Tag Archives: sound design

Behind the Title: Stir Post Audio sound designer/mixer Nick Bozzone

NAME: Nick Bozzone

COMPANY: Chicago’s Stir Post Audio (@STIRpost)

DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY:
Stir Post Audio is comprised of engineers, mixers, sound designers and producers, who transform audio mixes into what we call “sonic power shots.”

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Sound Designer/Mixer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As a post sound professional, there are many different disciplines of audio that I use on a day-to-day basis — voiceover recording/mic techniques (ADR included), creative sound designing, voiceover and music editing, 5.1 and stereo broadcast (LKFS) mixing, as well as providing a positive (and fun) voice in the room.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The term sound designer envelops more than simply spotting stock sound effects to picture, it’s an opportunity to be as creative as my mind allows. It’s a chance at making a sonic signature —a signature that, most of the time, is associated with the product itself. I have been very fortunate through my career so far to have worked on these types of commercial campaigns and short films… projects that have allowed me to stretch my sonic imagination.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite part of the job is when its time to mix. Mixing can be just as creative, if not more so, as sound design. There are a lot of technical aspects to mixing heavy-hitting commercials. Most of the time there are a bunch of very dynamic elements going on at the same time. The finesse of a great mix is the ability to take all of these things, bring them all together and have them all sitting in their own spot.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
It may be my least favorite part, but it’s a necessary evil… archiving!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
During work, it’s when the whole room gives my mix a thumbs up. During the weekend, it’s definitely around sunset. For whatever reason, no matter how tired I am, around sunset is when my body kicks into its second wind and I become a night owl (or at least I used to be one before my daughter was born five months ago).

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That was told to me when I entered college, and I took that quote to heart. Originally, I thought that I wanted to be a creative writer and then I had an interest in being a hypnotherapist. Both were interesting to me, but neither one was holding my interest for very long. Thankfully, I took an introductory class in Pro Tools. That one class showed me that there could be a future in sound. You never know where you’ll get your inspiration.

Nick creating sounds for Mist Twst.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Many projects that come through our doors require quite a bit of strategy with regard to the intention or emotion of the project. I worked on the re-branding campaign for Pepsi’s Sierra Mist, which changed its name to Mist Twst.

There were a lot of very specific sound design elements I created in that session. The intention was to not just make an everyday run-of-the-mill soda commercial; we wanted it to feel crisp, clean and natural like the drink. So, we went to the store and bought a bunch of different fruits and vegetables, and recorded ourselves cutting, squeezing, and dropping them into a fizzy glass of Mist Twst. We even recorded ourselves opening soda cans at different speeds and pouring soda into glasses with and without ice.

I also worked on a really fun 5 Gum radio campaign that won a Radio Mercury Award. The concept was a “truth or dare” commercial geared toward people streaming music with headphones on. It allows the listener to choose whether to play along with listening to the left headphone for a truth, or the right headphone to do a dare.

We did campaign for Aleve with beautiful film showing a grandfather on an outing with his granddaughter at an amusement park and suddenly he throws his back out. The entire park grinds to a halt as a result — visually and audio-wise. There was a lot of sound design involved in this process, and was a very fun and creative experience.

Kerrygold

For a recent package of TV spots for Kerrygold, the Irish dairy group, created by Energy BBDO. my main goal for “Made for this Moment” was to let the gentile music track and great lyrics have center stage and breathe, as if they were their own character in the story. My approach to the sound design was to fill out each scene with subtle sound design elements that are almost felt and not heard… nothing poking through further than anything else, and nothing competing with the music, only enhancing the overall mood.”

Cory Melious

Behind the Title: Heard City senior sound designer/mixer Cory Melious

NAME: Cory Melious

COMPANY: Heard City (@heardcity)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are an audio post production company.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Sound Designer/Mixer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I provide final mastering of the audio soundtrack for commercials, TV shows and movies. I combine the production audio recorded on set (typically dialog), narration, music (whether it’s an original composition or artist) and sound effects (often created by me) into one 5.1 surround soundtrack that plays on both TV and Internet.

Heard City

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think most people without a production background think the sound of a spot just “is.” They don’t really think about how or why it happens. Once I start explaining the sonic layers we combine to make up the final mix they are really surprised.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The part that really excites me is the fact that each spot offers its own unique challenge. I take raw audio elements and tweak and mold them into a mix. Working with the agency creatives, we’re able to develop a mix that helps tell the story being presented in the spot. In that respect I feel like my job changes day in and day out and feels fresh every day.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Working late! There are a lot of late hours in creative jobs.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I really like finishing a job. It’s that feeling of accomplishment when, after a few hours, I’m able to take some pretty rough-sounding dialog and manipulate that into a smooth-sounding final mix. It’s also when the clients we work with are happy during the final stages of their project.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?
Avid Pro Tools, Izotope RX, Waves Mercury, Altiverb and Revibe.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
One of my many hobbies is making furniture. My dad is a carpenter and taught me how to build at a very young age. If I never had the opportunity to come to New York and make a career here, I’d probably be building and making furniture near my hometown of Seneca Castle, New York.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION? HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I think this profession chose me. When I was a kid I was really into electronics and sound. I was both the drummer and the front of house sound mixer for my high school band. Mixing from behind the speakers definitely presents some challenges! I went on to college to pursue a career in music recording, but when I got an internship in New York at a premier post studio, I truly fell in love with creating sound for picture.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Recently, I’ve worked on Chobani, Google, Microsoft, and Budweiser. I also did a film called The Discovery for Netflix.

The Discovery for Netflix.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’d probably have to say Chobani. That was a challenging campaign because the athletes featured in it were very busy. In order to capture the voiceover properly I was sent to Orlando and Los Angeles to supervise the narration recording and make sure it was suitable for broadcast. The spots ran during the Olympics, so they had to be top notch.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
iPhone, iPad and depth finder. I love boating and can’t imagine navigating these waters without knowing the depth!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m on the basics — Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. I dabble with SnapChat occasionally and will even open up Twitter once in a while to see what’s trending. I’m a fan of photography and nature, so I follow a bunch of outdoor Instagramers.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I joke with my friends that all of my hobbies are those of retired folks — sailing, golfing, fly fishing, masterful dog training, skiing, biking, etc. I joke that I’m practicing for retirement. I think hobbies that force me to relax and get out of NYC are really good for me.

