Tag Archives: sound design

Audio post vet Rex Recker joins Digital Arts in NYC

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

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

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

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

Creating sounds of science for Bill Nye: Science Guy

By Jennifer Walden

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

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

Peter Albrechtsen – Credit: Povl Thomsen

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

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

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

Foley artist Heikki Kossi. Credit: Clas-Olav Slotte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Creating a sonic world for The Zookeeper’s Wife

By Jennifer Walden

Warsaw, Poland, 1939. The end of summer brings the beginning of war as 140 German planes, Junkers Ju-87 Stukas, dive-bomb the city. At the Warsaw Zoo, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina Żabiński (Jessica Chastain) watch as their peaceful sanctuary crumbles: their zoo, their home and their lives are invaded by the Nazis. Powerless to fight back openly, the zookeeper and his wife join the Polish resistance. They transform the zoo from an animal sanctuary into a place of sanctuary for the people they rescue from the Warsaw Ghetto.

L-R: Anna Behlmer, Terry_Porter and Becky Sullivan.

Director Niki Caro’s film The Zookeeper’s Wife — based on Antonina Żabińska’s true account written by Diane Ackerman — presents a tale of horror and humanity. It’s a study of contrasts, and the soundtrack matches that, never losing the thread of emotion among the jarring sounds of bombs and planes.

Supervising sound editor Becky Sullivan, at the Technicolor at Paramount sound facility in Los Angeles, worked closely with re-recording mixers Anna Behlmer and Terry Porter to create immersive soundscapes of war and love. “You have this contrast between a love story of the zookeeper and his wife and their love for their own people and this horrific war that is happening outside,” explains Porter. “It was a real challenge in the mix to keep the war alive and frightening and then settle down into this love story of a couple who want to save the people in the ghettos. You have to play the contrast between the fear of war and the love of the people.”

According to Behlmer, the film’s aerial assault on Warsaw was entirely fabricated in post sound. “We never see those planes, but we hear those planes. We created the environment of this war sonically. There are no battle sequence visual effects in the movie.”

“You are listening to the German army overtake the city even though you don’t really see it happening,” adds Sullivan. “The feeling of fear for the zookeeper and his wife, and those they’re trying to protect, is heightened just by the sound that we are adding.”

Sullivan, who earned an Oscar nom for sound editing director Angelina Jolie’s WWII film Unbroken, had captured recordings of actual German Stukas and B24 bomber planes, as well as 70mm and 50mm guns. She found library recordings of the Stuka’s signature Jericho siren. “It’s a siren that Germans put on these planes so that when they dive-bombed, the siren would go off and add to the terror of those below,” explains Sullivan. Pulling from her own collection of WWII plane recordings, and using library effects, she was able to design a convincing off-screen war.

One example of how Caro used sound and clever camera work to effectively create an unseen war was during the bombing of the train station. Behlmer explains that the train station is packed with people crying and sobbing. There’s an abundance of activity as they hustle to get on the arriving trains. The silhouette of a plane darkens the station. Everyone there is looking up. Then there’s a massive explosion. “These actors are amazing because there is fear on their faces and they lurch or fall over as if some huge concussive bomb has gone off just outside the building. The people’s reactions are how we spotted explosions and how we knew where the sound should be coming from because this is all happening offstage. Those were our cues, what we were mixing to.”

“Kudos to Niki for the way she shot it, and the way she coordinated these crowd reactions,” adds Porter. “Once we got the soundscape in there, you really believe what is happening on-screen.”

The film was mixed in 5.1 surround on Stage 2 at Technicolor Paramount lot. Behlmer (who mixed effects/Foley/backgrounds) used the Lexicon 960 reverb during the train station scene to put the plane sounds into that space. Using the LFE channel, she gave the explosions an appropriate impact — punchy, but not overly rumbly. “We have a lot of music as well, so I tried really hard to keep the sound tight, to be as accurate as possible with that,” she says.

ADR
Another feature of the train station’s soundscape is the amassed crowd. Since the scene wasn’t filmed in Poland, the crowd’s verbalizations weren’t in Polish. Caro wanted the sound to feel authentic to the time and place, so Sullivan recorded group ADR in both Polish and German to use throughout the film. For the train station scene, Sullivan built a base of ambient crowd sounds and layered in the Polish loop group recordings for specificity. She was also able to use non-verbal elements from the production tracks, such as gasps and groans.

