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WB Sound 80th Anniversary: State of the Art


By Thomas J. McLean
In the modern world of post production, technology has enabled big changes. But as the kudos that sound crews heap upon Warner Bros.� sound department make clear, it�s the rare facility that can make everything not only work well, but work well together.
�So much of technology is not just having technology, it�s managing it well and always kind of over thinking it to the point where you�re constantly improving it and we see that all the time around here,� says Cameron Frankley, sound designer and supervisor whose recent projects include Live Free or Die Hard and Teen-Age Mutant Ninjas Turtles.
Perhaps the most important technological element in the studio�s ease of use is the standardization of software to Pro Tools HD. With all the editing suites and mixing stages using the same software on a high-speed network, work retains all its subtleties even when it�s moved from one location to another.
�When we need to do changes on mixes that have been done, there�s no conversion process involved,� says Richard King, a sound designer and editor who recently worked on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward John Ford. �They translate well to the dub stages and you can do mixes of very complicated elements in our rooms and they translate very well.�
Mixer Ron Bartlett says that even the way stations can be customized has been carefully considered. The editors can sit at any station they like and call up any number of versions of Pro Tools on the system, allowing them to make changes that previously required a lot of effort.
�I�ve had one editor sitting at one station doing a sound effects edit, and I can go, �Oh, can you get that dialog fixed for me?� And he can just click over to that machine � without having to get up, go to another room, do the fix and come back,� Bartlett says. �He�s sitting in one spot, changing whatever he needs to.�
Standardization also has helped in terms of stability, says sound supervisor and mixer Skip Lievsay. Computers have become much more reliable and the downtime once created by computer crashes is no longer a factor.
Format consistency is something that�s easy to take for granted. John Michaels, who assisted Frankley on TMNT, says the workflow on the picture was smooth because even though it was being animated in Hong Kong and edited in Sherman Oaks, it was all done in a 24-frame digital format that always synched up perfectly.
But when the production had to go to another facility for ADR, trouble popped up. �A lot of stages are still set up, even though they might have digital projection, with videotape in mind,� Michaels says. �We had to kind of fudge it a bit and convert some stuff to 29.97 (frames per second, the rate for standard video).�
It was a relatively minor problem to solve, but it still underlined for Michaels the ease of use at Warner Bros. �They just seem to get it here.�
Equipment and the setup at the facility also has improved the power and scope of the tools. Bartlett says the dual console allows him and his partner, Doug Hemphill, to work more quickly. �Our console is basically two consoles glued together, so we have separate engines that run each side of the console,� he says. �That allows us way more tracks than you would if you had just one big console, so that speeds up the flow of the consoles.�
Streamlining work processes can involve simpler things, like the architecture and layout of the stages. �Most mixing stages up until recently have had a credenza between the mixers and the clients because you had a big patch bay there. And these guys had the brilliant idea to get rid of the credenza so you�re physically in more of a together environment,� says Hemphill.
Lievsay says the kind of flexibility the Warner facility offers was essential to the making of Terrence Malick�s The New World.
�We were able to keep the movie in a constant state of flux, with the ability to make changes and hear the full results of those changes immediately,� he says. �That was a crucial part of that movie. We couldn�t have done the constant changing that Terry wanted any other way.�
All of this allows sound mixers and editors to focus on what�s really important: the movie.
�It�s a matter of streamlining the technology so it doesn�t get in the way of the creative needs of the filmmakers,� says King. �They�ve been really diligent about that.�

Written by Tom McLean

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