Category: Interviews

Wow! Tons of stuff going on this week! Big news from Avid, great stuff from many microphone companies, Izotope, and tons more!

The AES trade show floor was considerably smaller than usual, but there was a lot of cool stuff there. If you spent some time digging and talking to reps, inventors, presidents, etc… there was a lot of cool info to be gathered. I did my best at grabbing pics and info about topics and products pertaining to audio post and field recording / production audio. I’ll cover a lot of it here, but if there’s something I don’t cover that you’re wondering about, feel free to ask me if I happened to come across what you’re curious about!

129th AES in SF

I’m going to categorize my posts by topic, so there will be quite a few between here and Sonic Terrain.

Stay tuned – many posts to come this week!

The new and improved, tanner, Ric Viers

The new an improved, tanner, Ric Viers

Ric Viers: he is a sound effects recordist extraordinaire, an author, a business owner, a husband, a father, a friend, and the owner of one sweet soul patch. Even better, he has kindly done an interview with me for the blog. Ric has a new book coming out next year that deals with production sound (which he can’t share details on yet), but I thought I’d get a head start and interview him about his production audio experience. There aren’t very many production audio resources out there, so his book will be filling a huge void.

Ric is the owner of Blastwave FX, a sound effects company, The Detroit Chop Shop, a post production house in Michigan, and author of The Sound Effects Bible, a great publication about recording, editing and mastering sound effects.

CH: You got your start in sound doing production audio for shorts and independent films, correct?

RV: Yeah, I got started doing location sound. I wanted to try to brush up my chops with mixing, recording, and using different mics, mic placement, and all that stuff in between gigs, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do it, because in order to do location sound you need talent, you need actors, you need a set, and dialogue, or something for them to say. So I got this idea that I could probably record sound effects, and then kind of just build up my own sound library, because I was needing sound and all for the films that I was producing myself, and so I though, “well, it’s a good opportunity to get used to the gear, get a little more familiar with mic techniques and all.” So I started recording sound effects as a side gig, well not so much as a gig as much as a hobby.

So I was just doing sound effects on the side and continued doing production sound. A couple years went by and I was starting to fill up my hard drive, and I realized how many sound effects I actually had, and I said, “Gee whiz, I’ve got over a thousand sound effects, I bet you I could sell this somewhere,” and I contacted a sound effects publisher and got a deal within a matter of a couple of weeks, I think it was. I just went down the road of sound effects – it’s a bit more challenging, and a lot more fun – certainly more creative than production sound, although I love being on set, and I love being a part of the filming process. It was kind of the best of both worlds.

CH: You just finished up a feature film that filmed in Central Florida, with you actually AD’d (Assistant Director), right?

RV: Correct. I was AD slash (which is an unofficial title, but…) pretty much the “Sound Supervisor” on set, because the sound mixer we had and the boom operator were very new. This was their first film, and I had 15 years under my belt, so I basically would run through the setup, mic placement, and all that kind of stuff – mic selection – to kind of give them a direction for each setup that we did. I was surprised at how fast they learned. After about a week or two, they were chiming in to the take, saying “Don’t forget room tone,” and they would question mic selection and say, “well what if we did this instead,” and came up with some pretty cool ideas. So, it was a lot of fun.

CH: Now you used almost exclusively RØDE microphones for that gig, right?

RV: Correct, actually all of the mics were RØDE mics except for the lavs. We used TRAMS for the lavs. I’m a huge fan of the TRAMS.

CH: I noticed in the the pictures you showed me from the shoot that you used a lot of plant mics on this shoot. Can you talk about your use of boom microphones as well?

RV: Actually we used NTG3 shotguns. I’d say 95 percent of everything we shot exterior was shotgun. I don’t think we used any shotguns indoors, although there may have been one or two times. For the most part, we used NT5s and NT6s indoors and the NTG3 outdoors.

CH: You didn’t use a mixer on the set of the film you just finished – you went straight into a recorder. What are your thoughts on providing post production a production mix, vs. giving them just iso tracks.

