Tag Archives: audio post production

CAS and MPSE honor audio post pros and their work

By Mel Lambert

With a BAFTA win and high promise for the upcoming Oscar Awards, the sound team behind Bohemian Rhapsody secured a clean sweep at both the Cinema Audio Society (CAS) and Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) ceremonies here in Los Angeles last weekend.

Paul Massey

The 55th CAS Awards also honored sound mixer Lee Orloff with a Cinema Audio Society Career Achievement Award, while director Steven Spielberg received its Cinema Audio Society Filmmaker Award. And at the MPSE Awards, director Antoine Fuqua accepted the the 2019 Filmmaker Award, while supervising sound editor Stephen H. Flick secured the MPSE Career Achievement honor.

Re-recording mixer Paul Massey — accepting the CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing Motion Picture-Live Action on behalf of his fellow dubbing mixers Tim Cavagin and Niv Adiri, together with production mixer John Casali — thanked Bohemian Rhapsody’s co-executive producer and band members Roger Taylor and Brian May for “trusting me to mix the music of Queen.”

The film topped a nominee field that also included A Quiet Place, A Star is Born, Black Panther and First Man; for several years the CAS winner in the feature-film category also has secured an Oscar Award for sound mixing.

Isle of Dogs secured a CAS Award in the animation category, which also included Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Grinch. The sound-mixing team included original dialogue mixer Darrin Moore and re-recording mixers Christopher Scarabosio and Wayne Lemmer, together with scoring mixers Xavier Forcioli and Simon Rhodes and Foley mixer Peter Persaud.

Free Solo won a documentary award for production mixer Jim Hurst, re-recording mixers Tom Fleischman and Ric Schnupp, together with scoring mixer Tyson Lozensky, ADR mixer David Boulton and Foley mixer Joana Niza Braga.

Finally, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (Part 1) The Man Who Would Be Vogue, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Vote For Kennedy, Vote For Kennedy and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (Bhutan) won CAS Awards within various broadcast sound categories.

Steven Spielberg and Bradley Cooper

The CAS Filmmaker Award was presented to Steven Spielberg by fellow director Bradley Cooper. This followed tributes from regular members of Spielberg’s sound team, including production sound mixer Ron Judkins plus re-recording mixers Andy Nelson and Gary Rydstrom, who quipped: “We spent so much money on Jurassic Park that [Steven] had to shoot Schindler’s List in black & white!”

“Through your talent, [sound editors and mixers] allow the audience to see with their ears,” Spielberg acknowledged, while stressing the full sonic and visual impact of a theatrical experience. “There’s nothing like a big, dark theater,” he stated. He added that he still believes that movie theaters are the best environment in which to fully enjoy his cinematic creations.

Upon receiving his Career Achievement Award from sound mixer Chris Noyes and director Dean Parisot, production sound mixer Lee Orloff acknowledged the close collaboration that needs to exist between members of the filmmaking team. “It is so much more powerful than the strongest wall you could build,” he stated, recalling a 35-year career that spans nearly 80 films.

Lee Orloff

Outgoing CAS president Mark Ulano presented the President’s Award to leading Foley mixer MaryJo Lang, while the CAS Student Award went to Anna Wozniewicz of Chapman University. Finalists included Maria Cecilia Ayalde Angel of Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Allison Ng of USC, Bo Pang of Chapman University, and Kaylee Yacono of Savannah College of Art and Design.

Finally, the CAS Outstanding Product Awards went to Dan Dugan Sound Design for its Dugan Automixing in the Sound Devices 633 Compact Mixer, and to Izotope for its RX7 Audio Repair Software.

The CAS Awards ceremony was hosted by comedian Michael Kosta.

 

Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards

During the 66th Annual Golden Reels, outstanding achievement in sound editing awards were presented in 23 categories, encompassing feature films, long- and short-form television, animation, documentaries, games, special venue and other media.

The Americans, Atlanta, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Westworld figured prominently within the honored TV series.

Following introductions by re-recording mixer Steve Pederson and supervising sound editor Mandell Winter, director/producer Michael Mann presented the 2019 MPSE Filmmaker Award to Antoine Fuqua, while Academy Award-winning supervising sound editor Ben Wilkins presented the MPSE Career Achievement Award to fellow supervising sound editor Stephen H. Flick, who also serves as professor of cinematic arts at the University of Southern California.

Antoine Fuqua

“We celebrate the creation of entertainment content that people will enjoy for generations to come,” MPSE president Tom McCarthy stated in his opening address. “As new formats appear and new ways to distribute content are developed, we need to continue to excel at our craft and provide exceptional soundtracks that heighten the audience experience.”

As Pederson stressed during his introduction to the MPSE Filmmaker Award, Fuqua “counts on sound to complete his vision [as a filmmaker].” “His films are stylish and visceral,” added Winter, who along with Pederson has worked on a dozen films for the director during the past two decades.

“He is a director who trusts his own vision,” Mandell confirmed. “Antoine loves a layered soundtrack. And ADR has to be authentic and true to his artistic intentions. He is a bone fide storyteller.”

Four-time Oscar-nominee Mann stated that the honored director “always elevates everything he touches; he uses sound design and music to its fullest extent. [He is] a director who always pushes the limits, while evolving his art.”

Pre-recorded tributes to Fuqua came from actor Chis Pratt, who starred in The Magnificent Seven (2017). “Nobody deserves [this award] more,” he stated. Actor Mark Wahlberg, who starred in Shooter (2007), and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were also featured.

Stephen Hunter Flick

During his 40-year career in the motion picture industry, while working on some 150 films, Steven H. Flick has garnered two Oscar Award wins for Speed (1994) and Robocop (1987) together with nominations for Total Recall (1990), Die Hard (1988) and Poltergeist (1982).

The award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Animation Short Form went to Overwatch – Reunion from Blizzard Entertainment, headed by supervising sound editor Paul Menichini. The Non-Theatrical Animation Long Form award was awarded to NextGen from Netflix, headed by supervising sound editors David Acord and Steve Slanec.

The Feature Animation award went to the Oscar-nominated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse from Sony Pictures Entertainment/Marvel, headed by supervising sound editors Geoffrey Rubay and Curt Schulkey. The Non-Theatrical Documentary award went to Searching for Sound — Islandman and Veyasin from Karga Seven Pictures/Red Bull TV, headed by supervising sound editor Suat Ayas. Finally, the Feature Documentary was a tie between Free Solo from National Geographic Documentary Films, headed by supervising sound editor Deborah Wallach, and They Shall Not Grow Old from Wingnut Films/Fathom Events/Warner Bros., headed by supervising sound editors Martin Kwok, Brent Burge, Melanie Graham and Justin Webster.

The Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing — Music Score award also went to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with music editors Katie Greathouse and Catherine Wilson, while the Musical award went to Bohemian Rhapsody from GK Films/Fox Studios, with supervising music editor John Warhurst and music editor Neil Stemp. The Dialogue/ADR award also went to Bohemian Rhapsody, with supervising ADR/dialogue editors Nina Hartston and Jens Petersen, while the Effects/Foley award went to A Quiet Place from Paramount Pictures, with supervising sound editors Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl.

The Student Film/Verna Fields Award went to Facing It from National Film and Television School, with supervising sound designer/editor Adam Woodhams.


LA-based Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.

Karol Urban is president of CAS, others named to board

As a result of the Cinema Audio Society board of Directors election Karol Urban will replace CAS president Mark Ulano, whose term has come to an end.  Steve Venezia with replace treasurer Peter Damski who opted not to run for re-election.

“I am so incredibly honored to have garnered the confidence of our esteemed members,” says Urban. “After years of serving under different presidents and managing the content for the CAS Quarterly I have learned so much about the achievements, interests, talents and concerns of our membership. I am excited to given this new platform to celebrate the achievements and herald new opportunities to serve this incredibly dynamic and talented community.”

For 2019 the Executive Committee with include newly elected Urban and Venezia as well as VP Phillip W. Palmer, CAS, and secretary David J. Bondelevitch, CAS,  who were not up for election.

The incumbent CAS Board of Directors (Production) that were re-elected are  Peter J. Devlin CAS, Lee Orloff CAS, and Jeffrey W. Wexler, CAS. They will be joined by newly elected Amanda Beggs, CAS, and Mary H. Ellis, CAS, who are taking the seats of outgoing  board members Chris Newman CAS and Lisa Pinero, CAS.

Incumbent board members (Post Production) who were reelected are Bob Bronow CAS, and Mathew Waters, CAS, and they will be joined by newly elected Board Members Onnalee Blank, CAS, and Mike Minkler CAS, who will be taking the seats of board members Urban and Steve Venezia, CAS, who are now officers.

Continuing to serve as their terms were not up for reelection are for production Willie Burton, CAS, and Glen Trew, CAS, and for post production Tom Fleischman, CAS, Doc Kane CAS, Sherry Klein, CAS, and Marti Humphrey, CAS.

The new Board will be installed at the 55 Annual CAS Awards Saturday, February 16.

Audio post pro Julienne Guffain joins Sonic Union

NYC-based audio post studio Sonic Union has added sound designer/mix engineer Julienne Guffain to its creative team. Working across Sonic Union’s Bryant Park and Union Square locations, Guffain brings over a decade of experience in audio post production to her new role. She has worked on television, film and branded projects for clients such as Google, Mountain Dew, American Express and Cadillac among others.

A Virginia native, Guffain came to Manhattan to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She found herself drawn to sound in film, and it was at NYU where she cut her teeth as a Foley artist and mixer on student films and independent projects. She landed her first industry gig at Hobo Audio, working with clients such as The History Channel, The Discovery Channel and mixing the Emmy-winning television documentary series “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero.”

Making her way to Crew Cuts, she began lending her talents to a wide range of spot and brand projects, including the documentary feature “Public Figure,” which examines the psychological effects of constant social media use. It is slated for a festival run later this year.

 

Quick Chat: Crew Cuts’ Nancy Jacobsen and Stephanie Norris

By Randi Altman

Crew Cuts, a full-service production and post house, has been a New York fixture since 1986. Originally established as an editorial house, over the years as the industry evolved they added services that target all aspects of the workflow.

This independently-owned facility is run by executive producer/partner Nancy Jacobsen, senior editor/partner Sherri Margulies Keenan and senior editor/partner Jake Jacobsen. While commercial spots might be in their wheelhouse, their projects vary and include social media, music videos and indie films.

We decided to reach out to Nancy Jacobsen, as well as EP of finishing Stephanie Norris, to find out about trends, recent work and succeeding in an industry and city that isn’t always so welcoming.

Can you talk about what Crew Cuts provides and how you guys have evolved over the years?
Jacobsen: We pretty much do it all. We have 10 offline editors as well as artists working in VFX, 2D/3D animation, motion graphics/design, audio mix and sound design, VO record, color grading, title treatment, advanced compositing and conform. Two of our editors double as directors.

In the beginning, Crew Cuts primarily offered only editorial. As the years went by and the industry climate changed we began to cater to the needs of clients and slowly built out our entire finishing department. We started with some minimal graphics work and one staff artist in 2008.

In 2009, we expanded the team to include graphics, conform and audio mix. From there we just continued to grow and expand our department to the full finishing team we have today.

As a woman owner of a post house, what challenges have you had to overcome?
Jacobsen: When I started in this business, the industry was very different. I made less money than my male counterparts and it took me twice as long to be promoted because I am a woman. I have since seen great change where women are leading post houses and production houses and are finally getting the recognition for the hard work they deserve. Unfortunately, I had to “wait it out” and silently work harder than the men around me. This has paid off for me, and now I can help women get the credit they rightly deserve

Do you see the industry changing and becoming less male-dominated?
Jacobsen: Yes, the industry is definitely becoming less male-dominated. In the current climate, with the birth of the #metoo movement and specifically in our industry with the birth of Diet Madison Avenue (@dietmadisonave), we are seeing a lot more women step up and take on leading roles.

Are you mostly a commercial house? What other segments of the industry do you work in?
Jacobsen: We are primarily a commercial house. However, we are not limited to just broadcast and digital commercial advertising. We have delivered specs for everything from the Godzilla screen in Times Square to :06 spots on Instagram. We have done a handful of music videos and also handle a ton of B2B videos for in-house client meetings, etc., as well as banner ads for conferences and trade shows. We’ve even worked on display ads for airports. Most recently, one of our editors finished a feature film called Public Figure that is being submitted around the film festival circuit.

What types of projects are you working on most often these days?
Jacobsen: The industry is all over the place. The current climate is very messy right now. Our projects are extremely varied. It’s hard to say what we work on most because it seems like there is no more norm. We are working on everything from sizzle pitch videos to spots for the Super Bowl.

What trends have you seen over the last year, and where do you expect to be in a year?
Jacobsen: Over the last year, we have noticed that the work comes from every angle. Our typical client is no longer just the marketing agency. It is also the production company, network, brand, etc. In a year we expect to be doing more production work. Seeing as how budgets are much smaller than they used to be and everyone wants a one-stop shop, we are hoping to stick with our gut and continue expanding our production arm.

Crew Cuts has beefed up its finishing services. Can you talk about that?
Stephanie Norris: We offer a variety of finishing services — from sound design to VO record and mix, compositing to VFX, 2D and 3D motion graphics and color grading. Our fully staffed in-house team loves the visual effects puzzle and enjoys working with clients to help interpret their vision.

