SFP: 'Robin Hood'MIXING RIDLEY SCOTT'S LATEST WITH MASSEY, GIAMMARCO 5/21/2010 1:48 PM Eastern
“It’s going to need a lot of work,” acknowledges dialog/music re-recording mixer Paul Massey, as he turns from the screen in the Cary Grant Theater on Sony Pictures’ Culver City lot to face other members of the sound and picture crew. Massey has just rolled a faders-up mix of the re-conformed Reel 8 for Robin Hood, directed by Ridley Scott, and there are several dialog elements that sound at odds with some new tracks that have been synched to picture following a re-sequencing of the film’s final battle scene. There are also places where the music ends or transitions too early, and sound effects require sweetening.
In the world of high-action motion pictures, such last-minute changes are not uncommon, but can be a major time challenge for any re-recording and sound editorial crew. “We saw a lot of changes in the structure of the film as it evolved,” confirms Massey, who worked on Robin Hood with effects re-recording mixer Dave Giammarco.
Following the run-through for the re-edited Reel 8, changes were discussed in minute detail with picture editor Pietro Scalia. The director is absent from the previewing session due to off-site meetings at his production company Scott Free. He returned to the dub stage later that same afternoon with additional notes and comments on the evolving soundtrack.
“Ridley likes a rich mix,” stresses Massey, who also worked previously with the director on A Good Year and Hannibal. “The first time we play through each reel during our faders-up pass, we consider the flow of scene and story structure. Should music lead the sequence? Should effects take this moment? Intriguing story lines demand the audience’s attention to dialog, yet music and effects create an excitement that should not be underestimated.
“Ridley is highly experienced in story and scene structure,” he continues. “We’ll work through the reel and present him with a mix for comments. He gives us a constant flow of creative ideas. It’s up to us to pick the gems from his ideas and implement them. If the overall shape of a sequence is working, he’ll be happy and leave the fine details for us to sort out.” Wylie Stateman and Mark Stoeckinger served as co-supervising sound editors, working with supervising dialog editor Margit Pfeiffer, sound effects designer Ann Scibelli and music editor Del Spiva.
“Premixes play an important part in the re-recording process,” Massey says. “We all know a mix can go straight into a final without premixes if the circumstances dictate, but a refined mix requires premixing. It’s a valuable process that allows raw tracks to be prepared with EQ, compression, panning, noise reduction, etc. Then when a final mix begins, we can concentrate on what is truly important: story! The print-master session can then serve as a third pass, allowing an overall ‘mastering’ of the final soundtrack.”
“With so many [effects] tracks,” Giammarco adds, “pre-dubbing provides the opportunity to become familiar with all the sound elements—blending, treating, balancing and spatializing them as they get organized into manageable mixdowns. It also presents the opportunity to understand where each sound needs to be positioned in the composite surround mix and consider where they might need to be augmented to blend with the music and dialog.”
Massey began his dialog pre-dubs several weeks prior to finaling at his Signal Sound facility in Ojai, Calif. “I have a 128-input/64-bus Harrison Trion console that is automation-compatible with the [320-channel] Harrison MPC3D digital console I use at the Cary Grant Theater,” he explains. Massey’s premix room also features three 64-channel Pro Tools HD rigs—two for playback and one for record—a Christie projector, and JBL and BMS main monitors, plus Meyer subwoofers, powered by Parasound and Crown amps via a Lake crossover. “The dialog onRobin Hood had a lot of difficult and noisy locations, so I made use of the Trion’s new 6-band de-noiser and other tools within the console’s automated Toys package.
“I premixed the dialog to 40 tracks: eight for original production [including PFX and X-Tracks]; eight for group crowd recorded in an exterior setting; and 24 for group ADR. The group was premixed into separate categories: walla, English call-outs and international call-outs. There were a lot of French-speaking actors, and it was important to keep them separate for the foreign-language releases. Actors’ schedules caused the majority of the principle ADR to arrive at the final mix as raw tracks, which was challenging but not that unusual.”
