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Posted by on Mar 30, 2010 | 4 comments

Erik Aadahl Special: Reader Questions

So, this is the end of the Erik Aadahl Special. Hope you’ve enjoyed it. Here are the answers to all the questions made by the readers on comments, email, twitter, etc. Thanks for participating!

Designing Sound Reader: Hi Erik, I see you’re using the 191 for most of your SFX gathering. Do you ever record in other stereo formats like XY or ORTF?

Erik Aadahl: Some people find the 191 Matrix box cumbersome, but unfortunately it’s needed to power the mic no matter if you shoot XY or MS because of its funky pin arrangement.

I never use the 191 in XY mode. I like the flexibility of shooting MS when I’m editing, to dial in a stereo spread that I like. When I record, I set my Sound Devices 722 to monitor MS-decoded over the headphones.

But if I want to smash up a mic I’ll use a more bulletproof XY mic like the AT825. For atmospheres, spaced pairs can give a nice wide image too. I haven’t shot ORTF (microphones angled 110 degrees, 17 cm apart) since film school but I do like the effect of it. 99% of the time I shoot MS.

DSR: Hello Erik. I just finished to read your interview. Thanks for all the questions, terrific stuff! I read you studied in the university and got lots of learning there. I’m curious about the status of a self-studied person (like me) in the film sound industry. Did you know someone who learned sound design by himself? I really worry about it and would be great to hear your opinions about this kind of education.

EA: Yes I went to film school, but I have to say that most of what I learned was on-the-job. There’s no match for learning from a mentor and just going through the experience. A lot of what I know is from endless hours experimenting and working. The best education was starting in television, where I had to crank out an hour’s worth of editing every 5 days, switching from sci-fi to period dramas to animation from week to week. I learned more practical knowledge that way than in film school. But I still have tons to learn. The learning should never stop.

DSR: What was the special trick with the rack of plugins controlled by a Theremin Erik Aadahl discovered when he was working on Transformers – Revenge of the fallen.

EA: I’ve been getting that question a lot. The most important thing I want to convey in all these sound design dialogues is this: it’s about the process, not necessarily the end goal. For me, the art of sound is not about reproducing the work you like, but experimenting, improvising, making a challenge for oneself and finding your own voice. That’s the fun of it!

I like to be open about how I make sounds, but the modified theremin is one of the few things that I’d like to keep secret. With it, we made signature sounds for Transformers ROTF that I’d like to keep exclusive to that universe. We’ll be evolving the technique even more in Transformers 3.

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Posted by on Mar 26, 2010 | 8 comments

Erik Aadahl Special: Editing for the Mix


When it comes to preparing sound effects for a mix, there are lots of ways to approach things; I don’t claim this to be the end-all methodology. For this article, I’ll be slanting discussion towards sound effects, regretfully leaving out music and dialogue.

I’ll be covering two avenues of mixing: traditional mixes and Icon mixes.


The art of mixing is the art of storytelling. Many elements come together in a mix, and one of the challenges is distilling those elements into a cohesive and dramatic whole that works with the picture and story.

In a sense, the mix is like a funnel, where thousands of elements are distilled down to 6 final channels: L-C-R-Ls-Rs-Lfe, also known as the 5.1 printmaster.

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Posted by on Mar 25, 2010 | 1 comment

Erik Aadahl Special: The Sound Design of "Transformers" [Exclusive Interview]


Unfortunately, the Erik Aadahl Special is coming to the end. Here’s the last interview I had with Erik, this time talking about the sound design on the two Transformers films. We talk about everything, from the initial aspects to the creation of the robots sounds, the mix, and more.

Designing Sound: Let’s start with the beginning… what were your initial thoughts about the sound design on Transformers when reading the script for the first time?

Erik Aadahl: When I first read the script, I remember thinking how huge it seemed. But I hoped that there could be more to the sound track than just “big and loud” Bay-hem. Fortunately, from the very first scene there were sound moments built in for us to exploit.

“Transformers” opens with the Soccent Airbase sequence, where a Decepticon combat helicopter named “Blackout” hacks into a secret military computer network. The script describes a terrifying alien “shriek” as the bad robot uplinks to the network.

This “shriek” is the only clue that investigators have to the origins of the attack. Ethan Van der Ryn worked on this sound before I ever came on the show, and it gets referenced throughout the movie.

Also, we knew we had to pay homage to the classic original transformation sound. The original was a really simple, iconic sound that everybody remembers and loves. Our hope was to find that iconic quality in the new movie.

DS: How was the work with Michael Bay? What’s the importance he gives to the sound of Transformers films?

EA: Michael has said many times that sound is 50% the movie-going-experience. He told a story about Spielberg telling him it was “30%”, and Michael countered, “Well, we have room to negotiate”.

As soon as Michael’s picture cut starts to come together, he wants to hear sound. I don’t blame him; the picture works a lot better when the sound is good. And vise versa. So we try to get as much done early as possible. In the case of the second movie, we were already well into editing before principle photography had wrapped, because of a strike-induced compressed schedule.

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Posted by on Mar 19, 2010 | 2 comments

Erik Aadahl Special: Working with Filmmakers


Different filmmakers work differently, with unique approaches to the sound design process. For some, there’s intense interest and scrutiny, for others there might not be any interest until the end.

I prefer having an actively engaged filmmaker. It makes it much easier to work together and evolve the track over time to make it right for everyone. It doesn’t matter if I think the sound work is great. It’s not my movie. It’s the filmmaker’s baby. If they haven’t signed off on our sounds, things can get really risky as we approach the dub. There’s nothing worse than spending months recording, designing and working on a sequence, just to have all your sounds dumped on the final mix stage and replaced with crappy AVID “omf” temp effects, simply because those are the sounds they’re used to.

That’s why with inexperienced or reluctant filmmakers, we try to engage and instigate the interactive process early. Sometimes all that’s needed is a little inspiration; doing a 5.1 presentation of a favorite sequence early in the schedule is a good way to get everyone off to a good start.

The central strategy we’ve adopted to work with picture editors and directors is to deliver complete sound effects mixes as early as possible. We do these in ProTools. These FX mixes get integrated into the AVID picture cut and completely replace temp effects. Typically we start with stereo bounces. If there’s a piece that a director or editor doesn’t like, they cut a piece out of our mix in the AVID, and put in a sound they prefer. This then serves as a “note” to us, a marker that we need to reexamine that section and try something different. This way, every turnover of a new version evolves the track. Ideally, the whole sound track gets sussed-out this way before we hit the pre-dub stage.

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