Additionally, the group ADR played a big part in the scenes at the zookeeper’s house. The Nazis have taken over the zoo and are using it for their own purposes. Each day their trucks arrive early in the morning. German soldiers shout to one another. Sullivan had the German ADR group perform with a lot of authority in their voices, to add to the feeling of fear. During the mix, Porter (who handled the dialogue and music) fit the clean ADR into the scenes. “When we’re outside, the German group ADR plays upfront, as though it’s really their recorded voices,” he explains. “Then it cuts to the house, and there is a secondary perspective where we use a bit of processing to create a sense of distance and delay. Then when it cuts to downstairs in the basement, it’s a totally different perspective on the voices, which sounds more muffled and delayed and slightly reverberant.”

One challenge of the mix and design was to make sure the audience knew the location of a sound by the texture of it. For example, the off-stage German group ADR used to create a commotion outside each morning had a distinct sonic treatment. Porter used EQ on the Euphonix System 5 console, and reverb and delay processing via Avid’s ReVibe and Digidesign’s TL Space plug-ins to give the sounds an appropriate quality. He used panning to articulate a sound’s position off-screen. “If we are in the basement, and the music and dialogue is happening above, I gave the sounds a certain texture. I could sweep sounds around in the theater so that the audience was positive of the sound’s location. They knew where the sound is coming from. Everything we did helped the picture show location.”

Porter’s treatment also applied to diegetic music. In the film, the zookeeper’s wife Antonina would play the piano as a cue to those below that it was safe to come upstairs, or as a warning to make no sound at all. “When we’re below, the piano sounds like it’s coming through the floor, but when we cut to the piano it had to be live.”

Sound Design
On the design side, Sullivan helped to establish the basement location by adding specific floor creaks, footsteps on woods, door slams and other sounds to tell the story of what’s happening overhead. She layered her effects with Foley provided by artist Geordy Sincavage at Sinc Productions in Los Angeles. “We gave the lead German commander Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl) a specific heavy boot on wood floor sound. His authority is present in his heavy footsteps. During one scene he bursts in, and he’s angry. You can feel it in every footstep he takes. He’s throwing doors open and we have a little sound of a glass falling off of the shelf. These little tiny touches put you in the scene,” says Sullivan.

While the film often feels realistic, there were stylized, emotional moments. Picture editor David Coulson and director Caro juxtapose images of horror and humanity in a sequence that shows the Warsaw Ghetto burning while those lodged at the zookeeper’s house hold a Seder. Edits between the two locations are laced together with sounds of the Seder chanting and singing. “The editing sounds silky smooth. When we transition out of the chanting on-camera, then that goes across the cut with reverb and dissolves into the effects of the ghetto burning. It sounds continuous and flowing,” says Porter. The result is hypnotic, agrees Behlmer and Sullivan.

The film isn’t always full of tension and destruction. There is beauty too. In the film’s opening, the audience meets the animals in the Warsaw Zoo, and has time to form an attachment. Caro filmed real animals, and there’s a bond between them and actress Chastain. Sullivan reveals that while they did capture a few animal sounds in production, she pulled many of the animal sounds from her own vast collection of recordings. She chose sounds that had personality, but weren’t cartoony. She also recorded a baby camel, sea lions and several elephants at an elephant sanctuary in northern California.

In the film, a female elephant is having trouble giving birth. The male elephant is close by, trumpeting with emotion. Sullivan says, “The birth of the baby elephant was very tricky to get correct sonically. It was challenging for sound effects. I recorded a baby sea lion in San Francisco that had a cough and it wasn’t feeling well the day we recorded. That sick sea lion sound worked out well for the baby elephant, who is struggling to breathe after it’s born.”

From the effects and Foley to the music and dialogue, Porter feels that nothing in the film sounds heavy-handed. The sounds aren’t competing for space. There are moments of near silence. “You don’t feel the hand of the filmmaker. Everything is extremely specific. Anna and I worked very closely together to define a scene as a music moment — featuring the beautiful storytelling of Harry Gregson-Williams’ score, or a sound effects moment, or a blend between the two. There is no clutter in the soundtrack and I’m very proud of that.”