Can you name some recent projects and the services you provided?
Norris: We just worked on a new campaign for New Jersey Lottery in collaboration with Yonder Content and PureRed. Brian Neaman directed and edited the spots. In addition to editorial, Crew Cuts also handled all of the finishing, including color, conform, visual effects, graphics, sound design and mix. This was one of those all-hands-on-deck projects. Keeping everything under one roof really helped us to streamline the process.

New Jersey Lottery

Working with Brian to carefully plan the shooting strategy, we filmed a series of plate shots as elements that could later be combined in post to build each scene. We added falling stacks of cash to the reindeer as he walks through the loading dock and incorporated CG inflatable decorations into a warehouse holiday lawn scene. We also dramatically altered the opening and closing exterior warehouse scenes, allowing one shot to work for multiple seasons. Keeping lighting and camera positions consistent was mission-critical, and having our VFX supervisor, Dulany Foster, on set saved us hours of work down the line.

For the New Jersey Lottery Holiday spots, the Crew Cuts CG team, led by our creative director Ben McNamara created a 3D Inflatable display of lottery tickets. This was something that proved too costly and time consuming to manufacture and shoot practically. After the initial R&D, our team created a few different CG inflatable simulations prior to the shoot, and Dulany was able to mock them up live while on set. Creating the simulations was crucial for giving the art department reference while building the set, and also helped when shooting the plates needed to composite the scene together.

Ben and his team focused on the physics of the inflation, while also making sure the fabric simulations, textures and lighting blended seamlessly into the scene — it was important that everything felt realistic. In addition to the inflatables, our VFX team turned the opening and closing sunny, summer shots of the warehouse into a December winter wonderland thanks to heavy compositing, 3D set extension and snow simulations.

New Jersey Lottery

Any other projects you’d like to talk about?
Jacobsen: We are currently working on a project here that we are handling soup to nuts from production through finishing. It was a fun challenge to take on. The spot contains a hand model on a greenscreen showing the audience how to use a new product. The shoot itself took place here at Crew Cuts. We turned our common area into a stage for the day and were able to do so without interrupting any of the other employees and projects going on.

We are now working on editorial and finishing. The edit is coming along nicely. What really drives the piece here is the graphic icons. Our team is having a lot of fun designing these elements and implementing them into the spot. We are so proud because we budgeted wisely to make sure to accommodate all of the needs of the project so that we could handle everything and still turn a profit. It was so much fun to work in a different setting for the day and has been a very successful project so far. Clients are happy and so are we.

Main Image: (L-R) Stephanie Norris and Nancy Jacobsen

Shindig upgrades offerings, adds staff, online music library

On the heels of its second anniversary, Playa Del Rey’s Shindig Music + Sound is expanding its offerings and artists. Shindig, which offers original compositions, sound design, music licensing, voiceover sessions and final audio mixes, features an ocean view balcony, a beachfront patio and spaces that convert for overnight stays.

L-R: Susan Dolan, Austin Shupe, Scott Glenn, Caroline O’Sullivan, Debbi Landon and Daniel Hart.

As part of the expansion, the company’s mixing capabilities have been amped up with the newly constructed 5.1 audio mix room and vocal booth that enable sound designer/mixer Daniel Hart to accommodate VO sessions and execute final mixes for clients in stereo and/or 5.1. Shindig also recently completed the build-out of a new production/green room, which also offers an ocean view. This Mac-based studio uses Avid Pro Tools 12 Ultimate

Adding to their crew, Shindig has brought on on-site composer Austin Shupe, a former colleague from Hum. Along with Shindig’s in-house composers, the team uses a large pool of freelance talent, matching the genre and/or style that is best suited for a project.

Shindig’s licensing arm has launched a searchable boutique online music library. Upgrading their existing catalogue of best-in-quality compositions, the studio has now tagged all the tracks in a simple and searchable manner available on their website, providing new direct access for producers, creatives and editors.

Shindig’s executive team, which includes creative director Scott Glenn, executive producer Debbi Landon, head of production Caroline O’Sullivan and sound designer/mixer Dan Hart.

Glenn explains, “This natural growth has allowed us to offer end-to-end audio services and the ability to work creatively within the parameters of any size budget. In an ever-changing marketplace, our goal is to passionately support the vision of our clients, in a refreshing environment that is free of conventional restraints. Nothing beats getting creative in an inspiring, fun, relaxing space, so for us, the best collaboration is done beachside. Plus, it’s a recipe for a good time.”

Recent work spans recording five mariachi pieces for El Pollo Loco with Vitro to working with multiple composers in order to craft five decades of music for Honda’s Evolution commercial via Muse to orchestrating a virtuoso piano/violin duo performance cover of Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” for a Mitsubishi spot out of BSSP.

Quick Chat: Digital Arts’ Josh Heilbronner on Audi, Chase spots

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.

Josh Heilbronner

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.

First Man: Historical fiction meets authentic sound

By Jennifer Walden

Historical fiction is not a rigidly factual account, but rather an interpretation. Fact and fiction mix to tell a story in a way that helps people connect with the past. In director Damien Chazelle’s film First Man, audiences experience his vision of how the early days of space exploration may have been for astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Frank A. Montaño

The uncertainty of reaching the outer limits of Earth’s atmosphere, the near disasters and mistakes that led to the loss of several lives and the ultimate success of landing on the moon. These things are presented so viscerally that the audience feels as though they are riding along with Armstrong.

While First Man is not a documentary, there are factual elements in the film, particularly in the sound. “The concept was to try to be true to the astronauts’ sonic experience. What would they hear?” says effects re-recording mixer Frank A. Montaño, who mixed the film alongside re-recording mixer Jon Taylor (on dialogue/music) in the Alfred Hitchcock Theater at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.

Supervising sound editors Ai-Ling Lee (who also did re-recording mixing on the film) and Milly Iatrou were in charge of designing a soundtrack that was both authentic and visceral — a mix of reality and emotionality. When Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and Dave Scott (Christopher Abbott) are being shot into space on a Gemini mission, everything the audience hears may not be completely accurate, but it’s meant to produce the accurate emotional response — i.e., fear, uncertainty, excitement, anxiety. The sound helps the audience to connect with the astronauts strapped into that handcrafted space capsule as it rattles and clatters its way into space.

As for the authentic sounds related to the astronauts’ experience — from the switches and toggles to the air inside the spacesuits — those were collected by several members of the post sound team, including Montaño, who by coincidence is an avid fan of the US space program and full of interesting facts on the subject. Their mission was to find and record era-appropriate NASA equipment and gear.

Recording
Starting at ILC Dover in Frederica, Delaware — original manufacturers of spacesuits for the Apollo missions — Montaño and sound effects recordist Alex Knickerbocker recorded a real A7L-B, which, says Montaño, is the second revision of the Apollo suit. It was actually worn by astronaut Paul Weiss, although it wasn’t the one he wore in space. “ILC Dover completely opened up to us, and were excited for this to happen,” says Montaño.