What it sounds like when Good Girls Revolt for Amazon Studios

By Jennifer Walden

“Girls do not do rewrites,” says Jim Belushi’s character, Wick McFadden, in Amazon Studios’ series Good Girls Revolt. It’s 1969, and he’s the national editor at News of the Week, a fictional news magazine based in New York City. He’s confronting the new researcher Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) who claims credit for a story that Wick has just praised in front of the entire newsroom staff. The trouble is it’s 1969 and women aren’t writers; they’re only “researchers” following leads and gathering facts for the male writers.

When Nora’s writer drops the ball by delivering a boring courtroom story, she rewrites it as an insightful articulation of the country’s cultural climate. “If copy is good, it’s good,” she argues to Wick, testing the old conventions of workplace gender-bias. Wick tells her not to make waves, but it’s too late. Nora’s actions set in motion an unstoppable wave of change.

While the series is set in New York City, it was shot in Los Angeles. The newsroom they constructed had an open floor plan with a bi-level design. The girls are located in “the pit” area downstairs from the male writers. The newsroom production set was hollow, which caused an issue with the actors’ footsteps that were recorded on the production tracks, explains supervising sound editor Peter Austin. “The set was not solid. It was built on a platform, so we had a lot of boomy production footsteps to work around. That was one of the big dialogue issues. We tried not to loop too much, so we did a lot of specific dialogue work to clean up all of those newsroom scenes,” he says.

The main character Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson) was particularly challenging because of her signature leather riding boots. “We wanted to have an interesting sound for her boots, and the production footsteps were just useless. So we did a lot of experimenting on the Foley stage,” says Austin, who worked with Foley artists Laura Macias and Sharon Michaels to find the right sound. All the post sound work — sound editorial, Foley, ADR, loop group, and final mix was handled at Westwind Media in Burbank, under the guidance of post producer Cindy Kerber.

Austin and dialog editor Sean Massey made every effort to save production dialog when possible and to keep the total ADR to a minimum. Still, the newsroom environment and several busy street scenes proved challenging, especially when the characters were engaged in confidential whispers. Fortunately, “the set mixer Joe Foglia was terrific,” says Austin. “He captured some great tracks despite all these issues, and for that we’re very thankful!”

The Newsroom
The newsroom acts as another character in Good Girls Revolt. It has its own life and energy. Austin and sound effects editor Steve Urban built rich backgrounds with tactile sounds, like typewriters clacking and dinging, the sound of rotary phones with whirring dials and bell-style ringers, the sound of papers shuffling and pencils scratching. They pulled effects from Austin’s personal sound library, from commercial sound libraries like Sound Ideas, and had the Foley artists create an array of period-appropriate sounds.

Loop group coordinator Julie Falls researched and recorded walla that contained period appropriate colloquialisms, which Austin used to add even more depth and texture to the backgrounds. The lively backgrounds helped to hide some dialogue flaws and helped to blend in the ADR. “Executive producer/series creator Dana Calvo actually worked in an environment like this and so she had very definite ideas about how it would sound, particularly the relentlessness of the newsroom,” explains Austin. “Dana had strong ideas about the newsroom being a character in itself. We followed her guide and wanted to support the scenes and communicate what the girls were going through — how they’re trying to break through this male-dominated barrier.”

Austin and Urban also used the backgrounds to reinforce the difference between the hectic state of “the pit” and the more mellow writers’ area. Austin says, “The girls’ area, the pit, sounds a little more shrill. We pitched up the phone’s a little bit, and made it feel more chaotic. The men’s raised area feels less strident. This was subtle, but I think it helps to set the tone that these girls were ‘in the pit’ so to speak.”

The busy backgrounds posed their own challenge too. When the characters are quiet, the room still had to feel frenetic but it couldn’t swallow up their lines. “That was a delicate balance. You have characters who are talking low and you have this energy that you try to create on the set. That’s always a dance you have to figure out,” says Austin. “The whole anarchy of the newsroom was key to the story. It creates a good contrast for some of the other scenes where the characters’ private lives were explored.”

Peter Austin

The heartbeat of the newsroom is the teletype machines that fire off stories, which in turn set the newsroom in motion. Austin reports the teletype sound they used was captured from a working teletype machine they actually had on set. “They had an authentic teletype from that period, so we recorded that and augmented it with other sounds. Since that was a key motif in the show, we actually sweetened the teletype with other sounds, like machine guns for example, to give it a boost every now and then when it was a key element in the scene.”

Austin and Urban also built rich backgrounds for the exterior city shots. In the series opener, archival footage of New York City circa 1969 paints the picture of a rumbling city, moved by diesel-powered buses and trains, and hulking cars. That footage cuts to shots of war protestors and police lining the sidewalk. Their discontented shouts break through the city’s continuous din. “We did a lot of texturing with loop group for the protestors,” says Austin. He’s worked on several period projects over years, and has amassed a collection of old vehicle recordings that they used to build the street sounds on Good Girls Revolt. “I’ve collected a ton of NYC sounds over the years. New York in that time definitely has a different sound than it does today. It’s very distinct. We wanted to sell New York of that time.”

Sound Design
Good Girls Revolt is a dialogue-driven show but it did provide Austin with several opportunities to use subjective sound design to pull the audience into a character’s experience. The most fun scene for Austin was in Episode 5 “The Year-Ender” in which several newsroom researchers consume LSD at a party. As the scene progresses, the characters’ perspectives become warped. Austin notes they created an altered state by slowing down and pitching down sections of the loop group using Revoice Pro by Synchro Arts. They also used Avid’s D-Verb to distort and diffuse selected sounds.

Good Girls Revolt“We got subjective by smearing different elements at different times. The regular sound would disappear and the music would dominate for a while and then that would smear out,” describes Austin. They also used breathing sounds to draw in the viewer. “This one character, Diane (Hannah Barefoot), has a bad experience. She’s crawling along the hallway and we hear her breathing while the rest of the sound slurs out in the background. We build up to her freaking out and falling down the stairs.”

Austin and Urban did their design and preliminary sound treatments in Pro Tools 12 and then handed it off to sound effects re-recording mixer Derek Marcil, who polished the final sound. Marcil was joined by dialog/music re-recording mixer David Raines on Stage 1 at Westwind. Together they mixed the series in 5.1 on an Avid ICON D-Control console. “Everyone on the show was very supportive, and we had a lot of creative freedom to do our thing,” concludes Austin.

The sound of fighting in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

By Jennifer Walden

Tom Cruise is one tough dude, and not just on the big screen. Cruise, who seems to be aging very gracefully, famously likes to do his own stunts, much to the dismay of many film studio execs.