RV: You know, this was my first time doing true multi-tracking with no mixing at all. We did summing with Boom on one channel and lavs on another, just so whoever was doing the edit could sync up everything quicker, but this was the first time doing it without a mix, and let me tell you, I’m a huge fan of it. It makes so much more sense to me. I would guess that that’s going to be the way of the future – there’s going to be less mixing on set. It makes perfect sense, I mean why would you mix something on set, that can’t, arguably, be unmixed, when you could just Iso everything, and have complete control over everything about the mix in post.

CH: How do you see that working with tight turnaround – like episodic TV, etc…

RV: Well, every production has it’s own unique needs. In our case, like I said, we did a basic mix down with boom on one channel and lavs on the other, and so, in theory, for the most part, hopefully we’ll never use the lavs – the lavs are just there for backup. So hopefully, we’ll always be able to use the boom, or the plant mics. But, that said, you could grab your one track (the boom track) as your main track, and if you need to go to a lav, you can run and grab that in the multi-track. I think that’s going to be the way of the future – the new technique used on set.

CH: Now this was a smaller production. How many mics did you have up and running at any given point? Did you ever find yourself running out of inputs?

RV: The only time we ran into a track count problem was when we had 8 microphone. We had an 8 track recorder, but the catch was – and I don’t know if this was due to the Florida humidity or what – but one of the tracks (we were using the Sound Devices 788T) went out. I don’t know if the phantom power on it blew or something. So we had to work around that problem, but ultimately, I think the most we ever had going at once was 8 mics. We had 4 wireless that we were using, and then we had plant mics, plus our primary boom mic.

CH: Are you a fan of the Sound Devices product lines?

RV: You know, yes and no. I really like their preamps. For any mixer or recorder, the first thing I think about – I don’t care about the functions, widgets, gadgets, or whatever – I want to know how good the preamps are. If the preamps are solid, then I’ll look at the rest of the specs. But there’s a lot of gear out there that have every possible function out there, but the preamps suck. So, for me, I love the preamps on all of the Sound Devices equipment. The only catch is that I’m not a huge fan of some of their engineering techniques. I’m a huge fan of real world, physical switches. If I need to turn the phantom power on, I don’t have to remember a couple of shortcut keys, or have to navigate the menu. I like to be able to say, “there’s the phantom power,” click, boom, done. I’m also very thorough when I work, so I like to look at a panel, and at a single glance, know where all the switches, all the knobs, dials, settings are – everything at a single glance, rather than having to deal with sub-menus and all. So that’s, for me, the plus and minus – the pros and cons – of the Sound Devices. Not a huge fan of the shortcut menus and all that kind of stuff, but at the same time, you have to give it up for them – the thing’s built like a tank, and it just sounds absolutely transparent.

CH: With laptops getting more powerful and stable, do you see production audio going to laptops any time soon? There’s a few people out there that use them as backup now. There are programs out there such as boom recorder and metacorder that function just as a field recorder (take-based recording), but with larger track counts, routing options, etc… You also have your DC powered interfaces, like the Motu Traveller, Metric Halo ULN-8, and all of the bus powered ones. Do you see a future in that at all?

RV: I think that laptops have the ability to be the primary recorders on set, but there are two main drawbacks. The first, and most important, is the fan noise. If you could get an absolute silent laptop, then yes, I think it would absolutely be my choice. Well, I don’t know if I would say absolutely, but I would certainly seriously consider it. The problem is, that when you’re in tight quarters, your laptop is going to be making noise, and one of the main tasks that you’re faced with as a production sound mixer is that you’ve got to eliminate as much superfluous noise as possible, and so you don’t want to be the cause of that noise. The second thing is obviously the instability – the laptop crashing for whatever reason. Whereas with your field recorders, that’s less likely to happen. When hard disk recorders first came out, I was a little hesitant about it crashing, but I’m a huge fostex fan – and I’ve never had a crash or any type of issue or problem. The recorders that are out now are all rock solid. However, with a laptop, it’s not rock solid. there are so many other processes that are happening in the background outside of the recording program that could cause the system to crash. Once it crashes, you could A, lose files and takes that you’ve been working on, and B, you have to reset, boot back up and all that stuff. If you’re doing an interview, for example, with Al Gore, and you have a limited amount of time, and you’re doing it for a major network, and you’ve got to get it right the first time, and all of a sudden your laptop crashes – that’s going to be an issue. So I guess my argument would be that I don’t think laptops, as they are now, are going to be in the field as a primary recording device any time soon. For that to happen, the first thing would have to be the fan, then the stability and the operating system.

