For Real Techno Geeks

Son of a Wanted Man was recorded directly into a Pro Tools 24 Mix Plus system at 24 bits and at a sampling rate of 44.1. Although higher rates were available we wanted a direct relationship to what we would put onto CD so while 88.2 (not available at the time) would have been acceptable, the 48 and 96 rates were not.

In the studio we used four Sennheiser MKH Cardioid microphones which are known for their high output and smooth off-axis sound. The mics were connected into the studio’s wiring using an experimental cable made by our friend Ken Goerres. The studio cabling was Belden.

Once in the control room we ran each of the four mic lines into a Jensen Twin Servo pre amp and then through a “Y” connector into two separate channels of an Apogee ADA 8000 eight channel digital converter. This meant that each of the mic signals now appeared on two channels of the converter. One of these channels was adjusted down 7 db so that if an actor got too loud we could later edit in the lower channel for a clean recording. This didn’t work as well as we would have liked and if there is a next time we’ll probably make it 10 db and put a mild limiter on it.

The studio we recorded in was a pentagon about thirty feet across the center. It was also about twenty feet tall (a real plus as the greater volume of air in the studio and the more distant the walls, ceiling and floor, the better it seems to sound) and had alternating hard and soft wall panels. There was a big column right in the center and the room had an off-center (obviously) sweet spot about fifteen feet in diameter. We set up our mics at the corners of a six foot square inside that sweet spot. This allowed the actors to be able to see each other and gave us room inside the six foot square to set up mic and music stands and to run wires, etc.

When we went looking for a studio we tested each room by setting up two mics back to back and then reading dialogue into one of them at various levels. We’d usually test two to four spots in a potential studio then go home and play them back listening for the smoothest sound in the mic that was not being spoken into. This told us whether we would end up with mic to mic bleed that sounded rough and like we were in a recording studio. We chose the studio that sounded the smoothest and most neutral.

When the day came to record we ordered some baffles to go between the mics to give us more separation but we discovered that the studio we were working in, J. E. Sound in Hollywood, sounded so good that the baffles were completely unnecessary.

Scenes were recorded with the actors overlapping each other’s lines although we occasionally went in and got sections with no overlap if we thought we’d need them in editing … I can’t remember if this was ever necessary. By the end of the session we had so much material that worrying about overlap was probably useless.

While the scenes were all recorded into the computer’s hard disk we also left an 8 track digital tape machine (Tascam DA-78) running the whole time we were in the studio, whether we were performing a scene or not. This is a trick we learned on Merrano of the Dry Country. At one point we had needed an extra bit of dialogue to flesh out a scene; we found it in some idle conversation that we accidentally recorded while our actors were eating lunch!

When recording sound effects in the field we used the Tascam 8 track digital recorder, our 8 channel converter (the ADA 8000), the Jensen mic pre amp, whatever length of Ken’s great cable we needed and again the Sennheiser microphones. We figured that using mics in the same series as we used for the voice recordings in the studio would help create a consistency of sound that would help the audience believe that both the effect and the voice had been in the same place at the same time. The Sennheisers are also pretty indestructible.

For power I modified my truck to charge an additional pair of Optima 12 volt batteries which fed a Pro Sine pure sine wave power inverter. This gave us semi portable (in the back of a 4x4 pick up) 120v power that is cleaner than what comes out of the wall.

All our ambiance recordings were done in stereo using an O.R.T.F. mic configuration. The specific effects were recorded using a mid/side mic array (or M/S) and the recordings were not decoded into stereo until the time came to mix the scene. This allowed us to “steer” the center channel left and right with a pan pot and to bring an effect nearer or farther using the mid channel volume control … the “size” of the stereo image can be controlled with the side channel volume control. We came up with this process on Merrano of the Dry Country about ten years ago and as far as we know we’re the only ones to ever use it. It gives us an unbelievable ability to move, a sound effect around within the stereo sound field of the scene.

Our studio equipment is pretty basic, not much more than a fully loaded Pro Tools 24 Mix Plus system. However, except for the air conditioning, the room itself is one of the best monitoring environments we’ve ever seen. It’s just a rectangular room built on the back of a garage but it was built exactly to the recommended dimensions in my old text book, Audio In Media. The front of the room has some sound control panels but that’s about all. Somehow the room ended up testing so flat that I’ve had speaker manufacturers use it to test their new designs. Accidental but very fortuitous.

We use a set of monitors and sub woofers made by Ken Goerres and always monitor the program at exactly the same level. All of the equipment in the studio has been modified to connect at the same level and we use one, specially built, set of VU meters set to that “studio level.”

Our monitor amps are made by Power Physics (ultra fast, binary switching, analogue amplifiers is a way to describe them). Our studio engineer, Howard Gale, has modified certain aspects of the amps for better performance and better integration with the sub woofers. We use Ken’s home-made cabling throughout the studio and that includes some special power cords he makes up. All the AC current comes through a “Balanced Power” system, eliminating virtually all grounding noise. We have discovered that the better our monitoring system and the better our wiring, the less we want to EQ anything … it seems the lesson here is; when in doubt, leave it alone!

There are lots of improvements that could be made in Son of a Wanted Man, we learned an incredible amount as we worked. Technically, there are also a fair number of flaws in the show that were totally avoidable. In several places we used an inferior quality recording because the performance was better. This is a no-brainer for us; if you get the emotion, who cares about the sound. We never did get the conditions right to record really good horse effects. Hooves sound best on cold hard ground and we never got ourselves out at the right time to record the best possible horse effects. Because of the limited number of “voices” or channels in the Pro Tools system we started out with we had to print or “bounce” our dialogue tracks to buy space in the computer … this created an extra digital generation that would be unnecessary today. Some people think that digital generations don’t count and therefore don’t worry about them. However, I do notice the sound getting a little hard as the generations mount up … so, whenever possible, I think it’s best to keep from combining things until the last moment.

Son of a Wanted Man was mastered by Bob Katz at Digital Domain. Bob gave us great advice as we worked and I consider it a really good idea to involve the advice of a mastering engineer in each step along the way. His website, articles, text book, and Bob himself, were a great asset to us.



Son of a Wanted Man

Home | The Story | The Perpetrators (Crew) | The Co-Conspirators (Cast)

The History and Making of Son of a Wanted Man
The History | Novel to Script | Pre-Production | Recording Dialog | Recording Sound Effects
Editing the Dialog and Sound Effects | The Musical Score | Mixing and Mastering | What's Next?

Photo Galleries
Location Photos | In the Recording Studio | In the Field (Recording Sound Effects)

Audio Sound Bytes
Trailer | Music

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