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‘Audio really drives the show’: Brit Row sound designer Colin Pink on Fast and Furious Live

The Fast & Furious Live European arena tour hit the road in January and audio plays a ‘pivotal’ role in the show, with Digico consoles, RF comms and an L-Acoustics PA all featuring on the live rendition of this franchise hit

Fast & Furious Live is a high tech extravaganza based on the hugely successful eight-film franchise, featuring advanced theatrical technology, sound design by Colin Pink working with Britannia Row, a score by James Brett recorded at Abbey Road, extensive RF Comms, video projection mapping, pyrotechnics and all the famous sports cars from the films. The action is set in a multitude of settings, from underground drag racing in Los Angeles, drifting through car parks in Tokyo, outrunning a submarine in Russia and ripping a bank vault through the streets of Rio. In effect, the show is a stunning ballet with cars, a feast for all the senses – and audio plays a pivotal role.

Rehearsals for the tour took place in Hall 5 of The NEC Birmingham over a month in December 2017, with two preview shows held at the Echo Arena Liverpool in early January, prior to the European arena tour. Lez Dwight, sales director at Britannia Row, explains the initial stages of audio planning: “We were given a brief for sound design, control, PA and RF Comms for the show back in February 2017. Then we developed a few versions of PA design to offer flexibility of scale as the tour visits large and not so large arenas. The control equipment has full redundancy and is packaged in such a way that it can be rapidly deployed. Custom fabricated dollies have been supplied for the stage end control, RF, comms, amplifiers and processing. We have also built carts for the PA delays to travel in.”

Early on in the show’s development, Pink was appointed as sound designer. He is one of the UK’s leading sound designers, whose credits for 2017 included live sound supervisor on The Brits and MTV for Britannia Row and front of house for Hans Zimmer’s 2017 World tour, supplied by Britannia Row. Pink was tasked by the show’s producer Rowland ‘Rowly’ French with the creative side of the audio and sound FX creation as well as approving all PA. He said: “Audio really drives the show. All music, sound FX and a lot of voiceover dialogue is all on QLab that I have programmed. The timecode from QLab triggers lighting, video and crucially the stunt vehicles’ cues. Plus, in different territories we will be working with a translation of main dialogue. QLab is at the very heart of this show.”

Initial work for Pink involved recording the cars used from the films and now the arena show. “We spent time last autumn recording the show’s cars at Kendrew Barracks, a former RAF base near Rutland, recording high speed car sequences and engine sounds. I recorded engines, exhausts and drive sequences using Rode NT1As and Zoom location recorders into Pro Tools via my Focusrite Sapphire mic pre amps then edited at my studio in London. The studio includes a full Pro Tools HD, SSL mic pre amps, sound libraries include The Hollywood Edge and I use Martin Logan Hybrid Electrostatic loudspeakers. I think they are the best mid-range detail monitors that I have ever heard.”

In his studio Pink created the full soundscape for the show. This included voiceovers recorded at the National Theatre’s voiceover studio, music stems from Abbey Road for James Brett’s score and Pink was given full access to Universal’s Fast & Furious film music, FX and dialogue stems. Mixing, EQ matching, balance and dynamics was all done in QLab, prior to Birmingham for the month of technical rehearsals.

For Pink and his team, including Fergus Mount, who is mixing at FOH, one of the biggest challenges they face is the enormous dynamic range of the show. Pink explains: “One of the most interesting things we found when we came to the technical rehearsals in Birmingham was that all the voices, music and FX had to compete with a varying noise floor from the cars. Sometimes the noise floor was practically nothing at around 40dB, then when there was a full onstage fill of vehicles it would be extreme. For example there is a moment in the show when you have a tank on stage, various sports cars and ice vehicles called skidoos, all shooting at each other, a lot of pyrotechnics and before you switch the PA on the noise floor is 100dB. Then sometimes at a quiet moment of the show it is a normal 40db quiet arena level. So within those massive dynamic differences we have to make the audio journey sit well. When there are lots of cars and action we are swelling music and FX. That has actually been a real challenge to programme.”

Microphones used on the actors are DPA 4088 using Shure Axient Belt Packs. The choice of console used for the show’s mix is a Digico SD 11, running at 96kHz, with a redundant console in mirror backstage. Mix at the O2 was done from the floor at the delay end, but this will vary per venue. The FOH SD11 also serves as the monitor console. Pink told PSNEurope what he likes about the SD11 and it’s suitability for the show: “Front of house space is at a premium on this show. The whole arena floor is the stage so it was requested that we try to make front of house as small as possible across all departments. Although the show is enormously complicated, from an input count we are relatively low. So the SD11 filled all the criteria. It has got the same software as the bigger desks, it is flexible and of course it sounds as good as the bigger desks. It seemed to be the obvious choice. And in fact we have got all front of house sound in one custom made rack with the console on top. It makes set up very quick and works very nicely.”

For the entire production the importance of the RF Comms system cannot be overstated, with Britannia Row’s Josh Thomas is in charge, deploying a Riedel Artist Matrix with over a dozen Bolero wireless units. The stunt drivers use moulded IEMs on Sennheiser 2000 packs. The system interstates the show caller into both wire and wireless loops, stage management, sound, lighting, video, automation, pyro, mechanics and carpenters. Other key RF Comms staff from Britannia Row on the run are Zoltan Pauli and Antoine Bataillard.

PA-wise, Britannia Row are supplying L-Acoustics K2, KS28 for the main LR hang and for the left-centre, right-delay hang L-Acoustics KARA and SB18, driven by L-Acoustics LA12X amps via BRP Dante Network and Lake Processing. System tech for the Birmingham rehearsals and Liverpool preview shows was Cesar Lopaz, who will hand over to Sergiy Zhytnikov who will serve as system tech for the tour dates. Lopaz comments on the K2/KS28 combination: “It is a fantastic couple regarding the different venue sizes where the tour is going through. The possibility to change the horizontal K2 dispersion is a great feature in general, but even more in this tour, as the space to cover by the side hang will vary between venues such as The O2 in London, SSE Hydro in Glasgow or Metro Radio in Newcastle. As well as the 10 degrees vertical dispersion and the low weight (56kg) it gives a really flexible choice for all the venues. The KS28 are really tight and deep, giving all the bass needed for some parts of the show, like sound effects or double basses in different music passages. In my personal opinion, KARA and SB18 are my favourite L-Acoustics couple. They are perfect for the clarity and punch required.”

Lopaz, who works with L-Acoustics Soundvison for system design programming, adds: “Soundvision is really accurate these days; you can have quite a close idea with delay times, EQ, low end dispersion, and translate that to your LA manager file, giving you a good starting point in your set-up day. In Birmingham for rehearsals we hung half of the boxes in the side hang that will be used for the show dates. The room didn’t need all of what we used, but we wanted to check that all systems were working. It was great to get to Liverpool to fire up the full rig!”

Pink concluded: “The L-Acoustics system is great because it has got the power and the punch when you need it to get over the volume of the cars. But it has also got the detail for the quieter moments of the show. We need a box that is very good at all dynamic ranges and the L-Acoustics boxes are great at that.”

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