Interview with Dan Kenyon
Dan Kenyon is a sound designer and sound effects editor who has worked in projects such as Star Trek, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Spiderman: Far From Home, and more recently in The Trial of the Chicago 7. He is an Emmy winner, a great professional with a vast resumé, and he uses Sound Particles!
Get to know more about the way he works in the industry and how he uses our software in this new interview.
What do you do as sound effects editor?
Sound effects editors are hired by the supervising sound editor when there is a rough cut of a film. At this stage, the picture department provides the sound crew with their sound edit of dialog, temp sound effects and temp music tracks in addition to the cut picture. I’ll then coordinate with the sound supervisor and other editors before opening a blank pro tools session and getting to work! As a sound effects editor, I build everything from scratch including backgrounds, hard effects, vehicles, and basically everything you hear in a movie except for the music and the recorded dialog from production. This is achieved through meticulously selecting, layering and premixing sounds from my sound libraries. If there is a sound I need for a project but I don’t have in my libraries, I’ll try to record it. I have to constantly maintain and improve this work over the course of a given project.
Are there any specific types of sounds you like to edit the most?
For me, it’s more about the process than specific sounds: starting with a blank slate, working closely with the rest of the sound crew, and experiencing my work come together with dialog and music to produce the final product. The post sound community is pretty tight knit and you work with these people for long hours, sometimes weekends and holidays so you get to know them really well. Everyone has their own ways of working so there’s always more to learn. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really talented designers and supervisors and that is very rewarding. All of these relationships and experiences influence my sound editing choices. I enjoy cutting a car chase just as much as cutting backgrounds for a quiet scene or creating the perfect door creak and close. It can take hours to create and manipulate the right sound. Sometimes you just discover it by accident. It’s a process.
How do you organize yourselves when working together?
It is different for every project, but in general, the organization and overall direction comes from the sound supervisor. On a big film there are multiple sound effects editors and there are usually six reels. Those reels are divided up between editors and all of the work is done on a central server. We share recurring elements such as gunshots, car engines, and backgrounds for certain scenes etc. The needs of every project can, and often do, change throughout the process so we all have to adapt. Deadlines move around, the visual effects are updated and schedules change. It is extremely collaborative and it has to be in order to reach the finish line.
How are you adapting to this current situation, given the fact that it’s a very collaborative workflow?
It’s all about keeping an open line of communication with everyone on the crew via email, text, video conferencing, google docs, or by any other means. The recent crews I have worked with were very well organized. For one film I worked on during COVID, I sent separate 5.1 sound effects and background stems to the sound supervisor for review after finishing each reel. By the time the sound effects sessions were sent to the stage for mixing, the workflow was not actually that different from how we normally mix. When a mix note came up I would address it and send a small session to the stage to import into the master session. On the last film I finished, everyone on the sound crew joined a video conference each day during the final mix. The whole crew was able to see and hear the mix remotely as well as communicate with the mixers and filmmakers on the stage.
Did you bring a lot of things from your workplace to your studio at home?
I own an Avid iPad Dock, and an Avid S3 control surface that I bring everywhere with me. I hadn’t worked from home in years and all I had was a pair of speakers and a stereo audio interface. When COVID developed into a serious problem all of us were scrambling out of studios. I packed up my gear from the studio I was working in and drove straight to Westlake Pro in Burbank to upgrade my home rig. The trickiest part of the whole transition was monitoring my work in my home environment. At the time I was set up in my dining room, so I had to go back and forth between listening in headphones and speakers to see how everything was balanced and working. Beyond that I’ve acquired A LOT of plug in licenses and new sound libraries so I can be flexible when taking on new jobs.
We know you were part of the team on Star Trek: Discovery, can you talk a little bit more about your role on that project?
Usually when I work on a television show, I am provided with sound effects sessions from previous episodes and a to-do list. I’ll cut the episode or work on a handful of notes and that’s the end. Not the case with Star Trek. I came on to help with the season two finale. Matt Taylor was the sound supervisor and Tim Farrell was the lead sound designer. It was a huge episode that essentially was a non-stop space battle. The visual effects in the show are awesome and their department was constantly adding and changing the ships, explosions, lasers, user interface graphics and everything else to make the best, most impactful finale possible. The sound effects had to follow and reflect those changes. Clayton Weber and Mike Shapiro were the other sound effects editors that were on this episode. Similar to working on a feature film, we were each responsible for different aspects of the episode which were ultimately overseen by Tim. We mixed on one of the feature film stages at Warner Brothers with re-recording mixers Brad Sherman and Aleksandr Gruzdev.
