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Posted by on Jun 26, 2007 | 0 comments

“Ratatouille” – Exclusive Interview with Sound Designer Randy Thom

A sound job with great taste, Ratatouille scurried into theaters June 29th. Sound supervision was cooked up by Randy Thom and Micheal Silvers. No strangers to animated film sound this is their second Pixar film together, winning the very first sound editing Oscar for an animated film in 2004 for The Incredibles. Thom mixed the show along side Zodiac re-recording mixer Michael Semanick. Semanick won an Oscar during his LOTR fellowship and with 2005’s Kong. Original dialog recording credit went to Doc Kane who has three Oscar nominations for his duties on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Incredibles. Kane, a ever busy and distinguished ADR mixer in his own right, works out of ADR B on Disney’s Burbank lot. Michael Giacchino another The Incredibles alum, composed the music for the film. Giacchino is an established television composer and has been busy on Lost and Ailas as well as writing the music for Gary Rydstrom’s directorial debut Lifted, the Oscar nominated animated short is playing before screenings of Ratatouille this Friday.

Thanks to Randy Thom for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions!

DS: Details are an important way for audiences to invest in an animated film, what sound details are you most are proud of in this one?

RT: I don’t know if details are more important in an animated film than in a live action film, but there are lots of details in Ratatouille I’m proud of, to name a couple… The wind blowing through the underground drain pipes during Remy’s wild ride was an accidental discovery, and I think it works in a very “musical” way in the sequence. The gas fire in the oven that almost burns Remy alive was made from about a hundred gas stove “flame ups” cross-faded with each other.

DS: Since these films have such a long production schedule, do you find yourself working differently on them appose to live-action features?

RT: I tend to work on an animated film I’m supervising in several parcels of time. I’ll have some initial meetings with the Director, talking mostly about fairly broad areas of overall style and a few specifics, usually when the film is still entirely in storyboards. There’s a tendency on some animated films to fill every moment with dialog since in the early stages of work there isn’t much music or sound effects to play with. Sometimes I’ll encourage the Director to open up some space here and there that music and effects can later occupy in a useful way. No need to do that on a Brad Bird film because he’s so sophisticated about that part of the work. After the initial meeting I’ll go away and mull that over for a few weeks, during which time I’ll spend a few days making some speculative sounds, but I’ll also be spending time working on other films. After a few weeks I’ll play some of those spec sounds for the director in “sync” with the boards in order to get some more specific directions about what the Director thinks is working, and what isn’t. I’ll usually do another big chunk of work leading up to a temp mix for a test screening of the film followed by another hiatus. Then a few weeks or a couple of months later we’ll work for another six weeks or so that will include more design of specific sounds, the premix, and the final mix.

DS: When in sound editorial, how much do you premix before the stage?

RT: We’re tending to do more and more “mixing” during the sound effects editing process. By mixing I mean adjusting relative levels of sounds, basic panning, reverb and eq. It’s all kept virtual. In the final we’re usually mixing from essentially the same ProTools sessions the editors were building.

DS: The Foley requirement for these films must be intensive, is more supervision during the Foley shoot helpful or needed? Is there any unique Foley you have to cover that you wouldn’t in a live-action feature?

RT: The Foley for an animated film isn’t necessarily any more complex or intense than the Foley for a live action film. In general, the process of designing, editing, and mixing an animated film is remarkably similar in most ways to doing a typical big budget live action film.

DS: Working again with composer Michael Giacchino, do you guys converse early about cues and where FX and Music are competing?

RT: Well, Brad Bird (the Director) did most of the coordinating of music and sound effects on Ratatouille. I’ll usually suggest a couple of places where I’m hoping the score will be sparsely orchestrated enough to allow key sound effects to be heard. I’ll also usually point out a couple of places where I think music should rule the day. Lots of directors are so insecure about their films that they want sound effects and music to cover the same ground all the time. On the other hand, a few directors, like Brad, are courageous enough to make a decision about which department should be the main one carrying the baton in a given sequence. There is a widespread myth, mainly popular among young inexperienced directors, that a great action sequence has to be fully orchestrated with both music and sound effects at all times. I completely disagree. The action sequences I admire, and the ones that tend to stand the test of time, are the ones where music clearly dominates in some areas, and sound effects clearly dominate in others.

