By Bruce Shutan
The age of dinosaurs never sounded so good, while the sci-fi and fantasy genres have never looked better. That’s the consensus emerging among a handful of soundmen and VFX supervisors who’ve evaluated the nominees in their respective fields of expertise. Standouts among Emmy contenders in these categories include Dinosaur Planet, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG-1 and Angels in America.
There’s a tendency to forget that music and dialogue editing are part of the judging, which is why David J. Bondelevitch believes awards usually go to shows with the most obvious sound effects. Bondelevitch, president of the Motion Picture Sound Editors, is primarily a music editor but also works as a dialogue editor and re-recording mixer.
“I think the biggest factor in sound editing is that the show has the opportunity to show off its sound effects,” he says. With this in mind, he can’t help but predict the all-animated Dinosaur Planet will win in the sound editing for nonfiction programming category for pushing the proverbial envelope with creative effects.
He describes the work on Jockey as more subtle and so well executed that it passes for production sound. “That makes it a lot harder to judge, since they want us to believe the ‘reality’ of the documentary,” he adds.
But it may be a cakewalk compared with picking winners in sound editing for a series as well as miniseries, movie or special, both of which Bondelevitch calls competitive and chock full of worthy nominees.
Still, he singles out Alias and Deadwood in the former category for “always sounding great,” plus And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself in the latter for being “one of the best sounding shows I’ve heard on TV.” In sound mixing for a series, his guess is that Alias, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or The Sopranos will prevail.
Bondelevitch, who won an Emmy in 2001 for The Hunley, a TNT movie of the week, currently teaches at USC. His most recent credits include the A Separate Peace for Showtime, which hasn’t yet aired, the NBC Universal movie Secret Santa and Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off for The Disney Channel.
Michael G. Olman, an Emmy Award winning sound mixer and Cinema Audio Society (CAS) board member whose recent credits include 24 and the pilot for Desperate Housewives, lauds the producers of 24 and Dinosaur Planet for understanding that sound is both collaborative and subjective.
It’s a winning formula that has resulted in numerous noms for 24, and he’s heartened to learn that some fans of the show watch to hear what sounds have been used and determine whether viewers are intentionally being led down the wrong path as a result of this creative approach.
With regard to Dinosaur Planet, Olman observes that producers Pierre DeLespinois and John Copeland enjoy playing with sound as if it were a giant electronic sandbox. “They encourage us to try new ways of telling the story through sound and are always willing to listen to a different point of view,” he explains.
Olman and his partner, Kenneth Kobett, CAS, are gearing up for the new fall season of 24 for Fox, Hawaii for NBC Universal and Desperate Housewives for ABC.
Competing Against Himself
One lucky member of the crew community is James Tichenor, a visual effects supervisor who received two nominations in the television series category for his work on Stargate SG-1 and the pilot for Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital.
Although he hasn’t had a chance to see the two Star Trek: Enterprise episodes nominated in his category, Tichenor says the show is consistently outstanding and he’s honored to be included on the same ballot as Enterprise. “We all grew up watching the old Star Treks and then learned a hell of a lot from each new ST series,” he says.
Tichenor, who recently moved to London to focus on personal projects that include a VFX tracking application for production management, describes Kingdom Hospital’s completely furred virtual creature, Antubis, as the show’s effects anchor. He credits Image Engine Design with “pulling off the impossible,” mentioning an Embassy VFX-built virtual elevator set as another standout.
For Stargate SG-1, he says one highlight was the final battle sequence featuring more than 50 full CG shots of a spaceship battle over a virtual Antarctic landscape—again powered by Image Engine.
Ironically, visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund, ASC, has been nominated for his work on Angels in America in the miniseries, movie or special category alongside Battlestar Galactica, the remake of a classic for which he won an Emmy 25 years ago.
Edlund, who’s also chairman of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ visual effects branch and Sci-Tech Awards, was particularly impressed with the hardware-type spaceship effects in Battlestar Galactica, miniature work in 10.5 and psychedelic sensibility of Dreamkeeper.
Angels in America, which led all nominations with 21 mentions, turned into an unforgettable opportunity for Edlund and gave Mike Nichols what he believes was his first “positive effects experience.” Working in the digital realm gave Edlund and his team more creative and technical freedom to fulfill the director’s vision than would have been possible in the photochemical days.
He considers the Plasma Orgasmata sequence climactic, quipping how no pun was intended. The aim was to have Emma Thompson’s winged angel character levitate over Justin Kirk’s Prior Walter character before copulation.
“We shot them at 90 degrees with the camera looking down on them so that they could then face one another,” he recalls. Complicating the maneuver was the use of a nude body double for Thompson—a ballet dancer whose freckles were masked by body makeup. Thompson, meanwhile, spoke dialogue off camera while the body double and Kirk were on body pans that adjusted their height. Numerous compositing tricks were employed so that the characters could arch and thrust their way through the scene.
Winners of the 2nd Annual Visual Effects Society Awards, which may serve as an Emmy barometer include:
Battlestar Galactica, Outstanding Visual Effects in a Television Miniseries, Movie or a Special, Gary Hutzel, Kristen L. Branan, Emile E. Smith and Lee Stringer.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 7, Episode No. 22, Outstanding Visual Effects in a Television Series, Loni Peristere, Patti Gannon, Ronald Thornton and Chris Zapara.
Carnivale pilot, Outstanding Special Effects in Service to Visual Effects in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial, Thomas L. Bellissimo and Charles Belardinelli.
Smallville episode “Insurgence,” Outstanding Matte Painting in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial, Eli Jarra, Joseph Brattesani and Brian Bell.
Helen of Troy, Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial, Anthony Ocampo.
Smallville episode “Accelerate,” Outstanding Compositing in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial, Eli Jarra, Ivan DeWolf and Brian Harding.