“Underdog” marks theaters August 3rd. Helping give the four-legged superhero’s barks and growls life is Sound Supervisor Robert L. Sephton. Sephton, no stranger to canine audio, supervised “The Shaggy Dog”, “Snow Dogs”, “Homeward Bound II” and was an effects editor on 1994’s “Iron Will.” F. Scott Taylor, a long time assistant sound editor for Sephton, was the Assistant Sound Supervisor on the show. Dean A. Zupancic and Terry Porter mixed the film at Disney’s Main Theater on the Burbank lot. Together the team has mixed almost all of Disney’s traditional 2-D animated films since 1995’s “Pocahontas.” Separately, Porter has been mixing them since the reemergence of Disney-animated theatrical hits starting with 1989’s “The Little Mermaid”. Production mixing duties rolled over into Tom Williams’ lap. Williams is currently shooting location sound on Jonathan Demme’s next film, “He Comes in Peace.” Continuing his collaboration with man’s best friend, Williamswas the mixer on The National Geographic’s “Dog’s with Jobs”. Randy Edelman composed for the film at “Hear No Evil Studios” in London. Edelman, an established musician/songwriter in his early years, has composed for over 60 films.
Many thanks to Robert Sephton for taking time out to do this Q and A. This next week marks the three month anniversary of this thing. I am quite pleased with the way it is going so far, but I would love any comments or suggestions about where it could go. I want this to be interesting not just to people within the sound community, but to people who have an interest in film in general. So any improvements I could make to achieve that goal, please feel free to email me or comment… So without further ado, on to the fun!
Though the dog is voiced by Jason Lee, what approach was used in handling the dog foley and vocals?
RS: First off, the foley was done at Fox Studio’s Foley Stage thanks to Stacey Robinson and the crew, Alicia and Dawn ( Best Dog feet I ever had!) and Dave Foley, the Mixer. Great Job!! As with all animal movies I’ve dealt with you have tons of trainers in the production track, so foley was extremely important, I.e.texture, surfaces and such. Mark Pappas was my supervisor on this and did a great job. We had tons of different dogs and CGI so foley with certain design FX were very important and mixed by Dean Zupancic who handled all the FX foley and BG’s. The vocals went through various treatments (all done by Terry Porter): There were dog to dog conversations that humans heard as dog barks, also when he was just thinking we heard him out loud, and of course when he got his powers he was able to talk with humans. Jason didn’t have to alter his readings to go from one to the other.
Did his FX change after he gets his superpowers?
RS: Not as far as the foley or vocals; as I said, we now see he can communicate out loud to humans in English.
Are there any dog-specific sound jokes in the film?
RS: He farts when he bounces on the ball in reel 5 and we took the edge off the fight scene a little with a few cartoon type FX but most were line jokes and also stuff through the end credits.
I saw Rob Nokes is credited as FX recordist on the film. Did you guys have any fun experiences out in the field?
RS: Usually I’m too busy to go with Rob. He’s my favorite to go to for field recordings because he always delivers the goods and we have many movies under our belts together and more to come. Rob has an unbelievable passion for doing this; he is almost obsessed to the point of [me saying] “Rob I’ve got enough-its all great!!! Stop already!!!!” We are really good friends going on 15 years at least. I know he has fun because its pretty much his favorite thing to do….(Plug)…. he runs the Internet Sound Effects site Sounddogs.com, a good source for gotta have [sounds]…..!!!!!!
I always wonder how designers conceptualize the sense of speed while in flight. I mean, Underdog has a cape and that helps sell speed visually but how did you go further with sound?
RS: Well, first and foremost most of the flying effects started with very organic sounds: winds, whooshes, Doppler’s, etc. We then added hi pitched speed sound, i.e. fighter jets, F1 racing cars and such, which were processed and used as sweeteners for certain shots. When he is in cruise mode with Polly, it’s all cape and winds.
On films like these where lip-sync is paramount to selling the animation, how early are ADR editors brought on to facilitate the need?
RS: Very, very early. [They start] during the production reads. Jessica Gallavan was my ADR Supervisor and one of the best in town: Ton’s of film experience, great personality, very hard worker and a perfectionist. She was on the longest and at the end we went away for 2 weeks while the final muzzle shots were being rendered for final output. We then had to go through the whole show one last time to verify final CGI shots for lip-sync and sound effects. We made fixes and then updated stems and then printmastered.
What was your first gig like?
RS: Interesting. I did and still do dabble in music. I was one of the first to be a digital gunslinger with my own Pro Tools (we’ll let that part go). Version 1 was pure Hell. I had done a lot of small things in film-low budget stuff. The first gig that showed me the direction I wanted to go in ( if not music) was sound design, and that happened when I was hired to do a digital sound job on a movie called New Jack City. I was set up with a guy cutting dialogue on a Wave Frame and another editor on a Synclav. It was a disaster way to early for a feature, i.e. 1990-91. The whole crew was fired! Though, since I was sleeping on the floor and cutting 20 hours a day for 500 dollars a week!!!!!, the Post Super kept me on and I transitioned to the new sound editorial team and actually got in the union and funny enough, almost tripled my pay in straight time to $1300…..WOW!!!!! Though long ago, I always remember that time and experience as so valuable a lesson, even today!