They spent eight hours recording every detail of the suit, like the umbilicals snapping in and out of place, and gloves and helmet (actually John Young’s from Apollo 10) locking into the rings. “In the film, when you see them plug in the umbilical for water or air, that’s the real sound. When they are locking the bubble helmet on to Neil’s suit in the clean room, that’s the real sound,” explains Montaño.

They also captured the internal environment of the spacesuit, which had never been officially documented before. “We could get hours of communications — that was easy — but there was no record of what those astronauts [felt like in those] spacesuits for that many hours, and how those things kept them alive,” says Montaño.

Back at Universal on the Hitchcock stage, Taylor and mix tech Bill Meadows were receiving all the recorded sounds from Montaño and Knickerbocker, who were still at ILC Dover. “We weren’t exactly in the right environment to get these recordings, so JT [Jon Taylor] and Bill let us know if it was a little too live or a little too sharp, and we’d move the microphones or try different microphones or try to get into a quieter area,” says Montaño.

Next, Montaño and Knickerbocker traveled to the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the Saturn V rocket was developed. “This is where Wernher von Braun (chief architect of the Saturn V rocket) was based out of, so they have a huge Apollo footprint,” says Montaño. There they got to work inside a Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) simulator, which according to Montaño was one of only two that were made for training. “All Apollo astronauts trained in these simulators including Neil and Buzz, so it was under plexiglass as it was only for observation. But, they opened it up to us. We got to go inside the LEM and flip all the switches, dials, and knobs and record them. It was historic. This has never been done before and we were so excited to be there,” says Montaño.

Additionally, they recorded a DSKY (Display and Keypad) flight guidance computer used by the crew to communicate with the LEM computer. This can be seen during the sequence of Buzz (Corey Stoll) and Neil landing on the moon. “It has this big numeric keypad, and when Buzz is hitting those switches it’s the real sound. When they flip all those switch banks, all those sounds are the real deal,” reports Montaño.

Other interesting recording adventures include the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, where they recorded all the switches and buttons of the original control flight consoles from Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center (JSC). At Edwards Airforce Base in Southern California, they recorded Joe Walker’s X-15 suit, capturing the movement and helmet sounds.

The team also recorded Beta cloth at the Space Station Museum in Novato, California, which is the white-colored, fireproof silica fiber cloth used for the Apollo spacesuits. Gene Cernan’s (Apollo 17) connector cover was used, which reportedly sounds like a plastic bag or hula skirt.

Researching
They also recreated sounds based on research. For example, they recorded an approximation of lunar boots on the moon’s surface but from exterior perspective of the boots. What would boots on the lunar surface sound like from inside the spacesuit? First, they did the research to find the right silicone used during that era. Then Frank Cuomo, who is a post supervisor at Universal, created a unique pair of lunar boots based on Montaño’s idea of having ports above the soles, into which they could insert lav mics. “Frank happens to do this as a hobby, so I bounced this idea for the boots off of him and he actually made them for us,” says Montaño.

Next, they researched what the lunar surface was made of. Their path led to NASA’s Ames Research Center where they have an eight-ton sandbox filled with JSC-1A lunar regolith simulant. “It’s the closest thing to the lunar surface that we have on earth,” he explains.

He strapped on the custom-made boots and walked on this “lunar surfasse” while Knickerbocker and sound effects recordist Peter Brown captured it with numerous different mics, including a hydrophone placed on the surface “which gave us a thuddy, non-pitched/non-fidelity-altered sound that was the real deal,” says Montaño. “But what worked best, to get that interior sound, were the lav mics inside those ports on the soles.”

While the boots on the lunar surface sound ultimately didn’t make it into the film, the boots did come in handy for creating a “boots on LEM floor” sound. “We did a facsimile session. JT (Taylor) brought in some aluminum and we rigged it up and got the silicone soles on the aluminum surface for the interior of the LEM,” says Montaño.

Jon Taylor

Another interesting sound they recreated was the low-fuel alarm sound inside the LEM. According to Montaño, their research uncovered a document that shows the alarm’s specific frequencies, that it was a square wave, and that it was 750 cycles to 2,000 cycles. “The sound got a bit tweaked out just for excitement purposes. You hear it on their powered descent, when they’re coming in for a landing on the moon, and they’re low on fuel and 20 seconds from a mandatory abort.”

Altogether, the recording process was spread over nearly a year, with about 98% of their recorded sounds making it into the final soundtrack, Taylor says, “The locking of the gloves, and the locking and handling of the helmet that belonged to John Young will live forever. It was an honor to work with that material.”

Montaño adds, “It was good to get every angle that we could, for all the sounds. We spent hours and hours trying to come up with these intangible pieces that only a handful of people have ever heard, and they’re in the movie.”

Helmet Comms
To recreate the comms sound of the transmissions back and forth between NASA and the astronauts, Montaño and Taylor took a practical approach. Instead of relying on plug-ins for futz and reverb, they built a 4-foot-by-3-foot isolated enclosure on wheels, deadened with acoustical foam and featuring custom fit brackets inside to hold either a high-altitude helmet (to replicate dialogue for the X-15 and the Gemini missions) or a bubble helmet (for the Apollo missions).

Each helmet was recorded independently using its own two-way coaxial car speaker and a set of microphones strapped to mini tripods that were set inside each helmet in the enclosure. The dialogue was played through the speaker in the helmet and sent back to the console through the mics. Taylor says, “It would come back really close to being perfectly in sync. So I could do whatever balance was necessary and it wouldn’t flange or sound strange.”

By adjusting the amount of helmet feed in relation to the dry dialogue, Taylor was able to change the amount of “futz.” If a scene was sonically dense, or dialogue clarity wasn’t an issue (such as the tech talk exchanges between Houston and the astronauts), then Taylor could push the futz further. “We were constantly changing the balance depending on what the effects and music were doing. Sometimes we could really feel the helmet and other times we’d have to back off for clarity’s sake. But it was always used, just sometimes more than others.”

Density and Dynamics
The challenge of the mix on First Man was to keep the track dynamic and not let the sound get too loud until it absolutely needed to. This made the launches feel powerful and intense. “If everything were loud up to that point, it just wouldn’t have the same pop,” says Taylor. “The director wanted to make sure that when we hit those rockets they felt huge.

One way to support the dynamics was choosing how to make the track appropriately less dense. For example, during the Gemini launch there are the sounds of the rocket’s different stages as it blasts off and breaks through the atmosphere, and there’s the sound of the space capsule rattling and metal groaning. On top of that, there’s Neil’s voice reading off various specs.