Cruise’s most recent tough guy turn is in the sequel to 2014’s Jack Reacher. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which is in theaters now, is based on the protagonist in author Lee Child’s series of novels. Reacher, as viewers quickly find out, is a hands-on type of guy — he’s quite fond of hand-to-hand combat where he can throw a well-directed elbow or headbutt a bad guy square in the face.

Supervising sound editor Mark P. Stoeckinger, based at Formosa Group’s Santa Monica location, has worked on numerous Cruise films, including both Jack Reachers, Mission: Impossible II and III, The Last Samurai and he helped out on Edge of Tomorrow. Stoeckinger has a ton of respect for Cruise, “He’s my idol. Being about the same age, I’d love to be as active and in shape as he is. He’s a very amazing guy because he is such a hard worker.”

The audio post crew on ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.’ Mark Stoeckinger is on the right.

Because he does his own stunts, and thanks to the physicality of Jack Reacher’s fighting style, sometimes Cruise gets a bruise or two. “I know he goes through a fair amount of pain, because he’s so extreme,” says Stoeckinger, who strives to make the sound of Reacher’s punches feel as painful as they are intended to be. If Reacher punches through a car window to hit a guy in the face, Stoeckinger wants that sound to have power. “Tom wants to communicate the intensity of the impacts to the audience, so they can appreciate it. That’s why it was performed that way in the first place.”

To give the fights that Reacher feel of being visceral and intense, Stoeckinger takes a multi-frequency approach. He layers high-frequency sounds, like swishes and slaps to signify speed, with low-end impacts to add weight. The layers are always an amalgamation of sound effects and Foley.

Stoeckinger prefers pulling hit impacts from sound libraries, or creating impacts specifically with “oomph” in mind. Then he uses Foley to flesh out the fight, filling in the details to connect the separate sound effects elements in a way that makes the fights feel organic.

The Sounds of Fighting
Under Stoeckinger’s supervision, a fight scene’s sound design typically begins with sound effects. This allows his sound team to start immediately, working with what they have at hand. On Jack Reacher: Never Go Back this task was handed over to sound effects editor Luke Gibleon at Formosa Group. Once the sound effects were in place, Stoeckinger booked the One Step Up Foley stage with Foley artist Dan O’Connell. “Having the effects in place gives us a very clear idea of what we want to cover with Foley,” he says. “Between Luke and Dan, the fight soundscapes for the film came to life.”

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackThe culminating fight sequence, where Reacher inevitably prevails over the bad guy, was Stoeckinger’s favorite to design. “The arc of the film built up to this fight scene, so we got to use some bigger sounds. Although, it still needed to seem as real as a Hollywood fight scene can be.”

The sound there features low-frequency embellishments that help the audience to feel the fight and not just hear it. The fight happens during a rowdy street festival in New Orleans in honor of the Day of the Dead. Crowds cavort with noisemakers, bead necklaces rain down, music plays and fireworks explode. “Story wise, the fireworks were meant to mask any gunshots that happened in the scene,” he says. “So it was about melding those two worlds — the fight and the atmosphere of the crowds — to help mask what we were doing. That was fun and challenging.”

The sounds of the street festival scene were all created in post since there was music playing during filming that wasn’t meant to stay on the track. The location sound did provide a sonic map of the actual environment, which Stoeckinger considered when rebuilding the scene. He also relied on field recordings captured by Larry Blake, who lives in New Orleans. “Then we searched for other sounds that were similar because we wanted it to sound fun and festive but not draw the ear too much since it’s really just the background.”

Stoeckinger sweetened the crowd sounds with recordings they captured of various noisemakers, tambourines, bead necklaces and group ADR to add mid-field and near-field detail when desired. “We tried to recreate the scene, but also gave it a Hollywood touch by adding more specifics and details to bring it more to life in various shots, and bring the audience closer to it or further away from it.”

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackStoeckinger also handled design on the film’s other backgrounds. His objective was to keep the locations feeling very real, so he used a combination of practical effects they recorded and field recordings captured by effect editor Luke Gibleon, in addition to library effects. “Luke [Gibleon] has a friend with access to an airport, so Luke did some field recordings of the baggage area and various escalators with people moving around. He also captured recordings of downtown LA at night. All of those field recordings were important in giving the film a natural sound.”

There where numerous locations in this film. One was when Reacher meets up with a teenage girl who he’s protecting from the bad guys. She lives in a sketchy part of town, so to reinforce the sketchiness of the neighborhood, Stoeckinger added nearby train tracks to the ambience and created street walla that had an edgy tone. “It’s nothing that you see outside of course, but sound-wise, in the ambient tracks, we can paint that picture,” he explains.
In another location, Stoeckinger wanted to sell the idea that they were on a dock, so he added in a boat horn. “They liked the boat horn sound so much that they even put a ship in the background,” he says. “So we had little sounds like that to help ground you in the location.”

Tools and the Mix
At Formosa, Stoeckinger has his team work together in one big Avid Pro Tools 12 sessions that included all of their sounds: the Foley, the backgrounds, sound effects, loop group and design elements. “We shared it,” he says. “We had a ‘check out’ system, like, ‘I’m going to check out reel three and work on this sequence.’ I did some pre-mixing, where I went through a scene or reel and decided what’s working or what sections needed a bit more. I made a mark on a timeline and then handed that off to the appropriate person. Then they opened it up and did some work. This master session circulated between two or three of us that way.” Stoeckinger, Gibleon and sound designer Alan Rankin, who handled guns and miscellaneous fight sounds, worked on this section of the film.

All the sound effects, backgrounds, and Foley were mixed on a Pro Tools ICON, and kept virtual from editorial to the final mix. “That was helpful because all the little pieces that make up a sound moment, we were able to adjust them as necessary on the stage,” explains Stoeckinger.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackPremixing and the final mixes were handled at Twentieth Century Fox Studios on the Howard Hawks Stage by re-recording mixers James Bolt (effects) and Andy Nelson (dialogue/music). Their console arrangement was a hybrid, with the effects being mixed on an Avid ICON, and the dialogue and music mixed on an AMS Neve DFC console.

Stoeckinger feels that Nelson did an excellent job of managing the dialogue, particularly for moments where noisy locations may have intruded upon subtle line deliveries. “In emotional scenes, if you have a bunch of noise that happens to be part of the dialogue track, that detracts from the scene. You have to get all of the noise under control from a technical standpoint.” On the creative side, Stoeckinger appreciated Nelson’s handling of Henry Jackman’s score.