Giammarco recalls, “I spent 18 days [on the Cary Grant Stage] premixing the effects tracks while receiving updates and picture changes. The way [we] approached the pre-dubbing was, when it worked in the temp dub, we could use it and embellish as needed. We moved forward, ensuring that the effects supported the dramatic action and helped to create a realistic ‘world’ onscreen. In the final mix, when doing my FX pass, I prefer to work my effects against the pass Paul [Massey] has completed with the music and dialog tracks. This gives us a good starting point to begin working together and mix with all our collaborators.”
Marc Streitenfeld composed the orchestral score for Robin Hood, which was recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios. Together with cues tracked at the composer’s Venice, Calif., facility, the score was premixed at Todd-AO West, Santa Monica. The music arrived at the Cary Grant Stage as a 24-bit/48kHz Pro Tools session and included a total of 14 5.1 premixes of separate instruments.
“We recorded the final mix to six multichannel stems,” says Massey. These comprised a 5-channel/LCR dialog stem, a 5.1-channel music stem, a 5.1-channel sound effects stem, a 5-channel background FX stem, a 5-channel Foley stem and a 5.1-channel effects sweetener stem—all recorded to a 96-track Pro Tools recorder.
Massey and Giammarco describe mixing Robin Hood as one of their most challenging projects. “We were faced with a lot of new elements as they arrived on the stage following picture changes and new visual effects shots,” Massey says. “It’s what we are used to and it’s becoming more the norm than the exception, but it doesn’t make the process any easier!”
“We knew going in that Robin Hood would be a big effects film,” Giammarco adds, “with scenes requiring a multitude of sound effects ranging from atmospheric backgrounds to practical hard effects to stylized sound design. We always tried to move the story forward and keep audience interest heightened. There were inevitable changes and new visual effect shots regularly updated: More arrows would be added in a shot during a battle sequence and the flight paths altered. We addressed this in pre-dubbing and throughout the final with sound effects sweeteners.”
“We need to be specific in what we choose to highlight for the audience,” Massey concludes. “Quite often, less is definitely more!”
Mel Lambert heads up Media&Marketing, a full-service consulting service for pro audio firms and facilities.
“On an average film, we might spend 10 to 15 days recording Foley,” recalls supervising Foley artist Gary Hecker. “For Robin Hood, we spent 25 days, plus some pickups to accommodate picture changes.” Working at the Foley Stage on CSS Studios Todd-AO West facility in Santa Monica, Hecker provided the intimate detailing that a period action picture like Robin Hood needs to ensure a convincing atmospheric. “For the battle scenes, I developed a number of arrow sounds in the air and hitting shields and armor, as well as horse bridles, saddles, axes, chain armor, clothing, footsteps and the rest. Katy Rose worked with me on the Foley sessions, handling female footsteps and assisting with props and in group; Nerses Gezalyan served as Foley mixer.”
Hecker also developed characteristic sounds for each of the film’s primary participants. “I had a ‘leathery’ sound for [Russell Crowe’s] Robin Hood character to provide a sense of swiftness and agility. For the battle scenes, I had lighter armor sounds for the outlaws, and heavier, more metallic sounds for the knights and other figures. And for Sir Geoffrey, I developed a more ‘chunky’ leather sound, as well as characteristic sword, cape and armor sounds.
“We also prepared special ‘voices’ for individual horses ridden by the main characters, something I started doing with great success on Sea Biscuit, he adds. "I recorded horse breaths and grunts that I pitched down and processed using a sub-harmonic synthesizer and a Harmonizer to produce different sound signatures for Robin Hood’s horse and Sir Geoffrey's horse, and a slow-motion horse that we see in several scenes.”
For the final battle scenes that occur on the beach during an aborted sea landing, Hecker provided a number of water-related Foley elements using tanks at the Lantana Foley Stage. “For those climactic scenes between Robin Hood and Sir Geoffrey, we needed the intricate sounds of wooden ships in the surf and landing on the sand, with the creaks and thuds of oars, together with turnbuckle sounds. There was a lot of detailing required to fully envelop the audience in the action. I worked very closely with the supervising sound editors to determine what was being cut as hard effects and what custom sounds we should capture on the Foley stage.
“It is often easier to record a real sound on the Foley stage in sync with picture than to have to find a pre-existing sound effect, edit it to fit the action and then synchronize it to the image. We can try several different ‘reads' of the scene and record alternates in a short period of time. We like to develop those big, ‘killer’ sounds in real time on the Foley stage to save time in editing.”