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Keeping voices on the level

Larry Winer

Audio mixer working in feature animation at L.A. Studios Inc. in Hollywood.

Credits: The DreamWorks animated films “Shrek,” “Madagascar” and the upcoming “Over the Hedge.”

Duties: “Mainly I work with A-list celebrities who are widely used in animation these days. I record the talent -- on any given day I record, edit and/or mix for feature animations, sometimes for DVD commentary and video games. The primary focus is on animation, and in animation, the key is the value of the audio. The sound brings a feature to life.”

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The talent: “The actor arrives and is given an overall pitch for the film, sometimes specific scenes. They look at storyboards. Then we record. While recording we also videotape the actors, which enables the animators to capture facial expression. A good example would be in ‘Madagascar.’ Sacha Cohen’s character, Julien, at one point was dancing to a song. We had him dance in the studio and had a boom microphone on him so that once the animators got their hands on the edited audio, they could bring the character to life. In essence, the soul of the performance is the voice.”

Direction: “We work with some of the top studios in town that are really good with detail in their CG animation -- DreamWorks, Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros. Because the animation is so detailed, we actually tell the actors to tone it down. We often record one person at a time, but in ‘Shrek 2,’ we recorded Julie Andrews and John Cleese together. Because they were not used to the animation part, at first they were a little too over-the-top. In general, for feature animation, we want them to be their natural selves -- a little more toned down because the animators are great at capturing the essence of the characters from the audio.

“What is interesting is a lot of these actors frequent our facilities, so I get to know their personalties and what to expect and how they might deliver a line. That helps a lot in controlling their levels. Also, we work with producers and directors, and they are good with the direction and leading the talent into where they should go. As long as I am in sync with the producers and directors, we are in great shape.”

Extra credit: “Mainly I recorded the dialogue for the film for ‘Madagascar,’ but the editors had me do some extra stuff. There is a scene with Chris Rock where he is swinging from tree to tree and he is doing that Tarzan yell.... There are not many people who can do the Tarzan yell. So we took several takes and different pieces and I was able to edit that together and make it sound like the real Tarzan yell.”

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Technical details: “The rooms have changed quite a bit. It’s all digital. One of the main tools I consider important is the Neuman U87A microphone. That is the basic tool of the feature trade. It has become the microphone of choice. It really handles the dynamics well, especially when we are dealing with animation because some characters can go from a whisper to a scream in a moment flat, and it’s my job to really control that -- and to make sure we get the best quality audio going to our hard drives.”

Background: “I have been a musician since I was a young kid. I studied classical piano and jazz and saxophone, and I am a drummer. Being a musician, I was always in a recording studio environment, but on the other side of the glass and behind the microphone. I got through college, where I studied music and psychology, and I wanted to work at a recording studio. My first job out of school was at an ad agency where I was working in the mailroom and at the same time writing jingles for the agency. The executive producer liked my work, and through that I got hooked up with L.A. Studios.”

Problem solving: “There is certain talent that comes in here who are used to working on-screen, and they move around a lot [in the recording booth]. They don’t realize in the studio environment you have to stand behind the mike. That is where the psychology that I studied in school comes in, subtly knowing how to tell them what to do without offending them. Part of my job is to assist the talent in giving a great performance, so I feel very responsible.”

Resides: Pasadena and Venice Beach

Age: 37

Union or guild: None. “There are certain editors’ unions, but we are an independently owned studio.”

-- Susan King


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