Category Archives: Audio

Sound Lounge, Mad Hat team on Sound Lounge Everywhere Atlanta

Sound Lounge has partnered with Atlanta’s Mad Hat Creative to bring its Sound Lounge Everywhere remote collaboration service to the Southeast. Sound Lounge Everywhere will allow advertising, broadcast and corporate clients in Atlanta and neighboring states to work with Sound Lounge sound editors, designers and mixers in New York in realtime and share high-quality audio and video.

This will allow clients access to top sound talent, while saving time, travel and production costs. Sound Lounge already has launched Sound Lounge Everywhere at sites in Boston and Boulder, Colorado.

At Mad Hat’s Atlanta offices, a suite dedicated to sound work is equipped with Bowers & Wilkins speakers and other leading-edge gear to ensure accurate playback of music and sound. Proprietary Sound Lounge Everywhere hardware and software facilitates realtime streaming of high-quality video and uncompressed, multichannel audio between the Mad Hat and Sound Lounge locations with virtually no latency. Web cameras and talkback modules support two-way communication.

For Mad Hat Creative, Sound Lounge Everywhere helps the company round out an offering that includes video production, editorial, visual effects, motion graphics, color correction and post services.

To help manage the new service, Sound Lounge has promoted Becca Falborn to senior producer. Falborn, who joined the studio as a producer last year, will coordinate sound sessions between the two sites, assist Sound Lounge head of production Liana Rosenberg in overseeing local sound production and serve as the studio’s social coordinator.

A graduate of Manhattan College, Falborn has a background in business affairs, client services and marketing, including posts with the post house Nice Shoes and the marketing agency Hogarth Worldwide.

Review: Blackmagic’s Resolve 15

By David Cox

DaVinci Resolve 15 from Blackmagic Design has now been released. The big news is that Blackmagic’s compositing software Fusion has been incorporated into Resolve, joining the editing and audio mixing capabilities added to color grading in recent years. However, to focus just on this would hide a wide array of updates to Resolve, large and small, across the entire platform. I’ve picked out some of my favorite updates in each area.

For Colorists
Each time Blackmagic adds a new discipline to Resolve, colorists fear that the color features take a back seat. After all, Resolve was a color grading system long before anything else. But I’m happy to say there’s nothing to fear in Version 15, as there are several very nice color tweaks and new features to keep everyone happy.

I particularly like the new “stills store” functionality, which allows the colorist to find and apply a grade from any shot in any timeline in any project. Rather than just having access to manually saved grades in the gallery area, thumbnails of any graded shot can be viewed and copied, no matter which timeline or project they are in, even those not explicitly saved as stills. This is great for multi-version work, which is every project these days.

Grades saved as stills (and LUTS) can also be previewed on the current shot using the “Live Preview” feature. Hovering the mouse cursor over a still and scrubbing left and right will show the current shot with the selected grade temporarily applied. It makes quick work of finding the most appropriate look from an existing library.

Another new feature I like is called “Shared Nodes.” A color grading node can be set as “shared,” which creates a common grading node that can be inserted into multiple shots. Changing one instance, changes all instances of that shared node. This approach is more flexible and visible than using Groups, as the node can be seen in each node layout and can sit at any point in the process flow.

As well as the addition of multiple play-heads, a popular feature in other grading systems, there is a plethora of minor improvements. For example, you can now drag the qualifier graphics to adjust settings, as opposed to just the numeric values below them. There are new features to finesse the mattes generated from the keying functions, as well as improvements to the denoise and face refinement features. Nodes can be selected with a single click instead of a double click. In fact, there are 34 color improvements or new features listed in the release notes.

For Editors
As with color, there are a wide range of minor tweaks all aimed at improving feel and ergonomics, particularly around dynamic trim modes, numeric timecode entry and the like. I really like one of the major new features, which is the ability to open multiple timelines on the screen at the same time. This is perfect for grabbing shots, sequences and settings from other timelines.

As someone who works a lot with VFX projects, I also like the new “Replace Edit” function, which is aimed at those of us that start our timelines with early drafts of VFX and then update them as improved versions come along. The new function allows updated shots to be dragged over their predecessors, replacing them but inheriting all modifications made, such as the color grade.

An additional feature to the existing markers and notes functions is called “Drawn Annotations.” An editor can point out issues in a shot with lines and arrows, then detail them with notes and highlight them with timeline markers. This is great as a “note to self” to fix later, or in collaborative workflows where notes can be left for other editors, colorists or compositors.

Previous versions of Resolve had very basic text titling. Thanks to the incorporation of Fusion, the edit page of Resolve now has a feature called Text+, a significant upgrade on the incumbent offering. It allows more detailed text control, animation, gradient fills, dotted outlines, circular typing and so on. Within Fusion there is a modifier called “Follower,” which enables letter-by-letter animation, allowing Text+ to compete with After Effects for type animation. On my beta test version of Resolve 15, this wasn’t available in the Edit page, which could be down to the beta status or an intent to keep the Text+ controls in the Edit page more streamlined.

