By R. Maxwell
Los Angeles (December 15, 2005)–Independent music scoring mixer Alan Meyerson, whose portfolio of TV and film accomplishments includes the films The Last Samurai, Sin City and Pirates of the Caribbean, along with the hit television show, Desperate Housewives, worked on what is likely to be one of 2005’s biggest box office hits, Universal Pictures’ King Kong, from triple Academy Award-winning director, Peter Jackson. Working with a score written by James Newton Howard, Meyerson mixed the film’s music at Todd-AO West’s Stage 3 on a Euphonix System 5-F dual-operator console. King Kong opened at theater’s nation-wide yesterday.
Alan Meyerson mixed the King Kong score at the Todd-AO West Stage 3 dubbing theater on a Euphonix System 5-F console.Meyerson reports that scoring sessions were captured in three groups–at Sony Studios in Culver City, Todd-AO in Studio City, and the Fox scoring studios in Los Angeles. All sessions employed a 106-piece orchestra that included six percussionists. Meyerson handled the first scoring session and then turned over the reins to Joel Iwataki.
“The fact that the scoring sessions took place at three different locations presented an interesting challenge in itself in terms of complementing the sound of three different rooms into the same score,” acknowledged Meyerson. “There was approximately 180 minutes of music. That’s a massive amount of music for one film.”
Howard originally wrote music for the first couple of reels and then proceeded to compose the film’s closing sections. “This was a very smart move,” Meyerson reported, “as this is frequently the section that one is rushing to get done–typically, without much sleep. Howard and director Peter Jackson considered the film’s final sections so important that they wanted to compose the music before things got too crazy.” King Kong Score Mixing Crew (l-r) Jessika Zen, Assistant; Ed Bydalek, Recordist; Alan Meyerson, Score Mixer; Tom Lalley, Engineer.As the various sessions were completed, the recordings were transferred to Todd-AO’s Stage 3 for Meyerson to work his magic.
Two Digidesign Pro Tools systems served as the source multitracks. The 60-track orchestral recordings were captured at 96 kHz, which were then combined with a synth master running at 44.1 kHz. To match the orchestra’s high sample rate, the synth master was up-sampled using Euphonix FC727 digital format converters. By running the System 5-F at 96 kHz, Meyerson was able to take advantage of the high sampling rate of the original recordings.
Another view of Todd-AO Stage 3The Euphonix System 5-F on Todd-AO’s Stage 3 provides 132 inputs–all of which were in use during Meyerson’s mix sessions. In addition to the 60 orchestral tracks, there are a number of mix stems derived from the synth master, various percussion elements, plus additional overdubbed elements such as processed sound design for a total of approximately 160 inputs on the largest cues.
While most music mixing takes place in a studio, Meyerson worked on Todd-AO’s dubbing Stage 3. “I’ve essentially turned the soundstage into a studio for myself,” he noted. “I brought in my own reference monitors–B&W Nautilus 802Ds–which I always mix my scores on. Hence, I have my 5.1 surround system in place. The beauty of this situation is that I’m in a room with true theater dimensions that has beautiful ceiling heights. This enables me to hear a lot of air around the sound and makes working this way a real pleasure. It feels very natural to be mixing film music in a theater environment.”
King Kong was dubbed at Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post in Wellington, New Zealand. The facility is home to three Euphonix System 5-F dual-operator consoles and is the site where Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of films was assembled. According to Meyerson, “Everything is being down-sampled to 48 kHz, which is the delivery requirement for the dubbing stage. We’re sending the mix over at 48 kHz/24 frames, which adds yet another interesting twist to the production, since normally at this stage, we run audio at 29.97.”
The delivery mechanism Meyerson used was Digidesign’s DigiDelivery. “Basically,” Meyerson said, “we upload our stems (five sets of 5.1 mix stems) to Digidesign’s secure servers. There’s an orchestral stem, two percussion stems, a soloist stem, a choir stem, and a synth stem, which, depending upon the scene, totals about 32 tracks. It takes us about 10 minutes to upload a standard cue, which is usually about 2.5-3 minutes long. On the other end, the folks in Wellington click a link in an e-mail to receive the delivery.”
The goal with this transfer method is to enable the Wellington crew to bring the mix up on their System 5-F at unity gain (commonly referred to as a yardstick mix) and have that mix pre-assigned to specific outputs. “Then,” Meyerson added, “if they need to go in and change something, they have the ability to do so. But we make every effort to deliver as finished a mix as possible, and we’ve been quite successful. Thus far, they’ve been very happy.”
For King Kong, the Wellington film crew included Michael Semanick mixing dialog and Christopher Boyes handling sound effects. Both are well known for their work at Skywalker Sound, part of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch facility in Nicasio, CA. They were joined by music mixer Michael Hedges and Tom Johnson, who served as the pre-dub mixer.
For more information and a first-hand look at the process of mixing King Kong, visit http://www.kongisking.net/kong2005/proddiary/.