Super 8 was never like this before…

25th August 2011
Small-town America… strange phenomena… the threat of a cover-up… kids to the rescue – it sounds like a late 70s Steven Spielberg movie. Nearly right.

Super 8 is a JJ Abrams homage to the genre, with Spielberg himself as producer. And how he would have loved to have had today’s technology to hand when he was making ET or Close Encounters – not just for the visual effects but for the sound too.

Abrams, however, was lucky enough to have access to the world’s most powerful mixing engine, Fox Studios’s USP-equipped AMS Neve DFC. That meant the sound designer, Ben Burtt, had the freedom to record and layer multiple sounds for pivotal moments, knowing that effects re-recording mixer Anna Behlmer would have the inputs, routing and processing power not only to mix them but to adjust to edit decisions right up to print (see Mel Lambert’s article for the MPEG here).

But it wasn’t only Fox’s DFC that the mix team used. One of the great advantages of AMS Neve’s pre-eminence in Hollywood is that when a compressed schedule demands it, overspill work can be farmed out to other facilities without compromising either quality or efficiency. So, while Behlmer was working on the effects, pre-mixes for the dialogue were handled by Tom Johnson on the DFC at Skywalker Sound, and then brought in to Fox, where Johnson (dialogue), Behlmer (effects) and Andy Nelson (music) produced the final mix.

Dan Wallin at Fox’s 88RS while director JJ Abrams & composer Michael Giacchino (standing) watch. Photo: Dan Goldwasser/

The score had also benefited from the ubiquity of AMS Neve’s consoles in the major film studios. The Neve 88RS – not only the world’s No1 music console but, with its optional SP2 scoring panel, the world’s only dedicated machine for orchestral film scoring work – is the choice of all the big Hollywood scoring stages. So, while the greater part of Michael Giacchino’s score, with its own elements of homage to composer John Williams, was recorded at Fox’s Newman Scoring Stage, some recording and mixing also took place at Warner’s Eastwood Scoring Stage.

Since both facilities are big enough to accommodate the 104-piece Hollywood Studio Symphony, with the Neve 88RS as the centrepiece in both control rooms, it was simple for Dan Wallin, as music recording engineer, to switch between the two. With the SP2 scoring panel also incorporating a stem-maker, Wallin supplied the score as a 5.1 stem mix. Andy Nelson, at the DFC, then had the ultimate flexibility not only to allocate sounds where required in the spatial mix, but also to adjust the orchestral mix to suit and sit with the other soundtrack elements.