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

Music house Wolf at the Door opens in Venice

Wolf at the Door has opened in Venice, California, providing original music, music supervision and sound design for the ad industry and, occasionally, films. Founders Alex Kemp and Jimmy Haun have been making music for some time: Kemp was composer at Chicago-based Catfish Music and Spank, and was the former creative director of Hum in Santa Monica. Haun spent over 10 years as the senior composer at Elias, in addition to being a session musician.

Between the two of them they’ve been signed to four major labels, written music for 11 Super Bowl spots, and have composed music for top agencies, including W+K, Goodby, Chiat Day, Team One and Arnold, working with directors like David Fincher, Lance Acord, Stacy Wall and Gore Verbinski.

In addition to making music, Kemp linked up with his longtime friend Scott Brown, a former creative director at agencies including Chiat Day, 72and Sunny and Deutsch, to start a surf shop and brand featuring hand-crafted surf boards — Lone Wolfs Objets d’Surf.

With the Wolf at the Door recording studio and production office existing directly behind the Lone Wolfs retail store, Kemp and his partners bounce between different creative projects daily: writing music for spots, designing handmade Lone Wolfs surfboards, recording bands in the studio, laying out their own magazine, or producing their own original branded content.

Episodes of their original surf talk show/Web series Everything’s Not Working have featured guest pro surfers, including Dion Agius, Nabil Samadani and Eden Saul.

Wolf at the Door recently worked on an Experian commercial directed by the Malloy Brothers for the Martin Agency, as well as a Century Link spot directed by Malcom Venville for Arnold Worldwide. Kemp worked closely with Venville on the casting and arrangement for the spot, and traveled to Denver to record the duet of singer Kelvin Jones’ “Call You Home” with Karissa Lee, a young singer Kemp found specifically for the project.

“Our approach to music is always driven by who the brand is and what ideas the music needs to support,” says Kemp. “The music provides the emotional context.” Paying attention to messaging is something that goes hand in hand with carving out their own brand and making their own content. “The whole model seemed ready for a reset. And personally speaking, I like to live and work at a place where being inspired dictates the actions we take, rather than the other way around.”

Main Image L-R:  Jimmy Haun and Alex Kemp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Image: Michael Anastasi and Rohan Young.

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

The director and audio team share their process.

By Jennifer Walden

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

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

Chad Stahelski

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Stoeckinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Alvaro Rodríguez

Behind the Title: Histeria Music’s chief audio engineer Alvaro Rodríguez

NAME: Alvaro Rodríguez

COMPANY: Histeria Music (@histeriamusic)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Miami’s Histeria Music is a music production and audio post company. Since its foundation in 2003 we have focused on supporting our clients’ communication needs with powerful music and sound that convey a strong message and create a bond with the audience. We offer full audio post production, music production, and sound design services for advertising, film, TV, radio, video games and the corporate world.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
CEO/ Chief Audio Engineer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As an audio post engineer, I work on 5.1 and stereo mixing, ADR and voiceover recordings, voiceover castings and talent direction, music search and editing, dialogue cleanup, remote recording via ISDN and/or Source Connect and sound design.

Studio A

Studio A

As the owner and founder of the studio, I take care of a ton of things. I make sure our final productions are of the highest quality possible, and handle client services, PR, bookkeeping, social media and marketing. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else!

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Some people might think that I just sit behind a console, pushing buttons trying to make things sound pretty. In reality, I do much more than that. I advise creative and copywriters on changes in scripts that might help better fit whatever project we are recording. I also direct talent using creative vocabulary to ensure that their delivery is adequate and their performance hits that emotion we are trying to achieve. I get to sound design, edit and move audio clips around on my DAW, almost as if I were composing a piece of music, adding my own sound to the creative process.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Sound design! I love it when I get a video from any of our clients that has no sound whatsoever, not even a scratch recording of a voiceover. This gives me the opportunity to add my signature sound and be as creative as possible and help tell a story. I also love working on radio spots. Since there is no video to support the audio, I usually get to be a bigger part of the creative process once we start putting together the spots. Everything from the way the talent is recorded to the sounds and the way phrases and words are edited together is something I’ll never get tired of doing.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Sales. It’s tricky because as the owner when you succeed, it’s the best feeling in the world, but it can be very frustrating and overwhelming sometimes.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
During work it has to be that moment you get the email saying the spots have been approved and are ready for traffic. On a personal level, it’s when I take my nine-year old to soccer practice, usually around 6pm

