Tag Archives: Howard Bowler

Hobo’s Howard Bowler and Jon Mackey on embracing full-service VR

By Randi Altman

New York-based audio post house Hobo, which offers sound design, original music composition and audio mixing, recently embraced virtual reality by launching a 360 VR division. Wanting to offer clients a full-service solution, they partnered with New York production/post production studios East Coast Digital and Hidden Content, allowing them to provide concepting through production, post, music and final audio mix in an immersive 360 format.

The studio is already working on some VR projects, using their “object-oriented audio mix” skills to enhance the 360 viewing experience.

We touched base with Hobo’s founder/president, Howard Bowler, and post production producer Jon Mackey to get more info on their foray into VR.

Why was now the right time to embrace 360 VR?
Bowler: We saw the opportunity stemming from the advancement of the technology not only in the headsets but also in the tools necessary to mix and sound design in a 360-degree environment. The great thing about VR is that we have many innovative companies trying to establish what the workflow norm will be in the years to come. We want to be on the cusp of those discoveries to test and deploy these tools as the ecosystem of VR expands.

As an audio shop you could have just offered audio-for-VR services only, but instead aligned with two other companies to provide a full-service experience. Why was that important?
Bowler: This partnership provides our clients with added security when venturing out into VR production. Since the medium is relatively new in the advertising and film world, partnering with experienced production companies gives us the opportunity to better understand the nuances of filming in VR.

How does that relationship work? Will you be collaborating remotely? Same location?
Bowler: Thankfully, we are all based in West Midtown, so the collaboration will be seamless.

Can you talk a bit about object-based audio mixing and its challenges?
Mackey: The challenge of object-based mixing is not only mixing based in a 360-degree environment or converting traditional audio into something that moves with the viewer but determining which objects will lead the viewer, with its sound cue, into another part of the environment.

Bowler: It’s the creative challenge that inspires us in our sound design. With traditional 2D film, the editor controls what you see with their cuts. With VR, the partnership between sight and sound becomes much more important.

Howard Bowler pictured embracing VR.

How different is your workflow — traditional broadcast or spot work versus VR/360?
Mackey: The VR/360 workflow isn’t much different than traditional spot work. It’s the testing and review that is a game changer. Things generally can’t be reviewed live unless you have a custom rig that runs its own headset. It’s a lot of trial and error in checking the mixes, sound design, and spacial mixes. You also have to take into account the extra time and instruction for your clients to review a project.

What has surprised you the most about working in this new realm?
Bowler: The great thing about the VR/360 space is the amount of opportunity there is. What surprised us the most is the passion of all the companies that are venturing into this area. It’s different than talking about conventional film or advertising; there’s a new spark and its fueling the rise of the industry and allowing larger companies to connect with smaller ones to create an atmosphere where passion is the only thing that counts.

What tools are you using for this type of work?
Mackey: The audio tools we use are the ones that best fit into our Avid ProTools workflow. This includes plug-ins from G-Audio and others that we are experimenting with.

Can you talk about some recent projects?
Bowler: We’ve completed projects for Samsung with East Coast Digital, and there are more on the way.

Main Image: Howard Bowler and Jon Mackey

VR Audio: Virtual and spacial soundscapes

By Beth Marchant

The first things most people think of when starting out in VR is which 360-degree camera rig they need and what software is best for stitching. But virtual reality is not just a Gordian knot for production and post. Audio is as important — and complex — a component as the rest. In fact, audio designers, engineers and composers have been fascinated and challenged by VR’s potential for some time and, working alongside future-looking production facilities, are equally engaged in forging its future path. We talked to several industry pros on the front lines.

Howard Bowler

Music industry veteran and Hobo Audio founder Howard Bowler traces his interest in VR back to the groundbreaking film Avatar. “When that movie came out, I saw it three times in the same week,” he says. I was floored by the technology. It was the first time I felt like you weren’t just watching a film, but actually in the film.” As close to virtual reality as 3D films had gotten to that point, it was the blockbuster’s evolved process of motion capture and virtual cinematography that ultimately delivered its breathtaking result.

