Tag Archives: audio mixing

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.

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.

 

Behind the Title: PlushNYC partner/mixer Mike Levesque, Jr.

NAME: Michael Levesque, Jr.

COMPANY: PlushNYC

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We provide audio post production

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Partner/Mixer/Sound Designer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
The foundation of it all for me is that I’m a mixer and a sound designer. I became a studio owner/partner organically because I didn’t want to work for someone else. The core of my role is giving my clients what they want from an audio post perspective. The other parts of my job entail managing the staff, working through technical issues, empowering senior employees to excel in their careers and coach junior staff when given the opportunity.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Everyday I find myself being the janitor in many ways! I’m a huge advocate of leading by example and I feel that no task is too mundane for any team member to take on. So I don’t cast shade on picking up a mop or broom, and also handle everything else above that. I’m a part of a team, and everyone on the team participates.

During our latest facility remodel, I took a very hands-on approach. As a bit of a weekend carpenter, I naturally gravitate toward building things, and that was no different in the studio!

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?
Avid Pro Tools. I’ve been operating on Pro Tools since 1997 and was one of the early adopters. Initially, I started out on analog ¼-inch tape and later moved to the digital editing system SSL ScreenSound. I’ve been using Pro Tools since its humble beginnings, and that is my tool of choice.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
For me, my favorite part about the job is definitely working with the clients. That’s where I feel I am able to put my best self forward. In those shoes, I have the most experience. I enjoy the conversation that happens in the room, the challenges that I get from the variety of projects and working with the creatives to bring their sonic vision to life. Because of the amount of time i spend in the studio with my clients one of the great results besides the work is wonderful, long-term friendships. You get to meet a lot of different people and experience a lot of different walks of life, and that’s incredibly rewarding for me.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
We’ve been really lucky to have regular growth over the years, but the logistics of that can be challenging at times. Expansion in NYC is a constant uphill battle!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The train ride in. With no distractions, I’m able to get the most work done. It’s quiet and allows me to be able to plan my day out strategically while my clarity is at its peak. That way I can maximize my day and analyze and prioritize what I want to get done before the hustle and bustle of the day begins.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
If I weren’t a mixer/sound designer, I would likely be a general contractor or in a role where I was dealing with building and remodeling houses.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I started when I was 19 and I knew pretty quickly that this was the path for me. When I first got into it, I wanted to be a music producer. Being a novice musician, it was very natural for me.

Borgata

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently worked on a large-scale project for Frito-Lay, a project for ProFlowers and Shari’s Berries for Valentine’s Day, a spot for Massage Envy and a campaign for the Broadway show Rocktopia. I’ve also worked on a number of projects for Vevo, including pieces for The World According To… series for artists — that includes a recent one with Jaden Smith. I also recently worked on a spot with SapientRazorfish New York for Borgata Casino that goes on a colorful, dreamlike tour of the casino’s app.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Back in early 2000s, I mixed a DVD box set called Journey Into the Blues, a PBS film series from Martin Scorsese that won a Grammy for Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
– My cell phone to keep me connected to every aspect of life.
– My Garmin GPS Watch to help me analytically look at where I’m performing in fitness.
– Pro Tools to keep the audio work running!

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I’m an avid triathlete, so personal wellness is a very big part of my life. Training daily is a really good stress reliever, and it allows me to focus both at work and at home with the kids. It’s my meditation time.

Michael Semanick: Mixing SFX, Foley for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Michael Semanick from Skywalker Sound mixed the sound effects, Foley and backgrounds on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has earned an Oscar nomination for Sound Mixing.

Technically, this is not Semanick’s first experience with the Star Wars franchise — he’s credited as an additional mixer on Rogue One — but on The Last Jedi he was a key figure in fine-tuning the film’s soundtrack. He worked alongside re-recording mixers Ren Klyce and David Parker, and with director Rian Johnson, to craft a soundtrack that was bold and dynamic. (Look for next week’s Star Wars story, in which re-recording mixer Ren Klyce talks about his approach to mixing John Williams’ score.)

Michael Semanick

Recently, Semanick shared his story of what went into mixing the sound effects on The Last Jedi. He mixed at Skywalker in Nicasio, California, on the Kurosawa Stage.

You had all of these amazing elements — Skywalker’s effects, John Williams’ score and the dialogue. How did you bring clarity to what could potentially be a chaotic soundtrack?
Yes, there are a lot of elements that come in, and you have to balance these things. It’s easy on a film like this to get bombastic and assault the audience, but that’s one of the things that Rian didn’t want to do. He wanted to create dynamics in the track and get really quiet so that when it does get loud it’s not overly loud.

So when creating that I have to look at all of the elements coming in and see what we’re trying to do in each specific scene. I ask myself, “What’s this scene about? What’s this storyline? What’s the music doing here? Is that the thread that takes us to the next scene or to the next place? What are the sound effects? Do we need to hear these background sounds, or do we need just the hard effects?”

