Tag Archives: Warner Bros. De Lane Lea

Mixing sounds of fantasy and reality for Rocketman

By Jennifer Walden

Paramount Pictures’ Rocketman is a musical fantasy about the early years of Elton John. The story is told through flashbacks, giving director Dexter Fletcher the freedom to bend reality. He blended memories and music to tell an emotional truth as opposed to delivering hard facts.

Mike Prestwood Smith

The story begins with Elton John (Taron Egerton) attending a group therapy session with other recovering addicts. Even as he’s sharing details of his life, he’s stretching the truth. “His recollection of the past is not reliable. He often fantasizes. He’ll say a truth that isn’t really the case, because when you flash back to his memory, it is not what he’s saying,” says BAFTA-winning re-recording mixer Mike Prestwood Smith, who handled the film’s dialogue and music. “So we’re constantly crossing the line of fantasy even in the reality sections.”

For Smith, finding the balance between fantasy and reality was what made Rocketman unique. There’s a sequence in which pre-teen Elton (Kit Connor) evolves into grown-up Elton to the tune of “Saturday’s Alright for Fighting.” It was a continuous shot, so the camera tracks pre-teen Elton playing the piano, who then then gets into a bar fight that spills into an alleyway that leads to a fairground where a huge choreographed dance number happens. Egerton (whose actual voice is featured) is singing the whole way, and there’s a full-on band under him, but specific effects from his surrounding environment poke through the mix. “We have to believe in this layer of reality that is gluing the whole thing together, but we never let that reality get in the way of enjoying the music.”

Smith helped the pre-recorded singing to feel in-situ by adding different reverbs — like Audio Ease’s AltiVerb, Exponential Audio’s PhoenixVerb and Avid’s ReVibe. He created custom reverbs from impulse responses taken from the rooms on set to ground the vocal in that space and help sell the reality of it.

For instance, when Elton is in the alleyway, Smith added a slap verb to Egerton’s voice to make it feel like it’s bouncing off the walls. “But once he gets into the main verses, we slowly move away from reality. There’s this flux between making the audience believe that this is happening and then suspending that belief for a bit so they can enjoy the song. It was a fine line and very subjective,” he says.

He and re-recording mixer/supervising sound editor Matthew Collinge spent a lot of time getting it to play just right. “We had to be very selective about the sound of reality,” says Smith. “The balance of that whole sequence was very complex. You can never do those scenes in one take.”

Another way Smith helped the pre-recorded vocals to sound realistic was by creating movement using subtle shifts in EQ. When Elton moves his head, Smith slightly EQ’d Egerton’s vocals to match. These EQ shifts “seem little, but collectively they have a big impact on selling that reality and making it feel like he’s actually performing live,” says Smith. “It’s one of those things that if you don’t know about it, then you just accept it as real. But getting it to sound that real is quite complicated.”

For example, there’s a scene in which Egerton is working out “Your Song,” and the camera cuts from upstairs to downstairs. “We are playing very real perspectives using reverb and EQ,” says Smith. Then, once Elton gets the song, he gives Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) a knowing look. The music gets fleshed out with a more complicated score, with strings and guitar. Next, Elton is recording the song in a studio. As he’s singing, he’s looking down and playing piano. Smith EQ’d all of that to add movement, so “it feels like that performance is happening at that time. But not one single sound of it is from that moment on set. There is a laugh from Bernie, a little giggle that he does, and that’s the only thing from the on-set performance. Everything else is manufactured.”

In addition to EQ and reverb, Smith used plugins from Helsinki-based sound company Oeksound to help the studio recordings to sound like production recordings. In particular, Oeksound’s Spiff plugin was useful for controlling transients “to get rid of that close-mic’d sound and make it feel more like it was captured on set,” Smith says. “Combining EQ and compression and adding reverb helped the vocals to sound like sync, but at the same time, I was careful not to take away too much from the quality of the recording. It’s always a fine line between those things.”

