Tag Archives: Dolby Atmos

Sundance: Audio post for Honey Boy and The Death of Dick Long

By Jennifer Walden

Brent Kiser, an Emmy award-winning supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer
at LA’s Unbridled Sound, is no stranger to the Sundance Film Festival. His resume includes such Sundance premieres as Wild Wild Country, Swiss Army Man and An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin.

He’s the only sound supervisor to work on two films that earned Dolby fellowships: Swiss Army Man back in 2016 and this year’s Honey Boy, which premiered in the US Dramatic Competition. Honey Boy is a biopic of actor Shia LaBeouf’s damaging Hollywood upbringing.

Brent Kiser (in hat) and Will Files mixing Honey Boy.

Also showing this year, in the Next category, was The Death of Dick Long. Kiser and his sound team once again collaborated with director Daniel Scheinert. For this dark comedy, the filmmakers used sound to help build tension as a group of friends tries to hide the truth of how their buddy Dick Long died.

We reached out to Kiser to find out more.

Honey Boy was part of the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program, which is supported by several foundations including the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund. You mentioned that this film earned a grant from Dolby. How did that grant impact your approach to the soundtrack?
For Honey Boy, Dolby gave us the funds to finish in Atmos. It allowed us to bring MPSE award-winning re-recording mixer Will Files on to mix the effects while I mixed the dialogue and music. We mixed at Sony Pictures Post Production on the Kim Novak stage. We got time and money to be on a big stage for 11 days — a five-day pre-dub and six-day final mix.

That was huge because the film opens up with these massive-robot action/sci-fi sound sequences and it throws the audience off the idea of this being a character study. That’s the juxtaposition, especially in the first 15 to 20 minutes. It’s blurring the reality between the film world and real life for Shia because the film is about Shia’s upbringing. Shia LaBeouf wrote the film and plays his father. The story focuses on the relationship of young actor Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) and his alcoholic father James.

The story goes through Shia’s time on Disney Channel’s Even Stevens series and then on Transformers, and looks at how this lifestyle had an effect on him. His father was an ex-junkie, sex-offender, ex-rodeo clown and would just push his son. By age 12, Shia was drinking, smoking weed and smoking cigarettes — all supplied to him by his dad. Shia is isolated and doesn’t have too many friends. He’s not around his mother that much.

This year is the first year that Shia has been sober since age 12. So this film is one big therapeutic movie for him. The director Alma Har’el comes from an alcoholic family, so she’s able to understand where Shia is coming from. Working with Alma is great. She wants to be in every part of the process — pick each sound and go over every bit to make sure it’s exactly what she wants.

Honey Boy director Alma Har’el.

What were director Alma Har’el’s initial ideas for the role of sound in Honey Boy?
They were editing this film for six months or more, and I came on board around mid-edit. I saw three different edits of the film, and they were all very different.

Finally, they settled on a cut that felt really nice. We had spotting sessions before they locked and we were working on creating the environment of the motel where Otis and James were staying. We were also working on creating the sound of Otis being on-set. It had to feel like we were watching a film and when someone screams, “Cut!” it had to feel like we go back into reality. Being able to play with those juxtapositions in a sonic way really helped out. We would give it a cinematic sound and then pulled back into a cinéma vérité-type sound. That was the big sound motif in the movie.

We worked really close with the composer Alex Somers. He developed this little crank sound that helped to signify Otis’ dreams and the turning of events. It makes it feel like Otis is a puppet with all his acting jobs.

There’s also a harness motif. In the very beginning you see adult Otis (Lucas Hedges) standing in front of a plane that has crashed and then you hear things coming up behind him. They are shooting missiles at him and they blow up and he gets yanked back from the explosions. You hear someone say, “Cut!” and he’s just dangling in a body harness about 20 feet up in the air. They reset, pull him down and walk him back. We go through a montage of his career, the drunkenness and how crazy he was, and then him going to therapy.

In the session, he’s told he has PTSD caused by his upbringing and he says, “No, I don’t.” It kicks to the title and then we see young Otis (Noah Jupe) sitting there waiting, and he gets hit by a pie. He then gets yanked back by that same harness, and he dangles for a little while before they bring him down. That is how the harness motif works.

There’s also a chicken motif. Growing up, Otis has a chicken named Henrietta La Fowl, and during the dream sequences the chicken leads Otis to his father. So we had to make a voice for the chicken. We had to give the chicken a dreamy feel. And we used the old-school Yellow Sky wind to give it a Western-feel and add a dreaminess to it.

On the dub stage with director Alma Har’el and her team, plus Will Files (front left) and Andrew Twite (front right).

