Post: Trying to Save Lives With Sound

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



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A computer mock-up of the Humvee training simulator

A computer mock-up of the Humvee training simulator

To get the sort of sounds he needed for the project, Dweck made several trips to the Army's national training center in California's Mojave Desert, a facility that's often used by Hollywood sound crews to capture ordnance and vehicle recordings under military supervision. For the interior sounds of what is formally known as an M-1151 Up-Armored Humvee, “I spent a lot of time in Humvees, bouncing around with military personnel. I've done a lot of vehicle recording in my years — what some of us call ‘auto Foley’ — so I had a pretty good idea of what I needed to get to make a usable kit out of my recording. I went out with a military driver. They have a couple of interesting, intense off-road courses with 20-foot-high berms that you can drive up and down — we did several laps on those.

“For the interior, I used an 8-channel Holophone mic, which is like a bunch of DPAs in this big ball; it's quite a nice mic. I used five of those channels out of the possible eight. Then there's a guy who's poked out of the gunner turret, so I knew it was important for me to get some exterior sounds for those three exterior speakers. For that, I used a Neumann 190 [stereo shotgun] single point M/S mic in M/S mode, which I stuck basically where the 50-cal [gun] goes to get some stereo exterior recordings. Then, for the last of the eight channels on my Sound Devices 788, I stuck a lavalier in some of the armor right near the tail pipe. So I ended up with a whole bunch of coincident 8-channel recordings of the Humvee, shot 24-bit.”

For the ordnance recordings, Dweck had help from some of his film sound colleagues: Mark Mangini, Jon Fasal and Charlie Campagna. For the massive main IED explosion, Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) personnel used several pounds of C4 to detonate a 120mm tank shell in a dry creek bed as Dweck and company captured the sound from numerous mics ranging from 100 to 1,000 feet away. Dweck, with a Sound Devices 744 and [Crown] SASS-B with B&K 4006 omnis and Neumann 190 in Stereo mode — was the farthest away (and put mics inside a van for that muted sound); Mangini used a 788, his custom Schoeps setup and a Holophone; Fasal had a 788 and various dynamics and condensers, which he changed for each explosion; and Campagna's rig was an 8-channel Deva with several different dynamics and condensers, and some PZMs.

The Army let Dweck and a couple of his team members record AK-47s firing several hundred rounds — he amassed 20 tracks of that. Dweck also recorded some simulated radio communications “chatter” over secure military radios, tracked directly to Pro Tools LE on a laptop. That chatter is heard on two channels inside the Humvee training setup.

Not the Usual Post Process

“When we were done, I brought it all back, put it up on Pro Tools and started weeding out and mastering it,” he says. “I used a little compression on some things, but I was trying not to use too many Hollywood tricks on any of this stuff. Through the whole project, I had to keep telling myself, ‘Verité, verité, verité!’ Those guys who are going to sit in the Humvee know how they sound, so it was really important that it was accurate and they weren't instead paying attention to, ‘Wow, what neat sound effects!’” In fact, Dweck learned early on that the sound inside a Humvee when an IED blasts outside is fairly muffled, so the more pure explosion sounds would be heard primarily just on the exterior speakers, where the gunner hears most clearly.

Next, Dweck and Aaron Glascock (another top Hollywood mixer and supervisor) cut the FX, which ran the gamut from engine idles to a sandstorm and various winds, to ordnance fire and even simulated tinnitus effects for the chaotic first minutes after an IED explosion. Dweck did a rough mix of the material in one of the brand-new Pro Tools/D-Control “Concept” rooms at Warner Bros., got some feedback from his producers and then did the final mix (also at Warner Bros.) on the speakers that were to be mounted in the Humvee. “I would like to mention how incredibly helpful Warner Bros. was with this project,” Dweck says, “especially Kim Waugh, Bill Angorola and the engineering staff.”

Of course, sound is just one part of this amazing simulation apparatus. The six-piston motion platform on which the altered Humvee sits can generate up to five Gs of acceleration and reproduce the bumps and hills shown in the HD video. Also, when an IED “explodes” under the Humvee, Dweck says, “a gas-powered pneumatic ram hits the bottom of the thing — it's a helluva kick! — while a propane-powered concussive device called a bird cannon produces a 140dB bang.”

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