Essentially, it’s me trying to figure out how many frequencies are available and how much dialogue has to come through so the audience doesn’t lose the thread of the story. It’s about deciding when it’s right to feature the sound effects or take the score down to feature a big explosion and then bring the score back up.

It’s always a balancing act, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and throw it all in there. I might need a line of dialogue to come through, so the backgrounds go. I don’t want to distract the audience. There is so much happening visually in the film that you can’t put sound on everything. Otherwise, the audience wouldn’t know what to focus on. At least that’s my approach to it.

How did you work with the director?
As we mixed the film with Rian, we found what types of sounds defined the film and what types of moments defined the film in terms of sound. For example, by the time you reach the scene when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) jumps to hyperspace into the First Order’s fleet, everything goes really quiet. The sound there doesn’t go completely out — it feels like it goes out, but there’s sound. As soon as the music peaks, I bring in a low space tone. Well, if there was a tone in space, I imagine that is what it would sound like. So there is sound constantly through that scene, but the quietness goes on for a long time.

One of the great things about that scene was that it was always designed that way. While I noted how great that scene was, I didn’t really get it until I saw it with an audience. They became the soundtrack, reacting with gasps. I was at a screening in Seattle, and when we hit that scene and you could hear that the people were just stunned, and one guy in the audience went, “Yeah!”

There are other areas in the film where we go extremely quiet or take the sound out completely. For example, when Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) first force-connect, the sound goes out completely… you only hear a little bit of their breathing. There’s one time when the force connection catches them off guard — when Kylo had just gotten done working out and Rey was walking somewhere — we took the sound completely out while she was still moving.

Rian loved it because when we were working on that scene we were trying to get something different. We used to have sound there, all the way through the scene. Then Rian said, “What happens if you just start taking some of the sounds out?” So, I started pulling sounds out and sure enough, when I got the sound all the way out — no music, no sounds, no backgrounds, no nothing — Rian was like, “That’s it! That just draws you in.” And it does. It pulls you into their moment. They’re pulled together even though they don’t want to be. Then we slowly brought it back in with their breathing, a little echo and a little footstep here or there. Having those types of dynamics worked into the film helped the scene at the end.

Rian shot and cut the picture so we could have these moments of quiet. It was already set up, visually and story-wise, to allow that to happen. When Rey goes into the mirror cave, it’s so quiet. You hear all the footsteps and the reverbs and reflections in there. The film lent itself to that.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of the effects?
The moment Kylo Ren and Rey touch hands via the force connection. That was a real challenge. They’re together in the force connection, but they weren’t together physically. We were cutting back and forth from her place to Kylo Ren’s place. We were hearing her campfire and her rain. It was a very delicate balance between that and the music. We could have had the rain really loud and the music blasting, but Rian wanted the rain and fire to peel away as their hands were getting closer. It was so quiet and when they did touch there was just a bit of a low-end thump. Having a big sound there just didn’t have the intimacy that the scene demanded. It can be so hard to get the balance right to where the audience is feeling the same thing as the characters. The audience is going, “No, oh no.” You know what’s going to come, but we wanted to add that extra tension to it sonically. For me, that was one of the hardest scenes to get.

What about the action scenes?
They are tough because they take time to mix. You have to decide what you want to play. For example, when the ships are exploding as they’re trying to get away before Holdo rams her ship into the First Order’s, you have all of that stuff falling from the ceiling. We had to pick our moments. There’s all of this fire in the background and TIE fighters flying around, and you can’t hear them all or it will be a jumbled mess. I can mix those scenes pretty well because I just follow the story point. We need to hear this to go with that. We have to have a sound of falling down, so let’s put that in.

Is there a scene you had fun with?
The fight in Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) room, between Rey and Kylo Ren. That was really fun because it was like wham-bam, and you have the lightsaber flying around. In those moments, like when Rey throws the lightsaber, we drop the sound out for a split second so when Kylo turns it on it’s even more powerful.

That scene was the most fun, but the trickiest one was that force-touch scene. We went over it a hundred different ways, to just get it to feel like we were with them. For me, if the sound calls too much attention to itself, it’s pulling you out of the story, and that’s bad mixing. I wanted the audience to lean in and feel those hands about to connect. When you take the sound out and the music out, then it’s just two hands coming together slowly. It was about finding that balance to make the audience feel like they’re in that moment, in that little hut, and they’re about to touch and see into each other’s souls, so to speak. That was a challenge, but it was fun because when you get it, and you see the audience react, everyone feels good about that scene. I feel like I did something right.

What was one audio tool that you couldn’t live without on this mix?
For me, it was the AMS Neve DFC Gemini console. All the sounds came into that. The console was like an instrument that I played. I could bring any sound in from any direction, and I could EQ it and manipulate it. I could put reverb on it. I could give the director what he wanted. My editors were cutting the sound, but I had to have that console to EQ and balance the sounds. Sometimes it was about EQing frequencies out to make a sound fit better with other sounds. You have to find room for the sounds.