The most challenging transitions were going from dialogue into singing. Such was the case with quiet moments like “Your Song” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” In the latter, Elton quietly sings to his reflection in a mirror backstage. The music slowly builds up under his voice as he takes off down the hallway and by the time he hops into a cab outside it’s a full-on song. Part of what makes the fantasy feel real is that his singing feels like sync. The vocals had to sound impactful and engage the audience emotionally, but at the same time they had to sound believable — at least initially. “Once you’re into the track, you have the audience there. But getting in and out is hard. The filmmakers want the audience to believe what they’re seeing, that Taron was actually in the situations surrounded by a certain level of reality at any given point, even though it’s a fantasy,” says Smith.

The “Rocketman” song sequence is different though. Reality is secondary and the fantasy takes control, says Smith. “Elton happens to be having a drug overdose at that time, so his reality becomes incredibly subjective, and that gives us license to play it much more through the song and his vocal.”

During “Rocketman,” Elton is sinking to the bottom of a swimming pool, watching a younger version of himself play piano underwater. On the music side, Smith was able to spread the instruments around the Dolby Atmos surround field, placing guitar parts and effect-like orchestrations into speakers discretely and moving those elements into the ceiling and walls. The bubble sound effects and underwater atmosphere also add to the illusion of being submerged. “Atmos works really well when you have quiet, and you can place sounds in the sound field and really hear them. There’s a lot of movement musically in Rocketman and it’s wonderful to have that space to put all of these great elements into,” says Smith.

That sequence ends with Elton coming on stage at Dodger Stadium and hitting a baseball into the massive crowd. The whole audience — 100,000 people — sing the chorus with him. “The moment the crowd comes in is spine-tingling. You’re just so with him at that point, and the sound and the music are doing all of that work,” he explains.

The Music
The music was a key ingredient to the success of Rocketman. According to Smith, they were changing performances from Egerton and also orchestrations right through the post sound mix, making sure that each piece was the best it could be. “Taron [Egerton] was very involved; he was on the dub stage a lot. Once everything was up on the screen, he’d want to do certain lines again to get a better performance. So, he did pre-records, on-set performances and post recording as well,” notes Smith.

Smith needed to keep those tracks live through the mix to accommodate the changes, so he and Collinge chose Avid S6 control surfaces and mixed in-the-box as opposed to printing the tracks for a mix on a traditional large-format console. “To have locked down the music and vocals in any way would have been a disaster. I’ve always been a proponent of mixing inside Pro Tools mainly because workflow-wise, it’s very collaborative. On Rocketman, having the tracks constantly addressable — not just by me but for the music editors Cecile Tournesac and Andy Patterson as well — was vital. We were able to constantly tweak bits and pieces as we went along. I love the collaborative nature of making and mixing sound for film, and this workflow allows for that much more so than any other. I couldn’t imagine doing this any other way,” says Smith.

Smith and Collinge mixed in native Dolby Atmos at Goldcrest London in Theatre 1 and Theatre 2, and also at Warner Bros. De Lane Lea. “It was such a tight schedule that we had all three mixing stages going for the very end of it, because it got a bit crazy as these things do,” says Smith. “All the stages we mixed at had S6s, and I just brought the drives with me. At one point we were print mastering and creating M&Es on one stage and doing some fold-downs on a different stage, all with the same session. That made it so much more straightforward and foolproof.”

As for the fold-down from Atmos to 5.1, Smith says it was nearly seamless. The pre-recorded music tracks were mixed by music producer Giles Martin at Abbey Road. Smith pulled those tracks apart, spread them into the Atmos surround field and then folded them down to 5.1. “Ultimately, the mixing that Giles Martin did at Abbey Road was a great thing because it meant the fold-downs really had the best backbone possible. Also, the way that Dolby has been tweaking their fold-down processing, it’s become something special. The fold-downs were a lot easier than I thought they’d be,” concludes Smith.


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

Colorist Peter Doyle joins Warner Bros. De Lane Lea’s picture services division

World-renown and respected supervising colorist Peter Doyle, whose large body of work includes The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has joined London’s Warner Bros. De Lane Lea’s (WBDLL) new picture services division. Doyle brings with him extensive technical and creative expertise acquired over a 40-year career.