On effects, Stoeckinger feels Bolt did an amazing job in working the backgrounds into the Dolby Atmos surround field, like placing PA announcements in the overheads, pulling birds, cars or airplanes into the surrounds. While Stoeckinger notes this is not an overtly Atmos film, “it helped to make the film more spatial, helped with the ambiences and they did a little bit of work with the music too. But, they didn’t go crazy in Atmos.”

Lucky Post helps with the funny for McDonald’s McPick 2 spots

Lucky Post editor Travis Aitken and sound designer Scottie Richardson were part of the new campaign for McDonald’s, via agency Moroch, that reminds us that there are many things you cannot choose, but you can “McPick 2.”

The campaign — shot by production house Poster with directors Plástico and Sebastian Caporelli — highlights humor in the subtleties of life. Parents features a not-so-cool, but well-meaning, dad and his teenage son talking about texts and “selfies” while enjoying McPick 2 meal from McDonald’s. His son explains the picture he is showing him isn’t a selfie, but his father defends, saying, “Yeah, it is. I took it myself.”

Passengers features a little guy sandwiched between two big, muscular guys in a three-seater row on an airplane. The only thing that makes him feel better is that he chose to bring a McPick 2 meal with him.

“Performance comedy, like these spots, is at its best when you’re seeing people interacting in frame,” says editor Aitken, who cut using Adobe Premiere. “You don’t want to manipulate too much in the edit — it is finding the best performances and allowing them to play out. In that sense, editing with dialogue comedy is punctuation. It’s vastly different than other genres — beauty, for example, where you are editing potentially unrelated images and music to create the story. Here, the story is in front of you.”

According to sound designer Richardson, “My job was to make sure dialogue was clear and create ambient noise that provided atmosphere but didn’t overwhelm the scenes. I used Avid Pro Tools with Soundminer and Sony Oxford noise reduction to provide balance and let the performances shine.”

The executive producer for Dallas-based Lucky Post was Jessica Berry. MPC’s Ricky Gausis provided the color grade.

SuperExploder’s Jody Nazzaro creates sounds of love for Popeyes, Comedy Central

Sound designer/mixer Jody Nazzaro from New York audio house SuperExploder teamed up with Comedy Central to help tell the story of a boy who needs to be more “Southern Fair” if he wants to land the girl of his dreams in a new :60 parody movie trailer Southern Crossed Lovers for Popeyes.

Poor Chester!

In the faux trailer, a young couple meets and falls in love at a country fair, but the girl’s parents disapprove, saying he’s “not Fair enough” for her. They are pushing her toward Chester, the red suspenders-wearing corn dog dipper. In the end, our love-struck hero shows up in a traditional southern suit holding a box of Popeyes Southern Fair tenders and Cajun fries, quickly winning the heart of the girl’s father.

The direction that Nazzaro got from the client was what every artist wants to hear: ”We trust your instincts, go for it. Make it feel like a trailer.”

According to Nazarro, “This project aligned with essentially the new standard of sound design and mixing for broadcast networks. The money isn’t there for ISDNs and phone patches anymore, and most talent records at home with the producer on the phone and sends the VO files via file sharing.”

He received the picture reference as a 1920×180 ProRes QuickTime and an AAF from Adobe Premiere. “Clean production dialogue was sent that I conformed as they cut with the camera mix. Once I prepped the session in Pro Tools, I began to clean up the dialog in Izotope RX5 Advanced and build the ambience tracks,” he explains. “I added some Foley, edited the music and enhanced the dramatic music swell a bit with Omnisphere.”

He mixed the spot in stereo and 5.1, in case they needed it for cinema release — which he says is standard workflow for him now — and sent it off for approval. It was approved on his first mix pass.

“It was a lot of fun working on a non-standard project with a twist — making it feel like a real trailer,” says Nazzaro. “With the audio, I felt like less was more. I wanted to let the voiceover and the dialogue carry it into a comedic misdirection.”

VR Audio: Crytek goes to new heights for VR game ‘The Climb’

By Jennifer Walden

Dealing with locomotion, such as walking and especially running, is a challenge for VR content developers — but what hasn’t been a challenge in creating VR content? Climbing, on the other hand, has proved to be a simple, yet interesting, locomotion that independent game developer Crytek found to be sustainable for the duration of a full-length game.

Crytek, known for the Crysis game series, recently released their first VR game title, The Climb, a rock climbing adventure exclusively for the Oculus Rift. Players climb, swing and jump their way up increasingly difficult rock faces modeled after popular climbing destinations in places like Indonesia, the Grand Canyon and The Alps.

Crytek’s director of audio, Simon Pressey, says their game engine, CryEngine, is capable of UltraHD resolutions higher than 8K. They could have taken GPS data of anywhere in the world and turned that into a level on The Climb. “But to make the climbing interesting and compelling, we found that real geography wasn’t the way to go. Still, we liked the idea of representing different areas of the world,” he says. While the locations Crytek designed aren’t perfect geographical imitations, geologically they’re pretty accurate. “The details of how the rocks look up close — the color, the graininess and texture — they are as close to photorealistic as we can get in the Oculus Rift. We are running at a resolution that the Rift can handle. So how detailed it looks depends on the Rift’s capabilities.”

Keep in mind that this is first-generation VR technology. “It’s going to get better,” promises Pressey. “By the third-generation of this, I’m sure we’ll have visuals you can’t tell apart from reality.”

Simon Pressey

Simon Pressey

The Sound Experience
Since the visuals aren’t perfect imitations of reality, the audio is vital for maintaining immersion and supporting the game play. Details in the audio actually help the brain process the visuals faster. Even still, flaws and all, first-gen VR headsets give the player a stronger connection to his/her actions in-game than was previously possible with traditional 2D (flat screen) games. “You can look away from the screen in a traditional game, but you can’t in VR. When you turn around in The Climb, you can see a thousand feet below you. You can see that it’s a long way down, and it feels like a long way down.”

One key feature of the Oculus Rift is the integrated audio — it comes equipped with headphones. For Pressey, that meant knowing the exact sound playback system of the end user, a real advantage from a design and mix standpoint. “We were designing for a known playback variable. We knew that it would be a binaural experience. Early on we started working with the Oculus-provided 3D encoder plug-in for Audiokinetic’s Wwise, which Oculus includes with their audio SDK. That plug-in provides HRTF binaural encoding, adding the z-axis that you don’t normally experience even with surround sound,” says Pressey.