I could move around on it very quickly. I had Rian sitting behind me saying, “What if you roll back and adjust this or try that.” I could ease those faders up and down and hit it just right. I know how to use it so well that I could hear stuff ahead of what I was doing.

The Neve DFC was invaluable. I could take all the different sound formats and sample rates and it all came through the console, and in one place. It could blend all those sources together; it’s a mixing bowl. It brought all the sounds together so they could all talk to each other. Then I manipulated them and sent them out and that was the soundtrack — all driven by the director, of course.

Can you talk about working with the sound editor?
The editors are my right-hand people. They can shift things and move things and give me another sound. Maybe I need one with more mid-range because the one in there isn’t quite reading. We had a lot of that. Trying to get those explosions to work and to come through John Williams’ score, sometimes we needed something with more low-end and more thump or more crack. There was a handoff in some scenes.

On The Last Jedi, I had sound effects editor Jon Borland with me on the stage. Bonnie Wild had started the project and had prepped a lot of the sounds for several reels — her and Jon and Ren Klyce, who oversaw the whole thing. But Jon was my go-to person on the stage. He did a great job. It was a bit of a daunting task, but Jon is young and wants to learn and gave it everything he had. I love that.

What format was the main mix?
Everything was done in Atmos natively, then we downmixed to 7.1 and 5.1 and all the other formats. We were very diligent about having the downmixed versions match the Atmos mix the best that they could.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’m so glad that Rian chose me to be part of the mix. This film was a lot of fun and a real collaborative effort. Rian is the one who really set that tone. He wanted to hear our ideas and see what we could do. He wasn’t sold on one thing. If something wasn’t working, he would try things out until it did. It was literally sorting out frequencies and getting transitions to work just right. Rian was collaborative, and that creates a room of collaboration. We wanted a great track for the audience to enjoy… a track that went with Rian’s picture.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney

Oscar Watch: The Shape (and sound) of Water

Post production sound mixers Christian Cooke and Brad Zoern, who are nominated (with production mixer Glen Gauthier) for their work on Fox’s The Shape of Water, have sat side-by-side at mixing consoles for nearly a decade. The frequent collaborators, who handle mixing duties at Deluxe Toronto, faced an unusual assignment given that the film’s two lead characters never utter a single word of actual dialogue. In The Shape of Water, which has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is mute and the creature she falls in love with makes undefined sounds. This creative choice placed more than the usual amount of importance on the rest of the soundscape to support the story.

L-R: Nathan Robitaille, J. Miles Dale, Brad Zoern, director Guillermo del Toro, Christian Cooke, Nelson Ferreira, Filip Hosek, Cam McLauchlin, video editor Sidney Wolinsky, Rob Hegedus, Doug Wilkinson.

Cooke, who focused on dialogue and music, and Zoern, who worked with effects, backgrounds and Foley, knew from the start that their work would need to fit into the unique and delicate tone that infused the performances and visuals. Their work began, as always, with pre-dubs followed by three temp mixes of five days each, which allowed for discussion and input from director Guillermo del Toro. It was at the premixes that the mixers got a feel for del Toro’s conception for the film’s soundtrack. “We were more literal at first with some of the sounds,” says Zoern. “He had ideas about blending effects and music. By the time we started on the five-week-long mix, we had a very clear idea about what he was looking for.”

The final mix took place in one of Deluxe Toronto’s five stages, which have identical acoustic qualities and the same Avid Pro Tools-based Harrison MP4D/Avid S6 hybrid console, JBL M2 speakers and Crown amps.

The mixers worked to shape sonic moments that do more than represent “reality,” but create mood and tension. This includes key moments such as the sound of a car’s windshield wipers that build in volume until they take over the track in the form of a metronome-like beat underlining the tension of the moment. One pivotal scene finds Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) paying a visit to Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). As Strickland speaks, Zelda’s husband Brewster (Martin Roach) watches television. “It was an actual mono track from a real show,” Cooke explains. “It starts out sounding roomy and distant as it would really have sounded. As the scene progresses, it expands, getting more prominent and spreading out around the speakers [for the 5.1 version]. By the end of the scene, the audio from the TV has become something totally different from what it started the scene as and then we melded that seamlessly into Alexandre Desplat’s score.”

Beyond the aesthetic work of building a sound mix, particularly one so fluid and expressionistic, post production mixers must also collaborate on a large number of technical decisions during the mix to ensure the elements have the right amount of emotional punch without calling attention to themselves. Individual sounds, even specific frequencies, vie for audience attention and the mixers orchestrate and layer them.

“It’s raining outside when they come into the room,” Zoern notes about the above scene. “We want to initially hear the sound of the rain to have a context for the scene. You never just want dialogue coming out of nowhere; it needs to live in a space. But then we pull that back to focus on the dialogue, and then the [augmented] audio from the TV gains prominence. During the final mix, Chris and I are always working together, side by side, to meld the hundreds of sounds the editors have built in a way that reflects the story and mood of the film.”