Doyle has graded 12 of the 100 highest-grossing films of all time including the Harry Potter film series. His recent credits include Darkest Hour (see our interview with him here), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and both Fantastic Beasts films.

Doyle will be working alongside BAFTA-winning colorist Asa Shoul (Mission Impossible: Fallout, Baby Driver, Amazon’s Tin Star), who joined WBDLL at the end of last year. The additions of Doyle and Shoul beef up WBDLL’s picture division to match the studio’s sound facilities De Lane Lea.

Speaking of joining the company, Doyle says, “I first worked with Warner Bros. on The Matrix in 1999. Since then, grading and delivering films to Warner Bros. for filmmakers such as Tim Burton, David Yates, Dick Zanuck and David Heyman has always felt like a partnership. Warner Bros. always brought tremendous passion to the projects and a deep desire to best represent the creative intent of the filmmakers. WBDLL represents a third-generation post facility; it’s been conceived with the philosophy that origination and delivery are part of the same process. It’s managed by a newly assembled crew that over the course of their careers have answered some of the most complex post production challenges the industry has devised. WBDLL is an environment and indeed a concept I feel London has needed for many years.”

The new facilities at WBDLL include two 4K HDR FilmLight Baselight X grading theatres, Autodesk Flame online suites, digital dailies facilities, dark fiber connectivity and a mastering and QC department. WBDLL has additional facilities based at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, including a 50-seat 4K screening room, 4K VFX review theater and in-facility and on-location digital dailies, offering clients a full end-to-end service.

WBDLL has been the choice for many large features including Dumbo, Wonder Woman, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fantastic Beasts, Early Man, Mission Impossible: Fallout and Outlaw King. Its roster of high-end TV clients include Netflix, Amazon, Starz, BBC and ITV.

Last year the company announced it was cementing its future in Soho by moving to the purpose-built Ilona Rose House in 2021, which is currently under construction.

Colorist Asa Shoul joins Warner Bros. De Lane Lea

Warner Bros. De Lane Lea (WBDLL) has added colorist Asa Shoul to its new picture services department, which will launch this September. Shoul’s recent credits include Mission Impossible: Fallout, Baby Driver, Amazon’s Tin Star and he recently received a BAFTA craft award for his work on the multi award-winning Netflix series The Crown.

Shoul will be joined by his assistant Katie McCulloch, senior post producer Louise Stewart and online editor Gareth Parry, as well as additional industry-leading creative, technical and operations staff, yet to be announced.

The expansion will include the launch of two new 4K HDR grading theaters, in addition to online suites, mastering, content handling services and dark fibre connectivity for both Dolby UK and Leavesden Studios. A full-service production dailies offering based at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden will also launched to help service the needs of productions.

Recent features at WBDLL include Wonder Woman; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Fantastic Beasts and Early Man. It also has an impressive roster of high-end television clients including Netflix, Amazon, Starz, BBC and ITV.

Last year the company announced it will cement its future in Soho by moving to a new purpose-built post production facility located in the centre of Soho, which is currently under construction. WBDLL will be the anchor tenant within the Ilona Rose building which is slated to open in 2021.

A closer look at some London-based audio post studios

By Mel Lambert

While in the UK recently for a holiday/business trip, I had the opportunity to visit several of London’s leading audio post facilities and catch up with developments among the Soho community.

‘Baby Driver’

I also met up with Julian Slater, a highly experienced supervising sound editor, sound designer and re-recording mixer who relocated to the US a couple of years ago, working first at Formosa Group and then at the Technicolor at Paramount facility in Hollywood. Slater was in London working on writer/director Edgar Wright’s action-drama Baby Driver, starring Lily James, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx. The film follows the progress of a young getaway driver who, after being coerced into working for a crime boss, finds himself taking part in a heist that’s doomed to fail.

