<I>Encanto</I>: Score mixer Alvin Wee
Issue: January/February 2022

Encanto: Score mixer Alvin Wee

Disney’s animated feature Encanto is nominated for two Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards. The central focus of Encanto is family, as the film explores the compelling but complicated relationships within families, especially those with multiple generations living in one household — something that’s not uncommon in Colombia, where the film is set. Directed by Byron Howard ( Zootopia, Tangled), the CG-animated musical is recognized in Oscars’ Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score categories.

Alvin Wee served as the film’s score mixer, and is nominated for a Cinema Audio Society Award in the category of Outstanding Sound Mixing. Wee, who provided recording and mixing services for the scores for Top Gun: Maverick, No Time To Die and Mulan, recently discussed his work on Encanto.

How did you get involved in Encanto and working with Oscar-nominated composer Germaine Franco?

“Germaine Franco is a longtime collaborator and friend. She took a chance on me earlier in my career, and even after doing countless films and projects with her, I’m always grateful to get that call. Naturally, when she brought me into the studio and told me she was going on a musical adventure featuring Colombian music, I immediately said, ‘Yes.’”

What went into mixing the score?

“The exciting part about mixing the score was honoring the authenticity of the Colombian musical style while sonically bringing the breadth of an animated film score to match the stunning visuals of a Disney film. We used traditional Colombian instruments, like the Arpa Llanera (a Colombian Harp), the Tiple (a very bright guitar considered the Colombian national instrument), the accordion and the baby bass. I equate it to having the most vibrant spices in the world and combining them into a deep listening experience.

“In the midst of all the uncertainty and with specific health guidelines in place, we recorded the orchestra separately. This meant recording strings one day, brass the next, then woods, then choir, etc. With the use of some traditional mixing methods, as well as modern tools, I was able to marry all orchestral sections, soloists and percussionists so it was as if they played, sang and danced in the same piece.

“At the same time, there was a lot of research into the musical styles of Colombia’s rich history. There are many different styles, and each instrument is stylistically featured for each genre. It was important to me that we got the style right, so I spent a lot of time listening, reading and watching documentaries about the topic. Nerdy stuff for sure, but it made all the difference in the mix.”

Were you working closely with the film’s other mixers?

“Since Encanto is a musical, there was an ongoing dialogue between myself, song mixer David Boucher and re-recording mixer David Fluhr, CAS, during the entire process. Those are two colleagues that I admire and respect a lot. There was meticulous care in making sure the song, score and the entire sound world of Encanto felt like a seamless, sonic dome. We made sure the music and score bobbed and weaved to the emotions of the story.”

Can you talk about mixing ‘Antonio’s Room’ and Alma’s flash back featuring the song ‘Dos Orugitas’?

“I loved the cue ‘Antonio’s Room.’ It features the Gaita, a Colombian flute, an Afro-Colombian choir, soloist Issa Masquera and background vocalists of Carlos Vives’ band. It starts off with this tropical dance-y mood of the Gaita, and as the people walk into the room, the music transitions into a celebratory choir moment. For the second half the track, I mixed a tribal-sounding choir with Issa’s vocals. I made sure the horns supported those moments to make it feel royal.

“From a mixing perspective, a cool part of the track is the percussion section. There were moments the cue needed a more direct, upfront sound, and some (moments) where it needed the cavernous sound of a big room. Because we were trying to get the celebratory vibe of the music, we had all six percussionists play together at the Fox scoring stage. I recorded them with the flexibility to go from a more dryer, forward-sounding percussion and mixed in the bigger hits as the track grew.

“’Dos Orugitas’ was so emotional. The song – while important – wasn’t sung on-screen, so it played beautifully between the score and a song piece. There were conversations on which reverbs to use and how the guitars were to sit in context, especially with all the transitions from accompanying the vocals to playing themes and underscoring the scene. I’d use the word ‘tenderly’ to describe how I mixed the music in that scene.”

Where did you perform the mix?

“I mixed at the John Ford Mixing Stage on the Fox Studio Lot in Century City. It had a S6 M40 with 16 faders configured to work primarily with the AMS Neve DFC-3D as the main outs. A lot of the tools these days are all in the computer. I’m a fan of using ‘off the beaten path’ plug-ins and tools to supplement the staples of the industry. On Encanto, I tried out a few interesting pieces that helped immensely in shaping the sound of the score.”