CH: Speaking of fan noise, tell me your thoughts on…

RV: Ah, you’re going to ask me about the RED, aren’t you!? (Laughing)

CH: Yes, yes, tell me a little about the RED and your feelings towards it, both in the image quality and as a sound person.

RV: The image of it is phenomenal. I’m very happy with the images that we gathered. However, what we found, very similar to the laptop issues, is that we had them crash on us a number of times, which wasn’t very good. And then, of course, the fan noise, which was absolutely hideous. If you’re doing any kind of film work and don’t have the fan turned off, even when it’s on it’s slowest setting we could hear it. There is a menu where you can actually go in and shut off the fan, but it’s like – if you don’t do that, you might as well record a blow dryer in the room and use that as room tone – it was just absolutely garbage. We actually got a couple of weeks into the shoot, and finally I was just fed up with it, and I said, “look man, you’re going to have to move the camera or something, or we’re going to have to ADR this entire film. We were in close quarters, and at that point, the DP said “Oh, there’s an off switch I can turn off”. I said, “You know, we just shot 2 weeks of stuff with a blow dryer in the background, and I could’ve isolated that problem by turning off the fan?” Basically, it’s a huge brick with a fan.

CH: What would you suggest to someone that wants to get into either sound effects recording or location sound mixing. How do you get started, what are your thoughts on working for free, etc…

RV: Well, you know, you certainly can’t get a real world start without working for free. It’s just not going to happen. I wish it weren’t true, but you gotta believe, you’ve gotta intern somewhere, you’ve gotta shadow somebody. You know, there are creative ways around it. I think you could probably get in at a lower rate and help out as a utility or something until you get your feet wet. When you’re production sound mixer, you’re basically taking a studio into the field. You’ve got mixers, mics, recorders – basically what you’d have inside of a studio, but you put it all on a cart, and you go around the world. So, you’ve got to be able to understand not only the film making process, which in and of it self takes time – you have to have experience – you can’t just read a book and then hop on a set. Then you’ve got the recording process – which again, you can’t just read books, you’ve got to get your hands on gear, learn mic placement and everything. The other thing is confronting all of the unique challenges that you encounter in the field. I’ve been doing this for well over 15 years now, and I still run across unique situations where I have a problem and say, “Gee, how are we gonna mic this situation.” And of course, I draw back on my experience of things that I’ve seen people do or things that I’ve done in the past, and then try to take the best of those ideas and try to apply it to whatever situation I’m in. So, you just have to get experience. There’s a lot of independent films out there that don’t have any money, so they’re looking for guys to help, which is a great advantage for the guys that are trying to get into the field. The only problem with that is that the independent film itself is going to lack the quality of sound, and as you know, sound is 50% of the experience. So, you’re going into the independent film – you’ve got free labor, but you’re not going to get great sound. Eventually that sound mixer will get experience – he’ll work his craft and get better at it, but in the meantime, the film isn’t going to have the quality of sound that it’s supposed to have. So, it’s a catch 22.

CH: What’s your best advice for somebody that is going to do sound, but has no experience. What would you tell them is the most important thing to capturing great sound.

RV: I would tell them that they need to record at the loudest levels possible (without getting system noise), and get the microphone as close to the talent as physically possible. I mean, that’s the very barbaric, nuts and bolts of location sound. Ultimately, you want to record a nice clean signal with good level, and get the mic as close as possible to the talent. Some of these mixers that are out now, I just got the Fostex FM4 – and I just love the sound of the preamps. A big thing I noticed about the Sound Devices stuff is that, man, you’ve got to really crank the preamps up to hear anything, whereas back when I got started, the Shure FP33 was the goldenboy of field mixing, and no matter what company I worked with, everybody had the Shure FP33, and if you listen to it now – oh my gosh! It’s just noisy as all get out. You can’t open up any mic without having some kind of mixer noise. Whereas the stuff that’s out nowadays, the preamps are getting so good, that you can really crank up the mic without hearing any noise from the pre.

CH: Speaking of gear, if someone was trying to put together a budget kit, obviously you’d go for the RØDE mics, but what kind of package would you recommend?