Disclaimer: these sounds weren't used in the show, these are examples to showcase the kind of sounds Dan created for Star Trek using Sound Particles.
What was your favorite part of that project?
My favorite part was the variety of sounds that the episode needed. The majority of the sounds were designed by Tim but there were also new elements that needed new sounds. It all had to fit with the aesthetic that Tim established. I also enjoyed being on the dub stage. What draws me to post production is being able to directly experience my contribution to the finished product. When you are on the dub stage you are able to see how everything is working together with the final music and dialog, how the clients are reacting and what kind of notes they’re giving. That’s all really important information. You can design a cool sound and play it really loud in your edit room but that might not be helpful for what’s going on in the scene, what the music is doing or what the filmmakers are intending. This was very helpful for me during my time on Star Trek: Discovery.
We know that you also used Sound Particles in Star Trek. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you used it and why?
I realized right away I needed Sound Particles due to the huge scale of the ship battle. There was a massive amount of ships firing constantly from all different distances, directions and flying at different speeds. Tim made all of the sounds for each ship, their maneuvers and weapon firing patterns. We needed to create a busy, complex and exciting volley of ship lasers that had variety and clarity.
I started with the Big City template, which is one of the templates I personally always lean towards in the emitter-type templates. This template is great because it has emitters popping up in every direction and you can add movement to each emitter. I imported Tim’s sounds and started tweaking parameters and rendering different versions. Because of the size and complexity of the existing sound design in the master session, I chose to render the final results as stereo files.
Although Sound Particles 7.0 renderings sound amazing, we needed to be intentional and focused with the lasers to maintain the clarity of the mix. Within these diverse beds of sound, Sound Particles sometimes created these really cool dopplers that would pop out. It was exciting to go through and find these unique flybys, indicative of what Sound Particles is really capable of. They were featured for specific close up ship flybys.
In addition to creating realistic battle layers out of original source material, Tim has also shared with me that he's used Sound Particles to create a few of the signature sounds of the show, most notably the sound of the Klingon cloaking device activating as well as the sound of the mycelium particles and parts of the spore drive. He's also used it to create more organic material such as alien insect beds (made from dolphin clicks) and the sound of millions of tribbles reproducing uncontrollably.
Are there any other situations where you used Sound Particles?
I recently used it in a movie that has a lot of crowds protesting and rioting. I needed doppler crowd passbys of people yelling and screaming to add to the chaos and confusion. I used a variety of single screams and crowd panic with the Flying Out of the Cave template and the results were really cool.
Sound Particles was a lifesaver on a film I worked on called Geostorm. I made all kinds of 7.0 beds of debris, wind, glass, metal, explosions, lightning and even soft wind and grass for subtle background textures. I used the Doppler Explosion template to make mono and stereo impacts as well. The whole sound effects crew on Geostorm - Cameron Frankley, Jon Michaels, Greg ten Bosch, Roland Thai, D. Chris Smith - really embraced Sound Particles because of how big and complex the action on screen was and how many different sounds we had to design. In the film Game Night (Cameron Frankley, Jon Michaels), there was a scene in a house where we follow the main characters into a basement where they stumble upon an underground fight club. We needed to hear the fight crowd in the basement getting louder as we approach and eventually pan over to see the fight. When we finally see the crowd, the camera whip pans around the room. Jon imported the video file into Sound Particles and he was able to automate the movement of the microphone to match the camera direction down the stairs and into the middle of the crowd. That kind of blew my mind.
Thank you for sharing how you use Sound Particles with us, Dan, and how it's like to work in the industry! We hope you keep using Sound Particles for many future projects to come.
Topics: Sound Particles, Audio Software, Film, Sound for Film and TV, Audio tech, 3D audio, Surround Sound, Emmys