DS: I read somewhere you got your start @ skywalker sound by writing an essay to Walter Murch?

RT: It’s not how I got my start at Skywalker, but it’s how I got my start in movie sound. I called Walter out of the blue one day when I was trying to break into the film biz, and he invited me to come watch him and Ben Burtt mix a stereo version of American Graffiti, which had been released in mono originally. At the end of the day he asked me to write an essay about what I had seen and heard. He liked what I wrote, and hired me to work on the next project he was doing… Apocalypse Now. I hadn’t gone to film school, but Apocalypse was as good a film school as I could ever have hoped to attend. The post-production crew was a wonderful mix of young wild-eyed kids and veterans. Each group energized the other, and it’s one of the reasons that movie has such a landmark track. Brad Bird, by the way, is a huge fan of Apocalypse, and we often talk about it when we’re working on his films.

When Apocalypse Now was finished Ben Burtt asked me to work on The Empire Strikes Back, and that was my introduction to Skywalker.

As a last note I want to say that I’m extremely proud of the Skywalker Sound team that produced the Ratatouille track. Michael Silvers, my co-supervisor, and I want to thank the amazing Skywalker crew that pulled it all together.

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Posted by on Jun 18, 2007 | 0 comments

Exclusive Interview with Steve Maslow, Sound Re-Recording Mixer on Evan Almighty

A sound job of biblical proportions, Evan Almighty floods into theaters June 22nd. Sound supervision was done by Michael Hilkene while Sound Design credit goes to Odin Benitez. Longtime collaborators, Hilkene and Benitez have been working together since 1992’s My Cousin Vinny. Re-recording mixers, much like the animals on Evan’s arc came in a pair of two: Dialog/Music mixer Steve Maslow and FX mixer Gregg Landlaker. Both seasoned veterans of the craft first worked together on 1979’s Star Trek (though I happier to mention that a year later they mixed The Empire Strikes Back, sorry trekkers). The film was dubbed at Stage 6 on the Universal lot. Production sound recording was entrusted to Jose Antonio Garcia, who is currently making sure his shoe phone is on vibrate during the shoot for 2008’s Get Smart. Composer John Debney, another of Bruce Almighty’s pilgrims (all above mentioned worked on the 2003 comedy), tracked the score at Todd-AO’s scoring stage. Debney is listed to score next year’s Iron Man – his second comic book movie after 2005’s Sin City.

Thanks go to Re-recording mixer Steve Maslow for taking time out of his busy dub schedule to answer some questions!

Designing Sound: Comedy, being so reliant on timing requires a great dialog mix for jokes to be heard. What challenges exposed themselves during the dub and do you as mixers get to go to any of the test screenings to see what jokes get buried by laughter?

Steve Maslow: The biggest challenge for the dialog mix for this film was the quality of the production sound in many of the outside scenes and that of the sound quality of the dialog. I had three different mics at times for a character: boom, lav, and a plant (one that was hidden in a prop). The boom on some shots had a lot of noise associated with it (wind and traffic), the lav was very chest heavy and didn’t have the air around the dialog I usually like, and the plant at times was off mic for the character. Any loops associated with these conditions were a very difficult match.

Now when the picture editor edits a scene he’s cutting, he may use a combination [or comp] of the mics and then that sound quality is what they become used to during picture editorial. I may also get this combo for the temp dub, and now I’m stuck with what they have been listening to for weeks. When I start to pre-mix the dialog, I now have the three different mic channels on separate tracks and choose one of the these tracks that I think sounds the best, which will sound different to the director because of what he’s been listening for months in the cutting room. This forces me to go back to the combo of mics used in the temp, which may have a noisier track than I’d like.

I like to go to the test screenings to see what has worked, and if the jokes get buried from laughter, so be it. I won’t go back on the stage and raise the lines because this has the effect of stopping the laughter because the dialog is so loud that the audience stops to listen to the next line.

