I recently was invited by Dolby to attend a screening and discussion with Erik Aadahl Sound Designer on films like I, Robot, Transformers, Fantastic Four. He has also been the Supervising Sound Editor for films like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Monsters vs. Aliens and most recently Megamind.
Prior to the discussion I erroneously assumed that just about every possible sound had been already captured and all sound designers did was pull up track 58, mix in a little of track 72 and wallah, they now had the angry robot from scene 22. Imagine my surprise when the first thing I saw walking into the theater at Dolby's Burbank facility was a gentleman standing next to a homemade Van de Graaf generator.
The gentleman was Erik Aadahl and he proceeded to explain how is job is to try to tell the story with sound. The process is a lot more artistic and creative than I assumed. Erik's method is to start by creating a unique sound pallet for each film, not only making all the sounds but making them signature to the movie. For Megamind Erik had a new tool: Dolby Surround 7.1
Dolby Surround 7.1 adds two discrete channels to the typical 5.1 theatrical experience. Currently there are 1300 theaters worldwide that support it with more coming on every week. Megamind was one of the first films released theatrically in 7.1 and is the first Blu-ray encoded with a theatrical 7.1 mix. While there have been other Blu-rays with 7.1 mixes, they are based on 5.1 theatrical mixes. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix on the Megamind Blu-ray is the same Dolby Surround 7.1 theatrical mix that Erik Aadahl created for the film's theatrical release, so you have the full dynamic range of the theatrical release at home.
Neil Middlemiss gave the sound 5 stars in his recent review of the Blu-ray saying "This rumbling, vigorous, and spectacularly crisp audio is brilliantly energetic, and it is clear that a great deal of care and skill was poured into the mixing for this release." I couldn't agree more.
VIDEO: Erik explains his creative process when working on a film (3:27)
VIDEO: Erik tries not to burn down the theater while demonstrating sound creation (3:00)
NOTE: The scene referenced in the clip can be found in chapter 3 from 00:12:12 to 00:14:21
VIDEO: Erik discusses some of the ways that using Dolby 7.1 Surround allow Sound Designers to make a more enveloping mix and some of the sounds he created for Megamind (3:05)
NOTE: The scene referenced in the clip can be found in chapter 4 from 00:15:57 to 00:20:20
After the screening Craig Eggers, a Senior Manager with Dolby labs did a fantastic interview with Erik Aadahl. about sound design and how 7.1 changes things for sound designers. We have broken it up in to four segments:
Video: Part One: Sound design and how 7.1 changes things for sound designers (4:32)
Video: Part Two: Where and how Megamind was mixed, and how it all comes together (4:32)
Video: Part Three: Challenges of working with animated films vs life action, how a squeaky hinge becomes a transformer (5:44)
Video: Part Four: Specific challanges in designing the sound for Megamind, 7.1 surround at home, advice to people looking for sound mixing/designing as a career (7:36)
After Craig and Erik spoke we had the opportunity to ask questions. Here are some of the questions answered on the clip below:
When you are working between your mix and the score have you ever found yourself not just pulling elements out, but moving your sounds into a different key so they blend in with the score as the final mix comes together?
- Some of the 7.1 effects were very noticable but most of it wasn’t very subtle. Is that intentional so you don’t get taken out of the movie listening to the background?
According to Tom Holman, putting more channels in back is not as effective as putting more channels in front. How do you respond to that?
Do you perceive soundtracks being made with discrete height channels someday?
How many theaters are equipped for Dolby 7.1 Surround? How does that compare with the total number of Dolby equipped theaters?
Do you have to get into conversations with the music mixer or composer if you change the levels of the score in the overall sound mix
When you release a 7.1 title like this on DVD, do you just drop the two back channels or fold them into the side channels?
How do you know when you are done with a mix? It sounds like you could tinker forever. When do you finally say “that’s it, this one is done”?
If a movie is going to be released in 3D does that impact how you approach a mix and what do you differently?
Is there unique branding for 7.1 so consumers know if they are going to film with a 7.1 mix?
Video: Answers to the above questions and more