Goldcrest Films
Slater handled sound effects pre-dubs at Goldcrest Films on Dean Street in the heart of Soho’s film district, while co-mixer Tim Cavagin worked on dialog and Foley pre-mixes at Twickenham TWI Studios in Richmond, a London suburb west of the capital. Finals started just before Christmas at Goldcrest, with Slater handling music and SFX, while Cavagin oversaw dialog and Foley. “We are using Goldcrest’s new Dolby Atmos-capable Theater 1, which opened last May,” explains Slater. “The post crew includes sound effects editors Arthur Graley, Jeremy Price and Martin Cantwell, plus dialog/ADR supervisor Dan Morgan and Foley editor Peter Hanson.

“I cannot reveal too much about my sound design for Baby Driver,” admits Slater, “but because the lead character [actor Ansel Elgort] has a hearing anomaly, I am working with pitch changes to interweave various elements of the film’s soundtrack.”

Baby Driver is scheduled for UK and US release in August, and will be previewed in mid-March at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Composer Steven Price’s score for the film was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in North London. Price wrote the music for writer/director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013), which won him the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

British-born Wright is probably best known for comedies, such as Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013), several of which featured Slater’s talents as supervising sound editor, sound designer and/or re-recording mixer.

Slater is a multiple BAFTA and Emmy Award nominee. After graduating from the School of Audio Engineering (now the SAE Institute) in London, at the age of 22 he co-founded the Hackenbacker post company and designed sound for his first feature film, director Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Subsequent films include In Bruges (2008), Dark Shadows (2012), Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010) and Attack the Block (2011).

Goldcrest Films, which has a NYC-based studio as well, provides post services for film and broadcast projects, including Carol (2015), The Danish Girl (2015) and Les Misérables (2012). The facility features three Dolby dubbing theaters with DCI-compliant projection, plus ADR and Foley recording stages, sound design and editing suites, offline editorial and grading suites. “Last May we opened Theatre 1,” reports studio manager Rob Weatherall, “a fully sound-isolated mixing theater that is Dolby Atmos Premier-certified.”

Goldcrest Films Theater 1 (L-R): Alex Green, Rowan Watson, Julian Slater, Rob Weatherall and Robbie Scott.

First used to re-record writer/director Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne (2016), the new room houses a hybrid Avid 32-fader S6 M40 Pro Tools control surface section within a 72-fader dual-engine AMS Neve DFC3D Gemini frame. By building interchangeable AMS and S6 “buckets” in a single console frame, the facility can mix and match formats according to the re-recording engineers’ requirements — either “in the box” using the S6 surface, or a conventional workflow using the DFC sections.

“I like working in the box,” says Slater, “since it lets me retain all my sound ideas right through print mastering. For Baby Driver we premixed to a 9.1-channel bed with Atmos objects and brought this submix here to Goldcrest where we could open everything seamlessly on the S6 console and refine all my dialog, music and effects submixes for the final Atmos immersive mix. Because I have so much sound design for the music being heard by our lead character, including sound cues for the earbuds and car radios, it’s the only way to work! We also had a lot of music playback on the set.”

The supervising sound editor needed to carefully prepare myriad sound cues. “Having worked on all of his films, I have come to recognize that Edgar [Wright] is an extremely sound-conscious director,” Slater reports. “The soundtrack for Baby Driver needed to work seamlessly and sound holistic — not forced in any way. In other words, while sound is important in this film — for obvious reasons — it is critical that we don’t detract the audience from the dramatic storyline.”

Theater 1’s 55-loudspeaker Atmos array includes a mixture of Crown-powered JBL 5732s Screen Array cabinets in the front with Meyer cabinets for the surrounds. Accommodated formats include 5.1, 7.1 and DTS:X. Five Pro Tools playback systems are available with Waves Platinum plug-in packages, plus a 192-channel Pro Tools HDX 3 recorder. Each Pro Tools rig features a DAD DX32 audio interface, with both Audinate Dante- and MADI-format digital outputs. The latter can be routed to the DFC console for conventional mixing or to a sixth rig with a DAD AX32 converter system for in the box mixing on the S6 control surface. Video projection is via a Barco DP2K-10SX and an Integrated Media Server for DCP playback, and Pro Tools Native with an AJA video card. Outboards include a pair of Lexicon 960 reverbs, two TC 6000 reverb and four dbx Subharmonic synthesizers.