Andrew Twite was my sound designer. He was also with me on Swiss Army Man. He was able to make some rich and lush backgrounds for that. We did a lot of recording in our neighborhood of Highland Park, which is much like Echo Park where Shia grew up and where the film is based. So it’s Latin-heavy communities with taco trucks and that fun stuff. We gave it that gritty sound to show that, even though Otis is making $8,000 a week, they’re still living on the other side of the tracks.

When Otis is in therapy, it feels like Malibu. It’s nicer, quieter, and not as stressful versus the motel when Otis was younger, which is more pumped up.

My dialogue editor was Elliot Thompson, and he always does a great job for me. The production sound mixer Oscar Grau did a phenomenal job of capturing everything at all moments. There was no MOS (picture without sound). He recorded everything and he gave us a lot of great production effects. The production dialogue was tricky because in many of the scenes young Otis isn’t wearing a shirt and there are no lav mics on him. Oscar used plant mics and booms and captured it all.

What was the most challenging scene for sound design on Honey Boy?
The opening, the intro and the montage right up front were the most challenging. We recut the sound for Alma several different ways. She was great and always had moments of inspiration. We’d try different approaches and the sound would always get better, but we were on a time crunch and it was difficult to get all of those elements in place in the way she was looking for.

Honey Boy on the mix stage at Sony’s Kim Novak Theater.

In the opening, you hear the sound of this mega-massive robot (an homage to a certain film franchise that Shia has been part of in the past, wink, wink). You hear those sounds coming up over the production cards on a black screen. Then it cuts to adult Otis standing there as we hear this giant laser gun charging up. Otis goes, “No, no, no, no, no…” in that quintessential Shia LaBeouf way.

Then, there’s a montage over Missy Elliott’s “My Struggles,” and the footage goes through his career. It’s a music video montage with sound effects, and you see Otis on set and off set. He’s getting sick, and then he’s stuck in a harness, getting arrested in the movie and then getting arrested in real life. The whole thing shows how his life is a blur of film and reality.

What was the biggest challenge in regards to the mix?
The most challenging aspect of the mix, on Will [Files]’s side of the board, was getting those monsters in the pocket. Will had just come off of Venom and Halloween so he can mix these big, huge, polished sounds. He can make these big sound effects scenes sound awesome. But for this film, we had to find that balance between making it sound polished and “Hollywood” while also keeping it in the realm of indie film.

There was a lot of back and forth to dial-in the effects, to make it sound polished but still with an indie storytelling feel. Reel one took us two days on stage to get through. We even spent some time on it on the last mix day as well. That was the biggest challenge to mix.

The rest of the film is more straightforward. The challenge on dialogue was to keep it sounding dynamic instead of smoothed out. A lot of Shia’s performance plays in the realm of vocal dynamics. We didn’t want to make the dialogue lifeless. We wanted to have the dynamics in there, to keep the performance alive.

We mixed in Atmos and panned sounds into the ceiling. I took a lot of the composer’s stems and remixed those in Atmos, spreading all the cues out in a pleasant way and using reverb to help glue it together in the environment.

 

The Death of Dick Long

Let’s look at another Sundance film you’ve worked on this year. The Death of Dick Long is part of the Next category. What were director Daniel Scheinert’s initial ideas for the role of sound on this film?
Daniel Scheinert always shows up with a lot of sound ideas, and most of those were already in place because of picture editor Paul Rogers from Parallax Post (which is right down the hall from our studio Unbridled Sound). Paul and all the editors at Parallax are sound designers in their own right. They’ll give me an AAF of their Adobe Premiere session and it’ll be 80 tracks deep. They’re constantly running down to our studio like, “Hey, I don’t have this sound. Can you design something for me?” So, we feed them a lot of sounds.

The Death of Dick Long

We played with the bug sounds the most. They shot in Alabama, where both Paul and Daniel are from, so there were a lot of cicadas and bugs. It was important to make the distinction of what the bugs sounded like in the daytime versus what they sounded like in the afternoon and at night. Paul did a lot of work to make sure that the balance was right, so we didn’t want to mess with that too much. We just wanted to support it. The backgrounds in this film are rich and full.

This film is crazy. It opens up with a Creed song and ends with a Nickleback song, as a sort of a joke. They wanted to show a group of guys that never really made much of themselves. These guys are in a band called Pink Freud, and they have band practice.

The film starts with them doing dumb stuff, like setting off fireworks and catching each other on fire — just messing around. Then it cuts to Dick (Daniel Scheinert) in the back of a vehicle and he’s bleeding out. His friends just dump him at the hospital and leave. The whole mystery of how Dick dies unfolds throughout the course of the film. The two main guys are Earl (Andre Hyland) and Zeke (Michael Abbott, Jr.).