DS: I know external factors motivate usage on set, but what are your thoughts on boom vs. lav?

SM: I will always try and use the boom mics over the lav. The boom mic has a much more natural sound quality. I have rarely liked the way the lav mic sounds because of the close proximity effect it has, giving it a chest heavy sound and making it difficult to get the right perspective in the scene.

DS: You’ve worked on a lot of great films Steve. I actually just watched “The Thing” again last night(admittedly one of my favs). What film(s) has been one of your favorites to mix?

SM: Films that stand out would be “The Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “The Last Waltz”, “Blue Crush”, “U571”, and “Speed”.

DS: How the hell did you guys mix without automation? What was the longest time you had to rehearse a reel before printing back in the day?

SM: Typically we would rehearse all morning until lunch. This was when you had to have three guys on the desk (dialog, music and effects). We would take copious notes and or make cue sheets to know where dialog started and ended in a scene so that we could make our moves to push and pull music or effects. This type of mixing was truly a performance. Usually after rehearsing, we would find that something would be missing, so we would have to pick up additional units, making for a longer rehearsal. Sometimes it would take a couple of days of rehearsing to get it right. After lunch we would load up the recorder, which depending on the year, was usually a four track. This meant that all three of us would record to one recorder, because that’s all we had. One big stereo mix (left, center, right, surround). If one of us made a mistake during the record pass, we would stop and roll back to find a place where we could all three match the output of our console with the record level of the recorder. Once we were satisfied that the three of us were at the right levels, which was done by an A/B switch between the console and the recorder, we would punch in and hope the level was spot on. If it wasn’t, we would have to roll even further back and try again.

DS: Ben Burtt implied recently that having a traditional adventure film score in “Star Wars” really brought legitimacy to the film. I read that the score in “Evan Almighty” is very grand in scope too; How does it help the story and emotion? What are your favorite cues?

SM: I thought it fit the film very well for its emotional impact. Also a lot of tunes were used to compliment the various themes throughout the film. “Are You Ready For A Miracle”, “Revolution”, “Sharp Dressed Man”, “Have You Seen The Rain?”, and “Everybody Dance Now” were some of the tunes used to further compliment the comedy throughout the film. Rascal Flatts recording of “Revolution” stands out for me as one of my favorites.

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Posted by on Jun 14, 2007 | 0 comments

A Sound Arbitration

Walking out of supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Larry Blake’s Virtual Post-Production Sound Paradigm presentation on Monday night I couldn’t help feel a little torn. Don’t get me wrong I love gatherings like those, especially when they are helmed by someone who seems to be as controversial as Blake is in his field. Expectantly strong feelings were thrown over both sides of the fence, I just always hope the friction in the room grinds out a jewel of some sort. A great primer on all this hubbub can be found here. Though dated, the meat of the conversation among these great mixers is very relevant, yet these opinions both valid and passionate, really do nothing to unify our small community. If anything they create animosity instead of helping the collective push toward creativity, style and innovation in mixing. Personally, I really see no way to gauge which approach is better if the end result pleases the client. Blake implied during his presentation Monday night that If Joel Silver walked on to any dub stage in town he wouldn’t care if there was a Neve DFC or a Digidesign ICON sitting in front of him if when the mixers hit play Silver loved what he heard. Many craftsmen and women in both camps have stated in unrelated discussions in the end, mixing consoles are just creative tools so when a film hits theaters and audiences emotionally invest in the story through the quality work on an interesting and creative soundtrack then it doesn’t matter what the film was mixed on. I guess I really can’t see how mixing in the box weight on this craft will ever crush traditional mixing desk re-recording(see exhibit A, artist’s rendering of an actual happening), it really just comes down to personal preference. Don’t get me wrong I love the competition between rival companies because it is a catalyst for innovation and admittedly I don’t like the idea of one company controlling all the sound editorial and mixing technologies anyway. So I guess I am not drawing a line in the sand, I see each technology when utilized correctly able to make me smile in a movie theater when something sounds cool. I would like to put a disclaimer at the end stating that I am fully aware that money fan these flames more then anything and as I also noted I didn’t address this editorial at all. I just like to believe behind every successful film there’s a great re-recording mixer and that its the skill and experience of these mixers that is what I love about film sound not that the branding on the console.

