September 19, 2013

Sound Devices Travel Through Space & Time for 'Doctor Who'

Video thumbnail for youtube video Sound Devices Powers Doctor Who - No Film SchoolLet's be honest here. All of us are guilty of a little bit of healthy gear fetishism -- it's an undeniably exciting time for the tools of the trade. For whatever reason, audio gear doesn't get nearly the same level of love, and that's kind of sad -- there's plenty of sexiness to go around in that realm, too. Sound Devices is one manufacturer that takes digital dual system technology very, very seriously. As such I was quite interested to find out Sound Devices make up the sound recordist's arsenal on one of my favorite TV shows: the BBC's Doctor Who.

Doctor Who is arguably the longest-running science fiction series in history, and depending how you're counting, one of the longest running shows ever. This is fitting, because the adventures of the last surviving Time Lord -- The Doctor -- cover quite a bit of space, and, you guessed it, time.

Also fitting is sound recordist Deian Humphreys' use of Sound Devices to capture the chrono-hopping chaos on set. In many of their professional digital recorders, Sound Devices utilizes timecode clocking technology from Ambient -- a Lord of Time in its own right. The following comes to us from CreativeCOW, which spotlights Deian Humphreys' crucial role on the set of Doctor Who -- as well as his completely awesome Sound Devices-centric rig (all material courtesy CreativeCOW, photo by Stefan Rice):

When BAFTA Cymru Award-nominated sound recordist Deian Humphreys set out to capture all of the dynamic dialog for the BBC hit science fiction television program "Doctor Who," he turned to Sound Devices 788T-SSD digital audio recorder, 442 field mixer, CL-9 linear fader controller and CL-8 mixing control surface to record and mix all the audio action. "[The] 788T... allows me to easily switch between a Schoeps SuperCMIT digital mic and a Schoeps analog mic without the need for any peripheral equipment," says Humphreys. "I will often have eight iso-tracks being recorded and two mixed tracks, so the 788T is being driven hard."

sound-devices---deian-humphreys doctor who2

Eight inputs recording 24-bit at 192 kHz sounds impressive on a spec sheet for sure. What's more, though, is that the preamps and A/D conversion in a Sound Devices recorder create unbelievably clean recordings. This, coupled with the 788T's metadata input capabilites, facilitates everything down the pipeline:

Humphreys also appreciates the 788T-SSD's metadata features. "I had a long conversation with the dialog editors and one of the requests they had was to match the name of each character with each track. Not just lav 1, lav 2, lav 3, but the character name, so I'm constantly in the 778T-SSD’s track naming menu and I’m re-labeling tracks when different characters come in on those particular mics. That’s such an important feature for me and for the editors, who need to know exactly who is on each track, so they don’t need to waste time pre-listening to tracks to find out who’s on what."

Of course, the 'cleanliness' of production tracks can depend a lot on other factors. Practical special effects -- such as pyrotechnics -- can make it very difficult to save a scene from ADR, regardless of system SNR. However, having solid tools counts for a lot, and Deian has nothing but good things to say about his Sound Devices gear. If you want to read more about his work or his rig, be sure to check out the CreativeCOW write-up below.

Links:

Your Comment

15 Comments

Off the above clip, the sound is too (studio) clean. It lacks the reality of a live situation, where volumes and directions of sounds vary greatly. Plus, the Foley effects are missing. Plus, if the scene was taking place in such a cavernous location, voices would reverberate like crazy.

September 19, 2013 at 12:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
DLD

too (studio) clean -- There is obvious reverb

where volumes and directions of sounds vary greatly. -- It's mixed for TV, more often than not both left and right sources are coming from a near 'mono' source, and volume often needs to be balanced more evenly for television too. Often a film sound better in a theater than on a TV? Wonder why.

the Foley effects are missing. -- I heard all the correct Foley effects. I mean, they don't need to record every piece of clothing folding and rubbing against one another?

if the scene was taking place in such a cavernous location, voices would reverberate like crazy. -- You complain about a bad mix and then say that there should be reverb to the point where you can't hear them (not to mention the fact that there is reverb)...

I think you should maybe get some better ears.

September 19, 2013 at 1:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply
Tyler

It's not necessary to Foley everything. As with camera movements and perspectives, the sound needs to aid the story and not overpower the story like flashy vfx and big set pieces

September 19, 2013 at 8:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
thadon calico

You must be listening on a laptop, because I can hear very realistic reverb from the cave and everything sounds fantastic include the obvious foley.

September 19, 2013 at 1:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply
Steve

Alright. On the second try, it's not as bad as I thought last night. There's a little more separation and reverb but voices, especially their volume, still sound as if they are spoken directly into a mic ... which they are.
.
By comparison, I watched a few opening scenes to Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite". The one at the restaurant - which, I assume, was shot with a boom mic - has better spacing of the four voices, better ambiance, etc. So, as it seems that my hearing is OK. Which can't be said about some folks table manners.

September 19, 2013 at 7:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
DLD

Sound Devices are awesome, and the sound on that show is great, but the show itself is very, very, VERY cheesy.

September 19, 2013 at 1:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
Robert

It's a kids show that also has an adult cult following. Unique and fun. but as with everything, you can't please all the people all of the time. Personally I love a bit of Doctor Who and have done so since I was 4 years old but also enjoy other less 'chessy' drama as well. 'Les Revenants' from Canal+being a recent favourite. Both having great sound.

September 19, 2013 at 3:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Darren Wolff

Now wash your mouths out with soap and water, both of you !

September 19, 2013 at 9:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Saied

+1

September 19, 2013 at 10:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Heyzeus

Modern Who may have actual Foley work, which is great because the original series barely ever had it due to the constraints of the analog system of the day. But what the original Dr. Who had, which modern Who is practically infantile in comparison, was the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Old who had almost no visual effects, but almost always made up for the lack of visuals with amazing sound design. (along with fantastic stories and acting) Given the breadth of work the original Dr. Who series covered, it is arguably the best sound design for a television series ever. Dick Mills, Brian Hodgson, Malcolm Clarke, and Delia Derbyshire had to create sounds for things that didn't exist in the real world every single week.

Now Dr. Who has very good special effects, but they literally "buy off the rack" pre-canned sounds for just about everything except the few trademark sounds they can't stray too far from (like the Tardis, Daleks, etc.)
and it sucks.

Here's a short video that demonstrates how awesome the original who sound was, and how pathetic and "Pew, Pew" sounding it is today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZnAgJCOLnw

September 19, 2013 at 2:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Neil

Along with the recent Rod Serling article, NFS really is full of nice surprises. Delia Derbyshire getting recognition on NFS is almost surreal. Wonderful.

September 19, 2013 at 1:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply
Saied

What a lady! :-)

September 20, 2013 at 4:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Darren Wolff

all that gear is overkill. audio from films from the 60's sound perfectly fine when they recorded to tape.

September 19, 2013 at 6:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
ishoot720p

Honest question - you shoot 720p to tape?

September 20, 2013 at 1:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply
avatar
Dave Kendricken
Writer
Freelancer

nice sound!

September 21, 2013 at 8:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply
DIO