Lost, The Final Chapter

Jan 21, 2010 6:27 PM, By Mel Lambert



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Fairfield works primarily on backgrounds, vehicles and ambiences, while Murray looks after hard effects; they both work on sound-design elements. “The show is wall-to-wall effects,” Fairfield stresses. “We like to offer lots of options for the re-recording stage; we put together everything we can think of, although they may be dropped later. We also carefully catalog everything so that the same sound signature will be used; for example, the same gun in each episode.”

The sound designers deliver two Pro Tools sessions: one of mono/stereo (and occasionally 5.1-channel) hard effects; and backgrounds in 4, 5.1 and 3-channel/LCR formats. “We have standard templates that we worked out with Scott [Weber],” Fairfield offers, "so that the materials are delivered in a consistent format for each show. For most episodes we might deliver up to 150 tracks; for the Season 5 two-hour finale”—and the opening episode for Season 6—“we produced close to 500 tracks; there were a lot of late decisions on those shows!” “We can turn around a show very fast if we have to,” Murray adds, with a knowing smile.

Companion ICON Control Surfaces for Effects/Foley and Dialog/Music
Morrone and Weber’s D-Control console features 16 on-surface faders for dialog/music and 32 for effects/backgrounds/Foley. Each section offers custom faders that can be used in one of three modes: Custom Groups, for which faders can be arranged and built in any order and configurations recalled with a single button push; VCA Master and spill, in which the VCA group masters can be spilled into the slaves within a defined section; and Custom Fader Plug-In for mapping controls of favorite plug-ins onto faders. 

Each D-Control section can control up to four Pro Tools HD systems from each surface, bank switched one at a time. “We run 72-channel HD6 systems for the effects and mix systems,” Weber explains, “plus 32-channel HD2s for Foley, BG, music and ADR/group playback, a 32-channel HD1 for music playback and a 56-channel HD2 as stem recorder, all running on Mac Pro [computers].” Playback monitors comprise three M&K MPS-150 active cabinets on stands in front of the mixers for LCR, plus the room’s subwoofers and surround units.

“Our overall stem masters are actually multichannel aux faders that are used to build an entire submix. For instance, on my section I have an aux fader as a 6-channel effects master that receives the effects mix before it routes to the recorder. Here I put a brickwall limiter, like a Waves L1 or McDSP ML4000 set at -2 dB, to keep the input from clipping on loud effects; this also gives me a trim on every channel just like you find on a traditional console. That is followed by a 3-band Massenburg EQ and then an ML4000 compressor/limiter. I start the mix with only the limiter active, and insert EQ and compression as I need them” to minimize the DSP load. “I do the same with reverb and sub sends.

“On a typical session,” Weber continues, “all effects are routed through a 5-channel master chain that has an L1 limiter, Massenburg EQ and sends, set to a ceiling of +18 dB for the effects stem. As well as a 5-channel chain, I also have a stereo chain to spread things into 5.1 using a combination of Dolby Surround Tools, Waves PS22 Spreader, delays and some stereo reverbs. I can call up the stem masters on a custom-fader bank, just as I would my reverb returns or guide tracks. The VCA-style faders control groups of pre-assign tracks from the [Pro Tools] editor. For example, my basic 64 effects tracks are controlled by eight VCA Masters in groups of eight tracks. This is our fourth season mixing on ICON.”

One of the effects mixer’s biggest challenges is maintaining detail within a very dense and complicated soundtrack. “When we are asked to make the scene be music-driven, have the effects play at a ‘10’ and still be able to clearly hear every line of dialog—that is, indeed, a tall task! It’s a dance, and we are getting better at taking things out to make room for other things to play. The first pass on the show is our best effort at presenting the soundtrack as we think it should sound.”

“My dialog-processing chain within Pro Tools,” Morrone advises, “comprises a McDSP ML4000 compressor/limiter routed into a Massenburg EQ , followed by a McDSP de-esser and then into a NJ575 Notch Filter, as necessary, and finally into a Waves LZ limiter to hold everything back to the ABC/Disney delivery-reference level. I set up the Custom Faders as Dialog Master, ADR Master, Group Master, Music Master and Overall Master for Dialog, ADR, Group and Music, and finally Reverb Return Master. That way I can easily control the submix stems on a single fader or then spill them out across the same 8-channel bank to refine individual front-channel and surrounds for the 5.1-channel submixes and final. We print stems of music, dialog, foreign dialog, ADR, Futz and principal effects, plus a group stem, which streamlines the preparation of M&Es for foreign-language versions, which we develop after print mastering.

“Although I try not to EQ the music tracks, I have a Massenburg [Pro Tools] plug-in across the Music Master that I use to roll-off or brighten the tracks; I sometimes use a McDSP Futz filter to mimic a source cue being replayed on a radio, for example.

“Since we don’t get the luxury of a pre-mix on dialog,” Morrone continues, “while Scott [Weber] does a pass on effects—or vice versa—I am premixing tracks via headphones.” The mixer’s biggest challenge is cleaning up production sound and eliminating noise on the tracks. “Our production mixers do a great job,” he concedes, “but, unfortunately, they can only do so much with some of the locations they have to work with. Getting the production to work on the beach is always a challenge because certain characters don’t project, and then dialog is tough to pull out of the backgrounds.

“If somebody could invent a performance plug-in to help get in and out of ADR, I’d be in heaven! You can have a perfect EQ match but it is often difficult for actors to get back into the moment. I have had instances where I’m pulling one or two words out of the ADR and using the production for the rest of the line. Consistency is important; I always store different reverb treatments with specific notes because we often came back to them in a later season or in flashbacks.”

In terms of overall loudness—and ensuring a consistent mix for surround, stereo/LtRt and mono playback—“We always mix hot for TV, but still have to maintain dynamic range,” Morrone advises. “It becomes a fine dance. All of the sound-design sequences are checked to make sure that they will translate, but we are always aware that the 5.1 mix will have an afterlife on DVD. We do a separate LtRt pass to tame the stereo mix and, again, maintain dynamic range.”

As the review session continues in Room 6, Burk is commenting on sound effects for a critical scene within a large temple and pool. “We need deeper bubbles,” he offers. “And can we take out the low end so that it doesn't sound so much like a Jacuzzi?” Weber makes a note and huddles with de Gorter. “We have three stereo pairs of water sounds,” the supervising sound editor advises. “Can you make the drips louder,” Burk queries? They hear the result. “It sounds better,” Burk agrees, “but keep out the rumble. And it sounds too ‘drippy’—maybe we can back off the drips?” The team concludes that the material they have will need to be recut to offer more options, so a call goes out from de Gorter to the sound designers to prepare some alternates that will be available the next day for review. “We need separate elements to fulfill the producer's requirements,” de Gorter confirms. The mix continues.

Mel Lambert heads up Media&Marketing, a full-service consulting service for pro-audio firms and facilities.

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