“When it comes to that kind of density sound-wise, you have to decide should we hear the actors? Are we with them? Do we have to understand what they are saying? In some cases, we just blew through that dialogue because ‘RCS Breakers’ doesn’t mean anything to anybody, but the intensity of the rocket does. We wanted to keep that energy alive, so we drove through the dialogue,” says Montaño. “You can feel that Neil’s calm, but you don’t need to understand what he’s saying. So that was a trick in the balance; deciding what should be heard and what we can gloss over.”

Another helpful factor was that the film’s score, by composer Justin Hurwitz, wasn’t bombastic. During the rocket launches, it wasn’t fighting for space in the mix. “The direction of the music is super supportive and it never had to play loud. It just sits in the pocket,” says Taylor. “The Gemini launch didn’t have music, which really allowed us to take advantage of the sonic structure that was built into the layers of sound effects and design for the take off.”

Without competition from the music and dialogue, the effects could really take the lead and tell the story of the Gemini launch. The camera stays close-up on Neil in the cockpit and doesn’t show an exterior perspective (as it does during the Apollo launch sequence). The audiences’ understanding of what’s happening comes from the sound. You hear the “bbbbbwhoop” of the Titan II missile during ignition, and hear the liftoff of the rocket. You hear the point at which they go through maximum dynamic pressure, characterized by the metal rattling and groaning inside the capsule as it’s subjected to extreme buffeting and stress.

Next you hear the first stage cut-off and the initial boosters break away followed by the ignition of the second stage engine as it takes over. Then, finally, it’s just the calmness of space with a few small metal pings and groans as the capsule settles into orbit.

Even though it’s an intense sequence, all the details come through in the mix. “Once we got the final effects tracks, as usual, we started to add more layers and more detail work. That kind of shaping is normal. The Gemini launch builds to that moment when it comes to an abrupt stop sonically. We built it up layer-wise with more groan, more thrust, more explosive/low-end material to give it some rhythm and beats,” says Montaño.

Although the rocket sounds like it’s going to pieces, Neil doesn’t sound like he’s going to pieces. He remains buttoned-up and composed. “The great thing about that scene was hearing the contrast between this intense rocket and the calmness of Neil’s voice. The most important part of the dialogue there was that Neil sounded calm,” says Taylor.

Apollo
Visually, the Apollo launch was handled differently in the film. There are exterior perspectives, but even though the camera shows the launch from various distances, the sound maintains its perspective — close as hell. “We really filled the room up with it the whole time, so it always sounds large, even when we are seeing it from a distance. You really feel the weight and size of it,” says Montaño.

The rocket that launched the Apollo missions was the most powerful ever created: the Saturn V. Recreating that sound was a big job and came with a bit of added pressure from director Chazelle. “Damien [Chazelle] had spoken with one of the Armstrong sons, Mark, who said he’s never really felt or heard a Saturn V liftoff correctly in a film. So Damien threw it our way. He threw down the gauntlet and challenged us to make the Armstrong family happy,” says Montaño.

Field recordists John Fasal and Skip Longfellow were sent to record the launch of the world’s second largest rocket — SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. They got as close as they could to the rocket, which generated 5.5 million pounds of thrust. They also recorded it at various distances farther away. This was the biggest component of their Apollo launch sound for the film. It’s also bolstered by recordings that Lee captured of various rocket liftoffs at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

But recreating the world’s most powerful rocket required some mega recordings that regular mics just couldn’t produce. So they headed over to the Acoustic Test Chamber at JPL in Pasadena, which is where NASA sonically bombards and acoustically excites hardware before it’s sent into space. “They simulate the conditions of liftoff to see if the hardware fails under that kind of sound pressure,” says Montaño. They do this by “forcing nitrogen gas through this six-inch hose that goes into a diaphragm that turns that gas into some sort of soundwave, like pink noise. There are four loudspeakers bolted to the walls of this hard-shelled room, and the speakers are probably about 4’x4’ feet. It goes up to 153dB in there; that’s max.” (Fun Fact: The sound team wasn’t able to physically be in the room to hear the sound since the gas would have killed them. They could only hear the sound via their recordings.)

The low-end energy of that sound was a key element in their Apollo launch. So how do you capture the most low-end possible from a high-SPL source? Taylor had an interesting solution of using a 10-inch bass speaker as a microphone. “Years ago, while reading a music magazine, I discovered this method of recording low-end using a subwoofer or any bass speaker. If you have a 10-inch speaker as a mic, you’re going to be able to capture much more low-end. You may even be able to get as low as 7Hz,” Taylor says.

Montaño adds, “We were able to capture another octave lower than we’d normally get. The sounds we captured really shook the room, really got your chest cavity going.”
For the rocket sequences — the X-15 flight, the Gemini mission and the Apollo mission —their goal was to craft an experience the audience could feel. It was about energy and intensity, but also clarity.

Taylor concludes, “Damien’s big thing — which I love — is that he is not greedy when it comes to sound. Sometimes you get a movie where everything has to be big. Often, Damien’s notes were for things to be lower, to lower sounds that weren’t rocket affiliated. He was constantly making sure that we did what we could to get those rocket scenes to punch, so that you really felt it.”


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

A Star is Born: Live vocals, real crowds and venues

By Jennifer Walden

Warner Bros. Pictures’ remake of A Star is Born stars Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, a famous musician with a serious drinking hobby who stumbles onto singer/songwriter Ally (Lady Gaga) at a drag bar where she’s giving a performance. Jackson is taken by her raw talent and their chance meeting turns into something more. With Jackson’s help, Ally becomes a star but her fame is ultimately bittersweet.

Jason Ruder

Aside from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay), the other big star of this film is the music. Songwriting started over two years ago. Cooper and Gaga collaborated with several other songwriters along the way, like Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson), Mark Ronson, Hillary Lindsey and DJ White Shadow.

According to supervising music editor/re-recording mixer Jason Ruder from 2 Pop Music — who was involved with the film from pre-production through post — the lyrics, tempo and key signatures were even changing right up to the day of the shoot. “The songwriting went to the 11th hour. Gaga sort of works in that fashion,” says Ruder, who witnessed her process first-hand during a sound check at Coachella. (2 Pop Music is located on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.)

Before each shoot, Ruder would split out the pre-recorded instrumental tracks, reference vocals and have them ready for playback, but there were days when he would get a call from Gaga’s manager as he was driving to the set. “I was told that she had gone into the studio in the middle of the night and made changes, so there were all new pre-records for the day. I guess she could be called a bit of a perfectionist, always trying to make it better.

“On the final number, for instance, it was only a couple hours before the shoot and I got a message from her saying that the song wasn’t final yet and that she wanted to try it in three different keys and three different tempos just to make sure,” continues Ruder. “So there were a lot of moving parts going into each day. Everyone that she works with has to be able to adapt very quickly.”

Since the music is so important to the story, here’s what Cooper and Gaga didn’t want — they start singing and the music suddenly switches over to a slick, studio-produced track. That concern was the driving force behind the production and post teams’ approach to the on-camera performances.

