Post: Trying to Save Lives With Sound

Jan 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson



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The sound team prepares to record ordnance explosions

The sound team prepares to record ordnance explosions

Ezra Dweck has been working in post-production for some 18 years now, and he's amassed quite a résumé for himself. He started his career recording FX at a company called Thunder Tracks, which also included future Hollywood post aces Mark Mangini, Steve Flick and Richard Anderson. That company then became Screaming Lizards and later Weddington Productions. “[Weddington] built a little mix stage,” Dweck recalls, “and I started mixing, and I've been a freelance and sometimes staff re-recording mixer ever since — mostly feature films, but also television.” Add to that an occasional credit for FX editing, Foley editing or mixing, even supervising. He continues to mix both features and TV — the past three-plus years he's juggled work on two hit series, Brothers and Sisters and CSI: New York.

But one of his recent jobs, away from the Hollywood mainstream, has proven to be one of his most interesting and challenging: designing, cutting and mixing the effects for an ultra-sophisticated military Humvee training simulator aimed at protecting U.S. troops from IED (Improvised Explosive Device) bombings and other insurgent attacks. (“Humvee” is actually a loose acronym for HMMWV, or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.)

According to Dweck, RL Leaders project executive producer Richard Lindheim and associate producer Bob Wolterstorff — both of whom have TV backgrounds — “were approached by a three-star general who had gotten some intel that said if somebody survived an IED explosion, they were many times more likely to survive the next one. So the general approached Richard about working on this project, and then I got involved. It went through many iterations. Originally, it was just going to be some motion seats in a room, and then it turned into something much bigger” — namely, a customized, engineless Humvee on a motion base in a 60-foot semi-circle surrounded by 260 degrees of large screens onto which is projected a crystal-clear HD image from five Christie projectors at 15,000×1,080 pixels.

The visuals are a Humvee POV as it drives through a setting that looks remarkably like Afghanistan, with rumbly dirt roads, near-desert off-road conditions, small villages, jagged snow-capped peaks in the background and danger clearly lurking nearby. It was shot at a place called Lone Pine, a desolate area between Fresno and Death Valley in east-central California. “You're driving down dirt roads identifying what they call ‘observables’ and ‘signatures,’ looking for the things that have been known to indicate IEDs,” Dweck explains. “There's going to be a guy behind the curtain — an observer/controller who will be communicating with the guys in the Humvee. If they get it right, he can branch them off to a safe path; if they get it wrong, he can blow them up at any time or send them down other more difficult paths. In all, there are about a dozen different scenes with different branch points.”

The Audio Challenge

For the sound design, Dweck was tasked with coming up with as realistic a presentation of the sound inside a Humvee in patrol and combat situations as possible. The training Humvee will have five soldiers in it — four in the cramped main part of the vehicle, and one turret gunner on top partially exposed through the roof. “My initial idea was to investigate some 360-degree surround speaker systems, but they just weren't feasible for the space inside the Humvee,” says Dweck. “I went through a lot of negotiations with the guys who are building the thing — a company called Technifex that does a lot of theme park stuff — and what I wound up with basically is 6.1, but not in a traditional layout inside the vehicle. So it's five speakers in a normal L/C/R, Ls/Rs position, and then there's a full-range, full-sized speaker mounted in the dash in the middle and a subwoofer in the engine bay where the engine would be. I did a bunch of research to find a full-performance, relatively small driver speaker I thought would work, and I wound up with a Meyer MM4XP for the five. It's about the size of a 4-inch tile, but about six inches deep. They run on a 48-volt distribution system, but they're self-powered. They're good down to about 300 Hz, so I need the full-sized midrange speaker in the middle to kind of balance it out.

“Then on the exterior, mounted on this giant truss that the projectors are mounted on, I also have three speakers [JBL EONs] arranged left-center-right.”

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