He explains that the sounds start as mono source-points, positioned in a 3D space using middleware like Wwise. Then, using the Oculus audio SDK via the middleware, those audio signals are being downmixed to binaural stereo, which gets HRTF (head related transfer function) processing, adding a spatialized effect to the sounds. So even though the player is listening through two speakers, he/she perceives sounds as coming from the left, the right, in front, behind, above and below.

Since most VR is experienced with headphones, Pressey feels there is an opportunity to improve the binaural presentation of the audio [i.e., better headphones or in-ear monitors], and to improve 3D positional audio with personalized HRTFs and Ambisonics. “While the visuals are still very apparently a representation of reality, the audio is perceived as realistic, even if it is a totally manufactured reality. The headphone environment is very intimate and allows greater use of dynamic range, so subtle mixes and more realistic recordings and rendering are sort of mandatory.”

Realistic Sound
Pressey leads the Crytek audio team, and together they collaborated on The Climb’s audio design, which includes many different close-up hand movements and grabs that signify the quality of the player’s grip. There are sweaty, wet sounding hand grabs. There are drier, firmer hand grabs for when a player’s hands are freshly chalked. There are rock crumbles for when holds crumble away.

At times a player needs to wipe dirt away from a hold, or brush aside vegetation. These are very subtle details that in most games wouldn’t be sounded, says Pressey. “But in VR, we are going into very subtle detail. Like, when you rub your hands over plants searching for grips, we are following your movement speed to control how much sound it makes as you ruffle the leaves.” It’s that level of detail that makes the immersion work. Even though in real life a sound so small would probably be masked by other environmental sounds, in the intimacy of VR, those sounds engage the player in the action of climbing.

Crytek_TheClimb_Asia_Screenshot4

Breathing and heartbeat elements also pull a player into the game experience. After moving through several holds, a player’s hands get sweaty, and the breathing sound becomes more labored. If the hold crumbles or if a player is losing his/her grip, the audio design employs a heartbeat sound. “It is not like your usual game situation where you hear a heartbeat if you have low health. In The Climb you actually think, “I’ve got to jump!” Your heart is racing, and after you make the jump and chalk your hands, then your heartbeat and your breathing slow down, and you physically relax,” he says.

Crytek’s aim was to make The Climb believable, to have realistic qualities, dynamic environments and a focused sound to mimic the intensity of focus felt when concentrating on important life or death decisions. They wanted the environment sounds to change, such as the wind changing as a player moves around a corner. But, they didn’t want to intentionally draw the player’s attention away from climbing.

For example, there’s a waterfall near one of the climbs, and the sound for it plays subtly in the background. If the player turns to look at it, then the waterfall sound fades up. They are able to focus the player’s attention by attenuating non-immediate sounds. “You don’t want to hear that waterfall as the focus of your attention and so we steer the sound. But, if that is what you’re focusing on, then we want to be more obvious,” explains Pressey.

The Crytek audio team

The Crytek audio team

The Crytek audio team records, designs and edits sounds in Steinberg’s Nuendo 7, which works directly with Audiokinetic’s Wwise middleware that connects directly to the CryEngine. The audio team, which has been working this way for the past two years, feels the workflow is very iterative, with the audio flowing easily in that pipeline from Nuendo 7 to Wwise to CryEngine and back again. They are often able to verify the audio in-game without needing to request code support. If a sound isn’t working in-game, it can be tweaked in Wwise or completely reworked in Nuendo. All aspects of the pipeline are version controlled and built for sharing work across the audio team.

“It’s a really tight workflow and we can do things quickly. In the game world, speed is everything,” says Pressey. “The faster you get your game to market the sooner you recoup on your very heavy R&D.”

Two factors that propelled this workflow are the collaboration between Crytek, Audiokinetic and Steinberg in designing software tailored to the specific needs of game audio pros, and Crytek’s overhaul of CryEngine where they removed the integrated FMOD-based audio engine in favor of using an external audio engine. Running the audio engine separate from the game engine not only improves the game engine efficiency, it also allows updates to the audio engine as needed without fear of breaking the game engine.

Within hours of Wwise releasing an update, for example, Pressey says their system can be up to date. “Previously, it could’ve been a long and complicated process to incorporate the latest updates. There was always the risk of crashing the whole system by making a change because the code was so mixed up with the rest of the system. By separating them we can always be running the latest versions of things without risking anything.”

Having that adaptability is essential for VR content creation since the industry is changing all the time. For example, Sony’s PS4 VR headset release is slated for this fall, so they’re releasing a new SDK about every week or so, according to Pressey.

CryEngine is freely available for anyone to use. VR games developed with CryEngine will work for any VR platform. CryEngine is also audio middleware agnostic, meaning it can talk to any audio middleware, be it Wwise, FMOD or proprietary middleware. Users can choose a workflow that best suits the needs of their game.

Pressey finds creating for VR to be an intensely experimental process, for every discipline involved in game development. While most members on the Crytek team have solved problems relating to a new IP or a new console, Pressey says, “We were not prepared for this amount of new. We were all used to knowing what we were doing, and now we are experimenting with no net to fall back on. The experience is surprisingly different; the interaction using your eye and head tracking is much more physical. It is more intimate. There is an undeniable and inescapable immersion, in that you can’t look away as the game world is all around you. You can’t switch off your ears.” The first time Pressey put on a VR headset, he knew there was no going back. “Before that, I had no real idea. It is the difference between reading about a country and visiting it.”

Upcoming Release
Crytek will be presenting a new VR release titled Robinson — The Journey at E3 this month, and Pressey gives us a few hints as to what the game experience might be like. He says that VR offers new ways of storytelling, such as nonlinear storytelling. “Crytek and the CryEngine team have developed a radically new Dynamic Response System to allow the game to be intelligent in what dialog gets presented to the player at what time. Aspects of a story can be sewn together and presented based on the player’s approach to the game. This technology takes the idea of RPG-like branching storylines to a new level, and allows narrative progression in what I hope will be new and exciting territory for VR.”

The Climb uses this Dynamic Response System in a limited capacity during the tutorial where the instructor is responsive to the player’s actions. “Previously, to be that responsive, a narrative designer or level designer would have to write pages of logic to do what our new system does very simply,” concludes Pressey.

Jennifer Walden is an audio engineer and writer based in New Jersey.

