Conventional mixing wisdom states that throwing a bird call in the left surround channel is bound to pull an audience’s attention away from the screen. Clearly, then, it’s important to have a modicum of surround subtlety while working on a full-length feature, but a handful of film sound mixers and editors had the opportunity to throw that philosophy out the window while working on logo trailers for Dolby Digital, Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS) and Digital Theater Systems (DTS). In shops like Creative Cafe and MarcoCo., as well as Skywalker Sound, Universal Studios and Dolby Laboratories, teams packed channels with bird calls and swooshed and swirled effects, front to back, for brief logo trailers.
Though the goal of each of these segments was to show off the multichannel format, the creative teams for each format spared no visual expense. Visuals for “Rain,” the Dolby spot, were produced by Garson Yu of Yu & Co. in Los Angeles, the SDDS segment was directed by Barnaby Jackson of Sony Pictures’ commercial division, Pavlov Productions, DTS’s new spot was produced by Pittard Sullivan’s Jennifer Grey and Chuck Carey, who was the creative director on the spot.
DOLBY DIGITAL EXMarco d’Ambrosio’s involvement in the “Rain” trailer for Dolby’s new Surround EX format (see Mix, May 1999, for a detailed description of its debut with Star Wars: Episode I) started when he was asked to come up with concepts for a corporate sound-mark. He worked on a number of orchestral ideas before coming up with the tuned crystal glass now heard on all of Dolby’s trailers. The crystal was rubbed for a distinctive background track and struck for dramatic percussive background notes; each strike was placed in a different channel.
“I wanted to create all the sounds from scratch,” d’Ambrosio explains. One of the tools he used to accomplish just that was an instrument called the waterphone that had been built by Hawaiian sculptor Richard Waters. The waterphone is a stainless-steel sculpture surrounded by a series of bronze rods; tones are controlled by varying the level of water in the sculpture.
The waterphone, glasses and other sound design elements were recorded in his home studio with Neumann microphones, through a preamp and then into Pro Tools 24 Version 4.3. Though the goal was to work as organically as possible, he found himself using a TC Electronic M5000, Dolby Surround Tools and Hyperprism plug-ins during the premix.
The orchestral portion of the trailer was recorded in the Dolby screening room, which they had converted to a scoring stage for the day. In order to take advantage of the EX format, ambient mics were placed above the 35-piece orchestra. “We were able to use those mics for the spatial placement and get a good sense of spaciousness for the orchestra,” he says. The session was recorded to analog 24-track with Dolby SR and then transferred into Pro Tools 24. d’Ambrosio then added a devil chaser, a Filipino percussion instrument that he pitched way down in Pro Tools and used to close the trailer by panning it through each of the channels.
In order to simplify the mixing process d’Ambrosio worked up seven premixes, which he delivered to Gary Rizzo at Skywalker Sound as Pro Tools sessions. Rizzo had visited d’Ambrosio during the recording and premix, and he knew that “this deserved more attention in the mix than the average trailer. You don’t want it to be so subtle that people aren’t interested in it, but you don’t want to pound the audience in the head.
“When you see a big car explosion, the audience tends to take their forehead and lean it backwards,” he adds. “But when you have something that’s much more elemental, then it’s almost like you’re soothing the audience by pushing their shoulders back. So, when you watch the trailer you tend to want to sit back and really look at it. Most of that is the visual, but certainly I wanted to enhance that with the sound effects. It’s not that we wanted people on the edge of their seat; we wanted them to be able to have a wonderful sonic experience while sitting back and being engrossed by the beauty of the trailer, sonically and visually.”
For the mix, Rizzo and d’Ambrosio went into THX-certified Mix G at Skywalker Sound. They mixed on a Solid State Logic 5000, with joystick panners that have been modified for the EX format. As far as outboard gear, he used GML EQs, a Lexicon 480 and QRS Excels.
SDDSJust as the “Rain” trailer is an artful video image, the SDDS series of trailers is a gorgeous collection of footage. The three unique trailers-Jungle, Underwater and Volcano-run independently, while the Quest version combines them all into a 1:15 trailer. The film was shot on Hawaii’s Big Island; the audio was gathered from around the world by recordist Patricio Liebenson, who was dispatched to the jungles of Brazil and Costa Rica with a 4-channel Nagra D to capture natural ambience and animal sounds.
As sound supervisor Dean Beville explains, “He’s able to replicate any environment. It’s three-dimensional, and it really places you in the environment you’re seeing. The way he employed his mics really helped capture the sounds. It’s to the point where you’re hearing water flow left to right and it wasn’t any sort of psychoacoustics sleight of hand. It was true reproduction in the environment.
