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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.

Having worked on the previous season, Newman knew the ins and outs of the Dome’s sound: crazy sci-fi sounds in, birds and wind sounds out. “We learned our lesson with Season 1,” he says. “The audience shouldn’t hear birds and wind because the town is in a Dome. The first few episodes on Season 1 were more experimental, particularly in regard to dialogue. But now on Season 2 we have a rhythm of what we’re doing. For the Dome, when it acts up, it’s always something different, so that’s the biggest challenge for me on Season 2.”

The series is shot in North Carolina, and birds plague the dialogue tracks. Newman says Warner Bros. Sound dialogue editor Darleen Stoker spends many hours searching for alternate takes. They also record a lot of ADR for the show. “Fortunately, when the actors come in to do their lines, they are all fantastic and helpful,” says Newman.

Head's Will Roll

In Season 2, the Dome is more interactive with the citizens of Chester’s Mill, but not in a good way. “This season the Dome is pissed off. It’s groaning, and having contractions,” he explains. “It’s magnetizing things and sucking them up, like cars and houses.”

To create the Dome sounds, Newman works with sound effects editor Ken Young at Warners. They start with samples of animal sounds, metal and other real-world elements and then manipulate, reverse and blend those using plug-ins, such as Waves MondoMod and Avid’s TL Space. “As the Dome gets angry, we created a really cool sound: animals mixed with metal, wind and thunder rumbles. Unfortunately, since it’s on TV, the sound doesn’t play like it does on the dub stage. You lose all that low-end. That’s my pet peeve in life. When it goes down to TV, it just doesn’t do it justice. We have great mixers on the series that make it work really well, but it’s just not the same as when we play it back on the stage.”

The show is mixed by re-recording mixers Kurt Kassulke (effects) and Adam Sawelson (dialogue and music); they work at Technicolor at Paramount. When it comes to mixing effects, Newman says Kassulke is the real deal. “We show up with a lot of effects and it’s up to Kurt to bring it all together and somehow he does it.”

Newman has a long-standing relationship with mixer Sawelson and Under the Dome executive producer Neal Baer. “We’ve all worked with each other on the TV series ER. Neal really lets us do our thing, and encourages our creativity,” he says. “When the show gets bigger and more intense, Neal and co-producer Agatha Warren let us do what we do, and that makes the show a lot of fun. It’s a really good environment.”

Head's Will Roll

Newman also notes that his long work history with sound effects editor Young and dialogue editor Stoker helps keep things running smooth on a busy show. “There are no surprises from the team. Everybody knows everybody’s style and that really makes it easy.”

If Newman himself was stuck under the Dome, what would he miss the most? “The freedom to move,” he says. “We take for granted that we can go anywhere at anytime. To be deprived of this would have quite an affect, not only on myself but everyone that would be caged with inside the Dome. I think we all take our freedom for granted, and the Dome is a big invisible metaphor that lets us question what we would value if we were closed off from the rest of the world.”

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



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