“Sonically it was extraordinary, but visually it was stunning as well,” he says. “As a result, I pressed everyone here at the studio to start buying 3D televisions, and you can see where that has gotten us — nowhere.” But a stepping stone in technology is more often a sturdy bridge, and Bowler was not discouraged. “I love my 3D TVs, and I truly believe my interest in that led me and the studio directly into VR-related projects.”

When discussing the kind of immersive technology Hobo Sound is involved with today, Bowler — like others interviewed for this series — clearly define VR’s parallel deliverables. “First, there’s 360 video, which is passive viewing, but still puts you in the center of the action. You just don’t interact with it. The second type, more truly immersive VR, lets you interact with the virtual environment as in a video game. The third area is augmented reality,” like the Pokemon Go phenomenon of projecting virtual objects and views onto your actual, natural environment. “It’s really important to know what you’re talking about when discussing these types of VR with clients, because there are big differences.”

With each segment comes related headsets, lenses and players. “Microsoft’s HoloLens, for example, operates solely in AR space,” says Hobo producer Jon Mackey. “It’s a headset, but will project anything that is digitally generated, either on the wall or to the space in front of you. True VR separates you from all that, and really good VR separates all your senses: your sight, your hearing and even touch and feeling, like some of those 4D rides at Disney World.” Which technology will triumph? “Some think VR will take it, and others think AR will have wider mass adoption,” says Mackey. “But we think it’s too early to decide between either one.”

Boxed Out

‘Boxed Out’ is a Hobo indie project about how gentrification is affecting artists studios in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.

Those kinds of end-game obstacles are beside the point, says Bowler. “The main reason why we’re interested in VR right now is that the experiences, beyond the limitations of whatever headset you watch it on, are still mind-blowing. It gives you enough of a glimpse of the future that it’s incredible. There are all kinds of obstacles it presents just because it’s new technology, but from our point of view, we’ve honed it to make it pretty seamless. We’re digging past a lot of these problem areas, so at least from the user standpoint, it seems very easy. That’s our goal. Down the road, people from medical, education and training are going to need to understand VR for very productive reasons. And we’re positioning ourselves to be there on behalf of our clients.”

Hobo’s all-in commitment to VR has brought changes to its services as well. “Because VR is an emerging technology, we’re investing in it globally,” says Bowler. “Our company is expanding into complete production, from concepting — if the client needs it — to shooting, editing and doing all of the audio post. We have the longest experience in audio post, but we find that this is just such an exciting area that we wanted to embrace it completely. We believe in it and we believe this is where the future is going to be. Everybody here is completely on board to move this forward and sees its potential.”

To ramp up on the technology, Hobo teamed up with several local students who were studying at specialty schools. “As we expanded out, we got asked to work with a few production companies, including East Coast Digital and End of Era Productions, that are doing the video side of it. We’re bundling our services with them to provide a comprehensive set of services.” Hobo is also collaborating with Hidden Content, a VR production and post production company, to provide 360 audio for premium virtual reality content. Hidden Content’s clients include Samsung, 451 Media, Giant Step, PMK-BNC, Nokia and Popsugar.

There is still plenty of magic sauce in VR audio that continues to make it a very tricky part of the immersive experience, but Bowler and his team are engineering their way through it. “We’ve been developing a mixing technique that allows you to tie the audio to the actual object,” he says. “What that does is disrupt the normal stereo mix. Say you have a public speaker in the center of the room; normally that voice would turn with you in your headphones if you turn away from him. What we’re able to do is to tie the audio of the speaker to the actual object, so when you turn your head, it will pan to the right earphone. That also allows you to use audio as signaling devices in the storyline. If you want the viewer to look in a certain direction in the environment, you can use an audio cue to do that.”