RV: I mean, everybody’s got their favorites. I bet if you took 100 seasoned professionals, guys that have been mixing for 40, 50 years, sat them all in a room, and told them to each build their dream package, I bet you’d have 100 completely different answers. Everybody’s got their favorite mixers, everybody’s got their favorite mics, everybody’s got their own headphones – not everybody is using the same headphones in the field. So there’s a lot of choices. I tend to go with a balance between quality and economy. Price vs. Value, which is why I tend to like the RØDE mics, because there’s an insanely great sound that they have, and the price is probably half of what it should be. For me, that’s a good bargain. At the end of the day, it’s a craft – it’s an artform, but it’s also a business. I’ve got to put my kids though college. I have to take my family on vacation, and if I’m going out an buying $3000 mics left and right, there’s less money for me to be able to spend on my family. So, I’ve got to make wise choices. That said, I’m a huge fan of the Fostex products. I think that the FR2s are great. I’m not crazy about the plastic design, but if you’re tender with your gear – we know people who take those FR2s all over the place and they still work great. So, I like the Fostex stuff a lot. I think the Sound Devices stuff is great. Built like a tank, the preamps a great. They tend to be a little more pricey though.

For mics, obviously I’m a huge RØDE fan, and I love TRAMs for lavs. I’m a big fan of the [Sennheiser MKH]416 shotgun for sure, but once I got the [RØDE] NTG3, at [much less than] the 416, I said,”Forget about it, I’d rather have 2 NTG3s than one 416.” You can double boom a scene and get better audio by booming from 2 positions, versus having one 416 that costs a lot more.

Headphones – [Sony] MDR7506s man. The Sony MDR7506s are the way for me. I’ve probably got about 12 pairs of those for the different packages that we have.

Recorders, and mixers, like I said the Fostex stuff is good stuff.

CH: A little off topic here, speaking of microphones, what’s your go-to microphone for high-spl recording?

RV: Well, it depends, if I’m doing, you know, gun shots and stuff, typically I place mics all over the place. I like the [RØDE] K2s (which aren’t really good for the field, because they need a tube power supply). Those mics can handle an insane amount of SPL, and they just sound just so fat because of the tubes. Typically when we go into the field, we bring NTG3s and stuff. Those things can handle about up to 130db. I think the condenser mics these days can handle way more SPL than they used to be able to.

CH: Have you ever used a tube mic in the field?

RV: Not ever in the field, especially because of the price – I’d be a little nervous taking one in the field. You know, I got the K2s and the NTKs about a year ago, and the K2 – it’s kind of like guitars. You buy a new guitar and its your favorite until you buy the next guitar, which is your favorite until you buy the next one, so on and so forth. You know, I was loving life with the NTG3s, then I got the K2, and it’s a completely different design, obviously, and a completely different application, but I just love the sound that I get out of the K2. So that’s my favorite until the mic comes along.

CH: That’s all from me. Is there anything that you’d like to add?

RV: I think what’s important for guys that are working production sound is that you have to be alert and you have to anticipate problems. In the film making process, crap hits the fan on an hourly basis – not even a daily basis. It happens all the time – every scene, every setup, there’s always an issue. If you’re going to be successful and have a long career with it, you need to really anticipate worst case scenarios, and be standing by for the worst case scenario to happen with whatever problem solver you can come up with, be it more cables, a different microphone, another transmitter – any kind of problem that you can anticipate happening – you have to be ready for it. And, you know what, the film makers will know that, because every department has their moment where they’re working on set and then something goes wrong, and they have to scramble to fix it, and you’ve got like 10 departments working at the same time, and each one of them has a problem that has a few minutes to solve – that’s a half our of production time that you have to stand around waiting. So I think directors and producers appreciate when departments anticipate problems and already have a solution in their hand before the problem even happens, so that they can correct the problem and keep the production moving.

And of course, my golden rule for production sound is “Bring two of everything”.

Thanks so much Ric for your time!

I’ll be posting more information about Ric’s upcoming book as soon as the information is released. Stay tuned!

[Disclaimer: This was a phone interview that I have done my best to transcribe accurately. I have made minor edits to eliminate pauses, backtracking, and to make this piece work for a blog format, as well as to clear up my questions. I have not changed Ric's sentence structure or grammar, so that you're hearing him, not me. Ric has approved all edits.]