Recording Live Vocals
All the vocals in A Star is Born were recorded live on-set for all the performances. Those live vocals are the ones used in the film’s final mix. To pull this off, Ruder and the production sound team did a stage test at Warner Bros. to see if this was possible. They had a pre-recorded track of the band, which they played back on the stage. First, Cooper and Gaga did live vocals. Then they tried the song again, with Cooper and Gaga miming along to pre-recorded vocals. Ruder took the material back to his cutting room and built a quick version of both. The comparison solidified their decision. “Once we got through that test, everyone was more confident about doing the live vocals. We felt good about it,” he says.

Their first shoot for the film was at Coachella, on a weekday since there were no performances. They were shooting a big, important concert scene for the film and only had one day to get it done. “We knew that it all had to go right,” says Ruder. It was their first shot at live vocals on-set.

Neither the music nor the vocals were amplified through the stage’s speaker system since song security was a concern — they didn’t want the songs leaked before the film’s release. So everything was done through headphone mixes. This way, even those in the crowd closest to the stage couldn’t hear the melodies or lyrics. Gaga is a seasoned concert performer, comfortable with performing at concert volume. She wasn’t used to having the band muted and the vocals live (though not amplified), so some adjustments needed to be made. “We ended up bringing her in-ear monitor mixer in to help consult,” explains Ruder. “We had to bring some of her touring people into our world to help get her perfectly comfortable so she could focus on acting and singing. It worked really well, especially later for Arizona Sky, where she had to play the piano and sing. Getting the right balance in her ear was important.”

As for Jackson Maine’s band on-screen, those were all real musicians and not actors — it was Lukas Nelson’s band. “They’re used to touring together. They’re very tight and they’re seasoned musicians,” says Ruder. “Everyone was playing and we were recording their direct feeds. So we had all the material that the musicians were playing. For the drums, those had to be muted because we didn’t want them bleeding into the live vocals. We were on-set making sure we were getting clean vocals on every take.”

Real Venues, Real Reverbs
Since the goal from the beginning was to create realistic-sounding concerts, Ruder decided to capture impulse responses at every performance location — from big stages like Coachella to much smaller venues — and use those to create reverbs in Audio Ease’s Altiverb.

The challenge wasn’t capturing the IRs, but rather, trying to convince the assistant director on-set that they needed to be captured. “We needed to quiet the whole set for five or 10 minutes so we could put up some mics and shoot these tones through the spaces. This all had to be done on the production clock, and they’re just not used to that. They didn’t understand what it was for and why it was important — it’s not cheap to do that during production,” explains Ruder.

Those IRs were like gold during post. They allowed the team to recreate spaces like the main stage at Coachella, the Greek Theatre and the Shrine Auditorium. “We were able to manufacture our own reverbs that were pretty much exactly what you would hear if you were standing there. For Coachella, because it’s so massive, we weren’t sure if they were going to come out, but it worked. All the reverbs you hear in the film are completely authentic to the space.”

Live Crowds
Oscar-winning supervising sound editor Alan Murray at Warner Bros. Sound was also capturing sound at the concert performances, but his attention was away from the stage and into the crowd. “We had about 300 to 500 people at the concerts, and I was able to get clean reactions from them since I wasn’t picking up any music. So that approach of not amplifying the music worked for the crowd sounds too,” he says.

Production sound mixer Steven Morrow had set up mics in and around the crowd and recorded those to a multitrack recorder while Murray had his own mic and recorder that he could walk around with, even capturing the crowds from backstage. They did multiple recordings for the crowds and then layered those in Avid Pro Tools in post.

Alan Murray

“For Coachella and Glastonbury, we ended up enhancing those with stadium crowds just to get the appropriate size and excitement we needed,” explains Murray. They also got crowd recordings from one of Gaga’s concerts. “There was a point in the Arizona Sky scene where we needed the crowd to yell, ‘Ally!’ Gaga was performing at Fenway Park in Boston and so Bradley’s assistant called there and asked Gaga’s people to have the crowd do an ‘Ally’ chant for us.”

Ruder adds, “That’s not something you can get on an ADR stage. It needed to have that stadium feel to it. So we were lucky to get that from Boston that night and we were able to incorporate it into the mix.”

Building Blocks
According to Ruder, they wanted to make sure the right building blocks were in place when they went into post. Those blocks — the custom recorded impulse responses, the custom crowds, the live vocals, the band’s on-set performances, and the band’s unprocessed studio tracks that were recorded at The Village — gave Ruder and the re-recording mixers ultimate flexibility during the edit and mix to craft on-scene performances that felt like big, live concerts or intimate songwriting sessions.

Even with all those bases covered, Ruder was still worried about it working. “I’ve seen it go wrong before. You get tracks that just aren’t usable, vocals that are distorted or noisy. Or you get shots that don’t work with the music. There were those guitar playing shots…”

A few weeks after filming, while Ruder was piecing all the music together in post, he realized that they got it all. “Fortunately, it all worked. We had a great DP on the film and it was clear that he was capturing the right shots. Once we got to that point in post, once we knew we had the right pieces, it was a huge relief.”

Relief gave way to excitement when Ruder reached the dub stage — Warner Bros. Stage 10. “It was amazing to walk into the final mix knowing that we had the material and the flexibility to pull this off,” he says.

In addition to using Altiverb for the reverbs, Ruder used Waves plug-ins, such as the Waves API Collection, to give the vocals and instrumental tracks a live concert sound. “I tend to use plug-ins that emulate more of a tube sound to get punchier drums and that sort of thing. We used different 5.1 spreaders to put the music in a 5.1 environment. We changed the sound to match the picture, so we dried up the vocals on close-ups so they felt more intimate. We had tons and tons of flexibility because we had clean vocals and raw guitars and drum tracks.”

All the hard work paid off. In the film, Ally joins Jackson Maine on stage to sing a song she wrote called “Shallow.” For Murray and Ruder, this scene portrays everything they wanted to achieve for the performances in A Star is Born. The scene begins outside the concert, as Ally and her friend get out of the car and head toward the stage. The distant crowd and music reverberate through the stairwell as they’re led up to the backstage area. As they get closer, the sound subtly changes to match their proximity to the band. On stage, the music and crowd are deafening. Jackson begins to play guitar and sing solo before Ally finds the courage to join in. They sing “Shallow” together and the crowd goes crazy.

“The whole sequence was timed out perfectly, and the emotion we got out of them was great. The mix there was great. You felt like you were there with them. From a mix perspective, that was probably the most successful moment in the film,” concludes Ruder.