Hobo engineer Diego Jimenez drove a lot of that innovation, says Mackey. “He’s a real VR aficionado and just explored a lot of the software and mixing techniques required to do audio in VR. We started out just doing a ton of tests and they all proved successful.” Jimenez was always driven by new inspiration, notes Bowler. “He’s certainly been leading our sound design efforts on a lot of fronts, from creating instruments to creating all sorts of unusual and original sounds. VR was just the natural next step for him, and for us. For example, one of the spots that we did recently was to create a music video and we had to create an otherworldly environment. And because we could use our VR mixing technology, we could also push the viewer right into the experience. It was otherworldly, but you were in that world. It’s an amazing feeling.”


‘Boxed Out’

What advice do Bowler and Mackey have for those interested in VR production and post? “360 video is to me the entry point to all other versions of immersive content,” says Bowler. “It’s the most basic, and it’s passive, like what we’re used to — television and film. But it’s also a completely undefined territory when it comes to production technique.” So what’s the way in? “You can draw on some of the older ways of doing productions,” he says, “but how do you storyboard in 360? Where does the director sit? How do you hide the crew? How do you light this stuff? All of these things have to be considered when creating 360 video. That also includes everyone on camera: all the viewer has to do is look around the virtual space to see what’s going on. You don’t want anything that takes the viewer out of that experience.”

Bowler thinks 360 video is also the perfect entry point to VR for marketers and advertisers creating branded VR content, and Hobo’s clients agree. “When we’ve suggested 360 video on certain projects and clients want to try it out, what that does is it allows the technology to breathe a little while it’s underwritten at the same time. It’s a good way to get the technology off the ground and also to let clients get their feet wet in it.”

Any studio or client contemplating VR, adds Mackey, should first find what works for them and develop an efficient workflow. “This is not really a solidified industry yet,” he says. “Nothing is standard, and everyone’s waiting to see who comes out on top and who falls by the wayside. What’s the file standard going to be? Or the export standard?  Will it be custom-made apps on (Google) YouTube or Facebook? We’ll see Facebook and Google battle it out in the near term. Facebook has recently acquired an audio company to help them produce audio in 360 for their video app and Google has the Daydream platform,” though neither platform’s codec is compatible with the other, he points out. “If you mix your audio to Facebook audio specs, you can actually have your audio come out in 360. For us, it’s been trial and error, where we’ve experimented with these different mixing techniques to see what fits and what works.”

Still, Bowler concedes, there is no true business yet in VR. “There are things happening and people getting things out there, but it’s still so early in the game. Sure, our clients are intrigued by it, but they are still a little mystified by what the return will be. I think this is just part of what happens when you deal with new technology. I still think it’s a very exciting area to be working in, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t touch across many, many different subjects, from history to the arts to original content. Think about applications for geriatrics, with an aging population that gets less mobile but still wants to experience the Caribbean or our National Parks. The possibilities are endless.”

At one point, he admits, it may even become difficult to distinguish one’s real memory from one’s virtual memory. But is that really such a bad thing? “I’m already having this problem. I was watching an immersive video of Cuban music, that was pretty beautifully done, and by the end of the five-minute spot, I had the visceral experience that I was actually there. It’s just a very powerful way of experiencing content. Let me put it another way: 3D TVs were at the rabbit hole, and immersive video will take you down the rabbit hole into the other world.”

Source Sound
LA-based Source Sound, which has provided supervision and sound design on a number of Jaunt-produced cinematic VR experiences, including a virtual fashion show, a horror short and a Godzilla short film written and directed by Oscar-winning VFX artist Ian Hunter, as well as final Atmos audio mastering for the early immersive release Sir Paul McCartney Live, is ready for spacial mixes to come. That wasn’t initially the case.


Tim Gedemer

“When Jaunt first got into this space three years ago, they went to Dolby to try to figure out the audio component,” says Source Sound owner/supervising sound designer/editor Tim Gedemer. “I got a call from Dolby, who told me about what Jaunt was doing, and the first thing I said was, ‘I have no idea what you are talking about!’ Whatever it is, I thought, there’s really no budget and I was dragging my feet. But I asked them to show me exactly what they were doing. I was getting curious at that point.”