Larson Studios pulls off an audio post slam dunk for FX’s ‘Baskets’

By Jennifer Walden

Turnarounds for TV series are notoriously fast, but imagine a three-day sound post schedule for a single-camera half-hour episodic series? Does your head hurt yet? Thankfully, Larson Studios in Los Angeles has its workflow on FX’s Baskets down to a science. In the show, Zach Galifianakis stars as Chip Baskets, who works as a California rodeo clown after failing out of a prestigious French clown school.

So how do you crunch a week and a half’s worth of work into three days without sacrificing quality or creativity? Larson’s VP, Rich Ellis, admits they had to create a very aggressive workflow, which was made easier thanks to their experience working with Baskets post supervisor Kaitlin Menear on a few other shows.

Ellis says having a supervising sound editor — Cary Stacy — was key in setting up the workflow. “There are others competing for space in this market of single-camera half-hours, and they treat post sound differently — they don’t necessarily bring a sound supervisor to it. The mixer might be cutting and mixing and wrangling all of the other elements, but we felt that it was important to continue to maintain that traditional sound supervisor role because it actually helps the process to be more efficient when it comes to the stage.”

John Chamberlin and Cary Stacy

John Chamberlin and Cary Stacy

This allows re-recording mixer John Chamberlin to stay focused on the mix while sound supervisor Stacy handles any requests that pop-up on stage, such as alternate lines or options for door creaks. “I think director Jonathan Krisel, gave Cary at least seven honorary Emmy awards for door creaks over the course of our mix time,” jokes Menear. “Cary can pull up a sound effect so quickly, and it is always exactly perfect.”

Every second counts when there are only seven hours to mix an episode from top to bottom before post producer Menear, director Krisel and the episode’s picture editor join the stage for the two-hour final fixes and mix session. Having complete confidence in Stacy’s alternate selections, Chamberlin says he puts them into the session, grabs the fader and just lets it roll. “I know that Cary is going to nail it and I go with it.”

Even before the episode gets to the stage, Chamberlin knows that Stacy won’t overload the session with unnecessary elements, which are time consuming. Even still, Chamberlin says the mix is challenging in that it’s a lot for one person to do. “Although there is care taken to not overload what is put on my plate when I sit down to mix, there are still 8 to 10 tracks of Foley, 24 or more tracks of backgrounds and, depending on the show, the mono and stereo sound effects can be 20 tracks. Dialogue is around 10 and music can be another 10 or 12, plus futz stuff, so it’s a lot. You have to have a workflow that’s efficient and you have to feel confident about what you’re doing. It’s about making decisions quickly.”

Chamberlin mixed Baskets in 5.1 — using a Pro Tools 11 system with an Avid ICON D-Command — on Stage 4 at Larson Studios, where he’s mixed many other shows, such as Portlandia, Documentary Now, Man Seeking Woman, Dice, the upcoming Netflix series Easy, Comedy Bang Bang, Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail and Kroll Show. “I’m so used to how Stage 4 sounds that I know when the mix is in a good place.”

Another factor of the three-day turn-around is choosing to forgo loop group and minimizing ADR to only when it’s absolutely necessary. The post sound team relied on location sound mixer Russell White to capture all the lines as clearly as possible on set, which was a bit of a challenge with the non-principal characters.

Baskets

Tricky On-Set Audio
According to Menear, director Krisel loves to cast non-actors in the majority of the parts. “In Baskets, outside of our three main roles, the other people are kind of random folk that Jonathan has collected throughout his different directing experiences,” she says. While that adds a nice flavor creatively, the inexperienced cast members tend to step on each other’s lines, or not project properly — problems you typically won’t have with experienced actors.

For example, Louie Anderson plays Chip’s mom Christine. “Louie has an amazing voice and it’s really full and resonant,” explains Chamberlin. “There was never a problem with Louie or the pro actors on the show. The principals were very well represented sonically, but the show has a lot of local extras, and that poses a challenge in the recording of them. Whether they were not talking loud enough or there was too much talking.”

A good example is the Easter brunch scene in Episode 104. Chip, his mother and grandmother encounter Martha (Chip’s insurance agent/pseudo-friend played by Martha Kelly) and her parents having brunch in the casino. They decide to join their tables together. “There were so many characters talking at the same time, and a lot of the side characters were just having their own conversations while we were trying to pay attention to the main characters,” says Stacy. “I had to duck those side conversations as much as possible when necessary. There was a lot of that finagling going on.”

Stacy used iZotope RX 5 features like Decrackle and Denoise to clean up the tracks, as well as the Spectral Repair feature for fixing small noises.

Multiple Locations
Another challenge for sound mixer White was that he had to quickly shoot in numerous locations for any given episode. That Easter brunch episode alone had at least eight different locations, including the casino floor, the casino’s buffet, inside and outside of a church, inside the car, and inside and outside of Christine’s house. “Russell mentioned how he used two rigs for recording because he would always have to just get up and go. He would have someone else collect all of the gear from one location while he went off to a new location,” explains Chamberlin. “They didn’t skimp on locations. When they wanted to go to a place they would go. They went to Paris. They went to a rodeo. So that has challenges for the whole team — you have to get out there and record it and capture it. Russell did a pretty fantastic job considering where he was pushed and pulled at any moment of the day or night.”

Sound Effects
White’s tracks also provided a wealth of production effects, which were a main staple of the sound design. The whole basis for the show, for picture and sound, was to have really funny, slapstick things happen, but have them play really straight. “We were cutting the show to feel as real and as normal as possible, regardless of what was actually happening,” says Menear. “Like when Chip was walking across a room full of clown toys and there were all of these strange noises, or he was falling down, or doing amazing gags. We played it as if that could happen in the real world.”

Stacy worked with sound effects editor TC Spriggs to cut in effects that supported the production effects, never sounding too slapstick or over the top, even if the action was. “There is an episode where Chip knocks over a table full of champagne glasses and trips and falls. He gets back up only to start dancing, breaking even more glasses,” describes Chamberlin.

That scene was a combination of effects and Foley provided by Larson’s Foley team of Adam De Coster (artist) and Tom Kilzer (recordist). “Foley sync had to be perfect or it fell apart. Foley and production effects had to be joined seamlessly,” notes Chamberlin. “The Foley is impeccably performed and is really used to bring the show to life.”

Spriggs also designed the numerous backgrounds. Whether it was the streets of Paris, the rodeo arena or the doldrums of Bakersfield, all the locations needed to sound realistic and simple yet distinct. On the mix side, Chamberlin used processing on the dialogue to help sell the different environments – basic interiors and exteriors, the rodeo arena and backstage dressing room, Paris nightclubs, Bakersfield dive bars, an outdoor rave concert, a volleyball tournament, hospital rooms and dream-like sequences and a flashback.