“We’re like an old married couple,” Cooke jokes. “We finish each other’s sentences. But it’s very helpful to have that kind of shorthand in this job. We’re blending so many pieces together and if people notice what we’ve done, we haven’t done our jobs.”

Super Bowl: Heard City’s audio post for Tide, Bud and more

By Jennifer Walden

New York audio post house Heard City put their collaborative workflow design to work on the Super Bowl ad campaign for Tide. Philip Loeb, partner/president of Heard City, reports that their facility is set up so that several sound artists can work on the same project simultaneously.

Loeb also helped to mix and sound design many of the other Super Bowl ads that came to Heard City, including ads for Budweiser, Pizza Hut, Blacture, Tourism Australia and the NFL.

Here, Loeb and mixer/sound designer Michael Vitacco discuss the approach and the tools that their team used on these standout Super Bowl spots.

Philip Loeb

Tide’s It’s a Tide Ad campaign via Saatchi & Saatchi New York
Is every Super Bowl ad really a Tide ad in disguise? A string of commercials touting products from beer to diamonds, and even a local ad for insurance, are interrupted by David Harbour (of Stranger Things fame). He declares that those ads are actually just Tide commercials, as everyone is wearing such clean clothes.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Loeb: These spots, four in total, involved sound design and mixing, as well as ADR. One of our mixers, Evan Mangiamele, conducted an ADR session with David Harbour, who was in Hawaii, and we integrated that into the commercial. In addition, we recorded a handful of different characters for the lead-ins for each of the different vignettes because we were treating each of those as different commercials. We had to be mindful of a male voiceover starting one and then a female voiceover starting another so that they were staggered.

There was one vignette for Old Spice, and since the ads were for P&G, we did get the Old Spice pneumonic and we did try something different at the end — with one version featuring the character singing the pneumonic and one of him whistling it. There were many different variations and we just wanted, in the end, to get part of the pneumonic into the joke at the end.

The challenge with the Tide campaign, in particular, was to make each of these vignettes feel like it was a different commercial and to treat each one as such. There’s an overall mix level that goes into that but we wanted certain ones to have a little bit more dynamic range than the others. For example, there is a cola vignette that’s set on a beach with people taking a selfie. David interrupts them by saying, “No, it’s a Tide ad.”

For that spot, we had to record a voiceover that was very loud and energetic to go along with a loud and energetic music track. That vignette cuts into the “personal digital assistant” (think Amazon’s Alexa) spot. We had to be very mindful of these ads flowing into each other while making it clear to the viewer that these were different commercials with different products, not one linear ad. Each commercial required its own voiceover, its own sound design, its own music track, and its own tone.

One vignette was about car insurance featuring a mechanic in a white shirt under a car. That spot isn’t letterbox like the others; it’s 4:3 because it’s supposed to be a local ad. We made that vignette sound more like a local ad; it’s a little over-compressed, a little over-equalized and a little videotape sounding. The music is mixed a little low. We wanted it to sound like the dialogue is really up front so as to get the message across, like a local advertisement.

What’s your workflow like?
Loeb: At Heard City, our workflow is unique in that we can have multiple mixers working on the same project simultaneously. This collaborative process makes our work much more efficient, and that was our original intent when we opened the company six years ago. The model came to us by watching the way that the bigger VFX companies work. Each artist takes a different piece of the project and then all of the work is combined at the end.

We did that on the Tide campaign, and there was no other way we could have done it due to the schedule. Also, we believe this workflow provides a much better product. One sound artist can be working specifically on the sound design while another can be mixing. So as I was working on mixing, Evan was flying in his sound design to me. It was a lot of fun working on it like that.

What tools helped you to create the sound?
One plug-in we’re finding to be very helpful is the iZotope Neutron. We put that on the master bus and we have found many settings that work very well on broadcast projects. It’s a very flexible tool.

Vitacco: The Neutron has been incredibly helpful overall in balancing out the mix. There are some very helpful custom settings that have helped to create a dynamic mix for air.

Tourism Australia Dundee via Droga5 New York
Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth star in this movie-trailer-turned-tourism-ad for Australia. It starts out as a movie trailer for a new addition to the Crocodile Dundee film franchise — well, rather, a spoof of it. There’s epic music featuring a didgeridoo and title cards introducing the actors and setting up the premise for the “film.” Then there’s talk of miles of beaches and fine wine and dining. It all seems a bit fishy, but finally Danny McBride confirms that this is, in fact, actually a tourism ad.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Vitacco: In this case, we were creating a fake movie trailer that’s a misdirect for the audience, so we aimed to create sound design that was both in the vein of being big and epic and also authentic to the location of the “film.”

One of the things that movie trailers often draw upon is a consistent mnemonic to drive home a message. So I helped to sound design a consistent mnemonic for each of the title cards that come up.