So, as many of you know, one of my favorite shows on Television is “Fringe” on Fox. It is an absolutely terrific show.

As you probably know, the Emmy nominations came out a few weeks ago, and I was thrilled to hear that Bruce Tanis was nominated in the area of Sound Design on “Fringe”, as well as for an HBO film he worked on. I’ve been getting to know Bruce over the past few months (amazingly nice guy). You can read an interview I did with him a while back on the sound design of “Fringe” here. Anyways, Bruce just finished up writing for Miguel for a month over at Designing Sound, so I figured while his fingers were still warm I would ask him to write up a blog about what his nominations meant to him and to write a bit about each of the pieces that were nominated.

So here’s what he had to say:

Hi Colin. As you know, I was lucky enough to be nominated recently for a Sound Editing Emmy Award for this past television season. Actually, I was even luckier and received TWO nominations! One was for sound effects editing on “Fringe” and the other was for the HBO movie, “Temple Grandin”. That was a terrific project and I was really happy to be a part of it although it couldn’t have been much more different in terms of material than “Fringe”. “Temple Grandin” is a biographical film about a real person named Temple Grandin and who has autism but still managed to go through her professional life becoming a highly respected professor and researcher in animal husbandry. The film is very straight forward and takes place mostly in the sixties and seventies with a few whimsical montages that illustrate how her mind sees things that the rest of us take for granted. It’s a terrific story about a very inspirational person.

“Fringe”, on the other hand, is all about alternate Universes, monsters, and things that go bump under your bed. Things like two foot long hookworms and horribly destructive viruses and mind control. I think the part that interests me about these two shows, taken together, is that they represent two very different points along the sound spectrum. One is a very literal film where sound helps tell the story of what actually took place in a particular location and time and the other uses sound to create things that don’t exist anywhere. Both projects use sound effects to tell their story but in completely different ways. I have to admit, I was surprised to be nominated for “Fringe” since there are so many other worthy shows out there but I’m really glad and excited that we made the list!

The episode that got nominated is called “White Tulip” and it features Peter Weller (“Robocop” and “Buckaroo Banzai”), as a time traveling scientist named Alistair Peck. He’s come up with a type of Faraday Cage wiring system that has grown into his body and arms and he uses this mechanism to propel himself through time in an attempt to go back and save his wife from a fatal car crash. He earns Walter’s respect because his design, as disgusting as it is visually, is actually a success. The picture editor wanted some sounds to cut in for the time travel sequences as they developed the episode and their temp opticals were fast-cut fluttery images of Peck as he built up in intensity to the moment of making the “jump” and then winding down on the b-side. I knew his device was electrically based so I came up with some sparking and zapping sounds that I pitch bent up to the moment of jumping and then brought them back down as he arrived at his destination time. These sort of made a wave that crested as he disappeared from out time and washed away as he re-appeared as he re-entered the time stream somewhere else. Since the nature of time jumping is that the jumper moves along the timeline but doesn’t usually move anywhere else geographically, I wanted to try and sell the effect by using vocals that made it seem like he was jumping over other people who occupied the same physical space as him but simply at a different time. I took some pieces of the production dialog and, again, pitch bent them to wind up and down and also treated them to have a delayed chorusing so that they vibrated a bit in the same was as the picture. There were also the regular whooshes and echoes to heighten the moment of transference even further. At various points during the episode, Peck “jumps” to a time moment that we’ve already seen but each time it’s just a little bit different because Walter has begun to piece together what Peck must be doing and, as he understands more and more, he begins to affect the time jumps as he gets closer and closer to catching Peck in the act. This was handled by using the exact same elements each time but adding something slightly different so that we know that, very subtly, even though we’ve seen this exact set of events before, this time the sequence is unfolding just a little bit differently . . . .

This was a really fun episode to be nominated for because time travel is such a staple of science fiction programs. Certainly, each “Fringe” episode had something interesting in it but I like this one because it goes so far back through a lot of terrific films and TV programs as one of the Grandfather story devices. I love the irony that this show got nominated for a time travel machine that was first used so long ago and has now looped back on itself!