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

Report: Sound for Film & TV conference focuses on collaboration

By Mel Lambert

The 5th annual Sound for Film & TV conference was once again held at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, in cooperation with Motion Picture Sound Editors and Cinema Audio Society and Mix Magazine. The one-day event featured a keynote address from veteran sound designer Scott Gershin, together with a broad cross section of panel discussions on virtually all aspects of contemporary sound and post production. Co-sponsors included Audionamix, Sound Particles, Tonsturm, Avid, Yamaha-Steinberg, iZotope, Meyer Sound, Dolby Labs, RSPE, Formosa Group and Westlake Audio, and attracted some 650 attendees.

With film credits that include Pacific Rim and The Book of Life, keynote speaker Gershin focused on advances in immersive sound and virtual reality experiences. Having recently joined Sound Lab at Keywords Studios, the sound designer and supervisor emphasized that “a single sound can set a scene,” ranging from a subtle footstep to an echo-laden yell of terror. “I like to use audio to create a foreign landscape, and produce immersive experiences,” he says, stressing that “dialog forms the center of attention, with music that shapes a scene emotionally and sound effects that glue the viewer into the scene.” In summary he concluded, “It is our role to develop a credible world with sound.”

The Sound of Streaming Content — The Cloverfield Paradox
Avid-sponsored panels within the Cary Grant Theater included an overview of OTT techniques titled “The Sound of Streaming Content,” which was moderated by Ozzie Sutherland, a production sound technology specialist with Netflix. Focusing on sound design and re-recording of the recent Netflix/Paramount Pictures sci-fi film mystery The Cloverfield Paradox from director Julius Onah, the panel included supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Will Files, co-supervising sound editor/sound designer Robert Stambler and supervising dialog editor/re-recording mixer Lindsey Alvarez. Files and Stambler have collaborated on several projects with director J. J. Abrams through Abram’s Bad Robot production company, including Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), as well as Venom (2018).

The Sound of Streaming Content panel: (L-R) Ozzie Sutherland, Will Files, Robert Stambler and Lindsey Alvarez

“Our biggest challenge,” Files readily acknowledges, “was the small crew we had on the project; initially, it was just Robby [Stambler] and me for six months. Then Star Wars: The Force Awakens came along, and we got busy!” “Yes,” confirmed Stambler, “we spent between 16 and 18 months on post production for The Cloverfield Paradox, which gave us plenty of time to think about sound; it was an enlightening experience, since everything happens off-screen.” While orbiting a planet on the brink of war, the film, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo and Daniel Brühl, follows a team of scientists trying to solve an energy crisis that culminates in a dark alternate reality.

Having screened a pivotal scene from the film in which the spaceship’s crew discovers the effects of interdimensional travel while hearing strange sounds in a corridor, Alvarez explained how the complex dialog elements came into play, “That ‘Woman in The Wall’ scene involved a lot of Mandarin-language lines, 50% of which were re-written to modify the story lines and then added in ADR.” “We also used deep, layered sounds,” Stambler said, “to emphasize the screams,” produced by an astronaut from another dimension that had become fused with the ship’s hull. Continued Stambler, “We wanted to emphasize the mystery as the crew removes a cover panel: What is behind the wall? Is there really a woman behind the wall?” “We also designed happy parts of the ship and angry parts,” Files added. “Dependent on where we were on the ship, we emphasized that dominant flavor.”

Files explained that the theatrical mix for The Cloverfield Paradox in Dolby Atmos immersive surround took place at producer Abrams’ Bad Robot screening theater, with a temporary Avid S6 M40 console. Files also mixed the first Atmos film, Brave, back in 2013. “J. J. [Abrams] was busy at the time,” Files said, “but wanted to be around and involved,” as the soundtrack took shape. “We also had a sound-editorial suite close by,” Stambler noted. “We used several Futz elements from the Mission Control scenes as Atmos Objects,” added Alvarez.

“But then we received a request from Netflix for a near-field Atmos mix,” that could be used for over-the-top streaming, recalled Files. “So we lowered the overall speaker levels, and monitored on smaller speakers to ensure that we could hear the dialog elements clearly. Our Atmos balance also translated seamlessly to 5.1- and 7.1-channel delivery formats.”

“I like mixing in Native Atmos because you can make final decisions with creative talent in the room,” Files concluded. “You then know that everything will work in 5.1 and 7.1. If you upmix to Atmos from 7.1, for example, the creatives have often left by the time you get to the Atmos mix.”

The Sound and Music of Director Damien Chazelle’s First Man
The series of “Composers Lounge” presentations held in the Anthony Quinn Theater, sponsored by SoundWorks Collection and moderated by Glenn Kiser from The Dolby Institute, included “The Sound and Music of First Man” with sound designer/supervising sound editor/SFX re-recording mixer Ai-Ling Lee, supervising sound editor Mildred latrou Morgan, SFX re-recording mixer Frank Montaño, dialog/music re-recording mixer Jon Taylor, composer Justin Hurwitz and picture editor Tom Cross. First Man takes a close look at the life of the astronaut Neil Armstrong, and the space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon in July 1969. It stars Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Jason Clarke.

Having worked with the film’s director, Damien Chazelle, on two previous outings — La La Land (2016) and Whiplash (2014) — Cross advised that he likes to have sound available on his Avid workstation as soon as possible. “I had some rough music for the big action scenes,” he said, “together with effects recordings from Ai-Ling [Lee].” The latter included some of the SpaceX rockets, plus recordings of space suits and other NASA artifacts. “This gave me a sound bed for my first cut,” the picture editor continued. “I sent that temp track to Ai-Ling for her sound design and SFX, and to Milly [latrou Morgan] for dialog editorial.”

A key theme for the film was its documentary style, Taylor recalled, “That guided the shape of the soundtrack and the dialog pre-dubs. They had a cutting room next to the Hitchcock Theater [at Universal Studios, used for pre-dub mixes and finals] so that we could monitor progress.” There were no Temp Mixes on this project.

“We had a lot of close-up scenes to support Damien’s emotional feel, and used sound to build out the film,” Cross noted. “Damien watched a lot of NASA footage shot on 16 mm film, and wanted to make our film [immersive] and personal, using Neil Armstrong as a popular icon. In essence, we were telling the story as if we had taken a 16 mm camera into a capsule and shot the astronauts into space. And with an Atmos soundtrack!”

“We pre-scored the soundtrack against animatics in March 2017,” commented Hurwitz. “Damien [Chazelle] wanted to storyboard to music and use that as a basis for the first cut. I developed some themes on a piano and then full orchestral mock-ups for picture editorial. We then re-scored the film after we had a locked picture.” “We developed a grounded, gritty feel to support the documentary style that was not too polished,” Lee continued. “For the scenes on Earth we went for real-sounding backgrounds, Foley and effects. We also narrowed the mix field to complement the narrow image but, in contrast, opened it up for the set pieces to surround the audience.”