For this I used some Native Instruments toolkits, like “Rise & Hit” and “Gravity,” and Tonsturm’s Whoosh software to supplement some existing sound design to create that consistent and branded mnemonic.

In addition, we wanted to create an authentic sonic palette for the Australian outback where a lot of the footage was shot. I had to be very aware of the species of animals and insects that were around. I drew upon sound effects that were specifically from Australia. All sound effects were authentic to that entire continent.

Another factor that came into play was that anytime you are dealing with a spot that has a lot of soundbites, especially ones recorded outside, there tends to be a lot of noise reduction taking place. I didn’t have to hit it too hard because everything was recorded very well. For cleanup, I used the iZotope RX 6 — both the RX Connect and the RX Denoiser. I relied on that heavily, as well as the Waves WNS plug-in, just to make sure that things were crisp and clear. That allowed me the flexibility to add my own ambient sound and have more control over the mix.

Michael Vitacco

In RX, I really like to use the Denoiser instead of the Dialogue Denoiser tool when possible. I’ll pull out the handles of the production sound and grab a long sample of noise. Then I’ll use the Denoiser because I find that works better than the Dialogue Denoiser.

Budweiser Stand By You via David Miami
The phone rings in the middle of the night. A man gets out of bed, prepares to leave and kisses his wife good-bye. His car radio announces that a natural disaster is affecting thousands of families who are in desperate need of aid. The man arrives at a Budweiser factory and helps to organize the production of canned water instead of beer.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Loeb: For this spot, I did a preliminary mix where I handled the effects, the dialogue and the music. We set the preliminary tone for that as to how we were going to play the effects throughout it.

The spot starts with a husband and wife asleep in bed and they’re awakened by a phone call. Our sound focused on the dialogue and effects upfront, and also the song. I worked on this with another fantastic mixer here at Heard City, Elizabeth McClanahan, who comes from a music background. She put her ears to the track and did an amazing job of remixing the stems.

On the master track in the Pro Tools session, she used iZotope’s Neutron, as well as the FabFilter Pro-L limiter, which helps to contain the mix. One of the tricks on a dynamic mix like that — which starts off with that quiet moment in the morning and then builds with the music in the end — is to keep it within the restrictions of the CALM Act and other specifications that stipulate dynamic range and not just average loudness. We had to be mindful of how we were treating those quiet portions and the lower portions so that we still had some dynamic range but we weren’t out of spec.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @AudioJeney.

Capturing Foley for Epix’s Berlin Station

Now in its second season on Epix, the drama series Berlin Station centers on undercover agents, diplomats and whistleblowers inhabiting a shadow world inside the German capital.

Leslie Bloome

Working under the direction of series supervising sound editor Ruy Garcia, Westchester, New York-based Foley studio Alchemy Post Sound is providing Berlin Station with cinematic sound. Practical effects, like the clatter of weapons and clinking glass, are recorded on the facility’s main Foley stage. Certain environmental effects are captured on location at sites whose ambience is like the show’s settings. Interior footsteps, meanwhile, are recorded in the facility’s new “live” room, a 1,300-square-foot space with natural reverb that’s used to replicate the environment of rooms with concrete, linoleum and tile floors.

Garcia wants a soundtrack with a lot of detail and depth of field,” explains lead Foley artist and Alchemy Post founder Leslie Bloome. “So, it’s important to perform sounds in the proper perspective. Our entire team of editors, engineers and Foley artists need to be on point regarding the location and depth of field of sounds we’re recording. Our aim is to make every setting feel like a real place.”

A frequent task for the Foley team is to come up with sounds for high-tech cameras, surveillance equipment and other spy gadgetry. Foley artist Joanna Fang notes that sophisticated wall safes appear in several episodes, each one featuring differing combinations of electronic, latch and door sounds. She adds that in one episode a character has a microchip concealed in his suit jacket and the Foley team needed to invent the muffled crunch the chip makes when the man is frisked. “It’s one of those little ‘non-sounds’ that Foley specializes in,” she says. “Most people take it for granted, but it helps tell the story.”

The team is also called on to create Foley effects associated with specific exterior and interior locations. This can include everything from seedy safe houses and bars to modern office suites and upscale hotel rooms. When possible, Alchemy prefers to record such effects on location at sites closely resembling those pictured on-screen. Bloome says that recording things like creaky wood floors on location results in effects that sound more real. “The natural ambiance allows us to grab the essence of the moment,” he explains, “and keep viewers engaged with the scene.”

Footsteps are another regular Foley task. Fang points out that there is a lot of cat-and-mouse action with one character following another or being pursued, and the patter of footsteps adds to the tension. “The footsteps are kind of tough,” she says. “Many of the characters are either diplomats or spies and they all wear hard soled shoes. It’s hard to build contrast, so we end up creating a hierarchy, dark powerful heels for strong characters, lighter shoes for secondary roles.”

