New York City’s Digital Arts provided audio post on a couple of 30-second commercial spots that presented sound designer/mixer Josh Heilbronner with some unique audio challenges. They are Audi’s Night Watchman via agency Venables Bell & Partners in New York and Chase’s Mama Said Knock You Out, featuring Serena Williams from agency Droga5 in New York.
Heilbronner, who has been sound designing and mixing for broadcast and film for almost 10 years, has worked on large fashion brands like Nike and J Crew to Fortune 500 Companies like General Electric, Bank of America and Estee Lauder. He has also mixed promos and primetime broadcast specials for USA Network, CBS and ABC Television. In addition to commercial VO recording, editing and mixing, Heilbronner has a growing credit list of long-form documentaries and feature films, including The Broken Ones, Romance (In the Digital Age), Generation Iron 2, The Hurt Business and Giving Birth in America (a CNN special series).
We recently reached out to Heilbronner to find out more about these two very different commercial projects and how he tackled each.
Both Audi and Chase are very different assignments from an audio perspective. How did these projects come your way?
On Audi, we were asked to be part of their new 2019 A7 campaign, which follows a security guard patrolling the Audi factory in the middle of night. It’s sort of James Bond meets Night at the Museum. The factory is full of otherworldly rooms built to put the cars through their paces (extreme cold, isolation etc.). Q Department did a great job crafting the sounds of those worlds and really bringing the viewer into the factory. Agency Venables & Bell were looking to really pull everything together tightly and have the dialogue land up-front, while still maintaining the wonderfully lush and dynamic music and sound design that had been laid down already.
The Chase Serena campaign is an impact-driven series of spots. Droga5 has a great reputation for putting together cinematic spots and this is no exception. Drazen Bosnjak from Q Department originally reached out to see if I would be interested in mixing this one because one of the final deliverables was the Jumbotron at the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Digital Arts has a wonderful 7.1 Dolby approved 4K theater, so we were able to really get a sense of what the finals would sound and look like up on the big screen.
Did you have any concerns going into the project about what would be required creatively or technically?
For Audi our biggest challenge was the tight deadline. We mixed in New York but we had three different time zones in play, so getting approvals could sometimes be difficult. With Chase, the amount of content for this campaign was large. We needed to deliver finals for broadcast, social media (Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter), Jumbotron and cinema. Making sure they played back as loud and crisp as they could on all those platforms was a major focus.
What was the most challenging aspect for you on the project?
As with a lot of production audio, the noise on set was pretty extreme. For Audi they had to film the night watchman walking in different spaces, delivering the copy at a variety of volumes. It all needed to gel together as if he was in one smaller room talking directly to the camera, as if he were a narrator. We didn’t have access to re-record him, so we had to use a few different denoise tools, such as iZotope RX6, Brusfri and Waves WNS to clear out the clashing room tones.
The biggest challenge on Chase was the dynamic range and power of these spots. Serena beautifully hushed whisper narration is surrounded by impactful bass drops, cinematic hits and lush ambiences. Reigning all that in, building to a climax and still having her narration be the focus was a game of cat and mouse. Also, broadcast standards are a bit restrictive when it comes to large impacts, so finding the right balance was key.
Any interesting technology or techniques that you used on the project?
I mainly use Avid Pro Tools Ultimate 2018. They have made some incredible advancements — you can now do everything on one machine, all in the box. I can have 180 tracks running in a surround session and still print every deliverable (5.1, stereo, stems etc.) without a hiccup.
I’ve been using Penteo 7 Pro for stereo 5.1 upmixing. It does a fantastic job filling in the surrounds, but also folds down to stereo nicely (and passes QC). Spanner is another useful tool when working with all sorts of channel counts. It allows me to down-mix, rearrange channels and route audio to the correct buses easily.