Creating the Sonic Worlds of 'Terra Nova'

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



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Dinosaurs aren’t the only sounds that had to be created in Terra Nova. Mike Dickeson was charged with, among other things, creating the electric-powered vehicles the military uses to get around. “The problem with electric vehicles is that they are very quiet,” Graham explains. “If you look at a Prius, you just can’t hear them. So Mike had to create electric vehicles that have an acceleration and a deceleration, with revs, et cetera. It was a big challenge; these are vehicles that don’t exist in any library, and Mike responded with great stuff.”

Dickeson also created the sounds for the unique weaponry used in Terra Nova to ward off the dinos. “We had to create a sonic canon, something that would have impact on them, make ’em mad, but would also make them afraid, without killing them,” Graham says. “The design has an energy that ramps up, then an expulsion and there’s a projectile. There are three different events that take place in a matter of a tenth of a second. They had to be distinct elements. And most people won’t even notice. But if it were cheesy, they would. They’ll just know it sounds cool.”

Once all of the sound elements for an episode are completed, they are copied from the server in the editing studio on Riverside Drive and brought over on a drive to the dub stage at Hollywood Way for the final three-day mix. Re-recording mixers Dean Okrand (dialog and music) and Brian Harman (sound design/effects/Foley) work a pair of 24-fader D-Command control surfaces in Pro Tools, something Harman says has vastly sped up the process. “We can work independently or we can work together. That’s one of the nice things about Pro Tools and digital video versus the old days. I can be working on a scene at the 10-minute point, and Dean can be at five minutes working on a different scene. It’s an extremely powerful tool.”

Though the impressive pilot episode featured a whopping 300 tracks, Graham expects the typical episode to have between 125 and 140. Harman typically receives eight to 10 mono and eight to 10 stereo effects tracks, mostly for the dinosaurs themselves. “I spread them across the front wall, adding sub for each,” he says, before moving to the rear speakers. “I love using the surrounds. It fills out the rooms and really gives the mix life. I’ll take certain birds or calls and put them in the back, and then put some reverb on it to have it wash around back up to the front. The surrounds and the boom are fully utilized in this show.”

It’s not unusual for design effects to require some additional attention during the mix. Graham handles the changes himself from his MacBook Pro. “I have a 2TB drive with 100,000 sounds, and another drive with all the dialog and ADR in case they want an alternate take or something,” he explains. Notes Harman, “I’m able to go inside and grab the sound, and then I have the plug-ins where I can pitch-shift things down or time-expand it or compress it—all right here. In the old days, it would have to go back to the shop and be done. I’m doing it right there at the console.”

An example of such a change took place during the mixing of the scene when the Brachiosaurus bends down to eat the plant out of the little girl’s hand. “We were dubbing that, and [co-producer] Livia [Hanich] said, ‘You know what? When it bends, I’d like for us to want to pet it,’” Graham recalls. “So I’m able to go into that library of stuff that we created, find a sound that evokes that feeling [in this case, the cow] and I could re-cut it, right there on the stage. And I’ll put it through the board, they’ll mix it in, and the producers say, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’” Problem solved.

Hanich and executive producer Brannon Braga are typically at the dub providing feedback and direction throughout. “They actually enjoy the process. And it’s fun to watch them,” says Graham. “Particularly if they’ve written an episode, and all of a sudden something comes to life, something they only thought about in their head. And now they’re seeing it and hearing it. That’s exciting for me, as the supervisor, to watch because it means you’ve done your job.”

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