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The sound and the fury of Vikings

Lectrosonics radio equipment brings the saga of King Ragnar Lothbrok to life in S3 of the History Channel drama

Inspired by sagas of the legendary Norse king Ragnar Lothbrok, Vikings, the Emmy Award-nominated historical drama programme by the History Channel, is a must-see for fans of the genre – and a triumph for the show’s sound recordists, who braved inclement weather and rugged terrain to capture every bloody battle.

Vikings, renewed for a third series last March, portrays Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) as a former farmer, restless young warrior and family man who longs to find and conquer new lands across the sea and claim the spoils as his own. He is supported by his family and fellow warriors, including his brother Rollo, his son Bjorn and his two wives, the shieldmaiden Lagertha and the princess Aslaug (pictured). It is produced by MGM Television, which also handles distribution outside of Canada and the Republic of Ireland.

Vikings series three’s sound units comprised Daniel Birch (pictured right), main unit sound mixer; Richard Hetherington, main boom operator; Conor O’Toole, boom op/second unit mixer and wireless prep; and Steve Jackson, sound assistant/wireless prep.

“We use Lectrosonics radio equipment,” Jackson explains to PSNEurope. “We have 23 radio transmitters: a mix of Lectrosonics SM, SMA, SMD, SMQV, um400 super miniature and older transmitters; four battery powered VR receivers; seven 411 receivers; two ifb transmitters for long range; six R5s; and various shark fins.”

Birch adds that shooting took place in a variety of difficult terrains in Iceland and the Republic of Ireland, including muddy woodland, mountains, lakes and beaches – and even on the sea, in replica longboats. “They are very tough places to work and to record sound,” he comments.

Every actor was miced wirelessly. The costumes are very heavy – often stiff leather or heavy cloth, and so quite noisy – so the sound team worked closely with the costume department, often designing small pouches or chambers in which to hide the mics and transmitters. Many chambers were designed so that equipment could be left sewn into the costume, rather than reinserting it for each shot. Most mics were DPA 4071 lavaliers, which the recordists found weree best for the period costumes (they have a high pass and are more robust than most).

Most of the transmitters were Lectrosonics SMDs, with SMAs in some cases – especially for the female actors, as they are smaller and lighter. “We use Lectrosonics as they are very ruggedly built,” continues Birch. “The build quality and the design is the best available. Even the battery covers are well designed, and they work under the toughest conditions.

“On the cart, I have two Lectrosonics Venues connected to 16 RF splitters for distribution via Lectrosonics amps, while the recorders include Zaxcom Deva and Nomad units. So, for example, when shooting scenes in the boats out on the lake or in very dense undergrowth, we used eight Lectro 411s through the Nomad. We also used Sharkfin aerials and Yagi antennas.”

For the interior shots, the team used Schoeps MK41 hypercardioid mics. For many of the exterior shots, they also made use of Neumann 82 long shotgun mics.

“With so many effects going on – fire, smoke, horses galloping around and lots of battle sounds – we used a mic hidden in the surround in a Rycote ball painted brown and connected by wire to the cart,” continues Birch. “With all the shouting and screaming in the battle scenes – they really screamed their heads off! – we used DPA 4061s which, thanks to their low sensitivity, could handle the volume.”

Already boasting a strong following and a fan club in both Europe and the US, Vikings series three is scheduled to air in February on the History Channel. Seasons one and two are available on Amazon Instant Video and DVD.