For Audio
I’m not an audio guy, so my usefulness in reviewing these parts is distinctly limited. There are 25 listed improvements or new features, according to the release notes. One is the incorporation of Fairlight’s Automated Dialog Replacement processes, which creates a workflow for the replacement of unsalvageable originally recorded dialog.

There are also 13 new built-in audio effects plugins, such as Chorus, Echo and Flanger, as well as de-esser and de-hummer clean-up tools.
Another useful addition both for audio mixers and editors is the ability to import entire audio effects libraries, which can then be searched and star-rated from within the Edit and Fairlight pages.

Now With Added Fusion
So to the headline act — the incorporation of Fusion into Resolve. Fusion is a highly regarded node-based 2D and 3D compositing software package. I reviewed Version 9 in postPerspective last year [https://postperspective.com/review-blackmagics-fusion-9/]. Bringing it into Resolve links it directly to editing, color grading and audio mixing to create arguably the most agile post production suite available.

Combining Resolve and Fusion will create some interesting challenges for Blackmagic, who say that the integration of the two will be ongoing for some time. Their challenge isn’t just linking two software packages, each with their own long heritage, but in making a coherent system that makes sense to all users.

The issue is this: editors and colorists need to work at a fast pace, and want the minimum number of controls clearly presented. A compositor needs infinite flexibility and wants a button and value for every function, with a graph and ideally the ability to drive it with a mathematical expression or script. Creating an interface that suits both is near impossible. Dumbing down a compositing environment limits its ability, whereas complicating an editing or color environment destroys its flow.

Fusion occupies its own “page” within Resolve, alongside pages for “Color,” “Fairlight” (audio) and “Edit.” This is a good solution in so far that each interface can be tuned for its dedicated purpose. The ability to join Fusion also works very well. A user can seamlessly move from Edit to Fusion to Color and back again, without delays, rendering or importing. If a user is familiar with Resolve and Fusion, it works very well indeed. If the user is not accustomed to high-end node-based compositing, then the Fusion page can be daunting.

I think the challenge going forward will be how to make the creative possibilities of Fusion more accessible to colorists and editors without compromising the flexibility a compositor needs. Certainly, there are areas in Fusion that can be made more obvious. As with many mature software packages, Fusion has the occasional hidden right click or alt-click function that is hard for new users to discover. But beyond that, the answer is probably to let a subset of Fusion’s ability creep into the Edit and Color pages, where more common tasks can be accommodated with simplified control sets and interfaces. This is actually already the case with Text+; a Fusion “effect” that is directly accessible within the Edit section.

Another possible area to help is Fusion Macros. This is an inbuilt feature within Fusion that allows a designer to create an effect and then condense it down to a single node, including just the specific controls needed for that combined effect. Currently, Macros that integrate the Text+ effect can be loaded directly in the Edit page’s “Title Templates” section.

I would encourage Blackmagic to open this up further to allow any sort of Macro to be added for video transitions, graphics generators and the like. This could encourage a vibrant exchange of user-created effects, which would arm editors and colorists with a vast array of immediate and community sourced creative options.

Overall, the incorporation of Fusion is a definite success in my view, whether used to empower multi-skilled post creatives or to provide a common environment for specialized creatives to collaborate. The volume of updates and the speed at which the Resolve software developers address the issues exposed during public beta trials, remains nothing short of impressive.


David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20-plus years of experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.

DG 7.9.18

Composer and sound mixer Rob Ballingall joins Sonic Union

NYC-based audio studio Sonic Union has added composer/experiential sound designer/mixer Rob Ballingall to its team. He will be working out of both Sonic Union’s Bryant Park and Union Square locations. Ballingall brings with him experience in music and audio post, with an emphasis on the creation of audio for emerging technology projects, including experiential and VR.

Ballingall recently created audio for an experiential in-theatre commercial for Mercedes-Benz Canada, using Dolby Atmos, D-Box and 4DX technologies. In addition, for National Geographic’s One Strange Rock VR experience, directed by Darren Aronofsky, Ballingall created audio for custom VR headsets designed in the style of astronaut helmets, which contained a pinhole projector to display visuals on the inside of the helmet’s visor.

Formerly at Nylon Studios, Ballingall also composed music on brand campaigns for clients such as Ford, Kellogg’s and Walmart, and provided sound design/engineering on projects for AdCouncil and Resistance Radio for Amazon Studios and The Man in the High Castle, which collectively won multiple Cannes Lion, Clio and One Show awards, as well as garnering two Emmy nominations.

Born in London, Ballingall immigrated to the US eight years ago to seek a job as a mixer, assisting numerous Grammy Award-winning engineers at NYC’s Magic Shop recording studio. Having studied music composition and engineering from high school to college in England, he soon found his niche offering compositional and arranging counterpoints to sound design, mix and audio post for the commercial world. Following stints at other studios, including Nylon Studios in NYC, he transitioned to Sonic Union to service agencies, brands and production companies.


Emmy Season: Audio post for Netflix docu-series Wild Wild Country

By Jennifer Walden

A community based on peace and love, acceptance and non-judgment, where everyone has a job and a purpose. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that, right? Or, is there a part of you that thinks this all sounds a bit utopian and is dubious?

