Creating the Sonic Worlds of 'Terra Nova'

Sep 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Matt Hurwitz

SOUNDS OF FUTURE PAST

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It’s a great gig to land if you work in sound for picture. A hotly anticipated sci-fi series with the name Spielberg attached. A plot set in the future and the prehistoric past, opening up all kinds of sound-design possibilities. Machines and gadgets, weapons and vehicles, nature and science, humans and dinosaurs. Supervising sound editor Michael Graham, MPSE, knew that he and his team at Smart Post Sound (Burbank, Calif.) were in for an exciting challenge when they picked up Terra Nova. But there was one catch.

From left: supervising sound editor Michael Graham, MPSE; sound designer Rick Steele; co-supervising sound editor Chris Harvengt; and sound designers Bob Costanza and Mike Dickeson

From left: supervising sound editor Michael Graham, MPSE; sound designer Rick Steele; co-supervising sound editor Chris Harvengt; and sound designers Bob Costanza and Mike Dickeson

Already busy at work on another big Steven Spielberg–produced sci-fi series, Falling Skies, Graham was given a mandate or, more accurately, a restriction. “It was explained to us that the dinosaurs in Terra Nova shouldn’t sound like anything in Jurassic Park,” he recalls. “You can see the dilemma: Every child who’s ever watched Jurassic Park knows that is the vocabulary of the dinosaurs. Everybody knows that’s what they sound like!”

Terra Nova begins in the year 2149, when Earth is overcrowded and in decline, and the government is desperate for options to relocate and repopulate. Meanwhile, a physics accident has resulted in the discovery of a particle accelerator capable of passing humans back in time through a portal located in the fictional Hope Plaza in Chicago. The accelerator lands travelers to a lush existence millions of years earlier, in the Cretaceous Era, in the settlement of Terra Nova. The past then becomes home to military and civilian populations, who must share the planet, naturally, with dinosaurs.

The premiere episode was one of the more complex pilots the Smart Post team had worked on. “It really was very much like a feature film,” says Graham, who supervised the first hour, while his co-supervisor and ADR editor, Chris Harvengt, picked up the second hour and the remainder of the series. The initial sound design was developed by Graham and Smart Post’s primary sound designer, Rick Steele, along with Bob Costanza and Mike Dickeson, whose main focus was on the show’s fascinating collection of vehicles, both in year 2149 and in Terra Nova.

Smart Post’s roots in Burbank go back nearly 40 years, when it was founded as Echo Sound. Now owned by Graham and partners Mark Friedgen, Joe Melody, Rob Weber, Sue Jesse and Matt Preble, the company operates out of two buildings: an editorial/layback center in the equestrian district on Riverside Drive; and mix, ADR and Foley stages on Hollywood Way. The company has garnered numerous Emmys and Golden Reel Awards for its work over the years, both as Echo and Smart Post.






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