AUDIO SWOT: Sounds Good
Issue: December 1, 2012

AUDIO SWOT: Sounds Good

There have been some exciting changes in the audio post industry. In 2012, we had the introduction of 3D audio systems for feature films, such as Dolby’s Atmos on Brave and Barco’s Auro-3D on Red Tails. We’ve seen several new devices able to run applications and mobile games. And in December, the implementation of the CALM Act for TV spec.
These four audio post pros, from films, television, commercials and games, share their 2012 experiences, and take a look at the year ahead.

Kristen Quebe
Sound Supervisor
Microsoft Game Studios
Redmond, WA

Microsoft Game Studios creates games and interactive content for Xbox and Xbox 360 consoles, and for Windows PCs and Windows phone platforms. Recent work is Fable III, and past projects include Condemned 2, F.E.A.R. and Fable II.

STRENGTHS: “I think there’s a lot of opportunity in game audio, particularly because it’s such an interactive media. We are continually developing technology in ways to build systems in games. There is still a lot of room for growth in that area. I feel like the better technology gets, the more we can do. We used to have more limitations put on us, and now I feel like we’re starting to be able to build bigger and think bigger.”

WEAKNESSES: “The games industry is still one of the newer ones, if you look at the history of it. We are still building on how we build games, and we are still learning how to schedule and plan. Because games involve such a dynamic group of people building something together, there are a lot of dependencies. There is a lot of time crunch in the games industry and we end up working long and hard hours. In terms of game audio, a challenge would be the mix.
“In doing more linear audio production work, and other media like film, they can preemptively plan for things and have a lot more control over their mix than we do. That is a huge challenge that we are learning to overcome. In games, we don’t know when things are about to happen. In film, you know when a moment is going to be big so you can build in a quiet moment before that event happens. That doesn’t always happen with games. We don’t always have that granular level of control.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “The industry as a whole has proven itself to be a viable entertainment media. I think for people who like challenges, especially interactive challenges, there is a lot opportunity in the games industry. The game audio industry has a lot of people who know each other. It’s smaller than I like to think it is, but there is still room for new people. We hire constantly, and I believe that games are growing. And while it’s changing, and the market is changing, I do think it has proven itself as a viable career option. So there is opportunity for people looking to get into the game audio industry.”

THREATS: “The threat is not being adaptable. If we aren’t adaptable to markets that are changing, or looking at new markets, say, casual games, for instance, that is a threat. We need to be adaptable in what we’re building, and who we are building for. As long as the industry as a whole is constantly looking at that, then I think we’ll be ok.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2013: “We go through the usual cycles, where our summer is crunched to hit holidays, because holidays are when the majority of big titles come out. I think you’re going to see a lot of big titles come out. We’re seeing new areas in media expansion in consoles, and a lot more applications on consoles. I wouldn’t be surprised if that provides a lot of opportunity in the future. We work on a lot of console games, but we are also focusing on smaller mobile games, and tablet games. For games in general, I think you’re going to see them spread out to a wider audience. I think you’ll see more growth for games across the various devices.”

David Raines
Re-recording Mixer
Los Angeles

This Australian-born re-recording mixer has worked on TV series such as Bent, Burn Notice and White Collar, as well as on films, like Minority Report, Deep Impact and The Chronicles of Riddick. His most recent series, Hell on Wheels, is mixed at Larson Studios.

STRENGTHS: “Our strength as an industry is our creative use of sound in the storytelling process, no matter how technology or business structures may change.”

WEAKNESSES: “It’s going to take a tremendous effort from supervisors, mixers, producers and studios to correct the path that television seems to have started down with regards to the CALM Act. Remember, CALM stands for Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. These perceived problems with loudness in television did not start on the film or series mix stage.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “This is also one of our biggest opportunities: the technology that we have these days to deliver sound and picture masters from the mixing stage to the audience is amazing. If implemented well, the benefit to the dynamic way in which we tell dramatic stories can be incredibly satisfying for the audience, and for distributor’s returns, as a result.”

THREATS: “The most recent threat to our clients’ stories being delivered to the television audience in terms of sound is the way the CALM Act is being interpreted and implemented by various networks and some upstream QC departments who see it as their responsibility to deliver masters ‘in spec.’ Unfortunately, we’re hearing a lot of sub-standard series and film broadcasts now due to the misinterpretation and subsequent mishandling of program Dial Norm (LKFS). Of the many re-recording mixers I’ve spoken to about this, most agree that we’ve never heard television series and films on television sound as bad as some of them are sounding now.

“In some cases, regardless of whether the print master meets the specification detailed by the film studio and network, engineering departments may still be engaging a ‘sausage box’ on the program as it is transferred to the master as a hedge against a QC rejection. In some cases, a downstream QC department may be making that change before the network receives it and in some cases the network may be doing it in addition to all of the above. The result is background sound in quiet scenes being increased as loud as dialogue, and dialogue louder than action sequences, and action sequences that have absolutely no dynamic impact at all.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2013: “2013 could be an interesting year as a result of the strategic adjustments made to some businesses during the later part of 2012.”

Marshall Grupp
COO/Managing Partner/Sound Designer
Sound Lounge
New York City

Sound Lounge specializes in audio for commercials and offers three Dolby-certified studios for 5.1 mixing. Recent work includes spots for Cadillac ATS, Fiat and Google Play.

