As an example, Newlan recalls a Family Guy episode where the classic film North by Northwest was referenced. "We were able to get the score to that film and re-recorded it with a new orchestra," he reports. "I rented North by Northwest and watched the crop duster scene. Where their crop duster scene last several minutes, ours lasted 10 seconds. For me it's a personal stake in matching stuff like that, because Seth [MacFarlane, the show's creator] is making these obscure cultural references. North by Northwest is not really a movie that's popular among his audience, but I feel that I have an obligation to make it as accurate as possible in terms of the sound of the airplane."
The tracks for both shows are cut on Pro Tools. Dialogue, Newlan reports, is recorded in a booth that's been set up in the show's production offices. "Those are delivered to me as OMFs and Pro Tools sessions. The dialogue is pretty much like ADR [recorded] entirely in one place, so it matches really well. The sound effects are pulled from our libraries here with some field recording."
Family Guy is an interesting experience for Newlan since the show was resurrected by DVD sales and given a new broadcast life. That was made easier, he says, by the archiving work that lead effects editor Andrew Ellerd did after the show was initially canceled. "I was encouraging him to do that because I was thinking that they were probably going to do a Family Guy movie. But we did the new stuff without missing a beat. The first spotting session for the new Family Guy was back in January, and it was essentially as if nobody skipped a beat."
While working on dialogue tracks for such projects such as Scary Godmother, a direct-to-DVD sequel to the television special of the same name, or a direct-to-DVD Mattel project, Max Steel, for Mainframe Entertainment (www.mainframe.ca/), audio supervisor Marcel Duperreault will get as many actors as possible into the pre-record room at Dick and Roger's (www.dickandrogers.com/) facility in Vancouver, BC. "We're slamming faders up and down and you can hear the excitement in the dialogue," he says of his reasoning. "A lot of other animation companies may do one character at a time and beat the daylights out of him. We try not to do that, but it does happen where you have to pick up people, and sometimes it can be lifeless."
Pristine audio tracks, he adds, are one of the main differences between live action and animation. "In live action, if you've got ADR from one studio and you pick up lines from another studio, you're trying to match it and make it sound like it's not from another planet," he says. "We don't have to deal with that, but other than that a door close is a door close and the mixing is pretty much the same. The levels to create the emotions are the same in animation as it is in live action."
That said, Mainframe's director of post and technical operations, Greg Story, points out that "animation is boundary-less, so whatever the imagination wants to put on screen, Marcel has to create sound effects for. That can be a challenge."
Duperreault agrees, "These guys will animate a planet imploding that turns into some kind of monster. You don't know what they are going to come up with and you wonder, 'What is that supposed to sound like?' The artists are drawing all these chaotic pictures and it could go on for 22 minutes. We've had shows where it's been nonstop, so the task at hand is huge, and they go, 'Well, uh, I want it to sound like The Incredibles.' I'm thinking, 'Hey, man, this is a 22-minute show and you don't have the budget.' The expectations are high."
As an example he points to a Hot Wheels DVD project he worked on for Mattel. "The characters drive their cars into these other realms and we have to come up with all these sounds when they travel from one dimension to the next," he says. Getting it right, he reports, is a matter of "doing what we think is right. We try to hire the best people we can, so we'll go through and do what we think is right and then the producers and directors will come in and screen the sound effects before the mix and say, 'Hey, that's pretty good. What if you did this? What if you did that?' They're not sure of what they want to hear, and if they do have an idea we'll run with it. Everyone is pretty flexible."
Sounds are created via Akai samplers. "With the samplers there are a lot of things you can do that you just can't do in Pro Tools or with the plug-ins in our [AMS Neve] AudioFiles," Duperreault says. "With the plug-ins you can only do so much with sound - you can pitch it, you can delay it, but there's not a lot you can do with it." In addition to the samplers, Duperreault mixes on an AMS Neve DFC II.
In addition to the music scores that he works on for Sponge Bob Squarepants, Brad Carow, owner of music composing, film editing and sound editing studio Bloogie Entertainment (818-917-2290), performs track-reading responsibilities on The Grim Adventures of Bill & Mandy and Ben 10, both shows that air on the Cartoon Network. Ben 10 is an animated superhero series that will debut this fall. "Once a script is made, they record the dialogue and then I get the dialogue with a storyboard," he explains. "I take the information written on the storyboard by the director and use it to format the dialogue. If there's a :46 segment where it's all action and no dialogue I have to make sure that there's a gap in the dialogue that corresponds to that. So, I take the dialogue and cut it to the format of the show and then go back to the very beginning and listen very slowly and, frame-by-frame, write down the phonetic sounds I was hearing," he continues. "That's how they make the lips move. There aren't a whole lot of us that do that and there are a lot of people that didn't even know that it existed. Even producers that I've worked with didn't know what [a track reader] was," he laughs.
It can be an arduous task, as he goes through 2,000 feet of film to get the job done. Yet, Ben 10 was made a bit easier because he went digital. "Traditionally it's been done using 35mm single stripe, but for this series I decided to go all digital," he explains. "So, I'm track reading this series on Pro Tools with the DV toolkit, and I'm allowed to see feet and frames on the reader, so that will match up to the feet and frame counter on the exposure sheet."
Carow uses Pro Tools for his track reading as well as composing assignments. He also uses MOTU Digital Performer while composing and TASCAM Giga Studio for samples. "One thing I like when I'm composing music is to hire horn players instead of synthesizing instruments. It just sounds several notches over the stuff that I hear," he explains. "My writing style is influenced by guys like Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott, and it's really hard to get that feeling across if everything is synthesized."
While his composing experience is limited to animation projects, Carow says, "I know about composing for live action enough to know that the difference primarily with animation is many projects are wall to wall music. I was talking to some other composers recently and they said animation composers should be paid by the note. We get a six-minute cartoon and there could be five-and-a-half minutes of music in there. In six minutes of live action, there are little segues between scenes and little segues into and out of commercials, but other than that it's pretty sparse."