Studio B

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Wow, I have no idea how to answer this question. I can’t see myself doing anything else, really, although I’ll add that I am an avid home brewer and enjoy the craft quite a bit.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Ever since I was a kid I had this fascination with things that make sounds. I was always drawn to a guitar or simply buckets I could smack and make some sort of a rhythmic pattern. After high school, I went to college and started studying business administration, only to follow in my dad and brother’s steps. Not to anyone’s surprise I quit after the second semester and ended up doing a bit of soul searching. Long story short, I ended up attending Full Sail University where I graduated in the Recording Arts program back in 2000

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
This year started with a great and fun project for us. We are recording ADR for the Netflix series Bloodline. We are also currently working on the audio post and film scoring of a short film called Andante based on a story from Argentinian author Julio Cortazar.

Also worth mentioning is that we recently concluded the audio post for seasons one and two of the MTV show Ridículos, which is the Spanish and Portuguese language adaptations of the original English version of Ridiculousness that currently airs in Latin America and Brazil.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The first project I ever did for the advertising industry. I was 23 and a recent graduate of Full Sail. All the stars and planets aligned and a campaign for Budweiser — both for the general and US Hispanic markets — landed in my lap. This came from Del Rivero Messianu DDB (currently known as ALMA DDB, Ad Age’s 2017 multicultural agency of the year).

I was living with my parents at the time and had a small home studio in the garage. No Pro Tools, no Digi Beta, just good-old Cool Edit and a VHS player (yes, I manually pressed play on the VHS and Cool Edit to sync my music to picture). Long story short, I ended up writing and producing the music for that TV spot. This led to me unavoidably opening the doors of Histeria Music to the public in 2003.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
iZotope’s RX Post Production Suite, Telos Zephyr Xstream ISDN box and Source Connect. I also use the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 quite a bit.

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

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I live in Miami and the beach is my backyard, so I find myself relaxing for hours at the beach on weekends. I love to spend time with my family during my son’s soccer practices and games. When I am really stressed and need to be alone, I tend to brew some crafty beers at home. Great hobby!

Jon Hamm

Audio post for Jon Hamm’s H&R Block spots goes to Eleven

If you watch broadcast television at all, you’ve likely seen the ubiquitous H&R Block spots featuring actor Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame. The campaign out of Fallon Worldwide features eight spots — all take place either on a film set or a studio backlot, and all feature Hamm in costume for a part. Whether he’s breaking character dressed in traditional Roman garb to talk about how H&R Block can help with your taxes, or chatting up a zombie during a lunch break, he’s handsome, funny and on point: use H&R Block for your tax needs. Simon McQuoid from Imperial Woodpecker directed.

Studio C /Katya Jeff Payne

Jeff Payne

The campaign’s audio post was completed at Eleven in Santa Monica. Eleven founder Jeff Payne worked the spots. “As well as mixing, I created sound design for all of the spots. The objective was to make the sound design feel very realistic and to enhance the scenes in a natural way, rather than a sound design way. For example, on the spot titled Donuts the scene was set on a studio back lot with a lot of extras moving around, so it was important to create that feel without distracting from the dialogue, which was very subtle and quiet. On the spot titled Switch, there was a very energetic music track and fast cutting scenes, but again it needed support with realistic sounds that gave all the scenes more movement.”

Payne says the major challenge for all the spots was to make the dialogue feel seamless. “There were many different angle shots with different microphones that needed to be evened out so that the dialogue sounded smooth.”

In terms of tools, all editing and mixing was done with Avid’s Pro Tools HDX system and S6 console. Sound design was done through Soundminer software.

Jordan Meltzer was assistant mixer on the campaign, and Melissa Elston executive produced for Eleven. Arcade provided the edit, Timber the VFX and post and color was via MPC.

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.