“The dialog had to sound how the film looked,” Morgan stressed. “To create that real-world environment I often used the mix channel for dialog in busy scenes like mission control, instead of the [individual] lavalier mics with their cleaner output. We also miked everybody in Mission Control – maybe 24 tracks in all.” “And we secured as many authentic sound recordings as we could,” Lee added. “In order to emphasize the emotional feel of being inside Neil Armstrong’s head space, we added surreal and surprising sounds like an elephant roar, lion growl or animal stampede to these cockpit sequences. We also used distortion and over-modulation to add ‘grit’ and realism.”

“It was a Native Atmos mix,” advised Montaño. “We used Atmos to reflect what the picture showed us, but not in a gimmicky way.” “During the rocket launch scenes,” Lee offered, “we also used the Atmos full-range surround channels to place many of the full-bodied, bombastic rocket roars and explosions around the audience.” “But we wanted to honor the documentary style,” Taylor added, “by keeping the music within the front LCR loudspeakers, and not coming too far out into the surrounds.”

“A Star Is Born” panel: (L-R) Steve Morrow, Dean Zupancic and Nick Baxter

The Sound of Director Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born
A subsequent panel discussion in the “Composers Lounge” series, again moderated by Kiser, focused on “The Sound of A Star Is Born,” with production sound mixer Steve Morrow, music production mixer Nick Baxter and re-recording mixer Dean Zupancic. The film is a retelling of the classic tale of a musician – Jackson Maine, played by Cooper – who helps a struggling singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral. Morrow re-counted that the director’s costar, Lady Gaga, insisted that all vocals be recorded live.

“We arranged to record scenes during concerts at the Stagecoach 2017 Festival,” the production mixer explained. “But because these were new songs that would not be heard in the film until 18 months later, [to prevent unauthorized bootlegs] we had to keep the sound out of the PA system, and feed a pre-recorded band mix to on-stage wedges or in-ear monitors.” “We had just a handful of minutes before Willie Nelson was scheduled to take the stage,” Baxter added, “and so we had to work quickly” in front of an audience of 45,000 fans. “We rolled on the equipment, hooked up the microphones, connected the monitors and went for it!”

To recreate the sound of real-world concerts, Baxter made impulse-response recordings of each venue – in stereo as well as 5.1- and 7.1- channel formats. “To make the soundtrack sound totally live,” Morrow continued, “at Coachella Festival we also captured the IR sound echoing off nearby mountains.” Other scenes were shot during Lady Gaga’s “Joanne” Tour in August 2017 while on a stop in Los Angeles, and others in the Palm Springs Convention Center, where Cooper’s character is seen performing at a pharmaceutical convention.

“For scenes filmed at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK in front of 110,000 people,” Morrow recalled, “we had been allocated just 10 minutes to record parts for two original songs — ‘Maybe It’s Time’ and ‘Black Eyes’ — ahead of Kris Kristofferson’s set. But then we were told that, because the concert was running late, we only had three minutes. So we focused on securing 30 seconds of guitar and vocals for each song.”

During a scene shot in a parking lot outside a food market where Lady Gaga’s character sings acapella, Morrow advised that he had four microphones on the actors: “Two booms, top and bottom, for Bradley Cooper’s voice, and lavalier mikes; we used the boom track when Lady Gaga (as Ally) belted out. I always had my hand on the gain knob! That was a key scene because it established for the audience that Ally can sing.”

Zupancic noted that first-time director Cooper was intimately involved in all aspects of post production, just as he was in production. “Bradley Cooper is a student of film,” he said. “He worked closely with supervising sound editor Alan Robert Murray on the music and SFX collaboration.” The high-energy Atmos soundtrack was realized at Warner Bros Studio Facilities’ post production facility in Burbank; additional re-recording mixers included Michael Minkler, Matthew Iadarola and Jason King, who also handled SFX editing.

An Avid session called “Monitoring and Control Solutions for Post Production with Immersive Audio” featured the company’s senior product specialist, Jeff Komar, explaining how Pro Tools with an S6 Controller and an MTRX interface can manage complex immersive audio projects, while a MIX Panel entitled “Mixing Dialog: The Audio Pipeline,” moderated by Karol Urban from Cinema Audio Society, brought together re-recording mixers Gary Bourgeois and Mathew Waters with production mixer Phil Palmer and sound supervisor Andrew DeCristofaro. “The Business of Immersive,” moderated by Gadget Hopkins, EVP with Westlake Pro, addressed immersive audio technologies, including Dolby Atmos, DTS and Auro 3D; other key topics included outfitting a post facility, new distribution paradigms and ROI while future-proofing a stage.

A companion “Parade of Carts & Bags,” presented by Cinema Audio Society in the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage, enabled production sound mixers to show off their highly customized methods of managing the tools of their trade, from large soundstage productions to reality TV and documentaries.

Finally, within the Atmos-equipped William Holden Theater, the regular “Sound Reel Showcase,” sponsored by Formosa Group, presented eight-minute reels from films likely to be in consideration for a Best Sound Oscar, MPSE Golden Reel and CAS Awards, including A Quiet Place (Paramount) introduced by Erik Aadahl, Black Panther introduced by Steve Boeddecker, Deadpool 2 introduced by Martyn Zub, Mile 22 introduced by Dror Mohar, Venom introduced by Will Files, Goosebumps 2 introduced by Sean McCormack, Operation Finale introduced by Scott Hecker, and Jane introduced by Josh Johnson.

Main image: The Sound of First Man panel — Ai-Ling Lee (left), Mildred latrou Morgan & Tom Cross.

All photos copyright of Mel Lambert


Mel Lambert has been involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.

 

Sony Pictures Post adds three theater-style studios

Sony Pictures Post Production Services has added three theater-style studios inside the Stage 6 facility on the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City. All studios feature mid-size theater environments and include digital projectors and projection screens.

Theater 1 is setup for sound design and mixing with two Avid S6 consoles and immersive Dolby Atmos capabilities, while Theater 3 is geared toward sound design with a single S6. Theater 2 is designed for remote visual effects and color grading review, allowing filmmakers to monitor ongoing post work at other sites without leaving the lot. Additionally, centralized reception and client services facilities have been established to better serve studio sound clients.

Mix Stage 6 and Mix Stage 7 within the sound facility have been upgraded, each featuring two S6 mixing consoles, six Pro Tools digital audio workstations, Christie digital cinema projectors, 24 X 13 projection screens and a variety of support gear. The stages will be used to mix features and high-end television projects. The new resources add capacity and versatility to the studio’s sound operations.

Sony Pictures Post Production Services now has 11 traditional mix stages, the largest being the Cary Grant Theater, which seats 344. It also has mix stages dedicated to IMAX and home entertainment formats. The department features four sound design suites, 60 sound editorial rooms, three ADR recording studios and three Foley stages. Its Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage is among the largest in the world and can accommodate a full orchestra and choir.