Wild Wild Country, the six-part docu-series created by brothers Chapman and Maclain Way — its executive producers include two more sets of brothers: Mark and Jay Duplass and Josh and Dan Braun — tells the true story of what happened to a small town in Oregon after a religious cult set up their “utopian” city on a nearby ranch. This seven-hour documentary premiered in its entirety at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available to stream on Netflix. It was also nominated for five Emmy Awards, including for Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Series.

The Unbridled sound team at Sundance.

Wild Wild Country is a mix of archival news footage from the ‘80s — when the Rajneesh cult’s influence was on the rise in Oregon — and footage shot by the Rajneeshees, particularly in their own camp. It also draws from other documentaries and news specials on the Rajneesh movement that was created over the years. The Way brothers conduct extensive interviews with former Rajneeshees — including Ma Anand Sheela, who was personal secretary to cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. They also interview a list of other interesting characters, from FBI agents who helped to bring down the cult to Oregonians (including the former mayor of Antelope) who lived near the cult’s camp.

The result is a story that’s almost too twisted to be true. “This could’ve been a narrative feature that someone scripted and produced… a film that’s well thought out and well played instead of a story that was stumbled upon,” says Emmy award-winning supervising sound editor Brent Kiser of LA’s Unbridled Sound. He and his sound editing team are recipients of one of the show’s five Emmy noms for their work on Wild Wild Country.

“Creatively, we didn’t see Wild Wild Country as a documentary per se,” explains Kiser. “We wanted it to be cinematic so that, in a way, you couldn’t believe this was real life because it was too crazy. The sound needed to reflect that.”

The Dialog
One way they achieved a feature film feel was by processing the interview dialog so that it didn’t sound like a stereotypical talking-head documentary. “We didn’t want the dialog to have that very dry, close sound you get with lavalier microphones,” says Kiser.

Years ago, while working on a documentary called Tiny: A Story About Living Small (2013), dialog editor Elliot Thompson discovered that stripping all the noise from the production dialog also stripped out all the character and nuances of a location. It made the dialog feel impersonal, as though it was talking at the audience instead of to them.

“That worked well on Tiny because you’re in small, close spaces, but on Wild Wild Country we wanted to do the opposite,” says Kiser. “We wanted to give the interview dialog a little bit of life, so we added in reverb using Audio Ease’s Altiverb. This gave the dialog a smoother, softer feel that helps the audience to feel the room to feel the environment and to feel like they’re there. Subsequently, this polish gave the dialog a cinematic feel. It felt more like a story being told and less like news.”

For the news footage from the ‘80s, which includes segments by former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, Kiser went for an unpolished approach. “The material hadn’t been maintained, and there were these weird VHS bleeds; the audio had a huge hum. Initially, we tried to clean it up a bit, but in the end we decided to just let it roll because that’s how it is,” he says.

Replacing Some Sound
The sound of the news footage set the tone for the rest of the archival material. Kiser and his team replaced all the sound for the B-roll shots that didn’t have someone talking on-camera. They did the same for footage from the Rajneeshees, who shot tons of footage for their promotional videos. “Every footstep, every gunshot, we covered all that. We basically replaced it all.”

For example, there’s footage of the Rajneeshees all dressed in red, walking through the town of Antelope, Oregon. Kiser and his team replaced all the sound there, adding in wind, footsteps and other elements you’d expect to hear. “We wanted to keep those moments feeling very real and very voyeuristic,” says Kiser. “By ‘real,’ I mean our idea of what archival material should sound like.”

In order for the sound to feel “real” it had to sound dirty, just like the archival news footage. Sound effects editors Jacob Flack and Danielle Price mined the libraries at Unbridled Sound in search of effects that were old, noisy and poorly recorded — effects that wouldn’t normally be useful today. Kiser says, “The old Hollywood Edge and BBC libraries were perfect! The wind sounds that are rumbly and distorted — those were just perfect.”

They also recorded new sounds when needed, but those fresh, clean recordings had to match the gritty archival material. Kiser tried adding futz processing via Audio Ease’s Speakerphone, but ultimately it wasn’t giving him the desired result. “So we tried cranking the Pro Tools SansAmp PSA-1 plug-in on it, and we also used the Waves Cobalt Saphira harmonic shaper plug-in. This helped the new recordings to feel warm and analog in the right way. We would bus all the ‘archival’ sound through an AUX channel with those two plug-ins for overall processing.

Some sounds couldn’t be replaced, specifically the Rajneeshee chants and singing. Those were pulled from already-published sources, like other documentaries, due to rights issues. Kiser explains, “That was important because the Rajneeshees, a.k.a. sannyasins, are still around. You can still go to India and find them. And Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) is the yoga guy. If you dive into any hardcore yoga philosophy or theology, he’s written all about it and he’s quoted all the time.”

Knowing Wild Wild Country was going to play theatrically at Sundance, Kiser and his team were able to work with the 5.1 surround field — a rare opportunity in the documentary world. They chose to keep the sound on the front wall to maintain that archival feel, but when they wanted to kick up the excitement — for example, during the helicopter flyovers of Rajneeshpuram — they pulled the sound into the surrounds. “We used whooshes and sound design elements to make that feel bigger, more cinematic than the other archival material.”

