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Follow that Sound, part 2

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In just one season, CSI Investigation spin-off CSI: Miami has become one of the top 10 most watched shows on television, putting CBS network way ahead of its rivals in ratings and number of viewers this season.
As befits its accolades, CSI: Miami boasts one of the most talented and cutting edge crews of any television show. Intensely detail-oriented and clue-driven, it is particularly notable for its production and postproduction sound. In the face of set challenges and outdoor locations where surf is up and planes take off and land nearby (the show is filmed, deceptively, in Los Angeles), the sound team does an incredible job working around obstacles and helping to create the illusion of Miami.
Last month CSI: Miami sound mixer Donavan Dear walked us through his film-like approach to television production sound, explaining how his all-digital, all-wireless rig allows him to overcome many of the show’s audio challenges. This month we follow the sound through post, where a team of dedicated editors and mixers work their part in the show’s success.
First stop is Hugh Murphy, Todd AO Studios, Burbank’s resident audio file conversion guru. Murphy’s role as editorial coordinator and assistant sound editor on CSI: Miami requires preparing the four tracks of digital Deva sound files he receives from Dear, converting them from broadcast wave to Sound Designer II files for the sound editors to work with. That’s 10–12 Gb of raw audio data.
“Having four channels of audio means there’s a lot of material, which can take as long as seven hours to convert,” explains Murphy. He begins the process while the picture editors are cutting. When the locked picture arrives on 3/4-inch tape he digitizes it, assembles the audio according to the EDL (edit decision list) and creates a complete Pro Tools session which is uploaded to the Todd AO server for the editors and mixers to access. “I convert everything primarily so the dialog editor has all the options available to him. He may need to hunt for an alt. from a different channel, for example.”
While sound supervisor Matthew Sawelson and the show’s producers review the picture and make decisions on any ADR necessary – very little is needed on this show, since problems are anticipated and normally corrected early on via three spare tracks on the Deva – dialog editor Todd Niesen gets to work. Niesen works his magic reconstructing any noisy lines or removing extraneous noise from location shoots, going back to alternate takes or piecing together dialog from the extra tracks.
“If there’s a walk-and-talk and there’s a mic scrape on an actor’s mic, it’ll affect the other’s mic. That’s where I can go to the other channel,” explains Niesen. “With three extra tracks [coming from the Deva] you have more options. It’s a nice streamlined process, and the sound quality is superb.”
A challenge for the dialog editor on this show in particular is the performers’ spontaneity. “The actors are somewhat inclined to take liberties with their lines. It makes for a more natural, more spontaneous type of reading which is good, but it makes my job a lot harder,” notes Niesen. “When not all the takes are the same it’s a lot harder to find alternates and sometimes there isn’t, in which case I’ll normally need them to loop.”
ADR editor Ruth Edelman does her part, while Matthew Sawelson makes Foley decisions based upon the intricacy of the action. “The show has so many lab montages and things there aren’t stock effects,” he explains, “I lobby for a little extra Foley time and will reallocate my budget to allow for that. In my view there’s no replacement for doing it for real.” Sawelson estimates that each episode has at least half a dozen shots that require true sound design.
Finally the dialog and ADR is married with sound effects and music (scored by Graham Revell and assembled by his brother, music editor Ashley Revell) on the dubstage by re-recording mixers, Yuri Reese and Bill Smith. Because of the complexity of the show’s visuals, visual effects often won’t be complete until the last day of the mix, which is a challenge for sound effects editor Brad Katona. “He’s the one that’s really in the hot seat,” remarks Murphy. “Every time we get a new version of the picture, I’ll digitize it for him to work with. If his stuff comes in late he winds up guessing at his sound effects editing and having to make it work at the eleventh hour.”
Mixing is done using Pro Control within the Pro Tools environment. It would be virtually impossible to do it any other way, according to Sawelson, especially within the time limits and with the sheer scope of creativity involved.
“It’s a show that really pushes the envelope,” he says. “The producers are extremely progressive in allowing the creative people extreme latitude. We have great chemistry and trust and we go out on a limb to create really incredible sounds. Donavan is pioneering production sound with the way he has equipped himself, and on our end creatively we’re allowed to go wild.”

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