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The Les Misérables Sound Team: Part 2

Inside Track: Secrets Of The Mix Engineers By Paul Tingen
Published May 2013

Not only did the Les Misérables crew have to capture live singing on a film set: they then had to figure out how to overdub orchestral arrangements to it!

President of Film Music for Universal Pictures Mike Knobloch was on hand at AIR Studios to take session photos of the orchestral overdubs. Here, Les Miserables director Tom Hooper (standing) consults conductor Stephen Brooker.President of Film Music for Universal Pictures Mike Knobloch was on hand at AIR Studios to take session photos of the orchestral overdubs. Here, Les Miserables director Tom Hooper (standing) consults conductor Stephen Brooker.When Tom Hooper signed up to direct the film version of the musical Les Misérables, he insisted that all the singing would be recorded live. This, as we saw in last month's Inside Track, set a colossal challenge for the sound team led by Simon Hayes and Gerard McCann. With a lot of imaginative thinking, clever technology and a ruthless approach to silencing the film set, the team managed to capture clean recordings of all the vocal performances, mostly on DPA lavalier microphones concealed in the actors' costumes. Rather than constrain the singers to any pre-recorded backing track, accompaniment was provided live from a MIDI keyboard and relayed to the actors through earpieces.

However, getting the vocal performances in the can was only the beginning. These performances needed to be edited before having orchestration overdubbed to them. The team were dealing with 20 or more takes for each scene, nothing locked in time, and picture edits that never seemed to end, each of which required them to re-edit the vocals and guide piano. Hayes, McCann and Supervising Sound and Music Editor John Warhurst explain how they untangled this one.

Simon Hayes: "We were shooting so many vocal tracks on Les Mis that we knew that dialogue editing would be a huge job, so we brought in a very experienced dialogue editor, Tim Hands, who was on the set to familiarise himself with the tracks while we were recording. He could start getting the best out of the vocals even before post-production started. Tim and myself worked extremely closely. He was based at Pinewood Studios and I spent many of my lunch hours listening to his work and sharing information about my tracks with him. Normally, my recordings will go to the dialogue editor, and the music department won't hear them until the final mix, because they have nothing to do with them. But since the dialogue recordings were also the vocals, in this case, the music department needed to get my recordings as soon as possible, so they could treat them the same way as if they were comping vocals for an album.”

A Dialogue About Dialogue

Gerard McCann: "The vocal editing on this project was unique, and was hard to force into pre-existing job descriptions. Dialogue editing is a recognised job in film, but given that the dialogue was almost entirely sung, there's much more to dealing with it than what a dialogue editor would normally do. I'd asked Tim Hands to join the team and he did all the things he's good at. He received the cuts from the picture editors, loaded all the multi-channel vocal tracks, and edited and manipulated them like you would with normal dialogue. After that, John Warhurst, who is more experienced in working with music, started massaging the vocals to improve them. The vocal editing was really done between the two of them.”John Warhurst was one of the Music Editors on Les Misérables.

John Warhurst: "Yeah, the roles were really blurred on this project, and there was a sort of ping-pong match between ourselves and editorial calling what we were working on 'vocals' and calling it 'dialogue'. Tim loaded all the vocal and piano tracks in using Titan software. This imports the audio from an EDL [Edit Decision List] and puts it in sync with the picture. It then outputs it as a Pro Tools session, in preparation for sound editorial. Once he'd done that, he would put the tracks together as a dialogue editor would normally do, listening out for any background noise such as camera noise or footsteps. After that, I started working on it from a musical point of view, which could entail trying different combinations of takes that work better together as a musical ensemble piece or listening to the different performances. On quite a few occasions, I also edited or straightened up the piano to make it fit the picture edits, using the MIDI data that had been recorded by Gerard and Rob.