For interior footsteps, large theatrical curtains are used to adjust the ambiance in the live stage to fit the scene. “If it’s an office or a small room in a house, we draw the curtains to cut the room in half; if it’s a hotel lobby, we open them up,” Fang explains. “It’s amazing. We’re not only creating depth and contrast by using different types of shoes and walking surfaces, we’re doing it by adjusting the size of the recording space.”

Alchemy edits their Foley in-house and delivers pre-mixed and synced Foley that can be dropped right into the final mix seamlessly. “The things we’re doing with location Foley and perspective mixing are really cool,” says Foley editor and mixer Nicholas Seaman. “But it also means the responsibility for getting the sound right falls squarely on our shoulders. There is no ‘fix in the mix.’ From our point of view, the Foley should be able to stand on its own. You should be able to watch a scene and understand what’s going on without hearing a single line of dialogue.”

The studio used Neumann U87 and KMR81 microphones, a Millennia mic-pre and Apogee converter, all recorded into Avid Pro Tools on a C24 console. In addition to recording a lot of guns, Alchemy also borrowed a Doomsday prep kit for some of the sounds.

The challenge to deliver sound effects that can stand up to that level of scrutiny keeps the Foley team on its toes. “It’s a fascinating show,” says Fang. “One moment, we’re inside the station with the usual office sounds and in the next edit, we’re in the field in the middle of a machine gun battle. From one episode to the next, we never know what’s going to be thrown at us.”

Emmy Awards: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Re-recording mixer Brian Bracken and supervising sound editor Benny Mouthon

By Jennifer Walden

CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown is an award-winning travel series about food and politics. Or is it a food series about travel and politics? Perhaps it’s best described as a three-course mind-meal of food, travel and regional political/economic commentary with a dash of history. Whatever it is, it’s addicting, and Bourdain’s candor is refreshing. And if even some of the dishes that Bourdain consumes seem less than appetizing, the show itself is totally binge-worthy. Now on Netflix, all nine season are available for mass consumption.

Benny Mouthon

From its inception, String & Can in New York City has handled the post sound on Parts Unknown. Sound designers/re-recording mixers Benny Mouthon and Brian Bracken have amassed a total of nine Emmy nominations for their sound work on the show. This year Mouthon is nominated for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Nonfiction Program on Season 8, Episode 1 “Hanoi,” and Bracken is nominated for Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Nonfiction Program on Season 8’s finale, Episode 9 “Rome.”

Even though their nominations are specifically for sound editing and sound mixing, Mouthon and Bracken handle all the audio post needs for each episode they work on, from dialogue editing and sound design to final mix. It’s a substantial amount of work per episode considering Bourdain generally doesn’t use a production sound mixer. Sound-wise, it’s often just a case of catch what you can on the busy streets and crowded eateries.

Here, Mouthon and Bracken share details about what went into their Emmy-nominated episodes.

You’re nine seasons into Parts Unknown and the show just gets better and better. Sound-wise, how has the show grown? What’s changed over the years?
Benny Mouthon: We usually don’t have a location sound mixer on the show, but I feel that the camera crew has been paying more attention to mic placements. Also, the converters on the cameras have gotten better as the cameras have evolved. They can record much better quality sound than a few years ago, though still not as good as a high-end field sound recorder.

The bulk of the dialogue that we get is a lavaliere on Tony Bourdain and his guest or guests. Then they have Sanken shotgun mics on the cameras. As they move around the subjects in the frame, the shotguns tend to not be very usable so we rely on the lav mics a lot. Since the producers are the only ones that spend time both in the field and in the mix, we have had many discussions after the screenings over the years as to what works, what doesn’t and how things can be done better next time. Thanks to this dialogue I can definitely say that the quality of the audio has gotten better with time.

On the post side, we have more powerful tools than we did when the series first started. With the iZotope RX tools we’ve been able to clean up tracks that would have been unusable before. We often have to deal with distortion, or clothing rustle, or wind noise, and now all of those issues are easier to deal with.

Editors will often send us problematic audio scenes during the edit to see if they can be salvaged. In the past we used to turn down many, but in the last couple of years our “success rate” has gotten much better.

Brian Bracken

Brian Bracken: The cinematic landscape lends itself to us being able to enhance the show more by using the production audio. For instance, in the “Rome” episode, there’s a highway scene with fast “car-bys.” Those were very well recorded, and the cars sound very powerful when they pass by. That wasn’t really how it was delivered to us back in the earlier seasons. Like Benny said, with the equipment getting better the recordings get better and the attention to detail in terms of sound has really paid off.

Mouthon: As the show evolves, the cameramen get to play with nicer toys, and they’re also recording more b-roll. They started to use the Canon D5 early on for this, with better lenses — lenses that gave the show a much more filmic look. Tony also likes to pay homage to films quite a lot, Brian’s “Rome” episode is just one great example.