After meeting the team at Jaunt, who strapped some VR goggles on him and showed him some footage, Gedemer was hooked. “It couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds in and I was just blown away. I took off the headset and said, ‘What the hell is this?! We have to do this right now.’ They could have reached out to a lot of people, but I was thrilled that we were able to help them by seizing the moment.”

Gedemer says Source Sound’s business has expanded in multiple directions in the past few years, and VR is still a significant part of the studio’s revenue. “People are often surprised when I tell them VR counts for about 15-20 percent of our business today,” he says. “It could be a lot more, but we’d have to allocate the studios differently first.”

With a background in mixing and designing sound for film and gaming and theatrical trailers, Gedemer and his studio have a very focused definition of immersive experiences, and it all includes spacial audio. “Stereo 360 video with mono audio is not VR. For us, there’s cinematic, live-action VR, then straight-up game development that can easily migrate into a virtual reality world and, finally, VR for live broadcast.” Mass adoption of VR won’t happen, he believes, until enterprise and job training applications jump on the bandwagon with entertainment. “I think virtual reality may also be a stopover before we get to a world where augmented reality is commonplace. It makes more sense to me that we’ll just overlay all this content onto our regular days, instead of escaping from one isolated experience to the next.”

On set for the European launch of the Nokia Ozo VR camera in London, which featured a live musical performances captured in 360 VR.

For now, Source Sound’s VR work is completed in dedicated studios configured with gear for that purpose. “It doesn’t mean that we can’t migrate more into other studios, and we’re certainly evolving our systems to be dual-purpose,” he says. “About a year ago we were finally able to get a grip on the kinds of hardware and software we needed to really start coagulating this workflow. It was also clear from the beginning of our foray into VR that we needed to partner with manufacturers, like Dolby and Nokia. Both of those companies’ R&D divisions are on the front lines of VR in the cinematic and live broadcast space, with Dolby’s Atmos for VR and Nokia’s Ozo camera.”

What missing tools and technology have to be developed to achieve VR audio nirvana? “We delivered a wish list to Dolby, and I think we got about a quarter of the list,” he says. “But those guys have been awesome in helping us out. Still, it seems like just about every VR project that we do, we have to invent something to get us to the end. You definitely have to have an adventurous spirit if you want to play in this space.”

The work has already influenced his approach to more traditional audio projects, he says, and he now notices the lack of inter-spacial sound everywhere. “Everything out there is a boring rectangle of sound. It’s on my phone, on my TV, in the movie theater. I didn’t notice it as much before, but it really pops out at me now. The actual creative work of designing and mixing immersive sound has realigned the way I perceive it.”

Main Image: One of Hobo’s audio rooms, where the VR magic happens.

Beth Marchant has been covering the production and post industry for 21 years. She was the founding editor-in-chief of Studio/monthly magazine and the co-editor of StudioDaily.com. She continues to write about the industry.


Hobo, Gigantic talk about their audio post work for ‘Weiner’

The country watched in amazement as popular New York congressman Anthony Weiner sexted and lied his way out of office. When he came back, this time making a run for mayor of New York City, we were mesmerized once more at the true drama — and proverbial train wreck — that was enfolding in front of us. This story is the focus of the new documentary, Weiner.

As is the case with most documentaries, audio post can be a huge challenge. Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, the Sundance-winning Weiner, currently in theaters, VOD and airing on Showtime in October, was definitely no exception.

As they have several times in the past, New York-based audio post studios Gigantic Post (audio mix) and Hobo (sound and dialogue editing) teamed to handle the complex audio project.

postPerspective caught up with mixer Tom Paul of Gigantic Post and the Hobo team, which included Chris Stangroom, Stephen Davies and Julian Angel, to talk about their work on the film.

Creatively, what were some of the key challenges you faced with the Weiner project?
Chris Stangroom: As with most documentaries, the vérité style of the film and the varied audio sources used proved especially challenging. A lot of the audio sources we were dealing with came from old news footage, cell phone cameras and the filmmakers themselves shooting in a guerilla-style.