"Rather than tune or in other ways treat the vocals, our first port of call was always to try to edit in other takes, and we had a lot of options, because there would, on average, be about 20 takes of each vocal, so we could usually repair things simply through editing. Also, all credit to Simon, because 99.99 percent of all vocals were perfectly recorded, so we had an amazing safety net of alternate takes. We tried to keep any tuning work to a minimum, as you can hear these processes when overtly used, and it went against the very natural feel of the film we were trying to create. We experimented with software like Celemony's Melodyne, Synchro Arts' Revoice Pro and Serato's Pitch 'n Time, but always tried to keep the most natural, least processed option possible. Tom [Hooper] always encouraged us to let him know if we had better vocal takes, in which case he'd look again at the images and might reconsider his picture edit. I was also regularly called into the picture-editing department with questions about whether certain cuts would work or not, because the picture edits needed to make musical sense as well. A major part of my work consisted of making sure the scenes with multiple singers worked and that the singers were in sync together, particularly if they had been shot on different locations and days. The rule was that whoever was on screen, everybody else's vocal had to fit with that. As always, when working on film, three weeks later we might receive a different picture edit, and we'd have to do all the work again, re-prioritising whoever was on screen in the new edit!

"Although Tom was obviously very committed to having as little ADR [Automated Dialogue Replacement, ie. overdubbing] as possible, there was always some ADR planned in the opening scene with the slaves and convicts who are in the historic docks in Portsmouth, and who have freezing-cold sea water right up to their chests! The microphones would have broken immediately, so they had to lip-sync. There also was the sound of the engines from the big fans blowing the waves and spray, and the hydraulics for tilting the massive water vats, rain machines and so on — all in all, a very noisy place to try and record a vocal performance! When we recorded the ADR for that scene, we had people singing while pulling ropes, for it to sound as authentic as possible! A lot of the chorus material, like in 'Master Of The House' and some other big chorus sections, was sweetened with overdubs to give extra width and size. These were all recorded by Rob Edwards in an ADR studio, exactly the way Simon had recorded everyone on the set, with lavalier microphones on their chests and some tight and wide stereo mics.The original live recordings were augmented with additional chorus takes recorded in ADR studios: this photo shows the setup for a session at Goldcrest. We recorded smaller groups, like 15-30 people, at Goldcrest Studios, and larger groups at Pinewood Studios. Tom always wanted the singing to be as raucous as possible, with regional accents showing. He also wanted everything recorded as dry as possible, without reverb, which was why we recorded it in an ADR studio, which had a much tighter sound, rather than a big music studio.When you're working on a 150-minute feature film, preparation is everything. John Warhurst thus delivered his vocal edits in a consistent format, where the main actors always occupied the same tracks. "This is of the factory scene in the song 'At The End of The Day', and it gives a good overall view of the vocal template that we worked in, with the full layout of all characters. This template layout was devised by Tim Hands and Andy Nelson quite early in the process, so that Andy would know exactly what he was going to get for every reel — so when he premixed the vocals, his desk layout would always be the same.”

"We did also try some ADR lines on the lead solo vocals, just to try out all the options, but every time an ADR line went by it was as if there was a big signpost on the screen saying: 'ADR!' So we never used those. It was never any better. The thing is that all these solo vocals were recorded live in an atmosphere with quite a bit of pressure. I went to the set a few times and there always was a certain amount of tension in the air, which gave an atmosphere to the live sung performances. I've been on film sets before, and there was a very different atmosphere at Les Mis. There was a lot more pressure on the actors, not only to deliver good singing performances, but also to deliver them 26 times in a row, perfectly, with only them being able to hear the piano in their earpiece. A vocalist in a studio would never sing a song 26 times in a row to get a perfect take. We all know how a perfect vocal for song is recorded in a studio, with drop-ins of individual lines and so on. Tom preferred to shoot things in complete takes, which really helped a lot when constructing and comping vocals.”

Now Bring The Orchestra

At this point, the team had a rough vocal and picture edit, but the only musical accompaniment was their on-set guide piano. What's more, the tempo of the live performances fluctuated wildly, and more picture and hence vocal edits were yet to come. How is it possible to synchronise a live orchestra with that, particularly if you're also dealing with a director who insists on experimenting with the orchestral recordings themselves? Gerard McCann, Music Editors James Bellamy and Rael Jones, and music recording engineer and mixer Jonathan Allen explain how they managed.Music Editor Rael Jones (shown here in the control room at Abbey Road Studio 2).

