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Spacious, advanced sound suite coming to Patterson

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:09


photo by Ben Boyle

The Thomas Newman suite in the Patterson building is the only audio-mixing suite for final sound edits on campus. It has five speakers and a sub-woofer as well as an original sound recording booth.

When Philip Williamson must wait for his movie to be edited in the booked Thomas Newman sound-mixing suite, it is like his movie has an incurable disease.

The junior cinema and digital arts major is not the only one with an unfinished movie in need of treatment.

“You are lucky if you get it during certain times of the year,” said Thomas Lechowicz, a junior cinema and digital arts major.

Cinema and digital arts students rely on the only sound mixing suite in Patterson Building for final sound mixing and for creating their own sound in the suite’s closet-sized recording booth. With the influx of students taking classes for the new sound concentration this year along with Production-4 seniors making their theses, the suite fills up fast during crucial points in the semester. Because of the increased demand, cinema and digital arts professor Andrew Halasz successfully lobbied for a new mixing suite as large as a classroom to be functional next year in Patterson.

“If we hadn’t had a sound concentration, I would still be pushing to get a sound mixing suite because every film needs to be mixed,” said Halasz Thursday in his office.

Final mixing is a process in the post-production stage of editing when movie editors add sound effects, smooth out dialogue and levels and put the final touches on a film in a quiet environment, ideal for listening. Halasz said mixing takes up about a quarter of the time in post-production movie making.

Halasz teaches an intermediate sound course, an advanced sound course and a digital sound course for animation students. The new sound concentration that began this school year requires students to complete intermediate, advanced and a Production-4 thesis project, but all of the students in his classes are not necessarily in the sound concentration – some just want to learn more about sound.

“I never expected the [sound classes] to fill up just because it’s a new concentration,” Halasz said. “Students are more excited about the idea of sound because…they are saying ‘Hey, that’s a really important aspect of film.’ Because we haven’t offered the classes, now students are sort of flooding towards it.”

Williamson is enrolled in Halasz’s advanced sound class. He calls the influx of students interested in sound a “weird explosion.”

“It’s a job security kind of thing,” said Williamson over the phone Thursday. “One thing that we keep hearing as students in cinema is that there is a large demand for sound people in the real world.”

Lechowicz, who is also in Halasz’s advanced sound class, also agreed with the importance of sound.

“What you see and what you hear are both very equal when you watch a movie,” said Lechowicz over the phone Saturday. “You know when a movie looks beautiful, but the sound design isn’t there.”

Halasz said sound is often overlooked in a film because funds can be depleted by the final post-production phases.

Production-3 movies created by students are a perfect example of this, according to Lechowicz.

“Some films are shot beautifully, look great, but when it comes to sound design, a lot of the time if the sound doesn’t compliment the image well enough, it shows, and the audience picks up on that,” he said.

Students who are able to use the Newman audio suite can adjust loudness, softness and even what will be muffled and what will be heard clearly. Because the suite has five main speakers and a sub-woofer, students can also decide from where in the theater the audience hears the sound: in front of them, to their sides or behind them.

“There are so many things to try out and experiment with, which I know a lot of students, including myself, would love to practice, but it’s sad because we can’t,” Williamson said. “Because there is such a limited time space to work in post-work for our projects, it makes it all the more essential that we have more post-facilities to work with.”

Problems with post-production

Although there are eight other sound editing suites in the university where students can do sound work, all of Halasz’s sound students must use the Newman final mixing suite at some point. But switching back and forth between the professional audio suite and the other smaller editing suites can cause problems for student work.

“Whenever you switch between one very well-made sound suite to a computer with headphones, your sound mix is going to sound different in each of them,” Lechowicz said, comparing it to almost “starting from scratch.”

Lechowicz said the cinema and digital arts department needs to “stay up to date” if all majors in the department are to compete in the industry after graduation.

“If we did have more suites the problems moving between classrooms and different editing suites, the sound mixes changing would definitely be less,” Lechowicz said. “I’d like to see students given a chance to work with professional equipment so we can better ourselves before we graduate and better our chances of getting a job in the sound design field.”

Halasz said the university put a lot of resources into the production phase of the student filmmaking process so far, and that the decision to have a sound concentration was also a “commitment to get some money” invested in the post-production phase.

“It’s ultimately insuring the quality of all these films,” Halasz said. “Money is put into the production stage. If you don’t have the money in post-production stage, what’s the point in spending the money in the production stage…The money that’s put into any sound post-production facilities is not just a benefit to the sound editors and the sound concentration, it’s a benefit to everyone who is making a film in this program.”

Bigger, better Burtt

The new sound-mixing suite will make things “more efficient for sure,” according to Halasz. 

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