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2007 | 0 comments

Exclusive Interview with Craig Henighan, Sound Supervisor on “Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer”

“Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer” lands into theaters June 15th. This the second Marvel sequel this year guarantees loads of aural opportunity with its metallic beach bum villain. Craig Henighan and John A. Larsen co-supervised the show with the bulk of the sound editorial being done on the Fox lot. Henighan and Larsen have been working together since last year’s “X-Men 3 “. Mixing took place on Sony’s William Holden dub stage, with Gary C. Bourgeois and Greg Orloff as DX/MX and FX mixers, respectively. This is their second marvel film of the year, hot off the heals of February’s “Ghost Rider”. Eric Batut, coming off last winter’s “Eragon,” shot production sound. John Ottman, also a returning craftsman from “Fantastic Four” (Larsen and Batut also worked on it) scored the film. the perennial multitasker, Ottman both cut and scored last year’s “Superman Returns.”

Thanks to Craig Henighan who took time out of a busy dub schedule to participate in a brief Q and A:

Designing Sound: With so many characters with unique super powers, which was your favorite to design sound for?

Craig Henighan: The most interesting character to design was Silver Surfer. He had to be graceful, sleek, stealthy, but also capable of showing immense speed and power. I started with basic recordings of thin sheet metal with contact mics placed on both sides of the metal. I then put some thick oil on the metal and performed movement to some of the earliest sequences I received from the pix editors. From that I built specific moves for Surfer. Hovering, slow moves and fast -bys were accomplished by layering different pitches of the sound. I also used GRM tools doppler plug-ins to get even more movement from the performances. I then had [foley artist] Dan O’Connell do some wild recordings of anything that came to his mind for the Silver Surfer. He did some interesting stuff, so I would take bits and pieces of what he did and incorporate them into the sounds for specific moments.

I also built a library of “breath-bys”, which came from conversations with Director Tim Story, who wanted to have Surfer be graceful in spots. I ended up recording my own voice, added some chorus and tremolo, then once again set about pitching and layering to get the required feeling I was after. As for the other characters, my job was to take their signature sounds and further refine them. I didn’t work on the first “Fantastic Four,” so I first listened to all the original sound elements for the given characters, then built upon them, making some stronger, (Johnny’s flames) and some more precise (Dr Doom’s power blasts).

DS: How much field recording did you get to do?

CH: We recorded four cars for the “Fantastic Car”, which makes its debut in this film. We did a Dodge Viper, Dodge Hemi Charger, and two Ford Mustangs. Rob Nokes, from came out and helped us with his deva. We did a day at a drag strip and another night session out in Palmdale. We used Rob’s 8 channel Deva, plus two Sound Devices 744’s. I also did a bunch of smaller recordings for things such as Reed’s stretching, Johnny’s flames, the Silver Surfer’s board going through walls and windows. Everything from liquid, to smooth glass elements, to flares, etc.

DS: Did you and John Larsen get a chance to communicate with John Ottman during editorial about score and FX correlation?

CH: John Ottman and I started sending mini mixes back and forth in late January. We had a few discussions of what tonal stuff I was doing and how it would play against his music. For the most part, everything has its place; he really knows how to score around big action moments, so it gives my stuff a chance to breathe. The track has great clarity to it.

DS: With large shows like this, how important is premixing units, before hitting the predub stage?

CH: We spent about three weeks premixing my tracks from the ground up. I normally do a lot of premixing in my suite and deliver 5.1’s, 5.0’s and LCR’s. This time I thought it’d be fun to deconstruct what I did in my room and reinterpret it at the premix stage. Greg Orloff and I had a lot of fun. We did a lot of work prior to the final mix. Most of the VFX didn’t show up until the final, which made it interesting at times because some of the visuals changed quite dramatically.

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