We needed to clean all that up — the harsh drones, crackles and blaring sounds of city life. More so than other film genres, nobody pays attention to the audio in docs unless something sounds wrong. Making sure all of the source audio was as clean as possible was paramount.

Tom Paul: I approach docs and narrative films in basically the same way. They are both stories being told with sound and picture. The biggest difference is that in some docs, the production sound is quite noisy and usually can’t be replaced, so the sonic space available for subtlety in the sound design is sometimes more limited.

What was your and the filmmakers’ “big picture” thinking about the film’s audio mix?
Paul: We tried to infuse the film with the sound of a high-energy campaign in the middle of New York City, and to contrast that with the intimacy of the Weiner’s personal and home life that the film was privileged to have access to.

Anthony Weiner was on a whirlwind ride through the campaign and media onslaught, and we wanted to bring the audience on that ride with him. We also played with subjectivity, reflecting the dramatic events that took place, sometimes from Anthony Weiner’s perspective.

Any particular scene or sequence that proved the most interesting creatively or difficult for you?
Paul: The Caribbean parade sequence was a big challenge, and a big, fun party, but we had the most fun doing the scene near the end, when “Pineapple” (Weiner’s campaign staffs’ code name for the for the woman Weiner was caught “sexting” with) was trying to crash their campaign-closing party.

Creating the feeling of tension as the Weiner crew approached the scene in their SUV, contrasting that with the stakeout awaiting them, and the ensuing pursuit through a McDonald’s and into the bowels of the back hallways and staircases on their way to their own party, was a blast. It feels like an action movie for a minute.

Julian Angel: For me, the Caribbean parade scene was particularly complex because of the extreme noise level. Weiner is yelling into the megaphone, the crowds are almost louder than he is and booming music from the floats is everywhere, yet somehow we had to clear out all of that noise and focus viewers on what Weiner was actually saying and, more importantly, what the scene represents in the context of the film.

Stephen, you and Julian are credited as sound editors. What did that entail?
Stephen Davies: Julian and I concentrated primarily on finding the right city ambiences to use, and layering them so they sounded natural and believable. The challenge sonically was to make it all feel like one cohesive world.

What tools did you guys use on this film?
On Hobo’s side, we were using Avid Pro Tools|12 HD across the board. We use Soundminer for all of our sound effects organization and design work. I also used Izotope’s RX 5 Pro a lot for the dialogue (Spectral Repair and De-reverb mostly.Occasionally, EQ Match and Ambience Match come in handy as well). And of course that Hobo love… couldn’t do it without the camaraderie.

Tom also uses Pro Tools HD and works on an Avid ICON D-Control console for the final mix.  We are all huge fans of Altiverb for reverbs, as well as Speakerphone and Revibe on occasion.

Tom, you’ve worked with Hobo several times prior to Weiner. What did they bring to the project and how would you describe the working relationship between the two companies?
Paul: I love Hobo. Howard Bowler, Hobo’s founder/president, and his team have been strong allies over the years on many projects. I know for certain that when I bring them onto a film I am doing, they will deliver not only impeccably crafted work, but also work done with their passion for storytelling.

Quick Chat: Hobo’s Howard Bowler talks about his pot reform campaign

By Randi Altman

The president of audio post house Hobo in New York City has a passion project, and it involves legalizing marijuana — you know, weed, pot, grass, Mary Jane, kush, bud. That stuff. The “End Prohibition Now” PSA campaign, which was funded, produced and posted by Hobo, supports reform in marijuana enforcement policies.

The campaign is made up of TV, radio and Internet ads targeting states that will be voting to legalize marijuana. Hobo (@hoboaudio) has made these spots available for free to broadcast outlets and organizations interested in spreading the word about this issue. All of the spots can be customized for different regions. Check out the video spot here, and the radio spot here.

Let’s find out why this is such an important topic to Hobo and Bowler, and how they went about conceiving, producing and posting the campaign.

You funded this campaign yourself?
Yes. The more I learned about the origin of prohibition, the more I realized these laws have a complex political history that is not based on science or health, and yet their social impact is huge. Last year alone 700,000 people were arrested on Marijuana related charges. Think about that. That’s more than for all violent crimes combined. It makes no sense.