STRENGTHS: “The more 5.1 surround becomes an important piece — in terms of home systems — and eventually with 3D as well, the more you have to maintain audio quality. You have to treat it the same as if you were sitting in a movie theater. There is an opportunity here to make audio not be the stepchild of the process. Audio is always considered the last little bit to do, but it is as critical to the story telling as shooting it, or directing it, or writing it.”

WEAKNESSES: “There are a lot of little shops being created, because it’s easy to buy equipment, and it’s easy to set up a little room — I think that quality is being sacrificed for pricing. Yeah, you can do it cheaper in a little tiny room, but how much experience is there? There are a lot of elements that go into good audio post. I’m most concerned about the quality that’s out there.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “There are so many places now where commercials are being sent. It’s not just a TV box anymore. It’s YouTube, it’s Websites, it’s everywhere. It’s on your mobile phone. The most important thing is that you have to maintain the quality, and that’s always going to be the challenge, whether it’s on a 36-inch screen or a mobile phone. The quality is still going to be important.”

THREATS: “People putting more money toward interactive, and moving away from the :30 TV spot.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2013: “I’m very optimistic as long as Obama creates jobs. If people can go back to work, then they can spend money. If they can spend money, then advertisers are going to create advertising to market their products. You can see what’s happened over the last three months. The industry took a dive because no one knew what was going to happen with the election. If jobs are created, then I think everything is going to be great.”

Kim Waugh
Senior VP of Post Production Services
Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. Studio Facilities provides audio post — from ADR to a 7.1 surround mix — for films, television and games. Recent Warner Bros. films include: The Dark Knight Rises, Argo (pictured) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

STRENGTHS: “Over the last year — and continuing into the future — we’ve never before seen such a grouping of high-profile talent available to the film community, from the sound editors to re-recording mixers and sound designers. It’s never been at this level of strength of talent and creativity. It’s extraordinary. We’re very blessed with the amount of talent that exists in the industry today. It’s been nurtured over the last decade, and it’s really at a great point. You can just hear the quality of work that’s being delivered to the screen… from independent films to tentpoles.”

WEAKNESSES: “There is a weakness in that the marketplace has changed. There is an increase in independent films, and that has put pressure on the resources that aren’t necessarily used to working on different scopes of films. However, it’s not a sign of production softness; it’s really a window into the globalization of production and post production. It’s a change. It’s not a decrease; it’s a change in how the market is perceived. Speaking from a West Coast perspective, it’s a weakness, but in other markets, they may see it very differently.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “The opportunity is diversification, across the board. The grand opportunity to work with new filmmakers on independent projects, all the way through to the opportunities of working with the creative individuals that you read about everyday who are creating high-profile content. A greater opportunity is looking at the marketplace from a global perspective. For Warner Bros. Post sound, we have addressed the market in a very progressive fashion by looking at how we produce and where we post.
“For example, we are about to open up a new satellite facility in New York, which will be a dub stage, sound editing suites and picturing editing suites on a moderate scale to respond to that marketplace. Also, we just made an acquisition in London, where we purchased De Lane Lea in Soho, a leading London post production house, which will support the creative community in the UK. That’s really a response to the globalization in the marketplace, and making sure that we can have the highest level of talent available for our filmmakers, and for all filmmakers in the locations that they are completing their projects.”

THREATS: “It’s an interesting word, ‘threat.’ Is it a real threat, or a perceived threat? The feature film market in Los Angeles may feel threatened by a perceived contraction, but it’s really just a change, a market change. A trend to more independent films is fantastic. It’s an opportunity to work with new filmmakers, an opportunity to work with new content and with new workflows and to integrate the technology that has been developed over the last few years. And to work with the greatest group of talent that exists today; those who are really rising to the occasion to support these types of things that people see as threats.
“It’s a global industry, and the reality of it is that opportunities exist, but there are geographical barriers. We responded to those geographical barriers by having our satellite locations, because Warner Bros. produces in every time zone.
“We have production going on in New Zealand with The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby in Australia, Hangover 3 in Los Angeles, in New York A Winter’s Tale, and All You Need is Kill in London. These are significant investments we’ve made from a global standpoint. That may be perceived in Los Angeles as a threat, because the work isn’t necessarily being completed here. It’s really how we perceive it. So we are responding to creatively completing our content in those marketpla ces, and supporting our filmmakers.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2013: “I’m Mr. Positive, always looking forward to new opportunities. The studios are healthy. It’s exciting to see other major studios in town, and their acquisitions. It’s great to see the strong production relationships that Warner Bros. has, and the great writers and directors that are in front of us.
“I’m so pleased to be in a community that raises the bar every year and supports our filmmakers. It’s a great time in history. It starts and ends with our people. Anyone can buy the equipment and build grand facilities, but it’s a people business. It’s built on those people, their creativity, and their relationships.

“In regards to 3D audio systems, it’s exciting. These new tools separate the home theater environment and the theatrical experience. It’s great to enhance the theatrical experience for the filmgoers. The competing companies, and their versions of 3D audio, all offer very exciting opportunities. Those tools for the sound designers and re-recording mixers, to enhance the theatrical experience, are remarkable. Right now it in its infancy, and we at Warner Bros. are embracing the opportunity to work with 3D sound.”