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Meeting held June 17, 2010 at Microsoft Studios, Redmond WA

AES PNW Section Meeting Report
An Overview of Film Scoring in Los Angeles
with Shawn Murphy, AES Fellow

image linked to img1.jpg
(L-R): Steve Turnidge, Adam Michalak, Shawn Murphy, PNW Chair Bob Moses
Photo by Gary Louie

The PNW Section held its June meeting before a summer hiatus, with AES Fellow Shawn Murphy discussing feature film scoring. The Section also held its business meeting with elections. 16 AES members and 33 non- members attended the meeting at Microsoft Studios, Redmond, WA.

Shawn Murphy has extensive credits in major motion picture sound work, including an Oscar® in 1993 for Jurassic Park. He said that only about 25 people worldwide record film scores for a living. The business is mostly based in LA (maybe 80%) or London (10%) and other places (10%).

Using material from two recent projects recorded at different sound stages, Shawn presented extensive sound and picture demonstrations to show the work flow involved in recording orchestral scores for feature films. The demonstrations were run by Adam Michalak, Stage Recordist at the Sony (MGM) Scoring Stage in Culver City, CA, running a ProTools rig and basic theatrical 5.1 playback system, provided by Microsoft Studios.

To show the process, he started with a specific movie excerpt (or cue) with dialog & sound effects, but no music, from the film, "Salt," which he recorded about a month prior in the Sony (MGM) scoring stage.

Then he played it with "demo" music from the composer, James Newton Howard, which was electronic orchestration music. Additional steps were shown of:

Among other details, he revealed that Pro Tools at 24 bit/96 kHz is the norm. Although dozens of mikes are set up, generally he tries to use a main mike array the most (70%) and spot mikes only as needed, if at all. Here, the main mikes were in a Decca tree (3 Neumann M50s), with L/R outriggers & 2 omni surround mikes. This time there was 90 minutes of score to record for this picture, and he estimates they get 7-10 minutes of usable music per 3 hour session. Thus, they needed 10 sessions. Time keeping accuracy is very important for budgetary and union considerations.

Sketches and photos of the session showed how the recording work gets done. Along with the musicians, many others working the session were shown, including:

Next, Shawn showed how this is all put together. He played the cue music only, with the musician's click track. Together with prerecorded percussion tracks, there are maybe 120 tracks. Stems (submixes containing separate musical elements) are assembled. He played the cue with the orchestra stem alone; then the harps & keyboards stem; guitar; high & low percussion; and synths, showing how different mixes can be easily assembled if the film changes. The layout is a film standard LCRS+sub (left/center/right/surround/subwoofer).

The control room 85dBC-SPL standard monitoring level (subwoofer 91dBC) at a reference level of -20dBFS might seem pretty loud to the uninitiated. Further interesting details include compensating for the 10-20 msecs of latency between parts of the orchestra; having a hard wall behind the french horns and baffles between some sections; watching for acoustic room overload, and making good musical choices when editing. He allowed that digital recording initially was a step backwards in sound quality, but that today's 192kHz sampling can sound good to him. Still different than analog, but good.

A refreshment break was held, PNW election results announced, and some door prizes were awarded.

PNW 2010-2011 officers and committee: Chair - Bob Moses Vice-chair - Rick Chinn Secretary - Gary Louie Treasurer - Dave Franzwa

New 2 year term committee members: Mark Rogers Ivan Tashev JJ Johnston Steve Malott Rick Senechal

After the break, Shawn showed another cue from the film, "Predators" which he worked on after Salt. The similar work flow was described, this time in the Fox scoring stage. He went into more details of the MIDI tempo maps and the musician's headphone mix and click track operator. Different stems were also played to the cue picture for us.

Ensuing questions and discussions included the type of reverb units used; about mixing the spot mikes with the mains; panning philosophy; LFE (low frequency effects) or subwoofer content; music and dialog; and doing scoring at the local Bastyr chapel. He estimated that score recording typically costs about $150k USD per day, and that doing this work in Los Angeles is generally best since everything involved works like a well-oiled machine. > For our dessert, Shawn presented the complete version you never hear of one of his projects: the NBC News theme composed by John Williams, "The Mission," presented for us in the 5.1 channel, 192kHz session, done at the Sony scoring stage.

Reported by Gary Louie, PNW Section Secretary

Last modified 10/22/2011. 04:08:40