Gerard McCann: "Once we had a basic picture and vocal/piano edit for a scene, and after we'd finessed these cuts with the editors to improve the musical continuity, we had to go through the audio and mark out every bar and every beat of this edited performance. From that, we built a tempo map in Pro Tools, which was used to do a sample mock-up of the orchestration. Large parts of the film were newly orchestrated by Stephen Metcalfe, who had orchestrated several of the stage versions, and Anne Dudley. The original composer, Claude-Michel Schönberg, was also involved in that process. So the three of them, with input from Tom, worked with the programmers to produce these mock-ups of the orchestrations, and eventually these mock-ups would be approved and the real orchestral parts would be recorded. But as the picture and the vocal edits changed, the tempo maps were constantly changing and the orchestrations as well. This was quite challenging for everyone — 'quite an adventure' was the term we used. You only want to spend your money on orchestral recordings once you're reasonably sure of the orchestral arrangements, and in order to aid the orchestra and the conductor, Stephen Brooker, the tempo maps were available as click tracks and as streamers, which are coloured wipes that go across a picture screen, allowing the conductor to visually follow the tempo of the orchestral mock-up. This was all very hard work: much, much harder work than doing a bespoke film score for a song that has an 89bpm set arrangement!”

James Bellamy:Music Editor James Bellamy.Photo: Tony Lewis "Yeah, we were reinventing the wheel on this one. I did many of the tempo maps, and also was the general-purpose music editor in the corridor, who was often called in by the picture editors with questions about whether certain cuts they wanted to do would work from a musical perspective. Sometimes they wanted to extend a section, which meant that we needed musical placeholders. These initially were done via MIDI piano, and were then done for real, with the orchestra often arranged by Anne Dudley.

"The tempo maps were not easy to do. Sometimes the actor would leave a huge amount of space, and we'd have these bars of 10bpm that'd last 20 seconds. Once it came to actually recording the orchestra, we needed to split that up into something that made more musical sense, and I spent a lot of time turning tempo maps that were utterly ridiculous into something that was merely ridiculous! I also helped create the MIDI tracks for the streamers, and went through these cues with Stephen Brooker. I'd hand my tempo maps to Rael, who then adjusted them as needed to make his sample demos work, and I'd get WAV files back from him. Sometimes there'd be a screening announced for an hour later, and the orchestra mock-up was not entirely in sync, and in those cases Pro Tools' Elastic Audio was a massive help. We discovered that we could import the demo from one session into a different session with a different tempo map, and the whole demo would sort of adjust itself in time with the new vocal, which was pretty invaluable.”

Rael Jones: "I spent an incredible amount of time adjusting tempo maps. In the beginning, I'd import them from a MIDI file from Gerard or James, but as time went by I would reconstruct them from scratch. This was necessary, as the only thing they had to work with was the guide piano tracks, which were not always perfectly in time with the vocals and had abrupt tempo changes that would sound impossible when played by an orchestra. So I had to smooth the tempo maps out to make the orchestral programming more natural, while making sure it fitted with the voices. New picture edits would come in at least once a week, but sometimes several times a day, often with different vocal takes and tempos, so I'd have to adjust the tempo maps again! To be able to accommodate all these changes, I worked in MIDI all the time for maximum flexibility. I did all the tempo maps and orchestral mock-ups in Logic, which I find far better for working with MIDI and sample instruments than Pro Tools. Conversely, I find that Pro Tools is far better at dealing with audio.