“I spent more time on the dialogue than any other element. Each place had to have its own appropriate sounding environments, typically built with reverbs and delays. This was no simple show,” says Chamberlin. For reverbs, Chamberlin used Avid’s ReVibe and Reverb One, and for futzing, he likes McDSP’s FutzBox and Audio Ease’s Speakerphone plug-ins.

One of Chamberlin’s favorite scenes to mix was Chip’s performance at the rodeo, where he does his last act as his French clown alter ego Renoir. Chip walks into the announcer booth with a gramophone and asks for a special song to be played. Chamberlin processed the music to account for the variable pitch of the gramophone, and also processed the track to sound like it was coming over the PA system. In the center of the ring you can hear the crowds and the announcer, and off-screen a bull snorts and grinds it hooves into the dirt before rushing at Chip.

Another great sequence happens in the Easter brunch episode where we see Chip walking around the casino listening to a “Learn French” lesson through ear buds while smoking a broken cigarette and dreaming of being Renoir the clown on the streets of Paris. This scene summarizes Chip’s sad clown situation in life. It’s thoughtful, and charming and lonely.

“We experimented with elaborate sound design for the voice of the narrator, however, we landed on keeping things relatively simple with just an iPhone futz,” says Stacy. “I feel this worked out for the best, as nothing in this show was over done. We brought in some very light backgrounds for Paris and tried to keep the transitions as smooth as possible. We actually had a very large build for the casino effects, but played them very subtly.”

Adds Chamberlin, “We really wanted to enhance the inner workings of Chip and to focus in on him there. It takes a while in the show to get to the point where you understand Chip, but I think that is great. A lot of that has to do with the great writing and acting, but our support on the sound side, in particular on that Easter episode, was not to reinvent the wheel. Picture editors Micah Gardner and Michael Giambra often developed ideas for sound, and those had a great influence on the final track. We took what they did in picture editorial and just made it more polished.”

The post sound process on Baskets may be down and dirty, but the final product is amazing, says Menear. “I think our Larson Studios team on the show is awesome!”

Behind the Title: Slick Sounds’ David Van Slyke

NAME: David F. Van Slyke

COMPANY: Slick Sounds Media Partners

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Slick Sounds is a boutique sound design company that handles audio post — from dailies to the delivery of the DCP (Digital Cinema Package). We creatively apply the craft, especially the art of telling stories with sound. We partner with directors, picture editors, color timers, composers and mix stages.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Lead Sound Designer and Re-Recording Mixer

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
That I am also sales manager and CTO. I also attend conferences and regularly go to talks about how to get a jump on the new workflows. I’m constantly letting vendors know they can collaborate with us to create a cost-competitive product with professional standards that will pass a third-party QC.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Each project requires a unique sonic approach that I enjoy figuring out. The story speaks to me, and I interpret which aspect of creative sound is needed. I also do a lot of field recording. I love finding new source sounds.

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR SOUND DESIGNING?
It’s like a chef who is trying to come up with a new signature dish. You open a lot of items, chop things up, add some secret sauce, make a mess, and then you see what has the best flavors — and you trash the stuff that doesn’t taste good.

It has to be right. To me, and my clients, “right” is the feeling you get when you watch the final mix of a section or the whole piece. It creates the proper response in the viewer.

HOW DO YOU BEGIN?
I always start by getting in the zone. My room is dark and the dual 23-inch monitors are right in front of me; I lose myself in the fact that while I may not know exactly what to do at the start,  I am confident that I will figure it out. It’s fun to play in the unknown. I tap into creativity and come up with things that I later ask myself, “Where did that come from?”

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR WORKFLOW?
I watch the picture several times and try to really get into the filmmaker’s head. Sometimes that means looking at it frame by frame. I can figure out what sounds I create quickly and what story points I need to obsess about. The sound design must always sell what the picture is telling us. I obsess about big sound moments because they need to make a big impact on the viewer.

DOES YOUR PROCESS CHANGE DEPENDING ON THE TYPE OF PROJECT?
Yes to a degree. This is where good training in the craft of sound work comes in. There are nuts and bolts things that just have to be banged out, and then there are signature sounds that take the most creative energy. I often do the creative part first knowing the basic stuff will happen quickly.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
“I’d open a haberdashery” — that’s my favorite line from Spinal Tap.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
It took a little while since I enjoyed being a professional musician for a couple of years. I realized as a junior at Berklee College of Music that I needed a career that had more steady income than playing gigs or recording bands. My love of recording led me to sound design and into the digital revolution that has changed the record and the post industry.

    Çƒ˙Immortality Parts I and IIǃ˘

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I just finished mixing a feature documentary called Chris Brown — This is Me; the CSI series finale, which was a two-hour television movie called “Immortality” (pictured above); the pilot for Lucifer, a new Jerry Bruckheimer series coming out soon; and I am mixing 20-minute mini-docs for League of Legends.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
All of them… well, most of them. We give the same creative intensity to all our projects. It’s not done until it’s right! Some recent projects though are Dragon Nest: Warrior’s Dawn for Universal; Tyrus, which won the audience award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival; and Home — a Bruckheimer pilot that I’m currently sound designing and co-supervising — which will hopefully get picked up for next year.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Avid Pro Tools|HD, Serato Pitch ‘n’ Time Pro, iZotope RX5, Soundtoys and SoundMiner.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m not so good at social media. This is a referral business and very few movies are sound designed because of a social media presence. Perhaps the micro budgets get their sound designer from social media, however, if they have any budget at all they want known talent on their project at a known professional facility with amenities.

So, I do old-fashioned social media — I go to lunch with clients I like to work with.

THIS IS AN INDUSTRY WITH TIGHT DEADLINES. WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
First, I say, “That’s an impossible deadline, how can the timeframe keep getting smaller and smaller?” Then I figure out how to do it. Which means sometimes having to say no to jobs because they don’t give me enough time to do it “right.”

I live and breath this gig, although it doesn’t always feel like work — it’s just fun!

Sound Design for ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2’

Warner Bros. Sound re-teams with director Francis Lawrence for the final chapter

By Jennifer Walden

It’s the final installment of The Hunger Games, and all the cards are on the table. Katniss Everdeen encourages all the districts to ban together and turn against the Capitol, but President Snow is ready for their attack.