Hackenbacker Audio Post
Around the corner from Goldcrest, Slater’s former facility Hackenbacker Audio Post comprises a multi-room post facility that was purchased in July 2015 by Molinare from e-Post Media, owners of Halo Post. Hackenbacker handled sound for the TV series Downton Abbey, Cold Feet and Thunderbirds Are Go, plus director Richard Ayoade’s film, The Double (2013). Owner/founder Nigel Heath remains a director of the group management team for the facility’s three dubbing studios, five edit suites and a large Foley stage located a short distance away.

Hackebacker’s Studio 2

Hackenbacker Studio 1 has been Heath’s home base for more than a decade. It houses a large-format AMS Neve 48-fader MMC Neve console with three Avid HD3 Pro Tools systems, two iZ Technologies RADAR 24-track recorder/players and a Dynaudio M3F 5.1 monitoring system that was used to re-record Hot Fuzz, In Bruges, Shaun of the Dead and many other projects.

Studio 2 features Dynaudio monitoring along with an Avid Icon 16-fader D-Control surface linked to a Pro Tools HDX system. It is used for 5.1 TV mixing and ADR and includes a large booth suitable for both ADR and voice-over. Also designed for TV mixing and ADR, Studio 3 features Quested monitoring and an Avid ICON 32-fader D-control surface linked to a Pro Tools HDX system. Edit 1 and 2 handle a wide cross section of sound effects editorial assignments, with access to a large sound library and other creative tools. Edit 3 and 4 are equipped for dialog and ADR editing. Edit 5 features a transfer bay and QC facility in which all sound material is verified and checked.

Twickenham TWI Studios
According to technology development manager/re-recording mixer Craig Irving, Twickenham TWI Studios recently completed mixing of the soundtrack for writer/director Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait, the story of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, starring Armie Hammer and Geoffrey Rush. The film was re-recorded by Tim Cavagin and Irving, with sound editorial by Tim Hands on dialog and Jack Gillies on effects.

The lounge at Twickenham-TWI.

“Dialog tracks for Baby Driver were pre-mixed by Tim in our Atmos-capable Theatre 1,” explains Irving. “Paul Massey will be returning soon to complete the mix in Theatre 1 for director Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant, which reunites the same sound team that worked on The Martian — with Oliver Tarney supervising, Rachel Tate on dialog, and Mark Taylor and our very own Dafydd Archard on effects.” Massey also mixed Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) at Twickenham TWI. He also worked on director Rufus Norris’ London Road (2015) and director Tim Miller’s Deadpool (2016). He recently completed the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. While normally based at Fox Post Production Services in West Los Angeles, Massey also spends time in his native England overseeing a number of film projects.

“Their stages have also been busy with production of Netflix’s Black Mirror series, which consists of six original films looking at the darker side of modern life. Episode 1 was directed by Jodie Foster. “To service an increase in production, we are investing in new infrastructure that will feature a TV mixing stage,” explains Irving. “The new room will be based around an Avid S6 control surface and used as a bespoke area to mix original TV programming, as well as creating TV mixes of our theatrical titles. Our Picture Post area is also being expanded with a second FilmLight Baselight Two color grading system with full 4K projection for both theatrical and broadcast projects.”

Twickenham TWI’s rooftop bar and restaurant opened its doors to clients and staff last year. “It has proved extremely popular and is open to membership from within the industry,” Irving says. The facility’s remodeled front office and reception area was designed Barbarella Design. “We have chosen a ‘’60s retro, Mad Men theme in greys and red,” says the studio’s COO Maria Walker. In addition to its two main re-recording theaters, TWI offers 40 cutting rooms, an ADR/Foley stage and three shooting stages.

