Tag Archives: Technicolor at Paramount

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.

Technicolor creates sixties soundscape for Hulu’s ‘11.22.63’

By Jennifer Walden

Beloved politician — now there’s an oxymoron. I can almost hear the collective “pffff” that term would elicit from today’s younger voters. However, voters of a certain age may remember one such president who could pull off that title: John F. Kennedy. So if you’ve had enough of this election year’s hoopla, then turn off the news channels and turn on Hulu. Their new series 11.22.63, based on a book by Stephen King, transports viewers back to the 1960s, a time when racism, sexism, domestic abuse and mistreatment of mental patients prevailed. (It wasn’t the glory days, but every generation and president has their battles… even JFK.)

11.22.63 follows the newly divorced English teacher Jake Epping (James Franco), who steps out of 2016 and into 1958 via a time portal in the utility closet of a small-town diner. His mission is to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy by unraveling the conspiracy theories that surround the event.

Michael Wilhoit

Michael Wilhoit

Sounds of the Sixties
Setting the stage of early ‘60s sound is supervising sound editor Michael Wilhoit, who is based at the Technicolor Sound facility on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. He got involved early, working with director Kevin Macdonald, executive producer Bridget Carpenter and associate producer Jill Risk during editorial on the pilot episode — well before the score and visual effects were created. “The sound we established in the pilot was going to be the continuing style of sound for all the episodes,” explains Wilhoit. “Jill and Bridget were the leading force for us on the whole series. They were involved in all of the sound design spotting sessions and they really wanted to have something in the track besides the score. Bridget was the one who signed off on everything for sound.”

One big decision they made early on was how to handle the time travel event. “We purposefully didn’t want to make it over the top. We wanted to include the audience without taking them out of reality and making it too sci-fi or too bold,” says Wilhoit. The time travel effect, sonically and visually, is very subtle. It’s not the earth-shattering epic thunderstorm of Terminator, for example. It’s a delicate blend of music — by composer Alex Heffes — and sound design. “We just wanted to bring the audience into this place and not lose them by overdoing our job. It’s the same for the ambiences and other sounds too. We tried not to hit people over the head. When we do our jobs right no one knows we’re here.”

The ‘60s soundscape is more mechanical and analog than modern day, with rotary phones with real metal ringers, clacking typewriters and big clunky cars — even the shoes of the day made more noise. Although the elements that make up the ambiences are louder than today’s sounds, the environments that Wilhoit and his sound effects editor, Dino Dimuro, created feel subtle and real, and they don’t draw unnecessary attention. Wilhoit and Dimuro really hit their mark without over shooting it.

Another sci-fi situation in the series involves the “past pushing back.” Whenever the characters get too close to changing the past, unexpected events cause them to fail. As with the time travel effect, the “past pushing back” effect errs on the side of realism. It was a reoccurring challenge throughout the show. Instead of designing one signature sound for the past pushing back, Wilhoit and Dimuro worked with sounds that were relevant to each situation on screen. For example, when Jake is back in 1958, he tries to call his father from a phone booth and the past pushes back. Wilhoit and Dimuro set up the uneasy feeling of the scene by adding distant dog barks, crickets and a mournful train horn as Jake approaches the booth. Once Jake is on the phone, they manipulated and distorted the voices on the other end. He and Dimuro added crackling static and high-pitched tones that interfere with the phone call; they added buzzing on the flickering lights. Out of nowhere a car races down the street and crashes into the phone booth, all of which was carefully crafted with sound.

“Because you don’t see the past pushing back you have to convey that with sound,” says Wilhoit. “My whole thing was making sounds stutter. Sound design wise I wanted there to be a stuttering of reality. I wanted there to be a dysfunctional stuttering sound.” He achieved this by editing the effects in Avid Pro Tools 11.

Matching the VFX
For several VFX-led scenes, Wilhoit and his team had to design sound without the benefit of actually seeing the visual effects. One of the early VFX-dependent scenes happens in Episode 1. Jake is hiding in a dark room in the basement of the Dallas Convention Center. It’s another situation of the past pushing back, so the lights flicker and buzz. Jake starts to hear things emerging from the shadows; it’s a swarm of cockroaches coming after him.

“I had to create a whole sound texture for these cockroaches that none of us ever saw until we were nearly done with the mix. Then at the very end we were able to make slight adjustments to make it work once the visual effects were finished,” says Wilhoit.

Another interesting VFX-dependent scene that takes place at the Dallas Convention Center is when John F. Kennedy is addressing a large audience. According to Wilhoit, that entire sequence was fabricated. “That was completely shot on greenscreen, but when you watch it you would never know because you can see and hear all of these people in this convention center. You see and hear the president up there, and that is unbelievable to me.”

JFK’s speech is an original recording that Wilhoit and dialogue/ADR editor Kimberly Ellis cleaned up using iZotope RX Advanced. There was no reverb inherent to that original track so the mixers were able to add that on the dub stage, effectively putting the speech into the 14,000-seat theater. Ellis edited the period-specific reactions in a loop group, and additional crowd sounds were added to fill in the space.

The loop group tracks were an essential element that Wilhoit used to help build a convincing early 1960’s soundscape. They added the right flavor without being over the top. “Because the show takes place mainly from 1958 into the early 1960’s, you won’t hear people say the same things that you would hear today, or hear the same reactions. The loop group sound had to be very specific in regards to the lingo of the time. For instance, they were saying things like ‘swell’ instead of ‘cool.’”