"Anne supplied her scores handwritten, whereas Stephen used Sibelius, so I could input his orchestrations quickly from an exported MIDI file. I had an assistant, Nick Hill, whose main task was to input notes into Logic. I believe Stephen has orchestrated Les Misérables five or six times before, so he would often go back to his earlier orchestrations and use these as a starting point. In some cases, they wanted orchestrations that were close to his approach for the West End show, but sometimes the score diverged far from that. Later on, I also orchestrated some additional material. I tried to make the orchestral mock-ups sound as good as possible — there are all sorts of expression options these days, like legato transitions, portamento, dynamic sampling and so on, which can make an orchestral sample mock-up sound very realistic if you spend the time on them. For the strings, I used LASS [LA Scoring Strings] and Spitfire Solo Strings, and occasionally Spitfire Albion. For the rest of the orchestra, I mainly used CineBrass, CineBrass Pro, CineWinds, VSL Woodwinds and Spitfire Percussion. As things went on, I moved more to the role of music editor, and James went over to AIR Lyndhurst to assist with the orchestral recordings. The picture edits continued to change after the orchestral recording, and despite experimenting with using Elastic Audio in Pro Tools, we really didn't want to compromise the sound quality, so in the end we just edited the audio as best we could to make it fit the pictures.”This screen, from the song 'I Dreamed A Dream', shows the meticulous work that was necessary to create Pro Tools sessions that the orchestra could record to. James Bellamy: "I took this session to Air Lyndhurst for the orchestra recordings. There is a tempo map at the top. 'Edit ED' is the Avid dialogue track, hence the D. Edit E is the cut of the film that we were recording this song to. They start with Edit A and work through several versions, and this is edit E. In some songs they got quite far beyond edit E, but this particular song didn't change, because it famously was done in one take. Underneath that is the MIDI track with a Pro Tools plug-in, which is bussed to the next track down, Click Rec, which is a recorded version of the output of that, which is the click for the conductor. 'RJv6' is the mocked up orchestra, meaning 'Rael Jones version 6'. The nomenclature of the orchestral mock-up files was very precise. 'MO4' is the ID for the cue of 'I Dreamed A Dream', 'R2vTH17' is the reel number, scene 28, 'NoVox' shows that this was an audio version without vocal, and it's version 6 done by Rael Jones. There's obviously an edit, I had to move the orchestral mock-up in sync. The tracks below that are MIDI tracks for streamers to give the conductor visual clues of the tempo. If you look at the 'Making The Music' clip on YouTube, you can see that there are the coloured wipes that go across the screen, and they were fired by Pro Tools via MIDI. The green streamers at the top are all on the downbeat of the bars, the blue stream is the direction to him to bring the orchestra off before she sings 'the dream I dreamed' at the end. You can see in the tempo map at the top that the tempo varies quite a lot.”Rael Jones created his orchestral mock-ups in Logic. This is the arrangement for 'I Dreamed A Dream': "You can see the tempo map at the top and on the right; it's quite a list, with hundreds of tempo changes. Tracks 1 to 3 in blue are the vocal files. 'D' is for dialogue, 'M' is the music track. That would have been the guide piano early on, and as time went by it would be my orchestral mock-ups. There's an earlier version of my demo in the greyed-out blue music track (2) and beneath that (3), version 8 of my demo. I'm working on version 10 here. I did about 15 to 20 orchestral demos per song, going up to 30 versions in some cases. Everything beneath the music tracks is MIDI orchestra, colour coded per instrumental section.”

Dangerous Beasts

Jonathan Allen: "Tom Hooper is a director who has the ability to imagine sounds as clearly as he can imagine pictures. He was also questioning all the time the conventions of movie scoring, with big orchestras and large dynamics, which is 90 percent of the work we do. In a case like this, you end up trying out many different options to achieve the ideas someone has in his head. By insisting on recording the dialogues live on the sets, and also by the way he filmed things, Tom had created a world that had its own laws, and the way the orchestra would work within that world took time to discover. While Tom was editing the movie, he had been listening to the actors' voices accompanied by a piano guide track, which was obviously totally subservient to the vocals. When it came to orchestral recording, he didn't want anything musical to suddenly detract from the vocal performances. In that context, an orchestra is quite a dangerous beast, because you have enormous dynamics and a huge range of colours. The theatre show is a very fast and busy experience for the audience, but much of the movie was pared down to very simple elements. So when we recorded the orchestra, we had to find a way to reflect the scale of the musical, but at the same time not detract from the emotions of the original performances.

"In terms of the way we recorded the orchestra, this had a couple of consequences. Most movie orchestras will have a string size of 45 to 50 players, but the orchestrators pared this down to 30-34 players, and this immediately also limited the size of the instruments behind the strings, so we were down to double woodwinds, four horns, simple brass and simple percussion. The other interesting thing was that Tom asked for a carpet to be put in the hall at AIR Lyndhurst. At Tom Hooper's insistence, the acoustics of the large hall at AIR Lyndhurst were damped with carpets to achieve a drier sound.Photo: Mike KnoblochThat studio has quite a live acoustic, and he didn't want the energy of the orchestra to overpower the vocals. So I put some carpet down, while still trying to retain some of the nice colours of the early reflections in the hall. But after the first day of recording, Tom said that he wanted more carpet, and we ended up putting carpet everywhere. Actually, this turned out to be a very good idea. Because Simon had recorded the voices on the set so clean and so well, without EQ or compression, and this natural approach had been carried through during vocal editing, it now moved into the orchestral recordings. I also didn't use any compression, and very little digital reverb, apart from on a few of the larger scenes, just for five or six moments in the entire movie.