The Foley on this film — provided by Foley artist John Sievert of JRS Productions — plays a big role. Often, Foley is used to help us get in and out of the scene. For instance, the police are constantly showing up to ask more questions and you hear them sneaking in from another room to listen to what’s being said. There’s a conversation between Zeke and his wife Lydia (Virginia Newcomb) and he’s asking her to help him keep information from the police. They’re in another room but you hear their conversation as the police are questioning Dick Long’s wife, Jane (Jess Weixler).

We used sound effects to help increase the tension when needed. For example, there’s a scene where Zeke is doing the laundry and his wife calls saying she’s scared because there are murderers out there, and he has to come and pick her up. He knows it’s him but he’s trying to play it off. As he is talking to her, Earl is in the background telling Zeke what to say to his wife. As they’re having this conversation, the washing machine out in the garage keeps getting louder and it makes that scene feel more intense.

Director Daniel Scheinert (left) and Puddle relaxing during the mix.

“The Dans” — Scheinert and Daniel Kwan — are known for Swiss Army Man. That film used sound in a really funny way, but it was also relevant to the plot. Did Scheinert have the same open mind about sound on The Death of Dick Long? Also, were there any interesting recording sessions you’d like to talk about?
There were no farts this time, and it was a little more straightforward. Manchester Orchestra did the score on this one too, but it’s also more laid back.

For this film, we really wanted to depict a rural Alabama small-town feel. We did have some fun with a few PA announcements, but you don’t hear those clearly. They’re washed out. Earl lives in a trailer park, so there are trailer park fights happening in the background to make it feel more like Jerry Springer. We had a lot of fun doing that stuff. Sound effects editor Danielle Price cut that scene, and she did a really great job.

What was the most challenging aspect of the sound design on The Death of Dick Long?
I’d say the biggest things were the backgrounds, engulfing the audience in this area and making sure the bugs feel right. We wanted to make sure there was off-screen movement in the police station and other locations to give them all a sense of life.

The whole movie was about creating a sense of intensity. I remember showing it to my wife during one of our initial sound passes, and she pulled the blanket over her face while she was watching it. By the end, only her eyes were showing. These guys keep messing up and it’s stressful. You think they’re going to get caught. So the suspense that the director builds in — not being serious but still coming across in a serious manner — is amazing. We were helping them to build that tension through backgrounds, music and dropouts, and pushing certain everyday elements (like the washing machine) to create tension in scenes.

What scene in this film best represents the use of sound?
I’d say the laundry scene. Also, in the opening scene you hear the band playing in the garage and the perspective slowly gets closer and closer.

During the film’s climax, when you find out how Dick dies, we’re pulling down the backgrounds that we created. For instance, when you’re in the bedroom you hear their crappy fan. When you’re in the kitchen, you hear the crappy compressor on the refrigerator. It’s all about playing up these “bad” sounds to communicate the hopelessness of the situation they are living in.

I want to shout out all of my sound editors for their exceptional work on The Death of Dick Long. There was Jacob “Young Thor” Flack and Elliot Thompson, and Danielle Price who did amazing backgrounds. Also, a shout out to Ian Chase for help on the mix. I want to make sure they share the credit.

I think there needs to be more recognition of the contribution of sound and the sound departments on a film. It’s a subject that needs to be discussed, particularly in these somber days following the death of Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Gregg Rudloff. He was the nicest guy ever. I remember being an intern on the sound stage and he always took the time to talk to us and give us advice. He was one of the good ones.

When post sound gets a credit after the caterers’ on-set, it doesn’t do us justice. On Swiss Army Man, initially I had my own title card because The Dans wanted to give me a title card that said, “Supervising Sound Editor Brent Kiser,” but the Directors Guild took it away. They said it wasn’t appropriate. Their reasoning is that if they give it to one person then they’ll have to give it to everybody. I get it — the visual effects department is new on the block. They wrote their contract knowing what was going on, so they get a title card. But try watching a film on mute and then talk to me about the importance of sound. That needs to start changing, for the sheer fact of burnout and legacy.

At the end of the day, you worked so hard to get these projects done. You’re taking care of someone else’s baby and helping it to grow up to be this great thing, but then we’re only seen as the hired help. Or, we never even get a mention. There is so much pressure and stress on the sound department, and I feel we deserve more recognition for what we give to a film.


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

Pixelogic London adds audio mix, digital cinema theaters

Pixelogic has added new theaters and production suites to its London facility, which offers creation and mastering of digital cinema packages and theatrical screening of digital cinema content, as well as feature and episodic audio mixing.