Warner Bros. De Lane Lea
Just up the street from Goldcrest Films is Warner Bros. De Lane Lea, which started as a multi-room studio. It also has a rather unusual ancestry. In the 1940s, Major De Lane Lea was looking to improve the way dialog for film and later TV could be recorded and replaced in order to streamline dubbing between French and English. This resulted in his setting up a company called De Lane Lea Processes and a laboratory in Soho. The company also developed a number of other products aimed at post, and over the next 30 years opened a variety of studios in London for voice recording, film, TV and jingle mixing, music recording and orchestral-score recording.

De Lane Lea’s Stage 1.

Around 1970, the operation moved into its current building on Dean Street and shifted its focus toward film and TV sound. The facility, which was purchased by Warner Bros. in 2012, currently includes four re-recording stages, two ADR stages for recording dialog, voiceovers and commentaries, plus 50 cutting rooms, a preview theater, transfer bay and a café/bar. Three of the Dolby-certified mixing stages are equipped with AMS Neve DFC Gemini consoles or Avid S6 control surfaces and Meyer monitoring. A TV mixing stage boasts an Avid Pro Tools control surface and JBL monitoring.

Stage 1 features an AMS Neve 80-fader DFC Gemini digital two-mixer console with an Avid control surface, linked to a Meyer Sound EXP system providing Dolby Atmos monitoring. Six Pro Tools playback systems are available — three 64-channel HDX and three 128-channel HDX2 rigs — together with a 128-channel HDX2 Pro Tools recorder. Film projection is from a Kinoton FP38ECII 35mm unit, with a Barco DP2K-23B digital cinema projector offering resolutions up to 2K. Video playback within Pro Tools is via a VCubeHD nonlinear player or a Blackmagic card. Outboards include a Lexicon 960 and a TC 6000 reverb, plus two dbx Subharmonic Synthesizers. Stage 2 is centered around an Avid S6 M40 24-fader console linked to three Pro Tools playback systems — a pair of 64-channel HDX2 and a single 128-channel HDX2 rig — plus a 64-channel HDX recorder. Monitoring is via a 7.1-channel Meyer Sound EXP system.

Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden
Located 20 miles north west of Central London and serving as its UK-based shooting lot, Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden offers a number of well-equipped stages for large-scale productions, in addition to a large tank for aquatic scenes. The facility’s history dates back almost 70 years, to when it was originally acquired by the UK Ministry of Defense in 1939 as a WWII production base for building aircraft, including the iconic Mosquito Fighter and Halifax Bombers. When hostilities ceased, the site was purchased by Rolls Royce and continued as a base for aircraft manufacture, progressing onto large engines. It eventually closed in 1992.

Warner Bros. Leavesden’s studio layout.

In 1994, Leavesden began a new life as a film studio and over the following decades was home to a number of high-profile productions, including the James Bond film Goldeneye (1995), Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (1999), An Ideal Husband (1999) and director Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999).

By 2000, Heyday Films had acquired use of the site on behalf of Warner Bros. for what would be the first in a series of Harry Potter films — Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) — with each subsequent film in the franchise during the following decade being shot at Leavesden. While other productions, almost exclusively Warner Bros. productions, made partial use of the complex, the site was mostly occupied by permanent standing sets for the Harry Potter films.

In 2010, as the eighth and final Harry Potter film was nearing completion, Warner Bros. announced its intention to purchase the studio as a permanent European base, the first studio to do so since MGM in the 1940s. By November of that year, the studio had completed purchase of Leavesden Studios and announced plans to invest more than £100 million (close to $200 million at the time) on the site they had occupied, converting Stages A through H into sound stages. As part of the redevelopment, Warner Bros. created two entirely new soundstages to house a permanent public exhibition called Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter, creating 300 new jobs. It opened to the public in early 2012.

With over 100 acres, WBSL features one of the most extensive backlots in Europe, with level, graded areas, including a former aircraft runway, a variety of open fields, woodlands, hills and clear horizons. In addition, it offers bespoke art departments, dry-hire edit suites and VFX rooms, in addition to a pair of the largest water tanks in Europe, with a 60-by-60 foot filtered and heated indoor tank, and a 250-by-250 foot exterior tank.

Main Image: Goldcrest London’s Theater 1.


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.