As this “cinema-style” became more the norm, I think they realized that the edits can be limited if they don’t have very specific sounds that were recorded while they were in a particular place. So they have grown more aware of what will make for a better edit and therefore a better soundscape afterwards for us.

Talking about soundscapes, let’s look at the “Hanoi” episode. You start with a rural soundscape of wind in grass, chickens and bugs, and then it changes to urban sounds like motorbikes and horns. How much sound was taken from production?
Mouthon: A fair amount was taken from production, and I have to give a big credit to Hunter Gross, the picture editor on that episode. He’s very good at laying out a lot of the B-roll and complementing that with sound effects so that I have a great starting point. The huge advantage I had was that I was in Hanoi about 10 years ago on a personal holiday and I had a little Zoom recorder with me. I was able to use a lot of my own recordings of Hanoi, which included a lot of great stereo street sounds.

The downside to not having a location sound mixer is that the camera crew gets everything they can but it’s in mono. They don’t have the time to go back to a location with a stereo recorder or an X/Y mic configuration on a camera to record that way. There’s just no time. So I was able to use a lot of my own recordings to complement what they had gotten in mono, along with my memory of how absolutely insane traffic is in Hanoi.

It’s busy even on the smaller side streets. I remember just standing on the curb on my first day and not knowing how to cross the street. It is just completely flooded with scooters everywhere. There was an old lady standing next to me who looked at me pitifully and she just walked right out into the street, staring straight ahead to where she was going. I decided to just follow her and miraculously the scooters just avoid you and you just trust that you won’t be hit.

Sound-wise, I remember that everyone honks, and they go pretty fast. So I was given a lot of B-roll from Hunter to complement the scenes. I really like to pan the sound and follow an individual scooter from left to right. I also put in a lot of my stereo recordings to complement their sound a bit better and I was able to add a lot of Italian scooter sounds, as well as some Honda bikes. I try to stay as true as possible to what I am seeing but the idea was to make the sound feel a little bit claustrophobic.

What sounds would you say are characteristic of Hanoi’s soundscape? What sounds make that city sound like that city?
Mouthon: The two-stroke engine. There are a lot of scooters, very whiney and mid-ranged. The sound of motorbikes is relentless, and it’s coming from everywhere — left, right, up, down — you are constantly making sure that you’re not getting in the way of someone who is driving very fast.

The scooter sounds were useful in another way. We could take you out of one scene and bring you into a completely different situation, one that is much more present. It can be loud, fill the space and give your senses a shock.

For the first half of the episode, Bourdain is eating outside on the street and there’s traffic and crowds. Tell me about the principle dialog for those locations. It seems like it would have been quite a challenge to clean and edit the dialog there.
Mouthon: There was a lot of street noise, but that’s kind of the charm — having Bourdain sitting on a plastic stool on the pavement, eating a bowl of soup. Thankfully, the camera work is such that they do pan over into the street and you see a bunch of scooters going back and forth.

As a viewer, it’s easier to accept the sound of the scooters and the noise when you get to see how dense the traffic is. But it was still tricky. There were a lot of scooter sounds and traffic noises that had to be finessed out of sentences because the noise sounded cut off. Often I had to grab B-roll sound to help match that sentence into the upcoming sentence that they decided to use.

In general, the rain was more problematic than the traffic noise. There is a scene where he is outside late in the evening and it’s pouring rain. That was harder to deal with. I used a little bit of EQ and compression to control it a little but the sound overall is pretty true to what it sounded like there.

President Obama shows up in Hanoi. How cool is that? Sound-wise, was there anything to note about that sequence?
Mouthon: The scene was shot in a restaurant and they asked people not to speak too loudly but, as is often the case in those smaller restaurants, the walls are very straight and parallel, and the floor is made of tile and the sound just echoes. There isn’t much in there to absorb the sound, so it was a little bit echoey, a little live, but not unmanageable.

I did add a little bit of stereo rain as former President Obama was coming out of the limousine because he was holding an umbrella. I also added in a little bit of crowd sounds just to enhance it a bit overall. At the end of act four, we see Tony walking through the rain and I complemented that with stereo ambience of growling thunder.

The “Hanoi” episode wraps up on an emotional note. The music does a lot to carry the emotion. Did you do anything sound-wise to help support that?
Mouthon: Hunter and the producer Tom Vitale often like to end on an emotional note. They like it to be a little poetic, and I agree with that. There were just a couple little hints of B-roll sound there, but I kept it very low because it’s the music that’s supposed to take the show out. Also, ending on music was a great way to tie it back to the beginning.

For “Rome,” the mood is very tongue-in-cheek. The episode opens with a street performer singing a spirited song, and the lyrics are about killing her lover. From a mix standpoint Brian, were you able to enhance the playfulness of this episode?
Bracken: Hunter did this episode as well. He was the one who really sold that tongue-in-cheek aspect of the episode, and I just tried to enhance it. I was there to support that performance in the mix. During that scene you have two performers in the market, and the market sounds were getting in the way of their guitars, and it wasn’t an easy task to make it sound as clean as it did.