Pixelogic’s London location now features six projector-lit screening rooms: three theaters and three production suites. Purpose-built from the ground up, the theaters offer HDR picture and immersive audio technologies, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

The equipment offered in the three theaters includes Avid S6 and S3 consoles and Pro Tools systems that support a wide range of theatrical mixing services, complemented by two new ADR booths.

Sound Lounge Film+Television adds Atmos mixing, Evan Benjamin

Sound Lounge’s Film + Television division, which provides sound editorial, ADR and mixing services for episodic television, features and documentaries is upgrading its main mix stage to support editing and mixing in the Dolby Atmos format.

Sound Lounge Film + Television division EP Rob Browning says that the studio expects to begin mixing in Dolby Atmos by the beginning of next year and that will allow it to target more high-end studio features. Sound Lounge is also installing a Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite, a custom hardware/software solution for preparing Dolby Atmos content for Blu-ray and streaming release.

It has also added veteran supervising sound editor, designer and re-recording mixer Evan Benjamin to its team. Benjamin is best known for his work in documentaries, including the feature doc RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as documentary series for Netflix, Paramount Network, HBO and PBS.

Benjamin is a 20-year industry veteran with credits on more than 130 film, television and documentary projects, including Paramount Network’s Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story and HBO’s Baltimore Rising. Additionally, his credits include Time: The Kalief Browder Story, Welcome to Leith, Joseph Pulitzer: Man of the People and Moynihan.

Pixelogic adds d-cinema, Dolby audio mixing theaters to Burbank facility

Pixelogic, which provides localization and distribution services, has opened post production content review and audio mixing theaters within its facility in Burbank. The new theaters extend the company’s end-to-end services to include theatrical screening of digital cinema packages as well as feature and episodic audio mixing in support of its foreign language dubbing business.

Pixelogic now operates a total of six projector-lit screening rooms within its facility. Each room was purpose-built from the ground up to include HDR picture and immersive sound technologies, including support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio. The main theater is equipped with a Dolby Vision projection system and supports Dolby Atmos immersive audio. The facility will enable the creation of more theatrical content in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, which consumers can experience at Dolby Cinema theaters, as well as in their homes and on the go. The four larger theaters are equipped with Avid S6 consoles in support of the company’s audio services. The latest 4D motion chairs are also available for testing and verification of 4D capabilities.

“The overall facility design enables rapid and seamless turnover of production environments that support Digital Cinema Package (DCP) screening, audio recording, audio mixing and a range of mastering and quality control services,” notes Andy Scade, SVP/GM of Pixelogic’s worldwide digital cinema services.

London’s LipSync upgrades studio, adds Dolby Atmos

LipSync Post, located in London’s Soho, has upgraded its studio with Dolby Atmos and  installed a new control system. To accomplish this, LipSync teamed up with HHB Communications’ Scrub division to create a hybrid dual Avid S6 and AMS Neve DFC3D desk while also upgrading the room to create Dolby Atmos mixes with a new mastering unit. Now that the upgrade to Theatre 2 is complete, LipSync plans to upgrade Theatre 1 this summer.

The setup has the best of both worlds with full access to both the classic Neve DFC sound while also bringing more hands-on control of their Avid Pro Tools automation via the S6 desks. In order to streamline their workflow as more projects are mixed exclusively “in the box,” LipSync installed the S6s within the same frame as the DFC, with custom furniture created by Frozen Fish Design. This dual operator configuration frees the mix engineers to work on separate Pro Tools systems simultaneously for fast and efficient turnaround in order to meet crucial project deadlines.

“The move into extended surround formats like Dolby Atmos is very exciting,” explains LipSync senior re-recording mixer Rob Hughes. “We have now completed our first feature mix in the refitted theater (Vita & Virginia directed by Chanya Button). It has a very detailed, involved soundtrack and the new system handled it with ease.”

Nugen adds 3D Immersive Extension to Halo Upmix

Nugen Audio has updated its Halo Upmix with a new 3D Immersive Extension, adding further options beyond the existing Dolby Atmos bed track capability. The 3D Immersive Extension now provides ambisonic-compatible output as an alternative to channel-based output for VR, game and other immersive applications. This makes it possible to upmix, re-purpose or convert channel-based audio for an ambisonic workflow.

With this 3D Immersive Extension, Halo fully supports Avid’s newly announced Pro Tools V.2.8, now with native 7.1.2 stems for Dolby Atmos mixing. The combination of Pro Tools 12.8 and Halo 3D Immersive Extension can provide a more fluid workflow for audio post pros handling multi-channel and object-based audio formats.

