiplash, the Damien Chazelle-directed film about an aspiring jazz drummer and his brutal instructor.

Wilkins (@tonkasound) didn’t return to LA empty handed — he, along with fellow sound re- Continue reading

Outpost Studios on affordable Foley for indies

By Jennifer Walden

Foreign distribution companies insist on a fully formed M&E mix, complete with Foley, but for low-budget films there often isn’t room for it. It’s a catch-22. Not footing the bill for Foley work can keep indie filmmakers from making money in the global market.

Dave Nelson, owner/supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer at Outpost Studios in San Francisco, has an economical solution: using Foley Collection and Kontakt 5 to track Foley when filmmakers can’t afford live Foley sessions. “Films that aren’t financially successful here in the United States often do really well in foreign countries because people are fascinated with American lifestyle.”

Outpost Studios offers 7.1/5.1 Dolby mixing, dialogue editing, sound design, music composition, Foley, ADR and voice recording for the film, digital media and audio book Continue reading

The sound of fire, tires and more for Disney’s ‘Planes: Fire and Rescue’

By Jennifer Walden

Disney’s follow-up to Planes, Planes: Fire and Rescue, like many Disney offerings, has a message — this one involves overcoming a handicap and finding another path in life. But if you think it’s a film for very young children, you’d be mistaken. It’s a family action-adventure film, complete with intense visuals, situations and sound to match.

There was no holding back on the native Dolby Atmos mix. With full-range surround speakers in a 62.2 configuration, the mix team of David E. Fluhr (dialogue and music) and Dean Zupancic (sound effects) had all the sonic real estate they needed to immerse the audience in the action. According to Formosa Group supervising sound editor/sound designer Todd Toon, “Director Roberts Gannaway not only gave us permission, but demanded that we deliver a big Continue reading