The Music
Another prominent feature in the soundtrack was the music, composed by musician Brocker Way (brother to the filmmakers). “It’s basically wall-to-wall, and it’s amazing. You can watch all seven hours and not be annoyed by the music,” says Kiser. Interestingly, the music wasn’t composed to picture. Brocker Way wrote four- to five-minute cues that were later edited to picture. “We’d get the edited music tracks and make some adjustments, too. The result was a soundtrack that was perfect for this project.”

The biggest thing Kiser was worried about (knowing the film festival audience was going to watch a seven-hour documentary in its entirety) was boredom. That turned out to be a non-issue. The story itself is exciting. “And as far as the sound goes, the dialog feels warm and accessible through the whole film, so it feels like a story. A lot of times you’ll hear the sound design and music ramping up towards the end of each part, so that it would tease and build into the next one. It worked. At Sundance, they kept the theater at 40 to 50 people for all seven hours,” reports Kiser.

What’s most amazing about the post sound process on Wild Wild Country is that Unbridled Sound had just three weeks to get it all done, from edit to final mix. “We’re only a five-person crew here,” says Kiser. “Not only were we working on Wild Wild Country, but we had another Sundance film too, called An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. And we were working on a series for Adult Swim called Dream Corp, LLC. So, it was intense.”


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


Eleven mixes two Jurassic-themed Target spots

Jeff Payne, founder/mixer at Santa Monica’s audio post studio Eleven, helped bring dinosaurs to life — well, kind of — for two new Target spots, Dino Clash and Giant Steps. The spots coincided with the recent release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Dino Clash begins with the shadow of a dinosaur roaming a toy city where its shadow meets another dino shadow. We then see a boy and a girl each holding a toy dino, giggling and roaring. The girl starts singing the Jurassic Park theme song, which is then taken over by the original music musical. It plays while the Jurassic World logo appears followed by the Target logo and the tagline, “Jurassic World gear is here.”

Giant Steps also begins with the shadow of a dinosaur roaming a suburban street toy street. The camera lands on a toy car that is suddenly crushed by a roaring boy’s tiny foot. He is wearing a dino mask and roaring, then his roar morphs into one of a “real” dinosaur.

Eleven was brought in after the final picture edit had been completed. While the sound design and music for this spot was done by Antfood, Payne says he did “a bit of additional sound design to ‘plus the spot.’ I added more aggressive booms for footsteps, remixed the city sounds, added some ambience under the kids scene and did some editing of the sound design from what was provided.

“The sound design splits were a challenge because the backgrounds were already pre-mixed i.e.: city ambiance was married with siren, etc., so I had to do some cutting around to have better control over the individual sounds.”

Payne says the main challenge of the job was editing the backend music to match the different art cards that were changing while they were mixing. “The goal is always to make the ‘hits’ hit correctly on the visual as well as making it in time musically.”

Payne used an Avid Pro Tools HD X with an Avid S6 console to complete the job.


Sony creates sounds for Director X’s Superfly remake

Columbia Pictures’ Superfly is a reimagining of Gordon Parks Jr.’s classic 1972 blaxploitation film of the same name. Helmed by Director X and written by Alex Tse, this new version transports the story of Priest from Harlem to modern-day Atlanta.

Steven Ticknor

Superfly’s sound team from Sony Pictures Post Production Services — led by supervising sound editor Steven Ticknor, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Kevin O’Connell, re-recording mixer Greg Orloff and sound designer Tony Lamberti — was tasked with bringing the sonic elements of Priest’s world to life. That included everything from building soundscapes for Atlanta’s neighborhoods and nightclubs to supplying the sounds of fireworks, gun battles and car chases.

“Director X and Joel Silver — who produced the movie alongside hip-hop superstar Future, who also curated and produced the film’s soundtrack — wanted the film to have a big sound, as big and theatrical as possible,” says Ticknor. “The film is filled with fights and car chases, and we invested a lot of detail and creativity into each one to bring out their energy and emotion.”

One element that received special attention from the sound team was the Lexus LC500 that Priest (Trevor Jackson) drives in the film. As the sports car was brand new, no pre-recorded sounds were available, so Ticknor and Lamberti dispatched a recording crew and professional driver to the California desert to capture every aspect of its unique engine sounds, tire squeals, body mechanics and electronics. “Our job is to be authentic, so we couldn’t use a different Lexus,” Ticknor explains. “It had to be that car.”

In one of the film’s most thrilling scenes, Priest and the Lexus LC500 are involved in a high-speed chase with a Lamborghini and a Cadillac Escalade. Sound artists added to the excitement by preparing sounds for every screech, whine and gear shift made by the cars, as well as explosions and other events happening alongside them and movements made by the actors behind the wheels.

It’s all much larger than life, says Ticknor, but grounded in reality. “The richness of the sound is a result of all the elements that go into it, the way they are recorded, edited and mixed,” he explains. “We wanted to give each car its own identity, so when you cut from one car revving to another car revving, it sounds like they’re talking to each other. The audience may not be able to articulate it, but they feel the emotion.”