“I thought one of the great opportunities the spot presented to us on the sound side was to try to place the viewer in the environment they are seeing,” he continues. “Rather than going for over-the-top and large, we were just trying to establish that ambience.”
In addition to the 4-channel backgrounds provided by Liebenson, Beville collected over 200 sound design elements-everything from traditional bird calls to jungle brush to underwater noises. Beville took each sound element and pre-panned it to where he believed it should be placed. “We presented editorially with most of the elements pre-panned and with all the movements built into the track to preserve the editorial point of view,” he explains. “We worked hard to make sure the elements were placed in a fashion that would play up the format, starting with the bubbling elements in the five speakers in the front, then introducing the additional elements out of the surrounds and bringing those around up to the front and moving the elements that were established in the front away to keep everything clean and unmuddled.”
Beville delivered tracks to the mixing team of Tennyson Sebastian III and Sergio Reyes, who were working on a Harrison MPC at Creative Cafe at the time, on Pro Tools discs with Tascam DA-88 backups. Some of the other effects, like the surf and volcano explosions, were delivered on analog 2-inch, while others were dumped onto Sony 3348. With a small laugh, Sebastian says he wasn’t surprised when Beville walked in with the over 200 sound elements on such a wide variety of formats. “I know Dean, and that’s how he does things. He likes to build stuff wide, and he does it real tastefully, so it makes it work well.”
DTSThe DTS idea was born in the initial meetings between Andrea Nee of DTS and Pittard Sullivan’s creative team of Jennifer Grey and Chuck Carey. As Grey explains, “We understood that they wanted to create a trailer that really represented and embodied the quality of their system and helped to open people’s ears in a new way.” The piece, titled Sonic Landscape, combines a macro view of the inside of a piano and a soundtrack that includes a music bed, vocal choirs, church bells, bird wing sounds and children’s laughter.
Nee says, “We all agreed we wanted to demonstrate the impact that digital 5.1 audio could have on a digital presentation, but we wanted to somewhat step away from the very loud, abrasive or action-packed sounds that you often associate with that. So, we wanted to go with something that was a bit more subtle but still provided a distinctive sound landscape.”
Composer and sound designer Walter Werzowa worked through a number of concepts, including building a track of random piano sounds. “Those ideas sounded great on paper, but not that great in 18 seconds,” he explains. So, the team came up with a day-in-the-life-of-a-note theme, where Werzowa combined music and sound elements, beginning with a single piano note. “You see this piano note as a pulse that maybe triggers some other events, like a wind coming into the universe. There’s a beautiful low rumble that triggers some choir voices, and it feels like the whole universe is a little in motion,” he says. “There are bird wings and church bells and all the realistic sounds, but they are so embedded into the music that you don’t really hear them. Then you have a little three-note tag for the DTS logo. It feels like a day when the sun goes up and down; it has a nice structure.”
Werzowa relied on both sound libraries and on elements he recorded with an Artificial Head microphone and a rackmounted Pro Tools system. He went back to his own studio, which includes four Pro Tools 24 systems (64 channels, with 18-gigabyte removable drives) with “probably every available plug-in on the market,” as well as a bevy of keyboards including 12 Emulator E-IVs, eight SV-760s and a Jupiter 8.
Once he was done with the composition, he took 64 tracks of music and sound design to re-recording mixer Eric Martell at Todd-A/O in Los Angeles. Because Werzowa delivered stereo elements, Martell found he had to double some tracks, add reverb here and there and adjust some EQ. All in all, though, he says he barely touched them. “Technically there wasn’t a lot involved,” Martell recalls. “I didn’t do any processing, I didn’t do any manipulation of the sound itself other than some subtle EQ, and because it’s an analog board going to SR mag, there wasn’t a lot technologically that I needed to do. Walter did a lot of that work himself with the plug-ins and the Pro Tools.” Martell was working on a vintage ADM console (with Neve Flying Faders) that was originally in the Glen Glenn facility; he ran Werzowa’s Pro Tools tracks through Apogee converters.
One of the big questions for the mix was what to actually put in the surround channels. Martell reports, “First we tried everything, and that was not distinct enough. Then we were picking and choosing a lot of different combinations so that the surrounds were acting independent of what was going on up front. That took quite a bit of time.” In order to add to the subharmonic feel of the piece, he added parts of Werzowa’s music bed to the low end by taking an effects send of the appropriate channel and sending it to a subharmonic synthesizer to drop it an octave. Then he fed it back into a spare channel through a lowpass filter and added it to the subs. The goal of that was not to necessarily demonstrate the powerful capabilities of the subs, he says, but just “to extend the low end and to give you the sense of a real broadband frequency response.”