In true Hunger Games-style, he decides to broadcast the invasion and has rigged the city to be a maze full of traps, called pods, which unleash deadly terrors on the rebel attackers. The pods trigger things like flamethrowers, a giant wave of toxic oil, a horde of subhuman creatures called “mutts,” heat-lasers and massive machine guns, all of which are brought to life on-screen thanks to the work of the visual effects team led by VFX supervisor Charles Gibson.

Warner Bros. Sound supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Jeremy Peirson, who began working with director Francis Lawrence on The Hunger Games franchise during Catching Fire, knew what to expect in terms of VFX. He and Lawrence developed a workflow where Peirson was involved very early on, with a studio space set up in the cutting room.

Picture and Sound Working Together
Without much in the way of VFX early in the post process, Lawrence relied on Peirson’s sound design to help sell the idea of what was happening on-screen. It’s like a rough pencil sketch of how the scene might sound. As the visuals start coming in, Peirson redesigned, refineed and recorded more elements to better fit the scene. “As we move through the process, sometimes the ideas change,” he explains. “Unfortunately, sound is usually the last step before we finish the film. The visual effects were coming in pretty late in the game and sometimes we got surprised, and they’re completely different. All the work we did in trying to prepare ourselves for the final version changed. You just have to roll with it basically.”

Despite having to rework a scene four or five times, there were advantages to this workflow. One was having constant input from director Lawrence. He was able to hear the sound take shape from a very rough point, and guide Peirson’s design. “Francis popped in a couple times a day to listen to what I was doing. He’d say, ‘Yes this is the right direction’ or ‘No, I was thinking more purple or more bold.’ It allowed for this unique situation where we could fine-tune how the movie is going to sound starting very early in the process,” he says.

Jeremy Peirson

Jeremy Peirson

Another advantage to being embedded with the picture department is that sound is able to inform how the picture is cut. “Sometimes they will give me a scene and ask me to quickly create the sound for it so they can re-cut the scene to make it better. That’s always a fun collaboration, when the picture department and sound department can work so closely together,” Peirson states.

The Gun Pod
One of Peirson’s most challenging “pods” to design sound for was the gun pod, where two .50 caliber machine guns were blasting away a concrete archway, causing it to collapse. Peirson needed to build detail and clarity into a scene that had bullets and rubble spraying everywhere. To do this, he spent hours recording specific, individual impacts. “I bought a bunch of brick and tile of various different kinds, and I took a 12-pound shot-put, raised it up about 10 feet and dropped it onto these things to get individual impacts, as well as clatter and debris.”

In the edit, he finessed the rhythm of the impacts, spacing them out so there was a distinguishable variety of sounds and it wasn’t just a wash. “It’s not a single note of sound,” he says. “It was a wide palette of impacts. Each individual impact was hand placed throughout the whole sequence. I tried to differentiate the sound of the wall from the pavement and the grass, the stairs and the metal pole which happened to be in that particular area.”

For Mockingjay  —Part 1, Peirson, sound recordist John Fasal, and sound designer Bryan O. Watkins, did a bullet-by and bullet-ricochet recording session. All of that material came into play for Mockingjay — Part 2, in addition to new material, such as the gun sounds captured by Peirson, Fasal, Watkins and sound designer Mitch Osias.

For one of their gun recording sessions, Peirson notes they headed to an industrial park where they were able to capture the gun sounds in a mock-urban environment that would match the acoustics of the city streets on-screen. “We wanted to know how the guns would echo off the buildings and down the alleys — how that would sound from various distances.”

They took it one step further by recording gun sounds inside a warehouse that simulated the underground subway environment in the film. “We were able to record them in different ways, putting the guns in certain spots in the warehouse so we could get a tighter, closer feel that sounded very different from an outside perspective,” he says.

With four recordists, they were able to capture 26 individual sets of recordings for each gunshot — some mono, some stereo and some quad recordings. “We used a large range of mics, everything from Neumann to Schoeps to Sennheiser to AKG. You name it and we probably used it.”

      

When building a gun sound in the edit, Peirson started by selecting a close-up gunshot, then he added an acoustic flavor to that gun. “We didn’t always pick the same type of gun for the acoustic response,” he explains. “It was a lot of hand-cutting to make sure everything was in sync since certain guns fire at different rates; some fire faster and some are slower, but they had to be in the same range as the initial close-up sound.”

Another challenge was designing the mutts — the subhuman lizard-like creatures that inhabit the underground area. Peirson says, “Anytime you have creatures — and we had a lot of creatures — you can design the perfect sound for each one, but how do you sell the difference between all of these creatures when you’re surrounded by 30 or 40 of them?”

Even though there may have been a large group of mutts, within that the characters were only fighting a few of them at any given time. They needed to sound the same, yet different. Peirson’s design also had to factor in how the sound would work against the music, and it had to evolve with the VFX as well.

As the re-recording mixer on the effects, Peirson was able to mix a sound as he was designing it. If something wasn’t working, he could get rid of it right away. “I didn’t need to carry it around and then pick and choose later. By the time we got to the stage, we had the opportunity to refine the whole sonic palette so we only had what we wanted.”

He found that moving to the larger space of the dub stage, and hearing how the sound design plays with the music, generated new ideas for sound. “We added a bit of a different flavor to help the sound cut through, or we add a little bit of detail that was getting lost in the music.”

Since composer James Newton Howard scored all four films in The Hunger Games series, Peirson had a wealth of demos and themes to reference when designing the sound. They were a good indication of what frequency range he could work within and still have the effects cut through the music. “We had an idea of how it would sound, but when you get that fully recorded score, it’s a totally different ballgame in terms of scope. It kicks that demo up a huge notch.”

SS_D142-42501.dng

The Mix
Peirson and re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay — who worked on dialogue and music — crafted the final mix first in Dolby Atmos on Warner Bros. Stage 6 in Burbank, using three Avid ICONs. “This was a completely in-the-box virtual mix,” says Peirson. “We had sound effects on one Pro Tools system, dialogue on another and music on a third system. My sound effects session, which had close to 730 tracks, was a completely virtual mix, meaning there were no physically recorded pre-dubs.”

Using the final Atmos mix as their guide, Peirson and Lievsay then mixed the film in Barco Auro-3D, DTS:X, IMAX and IMAX 12.0, plus 7.1, 5.1 and two-track. “That’s every single format that I know of right now for film,” he concludes. “It was an interesting exercise in seeing the difference between all those formats.”

With Oscar season getting into full swing, we wouldn’t be surprised if the sound team on Mockingjay — Part 2 gets a nod.