Sound Design for Special Venue
Images in Sound was founded by Brian Eimer in 2004. InPark Editor Martin Palicki asked Brian about the company’s audio post-production services and his work in the industry.
First off, tell us a little about your expertise and what Images in Sound does.
I have over 20 years experience in sound design, designing for all genres of motion pictures, including themed attractions, ridefilms, IMAX films, features and television. I’ve done work for Chimelong, Wanda, Prana, SimexIwerks, and IMAX Ridefilm. I’ve also designed and installed sound environments at Oltramare in Italy, and Camoes in Portugal.
“The on site mixing is one of the most important services we offer. Themed attractions almost always have unique speaker configurations. In order for the soundscape or sound design to have the most impact on the visitor, it’s necessary to be on site to make final adjustments.”
Images In Sound is a sound design company that handles all the sound design needs of any attraction. We do SFX, music (if required), premixing, and on site mixing. The on site mixing is one of the most important services we offer. Themed attractions almost always have unique speaker configurations. In order for the soundscape or sound design to have the most impact on the visitor, it’s necessary to be on site to make final adjustments.
One of your niches is special venue. But you also have done film and TV work. What are the unique elements of working in special venue?
Yes, I’ve done a lot of TV and a few feature films. What makes special venue really unique is that it doesn’t need to conform to standard speaker layouts. Because you’re designing for the speaker configuration you have a lot more creative freedom. I have just upgraded my facility to Dolby Atmos and IMAX 12, so that extended creative freedom is now finding its way into the mainstream, but with 27.1, or 26.2 speaker configurations you can have a lot of fun.
You’ve done some work in Asia recently. Tell us about some of your recent international projects
In terms of Asia, I’ve done two projects for Chimlong: Alien Attack in Guangzhou, and Kaka’s Big Adventure in Zhuhai. I also worked on Power of Nature for Wanda. These were all very unique. The speaker configuration and technical set up on site was quite different for each one. Also, working in China, you usually can’t locally source the “bits and pieces” related to the location mixing gear. I had to think of every possible scenario and make sure I brought the necessary pieces, otherwise I may not be able to do what I needed to do while mixing on site.
What ways, if any, have you noticed the Asian market approaches sound design any differently.
My experience is that attractions being put in Asia are using North American people and skills. So the approach to sound design for me is the same, because I’m doing it for North American project managers. That being said, when I have worked with the Asian clients on site, there has been a bit of education needed on what the overall focus of the soundtrack should be. They sometimes get hung up on small details, but once the attraction is in full swing, often those little details become irrelevant. Of course there will always be small details that will make a difference, but the secret is in educating the client on which small details need focus.
You mentioned the Power of Nature theater for Wanda that featured a wide array of speakers. What were some of the challenges and successes with that project?
The first challenge of any location mix is the integration into the on site system. For the Wanda project, the interface was AES, so I need to make sure I had all the necessary gear to interface with that. The theater configuration was smaller than the Chimelong installs and the project included butt kickers (transducers that respond to low frequency audio to give the guest a vibration) in each of the seats. So I had to identify where in the film we wanted to use this effect, then find the best frequency to get the seat to vibrate. The venue also had some acoustical challenges because of the theming of the space. I needed to compensate with the mix and the output EQ to make the soundtrack have the most impact.
You worked on Alien Attack for Chimelong. That type of surround screen immersive attraction seems to be gaining popularity. With guests basically in the middle of a large tunnel, how do you handle the sound design where the stage is all around the guest? How do you keep the sound crisp?
It is challenging. The key to designing sound for this type of space is to keep the track “clean”. With these screen immersive attractions, the individual screens are unique, or have unique content playing. So by keeping the track clean and more about hitting the specifics of each screen, you can give impact to the whole space. Its when like elements are coming from all speakers in the space it becomes messy. This is what makes mixing the music challenging. You want the cue to be immersive and play throughout the entire space, but you have to be careful you’re not making it sound muddy by having acoustical issues. For Alien Attack, we hit specifics on each side of the tram, even for things like the warp tunnel. With the music, I had the composer deliver individual stems, so I could control how the mix was placed in the space, giving an immersive feel, while minimizing the acoustic issues.
How has A/V equipment compatibility has improved over the last five years?
Its become a lot easier to interface with install. Now that we are using digital we don’t run into analogue issues that come with using a long analogue snake (ground hum, intermittency etc. the analogue snake is heavy and very cumbersome to bring, etc.). With digital, it’s cleaner, more compact, and easier to interface both the mix system and on site equipment. For Alien Attack I used Cobranet, for Power of Nature it was AES, and for Kaka’s Big Adventure it was MADI. My favourite was MADI, it is real easy to interface with and very clean.
Technology is shrinking. Tell me how that is impacting sound design and audio mixing.
The more compact technology makes location mixing more and more feasible. Clients can really understand the value of it. It also affects your workflow for each project. Now I can be as creative as I need to be before heading to the site. Then once on site, my work is closer to where it needs to be. Now on site, I can use my time creating the biggest impact possible with the sound design.
What do you think operators and developers don’t understand about sound design that would help them understand their projects better?
A good sound design can elevate the “WOW” factor of any attraction. Good sound design, with the proper on site setup, will create an immersive experience that will blow audiences away. The bar keeps getting raised as to visitor expectations, and this includes how you build and promote the sound design.
For more information, www.ImagesInSound.com