So I could see that there was a lot to this issue and that the current efforts of organizations like MPP (Marijuana Policy Project), NORML, LEAP, and DPA (Drug Policy Alliance) could benefit from professional creative marketing support.

Why is this such an important message for you to spread?
Two members of my family were arrested, and although the charges were eventually dropped it was costly to get them out of the system. The whole experience made me wonder why marijuana was illegal in the first place. What I found out about the history of prohibition got me angry, and then it got me thinking.

You acted as creative director on these. How did you come up with the concept, etc.?
I’m very interested in history, politics, science, culture and the arts, and all of these subjects intersect with marijuana. Take for example this line from one of the radio spots, where a voiceover actor portraying President Richard Nixon says, “Everyone of those bastards out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish.” That’s a direct quote from a secret White House recording made during a discussion on whether marijuana should be legalized. I didn’t make it up. It’s the most fertile creative soil I’ve seen in a long time. There is so much material.

How did you work with the animator/editor on this? The animation was new, but given a vintage look?
We worked with editor Matt Hartman on the visuals. He had to get very creative since we had very little money to work with, so the public domain footage was actually vintage. A Google search turned up the usable footage we needed. He edited with an Avid Media Composer and did the motion graphics in Adobe After Effects. Everyone who has seen the spot tells me it was eye opening. I thank Matt for the excellent job highlighting those pesky facts.

Are there more spots to come? 
There are a lot more in the works. Many at Hobo have been contributing to the creative effort. Chris Stangroom (VP at Hobo) has written several of the spots. Julian Angel and LoudPack Zack have contributed music. All the guys have helped with the mixes.  It’s a team effort.

Can you talk about the mix and what gear was used?
Pro Tools|HD, various plug-ins, VO recorded with a Neumann U87 mic. The music was recorded with Pro Tools.

GP PSA 1 Five Classes

Anything else we should know?
We learned throughout this process that when one is passionate about a subject that passion can turn into power. We even wrote a song about it that we plan to release at a later date with the line, “Guided by the light of justice, with a gospel ever strong, we welcome you to freedom with a liberation song.” When it comes to ending prohibition that sums up everything we’re doing.

Pros share what they are thankful for this season

By Randi Altman

I admit it, I am one of those people who takes the meaning of Thanksgiving for granted. At quick glance, I think Thanksgiving is about turkey, over-eating, family gatherings and a parade featuring ginormous flying cartoon characters, but the real meaning sometimes gets lost in all of that.

This year I made it a point to think about all that I have to be grateful for, and there is a lot, including, of course, my family. In addition to them, I still get giddy about having all my music on my phone and just a click away. My wrists and I are also thankful for my Wacom tablet. It’s amazing. Oh, and Colin Firth. Don’t judge me.

Work-wise, I am very grateful that I got to re-invent myself with postPerspective and how just Continue reading

Howard Bowler’s Top 10: Why audio engineers should be respected

Howard Bowler is president and CEO of New York City’s Hobo (@hoboaudio), an audio post studio providing mixing and sound design for film, television, promo, spot, radio and web projects.

He is an industry vet who started in the business as a musician, sharing the stage with such bands as the Talking Heads, the B52s, The Ramones and Blondie. He found his way into record engineering and finally audio post.

A few months back, Bowler was a featured “Meet The Artist” on postPerspective. In addition to his audio talents, Bowler has a sense of humor.

So, without further ado, we bring to you, Howard Bowler’s Top 10 reasons why audio engineers Continue reading

Meet the Artist: Hobo president Howard Bowler

NAME: Howard R. Bowler

COMPANY: New York City’s HOBO (@hoboaudio)

Hobo is an audio post house offering mixing and sound design services.

Any company is really only as good as the people it employs and our company is made up of some of the most creative, disciplined and dedicated people around. We emphasize pride in our work, respect for each other, an open environment where everyone can communicate their ideas freely, and an unyielding commitment to client satisfaction.

Continue reading