Fights received similarly detailed treatment. Lamberti points to an action sequence in a barber shop as one of several scenes rendered partially in extreme slow motion. “It starts off in realtime before gradually shifting to slo-mo through the finish,” he says. “We had fun slowing down sounds, and processing them in strange and interesting ways. In some instances, we used sounds that had no literal relation to what was happening on the screen but, when slowed down, added texture. Our aim was to support the visuals with the coolest possible sound.”

Re-recording mixing was accomplished in the 125-seat Anthony Quinn Theater on an Avid S6 console with O’Connell handling dialogue and music and Orloff tackling sound effects and Foley. Like its 1972 predecessor, which featured an iconic soundtrack from Curtis Mayfield, the new film employs music brilliantly. Atlanta-based rapper Future, who shares producer credit, assembled a soundtrack that features Young Thug, Lil Wayne, Miguel, H.E.R. and 21 Savage.

“We were fortunate to have in Kevin and Greg, a pair of Academy Award-winning mixers, who did a brilliant job in blending music, dialogue and sound effects,” says Ticknor. “The mix sessions were very collaborative, with a lot of experimentation to build intensity and make the movie feel bigger than life. Everyone was contributing ideas and challenging each other to make it better, and it all came together in the end.”


Sim Post NY expands audio offerings, adds five new staffers

Sim Post in New York is in growth mode. They recently expanded their audio for TV and film services and boosted their post team with five new hires. Following the recent addition of a DI theater to its New York location, Sim is building three audio suites, a voiceover room and support space for the expanded audio capabilities.

Primetime Emmy award-winner Sue Pelino joins Sim as a senior re-recording mixer. Over Pelino’s career, she has been nominated for 10 Primetime Emmy Awards, most recently winning her third Emmy in 2017 for Outstanding Sound Mixing for her work on the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (HBO). Project highlights that include performance series such as VH1 Sessions at West 54th, Tony Bennett: An American Classic, Alicia Keys — Unplugged, Tupac: Resurrection and Elton John: The Red Piano.

Dan Ricci also joins the Sim audio department as a re-recording mixer. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, his prior work experience includes time at Sony Music and credits include Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and the Grammy-nominated Jerry Before Seinfeld Netflix special. Ricci has worked extensively with Dolby Atmos and immersive technologies involved in VR content creation.

Ryan Schumer completes Sim New York’s audio department as an assistant audio engineer. Schumer has a bachelor’s degree from Five Towns College on Long Island in Jazz Commercial Music with a concentration in audio recording technology.

Stephanie Pacchiano joins Sim as a finishing producer, following a 10-year stint at Broadway Video where she provided finishing and delivery services for a robust roster of clients. Highlights include Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Atlanta, Portlandia, Documentary Now! and delivering Saturday Night Live to over 25 domestic and international platforms.

Kassie Caffiero joins Sim as VP, business development, east coast sales. She brings with her over 25 years of post experience. A graduate of Queens College with a degree in communication arts, Caffiero began her post career in the mid 1980s and found herself working on the CBS TV series. Caffiero’s experience managing the scheduling, operations and sales departments at major post facilities led her to the role of VP of post production at Sony Music Studios in New York City for 10 years. This was followed by a stint at Creative Group in New York for five years and most recently Broadway Video, also in New York, for six years.

Sim Post is a division of Sim, provides end-to-end solutions for TV and feature film production and post production in LA, Vancouver, Toronto, New York and Atlanta.


The score for YouTube Red’s Cobra Kai pays tribute to original Karate Kid

By Jennifer Walden

In the YouTube Red comedy series Cobra Kai, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), the young hero of the Karate Kid movies, has grown up to be a prosperous car salesman, while his nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) just can’t seem to shake that loser label he earned long ago. Johnny can’t hold down his handy-man job. He lives alone in a dingy apartment, and his personality hasn’t benefited from maturity at all. He lives a very sad reality until one day he finds himself sticking up for a kid being bullied, and that redeeming bit of character makes you root for him. It’s an interesting dynamic that the series writers/showrunners have crafted, and it works.

L-R: Composers Leo Birenberg and Zack Robinson

Fans of the 1980’s film franchise will appreciate the soundtrack of the new Cobra Kai series. Los Angeles-based composers Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson were tasked with capturing the essence of both composer Bill Conti’s original film scores and the popular music tracks that also defined the sound of the films.

To find that Karate Kid essence, Birenberg and Robinson listened to the original films and identified what audiences were likely latching onto sonically. “We concluded that it was mostly a color palette connection that people have. They hear a certain type of orchestral music with a Japanese flute sound, and they hear ‘80s rock,” says Birenberg. “It’s that palette of sounds that people connect with more so than any particular melody or theme from the original movies.”