"All the way through, I wanted a sound that was honest, so I used some nice ribbon microphones and placed them very close on the strings, like the Coles 4038s and the AEA RCA 44C. This allowed us to have a more tactile and dry string sound.The orchestra was tracked with numerous different miking setups simultaneously, to provide plenty of options at mixdown. AIR Lyndhurst's custom AEA 44R ribbon mics offered a vintage flavour.Photo: Mike Knobloch I also had two sets of ambient microphones, the omni Schoeps MK2Hs for the larger sequences and subcardioid MK21s for a more intimate surround sound. I edited the various orchestral takes together, as this not only helped me mix but also keep on top of the picture changes. These edits were then further tightened for sync by James and Rael.

"I mixed the music stems, and Andy [Nelson] created an initial 7.1 template with the surround information in the side speakers keeping space for the effects and atmosphere in the far rear. That was our first configuration, but when Andy tried it during dubbing, it did not seem to be working very well for Tom, who asked me whether I could reconfigure the template to spread the surround further, giving you the feeling of being enveloped within the orchestra but leaving a clear space for the dialogue at the front. So I emptied the centre channel quite considerably, leaving very little information, and spread the panning around so that the surround microphones were in the far back left and right, and then my Schoeps Mk21 outrigger wide string microphones would be available as extra side information in 7.1. Suddenly it became far easier to hear the dialogue, and there still was the feeling of being immersed within the orchestra. In essence, I did a 5.1 mix, with two untreated MK21 microphones which Andy then controlled. I really loved the fact that Tom was questioning everything, because it made the whole process much more interesting for me. It's very refreshing, and it's something that I have since carried to working on other movie scores. We should regularly question what we are doing and why, and whether we are getting the best emotional impact possible.”

The Final Hurdles

To minimise the length of cable runs, AIR Lyndhurst employ remote mic preamps which sit in the live area and send line-level signals to the Neve console. Photo: Mike Knobloch

The orchestral recordings took place at the end of October 2012, after which it was time to combine all the ingredients and see whether the whole thing would actually work. The pressure was on, because an early December London première was already planned. Eminent movie mixer Andy Nelson flew over from Los Angeles to mix the vocals and music for the soundtrack, with help from Mark Paterson who handled the special effects. They mixed at Halo Post Studio 1 in Soho, which sports the movie industry's flagship console, a 72-fader AMS-Neve DFC Gemini with a massive 1120 inputs. Nelson and Paterson might have had a major mess to sort out, but mercifully, nearly a year earlier, McCann and Hayes had already foreseen some of the problems that they might encounter.

Hayes: "When we were testing our working methods in February 2012, it immediately became apparent that as soon as you put an orchestra around a vocalist, it was completely and utterly unacceptable to have shifts in acoustics on the vocals when camera angles change. This turned out to be one of the major differences between recording dialogue and recording live singing for a movie. Normally, we celebrate the changes in natural acoustics when you switch from a close shot to a wide shot, and the microphone also moves further away, because it makes watching the movie seem more natural and realistic. But when dealing with singing it was very unnatural and drew the audience's attention to the editing process in a very uncomfortable way, as in: 'Look, now they have cut to a wide shot.' It was the same when we tried to pan the singers' voices in accordance with them shifting position in the picture. So we had to keep the acoustics we recorded on the vocals exactly the same throughout each song, and this was another reason why we prioritised the lavalier microphones, because they obviously were always in the same position in relation to the singer. These were decisions that we discussed with Andy at the time, and that he agreed with.”Andy Nelson at the Wise Mixing Stage in Fox Studios, Los Angeles.