The Mix
11.22.63 was mixed in 5.1 surround on Stage 7 at Technicolor Sound on the Paramount lot by re-recording mixers Kevin Roache (sound effects/Foley) and Pete Elia (dialogue/music). Wilhoit notes that the mixers’ contributions on the dub stage went beyond balancing EQ and levels. “Kevin was able to take my effects tracks and make them that much more interesting on the dub stage. We have Pro Tools 11 and a ton of plug-ins that we all use. I make sounds and they twist them to make them even crazier. The re-recording mixers are like sound designers too. They bring everything to another level. It was definitely a collaborative effort between sound editorial and mixing.”

The season finale of 11.22.63 aired Monday, April 4 on Hulu, but all episodes are available for streaming, so binge away!

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

The mixers on the Oscar-nominated ‘The Big Short’ weigh in



Technicolor at Paramount sound mixer Anna Behlmer and re-recording mixer Terry Porter were part of the audio post production team on Adam McKay’s Oscar-nominated film The Big Short. McKay himself was nominated in the Best Director category for the film.

In our recent interview with the director he gave a shout-out to Behlmer and Porter: “Mixers Anna Behlmer and Terry Porter just killed it,” he said. “I’ve never done a mix quite like it, where it was shot about 80 percent verite, but the rest is framed more traditionally and we go into montages. The sound had to be ambient and real, but then sometimes it wasn’t. So it had to be moment-by-moment.”

We recently reached out to the duo to find out how they got involved and their work on the film.

Anna_Behlmer_headshot_Dec_2011_0008

Anna Behlmer

Behlmer, who had worked with McKay on Anchor Man 2, did a one-day temp for The Big Short in early September. “I started effects predubs on September 17, and Terry started dial predubs the same day. We started the final mix on September 28 and our last day was October 16.”

Porter handled dialogue and the music, while Behlmer took on all the sound effects. 

The audio team was up against it schedule-wise, which led to some long days. “We worked six days a week, close to 12 hours a day,” says Behlmer. “It was a very short schedule and we needed to work fast.

”

What could have been a very stressful turnaround was made easy because of McKay’s nature, says Behlmer. “He’s very easygoing and collaborative. Terry and I would final a reel and Adam and the picture editor Hank Corwin (nominated for his work on this film) would come in for playback. They would give notes and we would execute them and move on to another reel.”

Porter, who hadn’t worked with McKay or Corwin before, echoed Behlmer’s sentiment, “Adam and Hank Corwin had a blueprint for what they wanted to hear, but Adam was very open to any creative ideas and new concepts.”

“It was a very efficient way to work,” says Behlmer. “Adam and Hank knew what they wanted, but they were also open to our input.”

One challenge on the film was that it had pieces of non-traditional storytelling. “There are scenes where an actor would turn to the camera and speak to the audience and then go back in to the scene,” she explains. “These were opportunities for us; we would suspend the sounds of reality for those moments and then suddenly slam the sound back in when the actor returned to the scene. There were no rules as far as the soundscape; the picture editing was non-traditional and the sound had to follow suit.”

Terry_Porter_Nov_2011_0005She also points to the effective use of stock footage in the film. “In some cases we would add sound design or music, and other cases it would be silent. There were several creative uses of silence in the film. There were also scenes that sped up and the sound effects reflected that.”

What Porter found challenging was that the soundscape used all of the production recorded dialogue. “Most movies can have between 10 percent and 50 percent of the production recorded dialog replaced after the filming of the movie. They wanted the feel of a documentary-type dialog track, even if the dialog wasn’t perfectly recorded. This kept it very real. Only a few lines were re-recorded.”

In the end that real feeling worked for the film, as evidenced by its Oscar noms. “The story of the housing market crash is one that has effected us all in one way or another. The film will entertain you, make you laugh, educate you and, finally, make you very angry,” concludes Behlmer.

NAB 2015: MPSE panel profiles audio post for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

By Mel Lambert

“When a soundtrack is loud you can wing it, but for Fifty Shades of Grey everything had to be carefully balanced to match the different environments,” reported sound effects mixer Anna Behlmer who, with Terry Porter overseeing dialog and music, re-recorded the intricate soundtrack for director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s recent film of the best-selling novel by E. L. James.

“The film’s carefully crafted Foley, for example, created the sense of isolation on the 50th floor of the building that Christian Grey [played by Jamie Dornan] owned,” she continued. “My intention was to create an atmosphere for the scene that you cannot tell is there, but that you Continue reading

Creating Under the Dome’s sound experience

By Jennifer Walden

Imagine living your life under an invisible dome that offers no escape, seeing the same people in the same town day after day… oh, and the  “prison” you call home has supernatural powers that might or might not be evil. That’s what the residents of the fictional town of Under the Dome’s Chester’s Mill have to contend with every day on CBS’s sophomore offering based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. Then imagine what that would sound like. Would there be echoes? Would the sounds be magnified? Dulled?

Walter Newman, supervising sound editor at Burbank’s Warner Bros. Sound, is currently working on Season 2 of Under the Dome, which premieres June 30 on CBS with an episode written by King himself.

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