With the versatility of sound tools available to them today, feature film sound designers have many options open to them regarding where they work. Perhaps none exemplifies this than sound designer Wade Wilson, who works in a small space at home as well as in large soundstage before the product hits the masses. How does he keep his mix consistent from room to room?
Working both from his home studio setup and edit suite at the Weddington Street feature film division of Technicolor Creative Services in North Hollywood, CA, Wilson has come to rely on JBL reference monitors for their ability to translate his mixes in any environment.
Wilson, who was lead sound designer for features such as Elf, Mystic River, and The Girl Next Door, co-supervised Shrek, and took a major role in A Perfect Storm, has been using JBL monitors for most of his professional life. Before moving over to Technicolor for his most recent project, where he was supervising sound designer on DreamWorks’ blockbuster animated feature, Shark Tale, he was at Soundelux in Hollywood for four years. “Over at Soundelux, a large percentage of the rooms have the LSR’s, so a lot of us have used those for many, many years,” he reports.
As Wilson relates, he has identical 5.1 surround setups of JBL LSR6328P monitors both at home and at work. “Having that uniformity, particularly going back and forth between my studio and the other studio, means that they translate perfectly.” Key to the smooth translation from home studio to edit suite to mix stage is the LSR6300 Series’ RMC Room Mode Correction facility.
Unlike the carefully controlled acoustics of a top-notch dub stage such as those found at 20th Century Fox Studios, where Wilson has worked on his last few films, home studios and sound designer suites may offer some challenges. “Our design suites and edit rooms are not necessarily the shape of the theater. Oftentimes, they’re shaped like a train car or something,” he observes.
Although acoustic treatment may be added, many such edit suites may be converted from office spaces, for example, and are far from ideal in terms of an accurate response. That’s where JBL’s Room Mode Correction technology has proved so very useful, he says.
The layout of a room and its boundary surfaces can have a very profound effect on low-frequency reproduction. Parallel opposing walls generate standing waves, room modes that result in response peaks that can cause anyone working in the room to overcompensate for the perceived low frequencies in the room, as a result producing mixes that will be light on bass.
JBL has developed technology that, used in conjunction with a user-friendly calibration kit, allows the engineer to analyze room performance and adjust the monitor system accordingly. Even LSR6332 and LSR25P models will benefit from the technology when integrated with the LSR6312SP subwoofer, as will other speakers.
“The room mode control has been a brilliant technology,” acknowledges Wilson. “Because of the room mode control I don’t have so much problem with standing waves, which create false bass.”
“Soundelux has been a big part of my history, and I had very good experiences there,” comments Wilson, who worked closely with the company’s co-founder, Wylie Stateman. “Wylie took me under his wing about a year before the Ascent Media merger was to take place.”
Liberty Livewire, a division of Ascent Media, acquired Soundelux in 2000, and Stateman was appointed as executive vice president. “He really trained me to be his A-list supervising sound editor to handle the shows while he was handling the business, which is why I was responsible for shows like A Perfect Storm and Shrek.
Wilson was the lead sound designer and responsible for all the weather elements for A Perfect Storm. “I cut on the first LSR’s that JBL sent me,” he recalls, “and the film got nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound that year. I cut Shrek on the same speakers, which were an earlier version of the LSR’s.”
Fast-forward a few years and Wilson found himself working on another major animated film, this time using newer LSR’s with RMC technology. “On Shark Tale I cut everything on my 6300 Series speakers, at home — I have a Digidesign Pro Tools setup at the house — and at Technicolor. I find that, as in many crafts or businesses, you get an idea in the middle of the night or late in the day and you have to try to jot it down or try to organize your thoughts. So I have a machine at home as well. I just bring removable or Firewire drives back and forth between home and work, so that I can add to the flavor of the sound palette.”
He continues, “I find that, with the Room Mode Correction speakers, it seems that my mix at home is a bit truer to what I’m hearing on the big dub stage at Fox. Because of the room mode control, I don’t have the problem of standing waves.”
Shark Tale, like Shrek, was dubbed in West L.A. at the Fox lot on the Howard Hawkes stage by resident re-recording mixer Anna Behlmer and her regular mix partner, Andy Nelson. Behlmer typically introduces the Lexicon 960L multichannel reverb into the mix. “We’ll treat everything with that for effects and room and tone, and dialog, of course.”
Taking in $47.6 million on its opening weekend, Shark Tale went on to take the all-time record for box office receipts for the month of October, and will likely finish in the top 10 for 2004 with a domestic take of nearly $160 million and a worldwide gross of $308 million. The film features an all-star cast lending their voices to the film, including Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert DeNiro, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, and Rene Zellweger.
Next up for Wilson is Madagascar, on which he will again be working with the legendary Richard Anderson, Weddington’s main supervising sound editor, with whom he worked on Shark Tale. “It’s the next big DreamWorks animated film. It will be releasing in summer 2005, starring Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer.”