In terms of the mix, what were some creative opportunities you had on the “Rome” episode?
Bracken: There were some cool things during the Mussolini section where they showed archival footage. Recreating the sound for that, making it feel as real as possible was fun. I like doing all of that marching stuff, with the very militant crowds. That was fun to do.

I also really liked doing that car scene — where the cars are whizzing by on the highway. It starts out far back and you hear this gentle rumble, then all of a sudden when that first car passes it’s like a punch in the face. The power continues throughout that whole little section until it is over-the-top loud. It’s almost like you’re standing on the side of the road. I was able to take their production audio and enhance that with other car-bys to really give it that sweeping stereo image. When a car goes by it just doesn’t cut away — you hear it decay a lot longer as the next car comes by.

The boxing scene was fun too because there were those hits. When they punch each other, I basically wanted it to sound the way Bourdain describes it: as a slap of leather against wet skin. When you hear him say that you have this picture in your head of what it should sound like and hopefully it matches everybody’s expectations when they hear those punches being thrown and landing.

What was the most challenging scene for you to mix in this episode, and how did you handle it?
Bracken: There’s a scene where Bourdain is talking with a group of people and they are in a café right on the side of the road. There are cars driving by, but I didn’t have that camera pan-over to show that there was traffic. I had to cut out all the stuff in between but not have gaps in the ambience. That’s a challenge you face all the time with any restaurant scene. So I cut out what I didn’t like.

I cut out the sound between words and layered in a nice crowd bed in mono. Then I did a separate bed in stereo. I find that when I only do the bed in stereo it sounds too wide. So I need something to marry the wide aspect of the scene and the narrow aspect of the voices. So between the mono bed, the dialogue, and the stereo bed I can do fader movements to make it sound smooth.

Of all the episodes in Season 8, why did you choose the mix on “Rome” for Emmy consideration?
Bracken: The episode really had great production audio. I had a lot to work with. They did a great job out there in the field.

Also, the episode is very cinematic. I love how Hunter and Tom end on a low note. They do that for this episode as well. I love the echoey footsteps that are leading you through the Palazzo Del Congressi. To me, the “Rome” episode sounded the best, and it was the most artistic one that I worked on this season.

Benny, of all the episodes in Season 8, why did you choose the sound editing on “Hanoi” for Emmy consideration?
Mouthon: For me, it was a mixture of having enjoyed playing around with all of the sounds of the scooters and knowing that they were almost a secondary character in the episode. But it was also a very nostalgic episode for me since it reminded me of the week I spent there and so maybe it was a bit more present in my head than the other episodes. No offense to the other episodes of course!


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney.

Multiple Emmy-winner Edward J. Greene, CAS, has passed away

Ed Greene died peacefully in Los Angeles on August 9, with his family by his side. He was 82 years old and is survived by his wife and children.

Born and raised in New York City, Greene attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  He began his pro audio career with a summer job in 1954 at Allegro Studios in New York doing voice and piano demos for music publishers. Within two years the studio was doing full recording sessions. Greene joined the army 1956 and served as recording engineer for the US Army Band and Chorus in Washington, DC. Upon discharge from the Army he co-founded Edgewood Studios in Washington, with partners radio and television commentator Charles Osgood and composer George Wilkins. Some of his recordings are legendary and include Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz’s “Jazz Samba” and Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd.”

In 1970, Greene came to California as chief engineer for MGM Records and worked with Sammy Davis Jr., The Osmonds, Lou Rawls and the prominent artists of that time. When many of these artists started doing television programs, he was asked to participate. He was brought into television mixing by Frank Sinatra, at a production meeting for Sinatra’s first broadcast.

Greene mixed many music, variety and award shows as well as earned the well-deserved reputation of being the “go-to” guy when it came to doing live drama for television like ER, Fail Safe and The West Wing Live. Ed garnered 22 Emmy wins, his most recent in 2015, and an astonishing 61 Emmy nominations (ranking him 3rd for most nominations and 2nd for most wins by an individual). He was a member of the Television Academy when it formed its current incarnation in 1977.

 

had a special affinity for mixing live broadcasts. His live productions included decades of The Kennedy Center Honors, The Grammy Awards, The Tony Awards, The Academy Awards and The SAG Awards. He also mixed the Live from Lincoln Center specials, Carnegie Hall, Live at 100, numerous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades, Tournament of Roses Parade, The AFI Life Achievement Awards, The 52nd Presidential Inaugural Gala, The 1996 Summer Olympics, The 2002 Winter Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies and years of American Idol. His live production work garnered him a Cinema Audio Society Award and four additional CAS nominations.

Green served on the Board of Directors of the Cinema Audio Society from 2005 to his death. In 2007, Ed was presented with the CAS Career Achievement Award recognizing his career, his willingness to mentor and his contribution to the art of sound.

 

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.