Halo Upmix is available immediately at a list price of $499 for both OS X and Windows, with support for Avid AAX, AudioSuite, VST2, VST3 and AU formats. The new 3D Immersive Extension replaces the Halo 9.1 Extension and can now be purchased for $199. Owners of the existing Halo 9.1 Extension can upgrade to the Halo 3D Immersive Extension for no additional cost. Support for native 7.1.2 stems in Avid Pro Tools 12.8 is available on launch.

Sony Pictures Post adds home theater dub stage

By Mel Lambert

Reacting to the increasing popularity of home theater systems that offer immersive sound playback, Sony Pictures Post Production has added a new mix stage to accommodate next-generation consumer audio formats.

Located in the landmark Thalberg Building on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, the new Home Theater Immersive Mix Stage features a flexible array of loudspeakers that can accommodate not only Dolby Atmos and Barco Auro-3D immersive consumer formats, but also other configurations as they become available, including DTS:X, as well as conventional 5.1- and 7.1-channel legacy formats.

The new room has already seen action on an Auro-3D consumer mix for director Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters and director Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven in both Atmos and Auro-3D. It is scheduled to handle home theater mixes for director Morten Tyldum’s new sci-fi drama Passengers, which will be overseen by Kevin O’Connell and Will Files, the re-recording mixers who worked on the theatrical release.

L-R: Nathan Oishi; Diana Gamboa, director of Sony Pictures Post Sound; Kevin O’Connell, re-recording mixer on ‘Passengers’; and Tom McCarthy.

“This new stage keeps us at the forefront in immersive sound, providing an ideal workflow and mastering environment for home theaters,” says Tom McCarthy, EVP of Sony Pictures Post Production Services. “We are empowering mixers to maximize the creative potential of these new sound formats, and deliver rich, enveloping soundtracks that consumers can enjoy in the home.”

Reportedly, Sony is one of the few major post facilities that currently can handle both Atmos and Auro-3D immersive formats. “We intend to remain ahead of the game,” McCarthy says.

The consumer mastering process involves repurposing original theatrical release soundtrack elements for a smaller domestic environment at reduced playback levels suitable for Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD disc and digital delivery. The Home Atmos format involves a 7.4.1 configuration, with a horizontal array of seven loudspeakers — three up-front, two side channels and two rear surrounds — in addition to four overhead/height and a subwoofer/LFE channel. The consumer Auro-3D format, in essence, involves a pair of 5.1-channel loudspeaker arrays — left, center, right plus two rear surround channels — located one above the other, with all speakers approximately six feet from the listening position.

Formerly an executive screening room, the new 600-square-foot stage is designed to replicate the dimensions and acoustics of a typical home-theater environment. According to the facility’s director of engineering, Nathan Oishi, “The room features a 24-fader Avid S6 control surface console with Pan/Post modules. The four in-room Avid Pro Tools HDX 3 systems provide playback and record duties via Apple 12-Core Mac Pro CPUs with MADI interfaces and an 8TB Promise Pegasus hard disk RAID array, plus a wide array of plug-ins. Picture playback is from a Mac Mini and Blackmagic HD Extreme video card with a Brainstorm DCD8 Clock for digital sync.”

An Avid/DAD AX32 Matrix controller handles monitor assignments, which then route to a BSS BLU 806 programmable EQ that handles all of standard B-chain duties for distribution to the room’s loudspeaker array. These comprise a total of 13 JBL LSR-708i two-way loudspeakers and two JBL 4642A dual 15 subwoofers powered by Crown DCI Series networked amplifiers. Atmos panning within Pro Tools is accommodated by the familiar Dolby Rendering and Mastering Unit/RMU.

During September’s “Sound for Film and Television Conference,” Dolby’s Gary Epstein demo’d Atmos. ©2016 Mel Lambert.

“A Delicate Audio custom truss system, coupled with Adaptive Technologies speaker mounts, enables the near-field monitor loudspeakers to be re-arranged and customized as necessary,” adds Oishi. “Flexibility is essential, since we designed the room to seamlessly and fully support both Dolby Atmos and Auro formats, while building in sufficient routing, monitoring and speaker flexibility to accommodate future immersive formats. Streaming and VR deliverables are upon us, and we will need to stay nimble enough to quickly adapt to new specifications.”

Regarding the choice of a mixing controller for the new room, McCarthy says that he is committed to integrating more Avid S6 control surfaces into the facility’s workflow, witnessed by their current use within several theatrical stages on the Sony lot. “Our talent is demanding it,” he states. “Mixing in the box lets our editors and mixers keep their options open until print mastering. It’s a more efficient process, both creatively and technically.”

