Oscar-winning production sound mixer Simon Hayes relied on DPA lavalier mics to record Marvel’s film adaptation of Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gunn.
Hayes, who first used DPA microphones as Production Sound Mixer for the film adaptation of Mamma Mia in 2008, has turned to DPA d:screet™ 4061 and 4071 miniature mics on every film he’s worked on since then. Recently these have included Les Miserables (for which Hayes picked up the Oscar and BAFTA for Best Sound Mixing) and upcoming releases Tarzan, directed by David Yates and Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughan.
Hayes chose DPA miniatures for Guardians of the Galaxy so that he could capture original dialogue, right at the point of shooting. Given that Director James Gunn’s vision for the film was to preserve the authenticity and emotion of the actors’ performances, he felt this was the best way to serve the film and its creative team.
"It was clear from the first meeting with James Gunn that he wanted to capture original performances, which of course isn’t always easy when you’re talking about large budget special effects and action-driven visual effects type movies," Hayes says.
"We knew that we were going to be shooting three or four cameras at all times so the DPAs took precedence over the booms on a lot of scenes. This meant that, in the final mix, at least 75% of the dialogue that made its way into the movie was recorded on DPA [d:screet] 4071s and DPA [d:screet] 4061s."
Leading man Chris Pratt was fitted with the DPA d:screet 4061 omnidirectional mic. "We felt that the 4061 added a little something extra in the bass region for his voice, which was quite exciting," Hayes continues. "All of the other characters used 4071s on their chest rigs and if we were rigging microphones in their hair or in their helmets, we used 4061s to increase the bass."
As the title suggests, the sets for Guardians of the Galaxy were not going to be small. Finding regular-sized Sound Stages a little small, set designer Charlie Woods had sets housed in old Ministry of Defence buildings to allow enough space. This provided Hayes with a few hurdles to overcome sound-wise.
"That kind of environment isn’t as easy to record sound in as a sound stage, so I had a lot of background noise and a lot of reverb to contend with," he says. "Again, the DPA mics excelled at rejecting that reverb and just capturing dry, up-front vocals for me."
One of the things that really sets Guardians of the Galaxy apart from its kin in the superhero film genre is its esoteric 70's soundtrack, which was integral to the way the sound was mixed. Hayes explains why this was a huge consideration when recording:
"Mixed in with the huge space sound-effects that the sound design team built for us, we really wanted close-up dry dialogue so that we could push the music and the effects harder, and that’s what the DPA mics helped us to do," says Hayes, who collaborated closely with Alexandra Byrne (costume designer) and Dan Grace (costume supervisor) to design the mic placements used within the actors' costumes.
"We had some really interesting rigs. For instance, Lee Pace, who plays Ronan, was wearing a helmet for his whole performance and we actually placed two 4061 mics into the helmet because the microphones were creating a tiny bulge. We wanted to have the bulge uniform, so we put one above each eyebrow, which not only gave a uniform look to the helmet, but it also gave us the opportunity to have two tracks running on Lee Pace’s dialogue."
Ronan has a particularly dynamic part in the film, as Hayes continues: "This placement allowed Lee Pace more creativity in the way that he was playing Ronan and I was able to assure him that because we had the two 4061 mics on him, he could literally go from a whisper to a shout without us having any trouble whatsoever."
Dave Bautiste, whose character Drax the Destroyer goes through the whole film topless, presented another challenge altogether, which meant finding an ingenious solution.
"We collaborated with the Special Makeup FX department and were able to have a [d:screet] 4071 basically rigged into the special makeup effects, which was applied to his upper body so it became part of a scar in the middle of his solar plexus," Hayes says. "This meant that even though we had a topless man through the whole movie, in every single scene we were able to have a perfectly placed 4071. DPA’s are so reliable that you can have it buried under makeup and you know that it’s going to work all day, you're not going to have any problems from them."
With a run of over 18 films on which he's used DPA microphones, Hayes concludes, "In the marketplace today there aren't any lavalier mics that sound as natural and as transparent as DPAs. I feel that when I'm using a DPA microphone, I'm hearing actors through their performance rather than the microphone factoring it."
After the box-office success of Guardians of the Galaxy, a sequel has already been announced, due for release in 2017.
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