Thanks so much Bruce for sharing!

You can download this episode of “Fringe” here. (iTunes link)

NOTE: I do not get any procedes for click-thru’s or purchases. I support “Fringe” because I’m a loving fan!)

P.S. I have not forgotten about my boom operation post! It is almost finished and is coming soon!!!

Just met up with Gary Rizzo and had lunch with him and a few friends. Lots of cool stuff to talk about in a future post, but I had a chance to ask him today what his favorite moments were in Inception.

I’m going to watch it tonight, and wanted to know what to listen for. I didn’t record the questions, nor did I have anything to write his answers down with, so I’m just going to paraphrase:

I asked him; “What are your favorite sound moments in Inception?”

He replied (in my words…). There are a couple of great moments in the movie. The first one is this sequence that happens in Paris. You are down on the street in Paris, and all of a sudden things start exploding around you. But not a fiery explosion. It’s just all air, as if there was some kind of pressure making everything explode. It starts small and then everything around you is exploding, but there is never any fire. Some of the shots start for half a second in real time, then switch to slow motion. There was this news stand that starts to explode. I had a lot of low rumbling, and some air pressure sounds, and then some paper sounds and everything. There are also some cool animal sounds mixed in there. There are no incendiary or concussion explosions in there at all. It’s really cool.

Another one is where this van throws into reverse right before it crashes over a bridge. As is goes over, it switches to super slow motion. There’s this synthy really low rumble sound that sounds really cool. It’s pretty much silent except for that sound. Really cool.

Gary’s final words though about watching the movie was not to listen to the sounds. Not to watch the effects. Just watch the movie. He mentioned that you will be completely and utterly confused for the first reel or two, then by three, you’ll kind of get it, and by 4 you’ll be moving right along for the story. Every moment counts in this one. Don’t leave to go to the bathroom or popcorn. Don’t bring someone with you that will ask you questions every two seconds. Pay attention to every moment or you’ll be lost.

Good stuff!

I’ll follow up after I see the movie, and I have some more from Gary. My computer is going to die in 4 minutes, so I better post this quick.

Let me know what you think, and enjoy!!

Also, go check out this promo for SoundworksCollection’s Inception profile:

I’m a big fan of Sci Fi stuff. “Fringe”, on Fox, has quickly become one of my favorite Sci Fi / Drama shows. It deals with fringe science; things like time traveling, alternate universes, crazy strange biological things, shape shifters, etc… One thing I love about the show though is that it’s done in a very realistic way. It’s not cheesy. It’s very organic.


Anyways, I just had the amazing opportunity to interview the incredibly friendly Bruce Tanis, who is the sound designer on “Fringe”!

CH: How old were you when you discovered your passion for sound?

BT: I came to sound editing a bit later than most people I guess. I finished my degree in Forestry from the University of Nevada in Reno but this was in the early eighties when everyone through the seventies had wanted an “outdoor” job so the market was flooded. One of my professors at UNR was the film critic for our local CBS affiliate station and he taught a few film study classes which I took. He was kind enough to help me get an entry level production job at the station and I spent a few years there doing broadcast audio for both studio and live broadcasts. At some point I decided to go back to school because film and television were much more interesting and promising than my potential forestry career. I applied to all the standard film schools in the L.A. area and the only one who accepted me was the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. While there, I got sidetracked into doing more camera work than sound but only for a year until I got a job at Cannon Films in the tv & promo dept.

Most of the work there was in pulling sound effects for the picture editors, going to online sessions and dubs and otherwise working in the sound world again. So I guess the simple answer to your question is somewhere in my early twenties with a couple of detours shortly after and then settling for good around age thirty!

CH: When you were first starting out, what was your process of getting involved in a project?

BT: The process really hasn’t changed significantly for me since I started cutting back in 1992. I typically get hired on a project as part of the sound crew as opposed to hiring a big-name person as a sound designer who comes on early and builds sequences of the film as the picture gets edited. Most of the time, in starting a film project, I typically watch the film my first day on the show and get together with the sound supervisor to find out what my role on the project will be in detail. Obviously, we will have spoken previously regarding general information but it’s good to discuss what the pre-existing discussions with clients have dealt with and what ideas the supervisor has as well. We may also have a crew meeting to lay out what each of our specific areas will encompass such as vehicles, weapons, etc. Most supervisors like to divide the work up by category as opposed to reels or acts which allows for better continuity of cutting and, hopefully, a better command of the material on my part.