The new Immersive Mix Stage will also be used as a “Flex Room” for Atmos pre-dubs when other stages on the lot are occupied. “We are also planning to complete a dedicated IMAX re-recording stage early next year,” reports McCarthy.

“As home theaters grow in sophistication, consumers are demanding immersive sound, ultra HD resolution and high-dynamic range,” says Rich Berger, SVP of digital strategy at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “This new stage allows our technicians to more closely replicate a home theater set-up.”

“The Sony mix stage adds to the growing footprint of Atmos-enabled post facilities and gives the Hollywood creative community the tools they need to deliver an immersive experience to consumers,” states Curt Behlmer, Dolby’s SVP of content solutions and industry relations.

Adds Auro Technologies CEO Wilfried Van Baelen, “Having major releases from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment incorporating Auro-3D helps provide this immersive experience to ensure they are able to enjoy films how the creator intended.”


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.

Deepwater Horizon’s immersive mix via Twenty Four Seven Sound

By Jennifer Walden

The Peter Berg-directed film Deepwater Horizon, in theaters now, opens on a black screen with recorded testimony from real-life Deepwater Horizon crew member Mike Williams recounting his experience of the disastrous oil spill that began April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This documentary-style realism moves into a wide, underwater immersive soundscape. The transition sets the music and sound design tone for the entire film,” explains Eric Hoehn, re-recording mixer at Twenty Four Seven Sound in Topanga Canyon, California. “We intentionally developed the immersive mixes to drop the viewer into this world physically, mentally and sonically. That became our mission statement for the Dolby Atmos design on Deepwater Horizon. Dolby empowered us with the tools and technology to take the audience on this tightrope journey between anxiety and real danger. The key is not to push the audience into complete sensory overload.”

eric-and-wylie

L-R: Eric Hoehn and Wylie Stateman.  Photo Credit: Joe Hutshing

The 7.1 mix on Deepwater Horizon was crafted first with sound designer Wylie Stateman and re-recording mixers Mike Prestwood Smith (dialogue/music) and Dror Mohar (sound effects) at Warner Bros in New York City. Then Hoehn mixed the immersive versions, but it wasn’t just a technical upmix. “We spent four weeks mixing the Dolby Atmos version, teasing out sonic story-point details such as the advancing gas pressure, fire and explosions,” Hoehn explains. “We wanted to create a ‘wearable’ experience, where your senses actually become physically involved with the tension and drama of the picture. At times, this movie is very much all over you.”

The setting for Deepwater Horizon is interesting in that the vertical landscape of the 25-story oil rig is more engrossing than the horizontal landscape of the calm sea. This dynamic afforded Hoehn the opportunity to really work with the overhead Atmos environment, making the audience feel as though they’re experiencing the story and not just witnessing it. “The story takes place 40 miles out at sea on a floating oil drilling platform. The challenge was to make this remote setting experiential for the audience,” Hoehn explains. “For visual artists, the frame is the boundary. For us, working in Atmos, the format extends the boundaries into the auditorium. We wanted the audience to feel as if they too were trapped with our characters aboard the Deepwater Horizon. The movement of sound into the theater adds to the sense of disorientation and confusion that they’re viewing on screen, making the story more immediate and disturbing.”

In their artistic approach to the Atmos mix, Stateman and sound effects designers Harry Cohen and Sylvain Lasseur created an additional sound design layer — specific Atmos objects that help to reinforce the visuals by adding depth and weight via sound. For example, during a sequence after a big explosion and blow out, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) wakes up with a pile of rubble and a broken door on top of him. Twisted metal, confusing announcements and alarms were designed from scratch to become objects that added detail to the space above the audience. “I think it’s one of the most effective Atmos moments in the film. You are waking up with Williams in the aftermath of this intense, destructive sequence. The entire rig is overwhelmed by off-stage explosions, twisting metal, emergency announcements and hissing steam. Things are falling apart above you and around you,” details Hoehn.

Hoehn shares another example: during a scene on the drill deck they created sound design objects to describe the height and scale of the 25-story oil derrick. “We put those sounds into the environment by adding delays and echoes that make it feel like those sounds are pinging around high above you. We wanted the audience to sense the vertical layers of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig,” says Hoehn, who created the delays and echoes using a multichannel delay plug-in called Slapper by The Cargo Cult. “I had separate mix control over the objects and the acoustic echoes applied. I could put the discrete echoes in distinct places in the Atmos environment. It was an agitative design element. It was designed to make the audience feel oriented and at the same time disoriented.”