Even though Conti’s themes and melodies for Karate Kid don’t provide the strongest sonic link to the films, Birenberg and Robinson did incorporate a few of them into their tracks at appropriate moments to create a feeling of continuity between the films and the series. “For example, there were a couple of specific Japanese flute phrases that we redid. And we found a recurring motif of a simple pizzicato string melody,” explains Birenberg. “It’s so simple that it was easy to find moments to insert it into our cues. We thought that was a really cool way to tie everything together and make it feel like it is all part of the same universe.”

Birenberg and Robinson needed to write a wide range of music for the show, which can be heard en masse on the Cobra Kai OST. There are the ’80s rock tracks that take over for licensed songs by bands like Poison and The Alan Parsons Project. This direction, as heard on the tracks “Strike First” and “Quiver,” covered the score for Johnny’s character.

The composers also needed to write orchestral tracks that incorporated Eastern influences, like the Japanese flutes, to cover Daniel as a karate teacher and to comment on his memories of Miyagi. A great example of this style is called, fittingly, “Miyagi Memories.”

There’s a third direction that Birenberg and Robinson covered for the new Cobra Kai students. “Their sound is a mixture of modern EDM and dance music with the heavier ‘80s rock and metal aesthetics that we used for Johnny,” explains Robinson. “So it’s like Johnny is imbuing the new students with his musical values. This style is best represented in the track ‘Slither.’”

Birenberg and Robinson typically work as separate composers, but they’ve collaborated on several projects before Cobra Kai. What makes their collaborations so successful is that their workflows and musical aesthetics are intrinsically similar. Both use Steinberg’s Cubase as their main DAW, while running Ableton Live in ReWire mode. Both like to work with MIDI notes while composing, as opposed to recording and cutting audio tracks.

Says Birenberg, “We don’t like working with audio from the get-go because TV and film are such a notes-driven process. You’re not writing music as much as you are re-writing it to specification and creative input. You want to be able to easily change every aspect of a track without having to dial in the same guitar sound or re-record the toms that you recorded yesterday.”

Virtual Instruments
For Cobra Kai, they first created demo songs using MIDI and virtual instruments. Drums and percussion sounds came from XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums. Spectrasonics Trilian was used for bass lines and Keyscape and Omnisphere 2 provided many soft-synth and keyboard sounds. Virtual guitar sounds came from MusicLab’s RealStrat and RealLPC, Orange Tree, and Ilya Efimov virtual instrument libraries. The orchestral sections were created using Native Instruments Kontakt, with samples coming from companies such as Spitfire, Cinesamples, Cinematic Strings, and Orchestral Tools.

“Both Zach and I put a high premium on virtual instruments that are very playable,” reports Birenberg. “When you’re in this line of work, you have to work superfast and you don’t want a virtual instrument that you have to spend forever tweaking. You want to be able to just play it in so that you can write quickly.”

For the final tracks, they recorded live guitar, bass and drums on every episode, as well as Japanese flute and small percussion parts. For the season finale, they recorded a live orchestra. “But,” says Birenberg, “all the orchestra and some Japanese percussion you hear earlier in the series, for the most part, are virtual instruments.”

Live Musicians
For the live orchestra, Robinson says they wrote 35 minutes of music in six days and immediately sent that to get orchestrated and recorded across the world with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. The composing team didn’t even have to leave Los Angeles. “They sent us a link to a private live stream so we could listen to the session as it was going on, and we typed notes to them as we were listening. It sounds crazy but it’s pretty common. We’ve done that on numerous projects and it always turns out great.”

When it comes to dividing up the episodes — deciding who should score what scenes — the composing team likes to “go with gut and enthusiasm,” explains Birenberg. “We would leave the spotting session with the showrunners, and usually each of us would have a few ideas for particular spots.”

Since they don’t work in the same studio, the composers would split up and start work on the sections they chose. Once they had an idea down, they’d record a quick video of the track playing back to picture and share that with the other composer. Then they would trade tracks so they each got an opportunity to add in parts. Birenberg says, “We did a lot of sending iPhone videos back and forth. If it sounds good over an iPhone video, then it probably sounds pretty good!”

Both composers have different and diverse musical backgrounds, so they both feel comfortable diving right in and scoring orchestral parts or writing bass lines, for instance. “For the scope of this show, we felt at home in every aspect of the score,” says Birenberg. “That’s how we knew this show was for both of us. This score covers a lot of ground musically, and that ground happened to fit things that we understand and are excited about.” Luckily, they’re both excited about ‘80s rock (particularly Robinson) because writing music in that style effectively isn’t easy. “You can’t fake it,” he says.

Recreating ‘80s Rock
A big part of capturing the magic of ‘80s rock happened in the mix. On the track “King Cobra,” mix engineer Sean O’Brien harnessed the ‘80s hair metal style by crafting a drum sound that evoked Motley Crew and Bon Jovi. “I wanted to make the drums as bombastic and ‘80s as possible, with a really snappy kick drum and big reverbs on the kick and snare,” says O’Brien.

Using Massey DRT — a drum sample replacement plug-in for Avid Pro Tools, he swapped out the live drum parts with drum samples. Then on the snare, he added a gated reverb using Valhalla VintageVerb. He also used Valhalla Room to add a short plate sound to thicken up the kick and snare drums.