“Fringe”, as a television show with a limited schedule, pretty much just started with a turnover of the first episode! I’ll go through and create marks in my protools session indicating scene changes for background cutting and specific points at which effects occur and this process gives me a good overview of what happens in that episode effects-wise.

CH: Tell me about your transition from doing “freebies” to getting paid for gigs.

BT: I was very lucky! I didn’t really get caught in the whole “freebie” pathway. I really went from film school to ( rather minimally ) paid work at Cannon Films. Certainly, I have put in my own time on projects just to learn techniques and equipment or gain a familiarity with an effects library, so that I would be prepared when an assignment required something in particular but I never did a serious amount of work as an intern or anything like that. Although I’m glad I didn’t go through that process and I believe all of us should be paid for our work by all means, it did serve as an entry point into the business that allowed a lot of good people to get in the door and now it seems to have pretty much gone away. At least here in Los Angeles. There were both good and bad aspects to starting out doing freebie projects but at least it was one open door.

CH: “Fringe” has a unique library of effects, often dealing with subjects that we would have no knowledge of how they sound, yet the show remains very organic sounding. What is your approach to designing sound for these things?

BT: I usually try to use ordinary sounds and work on them through plugins and other devices to make them sound interesting. I use a lot of animals and natural events like wind and water to build different effects. Dry ice is my friend! At least as a starting point anyway but they don’t stay there long! Some of the effects, like the weapons or devices usually start from various machines but however big or small they start out, I try to keep their final scale appropriate to what we see on the screen so hopefully that makes them sound a bit more organic as well.

CH: According to the interview you did with Mix Magazine, the sound team from the first season didn’t leave you much of a library to work with. What did you do to ensure that you kept the same feeling to the show, while still allowing yourself creative room?

BT: Thankfully, there were a lot of independent, monster-of-the-week episodes that I was able to create new effects for based on what was happening in that episode alone. The joy of that is that there isn’t really a season-long recurring soundscape to worry about. Certainly, some locations such as the Walter’s Lab at Harvard and Nina’s office at Massive Dynamics would sound the same each time they occurred thereby allowing for some continuity, but a large portion of each episode was something new that we hadn’t seen before. Also, the picture editor and the producers would suggest what they wanted to focus on for that episode and I tried to stay pretty close to that and a certain amount of continuity came from that as well.

CH: What is your DAW of choice?

BT: Any more, I cut exclusively on a Protools system. I’ve used a Fairlight extensively in the past but they aren’t used in film or tv post-production much these days. In moving between different facilities and working for different supervisors, Protools is pretty much a common environment in Los Angeles.

CH: What are some of your favorite plugins for molding your sounds?

BT: I pretty much just use the basic ones. Serato Pitch ‘n Time, various Waves plugins like Renaissance Reverb, Metaflanger, & Mondomod, even some basic audio suite things like good old Delay! Of course, there’s always Altiverb. I use that a lot. And MaxxBass. Can’t forget that one! I try to make somewhat limited use of them so the sounds do stay a bit more organic feeling but still move a little farther down the spectrum toward being “Fringe-y”.

CH: How much do you pull from commercial libraries versus pulling from your proprietary library?

BT: The Warner Brothers library is quite extensive so I usually don’t have to go much beyond that. There are quite a few commercially released libraries within that, though, in addition to loads of material recorded for other projects, so there’s a certain amount of material in the show that came from one of them. As each episode is largely a stand alone event, there isn’t really a proprietary library beyond things like recurring vehicles or weapons so most things get baked fresh each week!

CH: How big is the team that you work with before the mix gets to the stage?

BT: I think “Fringe” must be one of the smaller crews out there! Other than myself, there’s one editor who cues and cuts foley, one editor for dialog, Paul Curtis, our Supervising Sound Editor, and the two dubbing mixers! We do have an assistant for turnovers and loading dialog and so on but we we share him with a couple of other shows.

CH: How much creative freedom does Paul Curtis, the Supervising Sound Editor, give you? What your relationship with him like?

