LAS VEGAS, NEVADA: SoundField's portable ST350 microphone was used extensively to capture 5.1 location ambience during production of Baz Luhrmann's recent cinematic epic 'Australia,' starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, and also featured in one of Apple's 'Set To Screen' series of short video clips about film production (now available as podcasts for free download from the iTunes online Store). The ten-minute MP4 episode on Sound Design for Luhrmann's latest opus features supervising sound editor Wayne Pashley using the ST350 to record wind sounds, salt flat ambience and musical performances on location in baking 40-degree temperatures for 'Australia,' and Location Sound engineer Guntis Sics being unequivocally positive about the crew's choice of microphone.
Although he fulfilled a studio-based post-production role when working on previous Luhrmann projects such as 'Strictly Ballroom' and also the Australian hit production 'Happy Feet,' Pashley was asked to go out on location to record the surround ambience beds for 'Australia,' to allow Sics to focus on capturing the actors' dialogue on location. "One of this film's primary characters is the land itself," explains Pashley. "Because of the sheer scale of the picture, and the epic feel to the images on screen, the idea was to match that with the audio. So the ambiences had to be in surround. We wanted to immerse the viewer in them."
Most of the film's location recording took place in the barren north-western corner of Australia, in the Kimberley Mountains near where Western Australia borders the Northern Territory. "I could have dragged five microphones and a Pro Tools rig around the remote countryside, but that didn't really appeal!" says Pashley. "The combination of the Sound Devices recorder and the single SoundField mic was a lot easier to carry, and just as flexible in terms of what we could capture with it. More so, in fact."
Recording in SoundField's four-channel proprietary B-Format, Pashley was able to create 5.1 mixes of his recordings at leisure during the post-production stage. If recorded to a suitable four-channel medium, the B-Format signals from SoundField microphones can be decoded with absolute phase coherence to a variety of possible formats long after the original recording. Thus Pashley was able to create 5.1 and/or phase-accurate stereo mixes from his four-channel location B-format recordings using SoundField's Surround Zone decoder plug-in for Pro Tools, depending on the requirements of the film's dubbing mixers. "I usually did a simultaneous stereo fold-down alongside the 5.1 mix, taking up eight channels in Pro Tools, in case there was a problem with the surround, so that there would be a few options at the dubbing stage," he explains. "I got really into the SoundField Surround Zone software. On some of the recordings, I needed to back off some of the low-end on the dubbing stage, so it was good to have discrete control of the LFE channel. But I was also able to use the ST350 as a directional microphone for on-set dialogue on the sound stage recordings, by adjusting the polar pattern retrospectively at the post-production stage. The ST350 was also great on some of the studio-based crowd scenes - I used it instead of a standard X-Y stereo pair to give a sense of movement through the crowd in surround."
With 'Australia' complete and a worldwide success, neither Wayne Pashley nor Guntis Sics are leaving the ST350 behind. Sics purchased the ST350 mic used on 'Australia' from the production crew when the film wrapped, and Pashley is already planning uses for it on his next projects. "I'm a great advocate of the SoundField approach now. I couldn't believe how easy it was to get great results in 5.1 with the ST350. And it's not a clever-clever scientific tool for use in the studio, either - it was very robust. It had to be, to survive in some of the extreme environments I used it in!"
'Australia' was just released on DVD on March 3rd. For more information on SoundField's ST350 and the associated Surround Zone software for Pro Tools and VST-capable digital audio workstations, see www.soundfield.com.
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PHOTO CAPTIONS Wayne_Pashley.JPG: Wayne Pashley, supervising sound editor on 'Australia,' on location with the SoundField ST350. Recorder_ST350.JPG: The four-channel Sound Devices 744T recorder used with the ST350 to make the SoundField B-Format ambience recordings. Australia.JPG: One of the inhospitable locations visited by Pashley for the film.