Culver City, CA—The program for this year’s sixth annual Mix Sound for Film & TV event, a sold-out affair that attracted 650 attendees to the Sony Pictures Studios lot, offered a twin focus—immersive audio and IP networking—that reflected concerns of today’s audio industry. That’s not to say there weren’t the usual sessions digging into the creative process behind some of the latest productions, such as Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Carnival Row and others, but in session after session, discussion turned to immersive sound formats and AoIP workflows.
Award-winning sound designer and entrepreneur Wylie Stateman kicked things off with a keynote offering his vision for achieving even greater respect for sound in movies. With a career dedicated to reducing friction in the audio post process, Stateman put forward the idea of creating a new holistic role—DP+D, or sound director, producer and designer—a combination of three very different mindsets that could advocate for sound from start to finish on a project.
“Standing up for good sound at the start saves money downstream,” he said. “Solving problems early brings creative relief when most needed: at the finish line.”
That struggle is real, as confirmed during the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ panel on immersive audio workflows from concept to mix. Asked when she is typically brought onto a project, sound designer and supervising sound editor Paula Fairfield responded, “Not soon enough. We’re often brought on way late.”
Dolby Atmos is starting to become the de facto audio format in film and TV, even when the deliverables call for 7.1 or 5.1—which is the intention behind the manufacturer’s scalable object-based platform, of course. “I’ve started doing my 5.1 mixes in Atmos because the object-based panning is so much fun, and easier,” reported Cheryl Ottenritter of Ott House Audio. “It also sounds better, and when it goes down to 2.0, the texture is maintained so much better.” That also speeds things up when the director comes back for a full Dolby Atmos mix, she said.
But Caleb Hollenbeck of Formosa Group warned, “Day one, if you don’t know what you need to deliver, it can be a huge issue because of the way you have to configure the [Dolby Atmos] RMU [rendering and mastering unit].” Once set, you need to stick with the initial configuration, he said, “unless you want to make massive changes downstream. I’ve seen people eat handfuls of money because of that.”
Related: Mix Presents Sound for Film & TV 2018 Takes Center Stage, by Steve Harvey, Nov. 19, 2018
Hollenbeck noted that working in a smaller, 7.1.4 room rather than one set up for 9.1.6 can inhibit the creative process. “The difference between mixing in 7.1.4 and 9.1.6 is big, especially when you’re talking about object-based panning. The additional speakers of the larger configuration highlight the differences between object and 7.1 bed panning,” he said. It may not seem like a big deal now, but 95 percent of consumers, he predicted, will soon be able to experience Dolby Atmos content in a binaural fold-down, at which time those differences will become more apparent.
“I always listen to all the fold-downs—the re-renders—of what I’m mixing before I even get past the first five minutes, just like you do with 5.1,” said Ottenritter. “I do a lot of limiting and compressing of the objects, so I don’t have to worry about true peaks on the re-renders, because I don’t have time to do the other passes” on the limited-budget projects on which she typically works.
Producer and engineer George Massenburg, in an unscheduled appearance, played a song by Alicia Keys that he recently mixed in Dolby Atmos, reworking Manny Marroquin’s original mix using a 7.1 bed and about 20 objects. He, too, addressed the challenge of maintaining control of dynamics in an immersive format. “My approach is to use a more RMS-sensitive leveler, a dynamic range controller, on various instruments going into the mix, so we didn’t have as much pressure automatically leveling the mix,” Massenburg said.
Bus compression is a challenge in immersive formats with current technology. “I feel it’s almost impossible to do a bus compressor that will, in a generalized room, take into account all the objects and the different orientation,” Massenburg observed. “It’s hard to do in Pro Tools; you can’t have dynamic range control across different DSPs in the HDX array.”
Discussing audio-over-IP environments in general and the Dante protocol in particular, Mark Binder of audio post house IMN Creative said, “The biggest thing about this protocol is that it has made the improbable probable for someone like me with a budget. It allows us to compete. You no longer need to be a massive million-dollar corporation to own a studio.”
Related: IMN Creative Opens Doors with Atmos, by Steve Harvey, Jan. 10, 2017
During a discussion on designing and building networked and immersive audio rooms, Brian Armstrong of integration firm Streamline System Designs noted that there are considerations beyond the audio equipment. “You have to factor in what you have to do with the room to make it sound good. Because once you bring the SPL up in the room, when you’re listening at reference level, the room comes alive,” he said.
The admission cost into an interface is a lot cheaper with AoIP than traditional ways, said Dan Shimiaei of Formosa Group, which has standardized on Focusrite’s Dante-enabled RedNet gear. “You end up with a patchbay built into the environment. We use a BSS environment for our back end to do speaker management, and that’s a continuation of audio over IP.”
With millions of smartphones and tablets becoming Dolby Atmos-enabled, David Henszey of Henszey Sound predicted that “personal electronics are going to be the next big thing” for the format. When mixing immersive content, said Henszey, who also has BSS monitor management, “I can switch my cue system to binaural. I spend as much time in 2.0 and binaural as I do in Atmos or any of the other [configurations], because that’s how most people are going to hear it.”
Related: Henszey Sound Gets Immersed in Immersive, by Steve Harvey, Aug. 27. 2019
Mix Presents Sound for Film and TV is produced by Future, the media company that also publishes Pro Sound News.
Mix Presents Sound for Film & TV • www.mixsoundforfilm.com