BT: Paul gives me his spotting notes that he takes in a playback meeting with the clients and which usually specify particular things the clients are looking for in a scene that may not be quite obvious like: this room is supposed to be cryonically frozen so it needs to sound super chilled or this creature is breathing through liquid so it needs to sound gurgly. Things that don’t always show up just in the footage as shot. Also, a lot of our visual effects are an ongoing process and don’t get cut in until right before the dub so at the point I have to start cutting, major pieces of information aren’t visually there yet. Beyond those specifics, or in some cases that Paul knows he wants to use a particular effect for, he pretty much lets me run absolutely free with the effects and design elements of the show. He’s really open to seeing what I can come up with and that helps quite a lot. He’s edited sound effects on lots of projects before this so we can do things in a bit of shorthand language because he knows how to translate the client’s requests into what I need to do regarding some of the more exotic sounds that are required. And he’s a cool guy!

CH: You work on an incredibly tight schedule. How much time are you able to put into designing sounds before you have to settle and send them off to the stage?

BT: Part of the directive on “Fringe” is that the picture department is able to turn over sequences from upcoming episodes as they build them for me to create material for. I usually get anywhere from a few hours to a day to cut these sequences depending on how involved they are and how much detail they need. These are usually to be shown to the director or to the network for approval so they really need to be pretty completely done. Beyond that, each episode is scheduled for eight days of effects editorial and that typically breaks out as two days for cutting backgrounds, three or four days for general effects and two or three days for the design effects. Then the session goes off to the dub stage for a three day dub and I’ll usually get a few requests for ads or updates during the second and third days of the dub as more visual effects come in and as the clients hear the material and hone in on what they want the episode to end up sounding like.

CH: How often do you get the luxury of getting a few episodes ahead, allowing you to spend a little more time on a specific episode or specific sound?

BT: Umm. Never. The episodes typically turn over at such a time that I can only work on that week’s show either until it dubs or I finish my eight days of allowed time and then it’s on to the next episode. In fact, It usually works the other way around actually! Episodes turn over very close to their dub dates so not only can I not get ahead on anything, I usually end up needing help from another editor just to get that episode done on time! Some design elements take more time than others certainly, but they still all have to be done within the eight day framework which includes the advance sequence work I mentioned a moment ago.

CH: What has been your biggest “aha!” moment, your greatest victory over a pesky sound during your work on “Fringe”?

BT: That’s a good question and it has about a hundred answers! Each time I get something working ok for a monster or a device I feel like I’ve won a small victory! I think the biggest challenge from a pesky sound effect would have to be Walter’s bone saw! It’s a small effect and not really all that dramatic in and of itself, but it came up in several episodes because Walter likes to autopsy everything the Fringe team comes across! The difficulty was that the clients had very specific ideas about what the saw motor should sound like and also what the bone, flesh, whatever, that the saw was cutting through should sound like. Pesky is a good word for that one. There’s one other effect that took a little bit to work out as well. In one episode, the villain uses a particular frequency to transmit a signal to his victims which activates them to go to train stations and subsequently crystallize and explode! At one point, Walter and Astrid are in the lab and they calculate, by means of an exploding watermelon, the particular frequency that was used. So I created a tone wave based on whatever the frequency was that Walter came up with, I think it was 68.7 megacycles. Total sound guy geeky stuff but still kind of fun.

CH: Do you watch “Fringe”? If so, are you able to enjoy it? Do you ever have a “did I make that sound?” moment?

BT: Like most of the show’s viewership, I have it set to record on my DVR. I do actually watch them to hear how my material ended up getting used in the dub. That, and, while I’m cutting them, I don’t have time to just sit and watch the episode, so sitting at home is the first time I hear large portions of the dialog as well! Usually, I remember the sound of most things in the show from the trauma of having cut them but recently one episode aired in which the team intercepts a transmission signal from the alternate Universe that they analyze in the Massive Dynamics Computer Lab and when that scene came up I thought, ok, that sounds pretty good. Oh, wait, I cut that three weeks ago!

Thanks so much to Bruce for such an awesome and informative interview! “Fringe” airs on Fox on Thursday nights at 9pm EST. There’s a new one on tonight! Go watch it!!!! NOW!