To get the toms to match the cavernous punchiness of the kick and snare, O’Brien augmented the live toms with compression and EQ. “I chopped up the toms so there wasn’t any noise in between each hit and then I sent those to the nonlinear short reverbs in Valhalla Room,” he says. “Next, I did parallel compression using the Waves SSL E-Channel plug-in to really squash the tom hits so they’re big and in your face. With EQ, I added more top end then I normally would to help the toms compete with the other elements in the mix. You can make the close mics sound really crispy with those SSL EQs.”

Next, he bussed all the drum tracks to a group aux track, which had a Neve 33609 plug-in by UAD and a Waves C4 multi-band compressor “to control the whole drum kit after the reverbs were laid in to make sure those tracks fit in with the other instruments.”

Sean O’Brien

On “Slither,” O’Brien also focused on the drums, but since this track is more ‘80s dance than ‘80s rock, O’Brien says he was careful to emphasize the composers’ ‘80s drum machine sounds (rather than the live drum kit), because that is where the character of the track was coming from. “My job on this track was to enhance the electric drum sounds; to give the drum machine focus. I used UAD’s Neve 1081 plug-in on the electronic drum elements to brighten them up.”

“Slither” also features Taiko drums, which make the track feel cinematic and big. O’Brien used Soundtoys Devil-Loc to make the taiko drums feel more aggressive, and added distortion using Decapitator from Soundtoys to help them cut through the other drums in the track. “I think the drums were the big thing that Zach [Robinson] and Leo [Birenberg] were looking to me for because the guitars and synths were already recorded the way the composers wanted them to sound.”

The Mix
Mix engineer Phil McGowan, who was responsible for mixing “Strike First,” agrees. He says, “The ‘80s sound for me was really based on drum sounds, effects and tape saturation. Most of the synth and guitar sounds that came from Zach and Leo were already very stylized so there wasn’t a whole lot to do there. Although I did use a Helios 69 EQ and Fairchild compressor on the bass along with a little Neve 1081 and Kramer PIE compression on the guitars, which are all models of gear that would have been used back then. I used some Lexicon 224 and EMT 250 on the synths, but otherwise there really wasn’t a whole lot of processing from me on those elements.”

Phil McGowan’s ‘Strike First’ Pro Tools session.

To get an ‘80s gated reverb sound for the snare and toms on “Strike First,” McGowan used an AMS RMX16 nonlinear reverb plug-in in Pro Tools. For bus processing, he mainly relied on a Pultec EQ, adding a bit of punch with the classic “Pultec Low End Trick” —which involves boosting and attenuating at the same frequency — plus adding a little bump at 8k for some extra snap. Next in line, he used an SSL G-Master buss compressor before going into UAD’s Studer A800 tape plug-in set to 456 tape at 30 ips and calibrated to +3 dB.

“I did end up using some parallel compression using a Distressor plug-in by Empirical Labs, which was not around back then, but it’s my go-to parallel compressor and it sounded fine, so I left it in my template. I also used a little channel EQ from FabFilter Pro-Q2 and the Neve 88RS Channel Strip,” concludes McGowan.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.com.


Cinema Audio Society sets next awards date and timeline

The Cinema Audio Society (CAS) will be holding its 55th Annual CAS Awards on Saturday, February 16, 2019 at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown in the Wilshire Grand Ballroom. The CAS Awards recognize outstanding sound mixing in film and television as well as outstanding products for production and post. Recipients for the CAS Career Achievement Award and CAS Filmmaker Award will be announced later in the year.

The InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown is a new venue for the awards. They were held at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza last year.

The timeline for the awards is as follows:
• Entry submission form will be available online on the CAS website on Thursday, October 11, 2018.
• Entry submissions are due online by 5:00pm PST on Thursday, November 15, 2018.
• Outstanding product entry submissions are due online by 5:00pm PST on Friday December 7, 2018.
• Nomination ballot voting begins online on Thursday, December 13, 2018.
• Nomination ballot voting ends online at 5:00pm PST on Thursday, January 3, 2019.
• Final nominees in each category will be announced on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.
• Final voting begins online on Thursday, January 24, 2019.
• Final voting ends online at 5:00pm PST on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

 

Hobo’s Chris Stangroom on providing Quest doc’s sonic treatment

Following a successful film fest run that included winning a 2018 Independent Spirit Award, and being named a 2017 official selection at Sundance, the documentary Quest is having its broadcast premiere on PBS this month as part of their POV series.

Chris Stangroom

Filmed with vérité intimacy for nearly a decade, Quest follows the Rainey family who live in North Philadelphia. The story begins at the start of the Obama presidency with Christopher “Quest” Rainey, and his wife Christine (“Ma Quest”) raising a family, while also nurturing a community of hip-hop artists in their home music studio. It’s a safe space where all are welcome, but as the doc shows, this creative sanctuary can’t always shield them from the strife that grips their neighborhood.

New York-based audio post house Hobo, which is no stranger to indie documentary work (Weiner, Amanda Knox, Voyeur), lent its sonic skills to the film, including the entire sound edit (dialogue, effects and music), sound design, 5.1 theatrical and broadcast mixes.