The additional sounds they created were not an attempt to reimagine the soundtrack, but rather a means of enhancing what was there. “We were deliberate about what we added,” Hoehn explains. “As a team we strived to maximize the advantages of an Atmos theater, which allows us to keep a film mentally, physically and sonically intense. That was the filmmaker’s primary goal.”

The landscape in Deepwater Horizon doesn’t just tower over the audience; it extends under them as well. The underwater scenes were an opportunity to feature the music since these “sequences don’t contain metal banging and explosions. These moments allow the music to give an emotional release,” says Hoehn.

Hoehn explains that the way music exists in Atmos is sort of like a big womb of sound; it surrounds the audience. The underwater visuals depict the catastrophic failure of the blowout preventer — a valve that can close off the well and prevent an uncontrolled flow of oil, and the music punctuates this emotional and pivotal point in the film. It gives a sense of calm that contrasts what’s happening on screen. Sonically, it’s also a contrast to the stressful soundscape happening on-board the rig. Hoehn says, “It’s good for such an intense film and story to have moments where you can find comfort, and I think that is where the music provides such emotional depth. It provides that element of comfort between the moments where your senses are being flooded. We played with dynamic range, going to silence and using the quiet to heighten the anticipation of a big release.”

Hoehn mixed the Atmos version in Twenty Four Seven Sound’s Dolby Atmos lab, which uses an Avid S6 console running Pro Tools 12 and features Meyer Acheron mains and 26 JBL AC28 monitors for the surrounds and overheads. It is an environment designed to provide sonic precision so that when the mixer turns a knob or pushes a fader, the change can instantly be heard. “You can feel your cause-and-effect happen immediately. Sometimes when you’re in a bigger room, you are battling the acoustics of the space. It’s helpful to work under a magnifying glass, particularly on a soundtrack that is as detailed as Deepwater Horizon’s,” says Hoehn.

Hoehn spent a month on the Atmos mix, which served as the basis for the other immersive formats, such as the IMAX 5 and IMAX 12 mixes. “The IMAX versions maintain the integrity of our Atmos design,” says Hoehn, “A lot of care had to be taken in each of the immersive versions to make sure the sound worked in service of the storytelling process.”

Bring On VR
In addition to the theatrical release, Hoehn discussed the prospect of a Deepwater Horizon VR experience. “Working with our friends at Dolby, we’re looking at virtual reality and experimenting with sequences from Deepwater Horizon. We are working to convert the Atmos mix to a headset, virtual sound environment,” says Hoehn. He explains that binaural sound or surround sound in headphones present its own design challenges; it’s not just a direct lift of the 7.1 or Atmos mix.

“Atmos mixing for a theatrical sound pressure environment is different than the sound pressure environment in headphones,” explains Hoehn. “It’s a different sound pressure that you have to design for, and the movement of sounds needs to be that much more precise. Your brain needs to track movement and so maybe you have less objects moving around. Or, you have one sound object hand off to another object and it’s more of a parade of sound. When you’re in a theater, you can have audio coming from different locations and your brain can track it a lot easier because of the fixed acoustical environment of a movie theater. So that’s a really interesting challenge that we are excited to sink our teeth into.”


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

IBC: Surrounded by sound

By Simon Ray

I came to the 2016 IBC Show in Amsterdam at the start of a period of consolidation at Goldcrest in London. We had just gone through three years of expansion, upgrading, building and installing. Our flagship Dolby Atmos sound mixing theatre finished its first feature, Jason Bourne, and the DI department recently upgraded to offer 4K and HDR.

I didn’t have a particular area to research at the show, but there were two things that struck me almost immediately on arrival: the lack of drones and the abundance of VR headsets.

Goldcrest’s Atmos mixing stage.

360 audio is an area I knew a little about, and we did provide a binaural DTS Headphone X mix at the end of Jason Bourne, but there was so much more to learn.

Happily, my first IBC meeting was with Fraunhofer, where I was updated on some of the developments they have made in production, delivery and playback of immersive and 360 sound. Of particular interest was their Cingo technology. This is a playback solution that lives in devices such as phones and tablets and can already be found in products from Google, Samsung and LG. This technology renders 3D audio content onto headphones and can incorporate head movements. That means a binaural render that gives spatial information to make the sound appear to be originating outside the head rather than inside, as can be the case when listening to traditionally mixed stereo material.

For feature films, for example, this might mean taking the 5.1 home theatrical mix and rendering it into a binaural signal to be played back on headphones, giving the listener the experience of always sitting in the sweet spot of a surround sound speaker set-up. Cingo can also support content with a height component, such as 9.1 and 11.1 formats, and add that into the headphone stream as well to make it truly 3D. I had a great demo of this and it worked very well.