We spoke with Hobo’s Chris Stangroom, supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer on the project about the challenges he and the Hobo team faced in their quest on this film.

Broadly speaking what did you and Hobo do on this project? How did you get involved?
We handled every aspect of the audio post on Quest for its Sundance Premiere, theatrical run and broadcast release of the film on POV.

This was my first time working with director Jonathan Olshefski and I loved every minute of it, The entire team on Quest was focused on making this film better with every decision, and he had to be the final voice on everything. We were connected through my friend producer Sabrina Gordon, who I had previously worked with on the film Undocumented. It was a pretty quick turn of events, as I think I got the first call about the film Thanksgiving weekend of 2016. We started working on the film the day after Christmas that year and were finished mix two weeks later with the entire sound edit and mix for the 2017 Sundance film festival.

How important is the audio mix/sound design in the overall cinematic experience of Quest? What was most important to Olshefski?
The sound of a film is half of the experience. I know it sounds cliché, but after years of working with clients on improving their films, the importance of a good sound mix and edit can’t be understated. I have seen films come to life by simply adding Foley to a few intimate moments in a scene. It seems like such a small detail in the grand scheme of a film’s soundtrack, but feeling that intimacy with a character connects us to them in a visceral way.

Since Quest was a film not only about the Rainey family but also their neighborhood of North Philly, I spent a lot of time researching the sounds of Philadelphia. I gathered a lot of great references and insight from friends who had grown up in Philly, like the sounds of “ghetto birds” (helicopters), the motorbikes that are driven around constantly and the SEPTA buses. As Jon and I spoke about the film’s soundtrack, those kinds of sounds and ideas were exactly what he was looking for when we were out on the streets of North Philly. It created an energy to the film that made it vivid and alive.

The film was shot over a 10-year period. How did that prolonged production affect the audio post? Were there format issues or other technical issues you needed to overcome?
It presented some challenges, but luckily Jon always recorded with a lav or a boom on his camera for the interviews, so matching their sound qualities was easier than if he had just been using a camera mic. There are probably half a dozen “narrated” scenes in Quest that are built from interview sound bites, so bouncing around from interviews 10 years apart was tricky and required a lot of attention to detail.

In addition, Quest‘s phenomenal editor Lindsay Utz was cutting scenes up until the last day of our sound mix. So even once we got an entire scene sounding clean and balanced, it would then change and we’d have to add a new line from some other interview during that decade-long period. She definitely kept me on my toes, but it was all to make the film better.

Music is a big part of the family’s lives. Did the fact that they run a recording studio out of their home affect your work?
Yes. The first thing I did once we started on the film was to go down to Quest’s studio in Philly and record “impulse responses” (IRs) of the space, essentially recording the “sound” of a room or space. I wanted to bring that feeling of the natural reverbs in his studio and home to the film. I captured the live room where the artists would be recording, his control room in the studio and even the hallway leading to the studio with doors opened and closed, because sound changes and becomes more muffled as more doors are shut between the microphone and the sound source. The IRs helped me add incredible depth and the feeling that you were there with them when I was mixing the freestyle rap sessions and any scenes that took place in the home and studio.

Jon and I also grabbed dozens of tracks that Quest had produced over the years, so that we could add them into the film in subtle ways, like when a car drives by or from someone’s headphones. It’s those kinds of little details that I love adding, like Easter eggs that only a handful of us know about. They make me smile whenever I watch a film.

Any particular scene or section or aspect of Quest that you found most challenging or interesting to work on?
The scenes involving Quest’s daughter PJ’s injury through her stay in the hospital and her return back home had a lot of challenges that came along with them. We used sound design and the score from the amazing composer T. Griffin to create the emotional arc that something dangerous and life-changing was about to happen.

Once we were in the hospital, we wanted the sound of everything to be very, very quiet. There is a scene in which Quest is whispering to PJ while she is in pain and trying to recover. The actual audio from that moment had a few nurses and women in the background having a loud conversation and occasionally laughing. It took the viewer immediately away from the emotions that we were trying to connect with, so we ended up scrapping that entire audio track and recreated the scene from scratch. Jon actually ended up getting in the sound booth and did some very low and quiet whispering of the kinds of phrases Quest said to his daughter. It took a couple hours to finesse that scene.

Lastly, the scene when PJ gets out of the hospital and is returning back into a world that didn’t stop while she was recovering. We spent a lot of time shifting back and forth between the reality of what happened, and the emotional journey PJ was going through trying to regain normalcy in her life. There was a lot of attention to detail in the mix on that scene because it had to be delivered correctly in order to not break the momentum that had been created.

What was the key technology you used on the project?
Avid Pro Tools, Izotope RX 5 Advanced, Audio Ease Altiverb, Zoom H4N; and a matched stereo pair of sE Electronics sE1a condenser mics.

Who else at Hobo was involved in Quest?
The entire Hobo team really stepped up on this project — namely our sound effects editors Stephen Davies, Diego Jimenez and Julian Angel; Foley artist Oscar Convers; and dialogue editor Jesse Peterson.