I was impressed that Fraunhofer had also created a tool for creating immersive content, a plug-in called Cingo Composer that could run as both VST and AAX plug-ins. This could run in Pro Tools, Nuendo and other DAWs and aid the creation of 3D content. For example, content could be mixed and automated in an immersive soundscape and then rendered into an FOA (First Order Ambisonics or B-Format) 4-channel file that could be played with a 360 video to be played on VR headsets with headtracking.

After Fraunhofer, I went straight to DTS to catch up with what they were doing. We had recently completed some immersive DTS:X theatrical, home theatrical and, as mentioned above, headphone mixes using the DTS tools, so I wanted to see what was new. There were some nice updates to the content creation tools, players and renderers and a great demo of the DTS decoder doing some live binaural decoding and headtracking.

With immersive and 3D audio being the exciting new things, there were other interesting products on display that related to this area. In the Future Zone Sennheiser was showing their Ambeo VR mic (see picture, right). This is an ambisonic microphone that has four capsules arranged in a tetrahedron, which make up the A-format. They also provide a proprietary A-B format encoder that can run as a VST or AAX plug-in on Mac and Windows to process the outputs of the four microphones to the W,X,Y,Z signals (the B-format).

From the B-Format it is possible to recreate the 3D soundfield, but you can also derive any number of first-order microphones pointing in any direction in post! The demo (with headtracking and 360 video) of a man speaking by the fireplace was recorded just using this mic and was the most convincing of all the binaural demos I saw (heard!).

Still in the Future Zone, for creating brand new content I visited the makers of the Spatial Audio Toolbox, which is similar to the Cingo Creator tool from Fraunhofer. B-Com’s Spatial Audio Toolbox contains VST plug-ins (soon to be AAX) to enable you to create an HOA (higher order ambisonics) encoded 3D sound scene using standard mono, stereo or surround source (using HOA Pan) and then listen to this sound scene on headphones (using Render Spk2Bin).

The demo we saw at the stand was impressive and included headtracking. The plug-ins themselves were running on a Pyramix on the Merging Technologies stand in Hall 8. It was great to get my hands on some “live” material and play with the 3D panning and hear the effect. It was generally quite effective, particularly in the horizontal plane.

I found all this binaural and VR stuff exciting. I am not sure exactly how and if it might fit into a film workflow, but it was a lot of fun playing! The idea of rendering a 3D soundfield into a binaural signal has been around for a long time (I even dedicated months of my final year at university to writing a project on that very subject quite a long time ago) but with mixed success. It is exciting to see now that today’s mobile devices contain the processing power to render the binaural signal on the fly. Combine that with VR video and headtracking, and the ability to add that information into the rendering process, and you have an offering that is very impressive when demonstrated.

I will be interested to see how content creators, specifically in the film area, use this (or don’t). The recreation of the 3D surround sound mix over 2-channel headphones works well, but whether headtracking gets added to this or not remains to be seen. If the sound is matched to video that’s designed for an immersive experience, then it makes sense to track the head movements with the sound. If not, then I think it would be off-putting. Exciting times ahead anyway.

Simon Ray is head of operations and engineering Goldcrest Post Production in London.

Deluxe Toronto adds Dolby Atmos theater, Steve Foster joins sound team

Steve Foster, a 25-year veteran of the sound industry, has joined Deluxe Toronto as a senior re-recording mixer. Foster’s first project at Deluxe Toronto will be the second season of the SyFy series The Expanse.

Foster comes to Deluxe Toronto from Technicolor Toronto, formerly Toronto’s Sounds Interchange, where he helped establish the long form audio and ADR departments. He also wrote the score for ‘90s thriller Killer Image. Other credits include Narcos, Rolling Stones: At the Max and the TV series Hannibal. He earned a Gemini Award for Best Sound in a Dramatic Program on Everest, a Genie Award for Overall Sound on Passchendaele and four Motion Picture Sound Editor Golden Reels for sound editing and ADR for various episodics.

In other news, Deluxe Toronto has also extended its capabilities, adding a new Dolby Atmos mixing theater geared toward episodic production to its facility. It features equipment and layout identical to the studio’s existing three episodic sound theaters, allowing for consistent and flexible review sessions for all of the 10 to 12 projects simultaneously flowing through Deluxe Toronto. The facility also houses a large theatrical mix theater with 36-channel Dolby Atmos sound, and a soundstage for ADR recording.

Our Main Image: (L-R) Steve Foster, Mike Baskerville, Christian T. Cooke.