Nelson: "When I first met Tom Hooper to discuss me mixing Les Misérables, about one and a half years ago, he immediately told me about his plans to record the vocals live. We spoke about the musicals that I mixed, like Evita [1996], Moulin Rouge! [2001] and Phantom Of The Opera [2004], which were done using playback tracks and lip-sync, and I mentioned Alan Parker's The Commitments, which I mixed in 1991, for which the band was playback but the vocals were recorded live. From the audience point of view, this really made a difference to that film, but of course, it had been easy to record because the singer is standing in front of a microphone. I told Tom that I thought his plan was great, if he could pull it off. It clearly was a massive challenge to record good enough sound with lavalier microphones, keep the set quiet and have playback in the actors' ears. But the quality that Simon got using these microphones was phenomenal. Of course it's not like listening to a Neumann, because of the nature of the size of the microphone and where it's placed, but it was pretty genius. I often was astounded and would ask myself, 'My goodness, how did he do that?'

"When I began the mix in London and was sitting in front of the Neve with up to 24 tracks of live vocals in some scenes, I had to think about whether to treat the vocals as a dramatic movie that happens to be sung, or in a conventional musical way. I decided to approach it as if I was mixing a dramatic movie. When I do drama, the first thing I do is spend a week going through all the vocal tracks. I put each character on screen and his or her voice on a reference level and I will listen carefully and make adjustments for quality, like rounding off the edges with some desk EQ, adding a bit of compression if necessary, applying my Junger outboard de-esser, and so on. Because Simon had given me fully flat tracks, without compression, limiting or EQ, I could mould each track exactly as I wanted, to fit the screen, just like when mixing a dramatic movie. The film is split down in reels of roughly 15 minutes each, so I'd go through all the reels and just listen to all the vocal tracks, on their own. They are a form of communication and I have to make sure that the sound of the actor is coming at me at the right level. I have to get that aspect of the storytelling correct.

"I introduced the music after that. I received the music tracks from Jonathan, who had mixed them at Abbey Road, and they were spread out over many different channels, with close mics on strings, wider mics on strings, woodwinds separate, solo instruments separate, and so on. I had in the region of 40 music tracks, and because we mixed in 7.1, Jonathan had given me separation on the room mics to help with the surround sound. The thing with the music in this movie is that it never stops, so the question for me was how to balance that with the vocals. If I was balancing a stand-alone song in a film, I'd have the music more upfront, but you can't follow sung dialogue with orchestra over two and a half hours like that. So I had to find the appropriate balance where you could immerse yourself in the movie and follow the story without the music overwhelming everything. That took a bit of learning. I did three passes of the entire movie quickly, so we could see where we could go with it. Then we introduced the sound effects, and this would, again, lead me to go back and adjust the sound of the vocals or the orchestra. We were constantly adjusting the mix.

Gerard McCann (top) and Simon Hayes oversaw the capture of the live vocals on set. "My natural tendency when working with vocals set to music is to add some reverb to make them a little more beautiful in a traditional way. The Lexicon 960 is my favourite box for that. But the minute we tried this, we lost the rawness and realism that Tom was going for. So we took it off again. I did have some automatic desk compression on the vocal, not to control the loud material, but to push the very soft material up a bit, so you could hear every breath and mouth move. In terms of panning, I always kept the principal singers fairly stationary in the middle, wherever they were on the screen, and spread the chorus-style vocals a bit wider. The Foley sounds remained fairly low in the mix, because once a song was in full force, there usually was no reason for a sound effect to suddenly be there. We used them more during the transitions between songs, but again, you don't want the audiences to be drawn into that world and then jerked back into a song again, so even there these natural sounds couldn't be too intrusive. I again tried to have the orchestra 2dB louder to envelope the vocals more, but we again lost the nature of what Tom was trying to do, which was for the actor to run the show. Every time we tried things that we normally do, we had to back down. Every bit of gloss that we tried to apply didn't work. The soundtrack was always, from day one, going to be a dry, raw, in-your-face experience.

"The whole thing was about getting the orchestra to support the actor, never overwhelming him or her. I thought of it as 'cradling' the vocals. It was immensely challenging, also because of the picture editing that went on even as I was mixing, and the clock ticking ahead of us, but it was really great fun, and I'm very proud of the result. There was a tremendous amount of passion in the room during the mix, with producer Cameron Mackintosh, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Tom all there and seeing what they had been working on for more than a year finally come to life with all the elements in place. When we finished a reel, we'd sit back, turn the lights low, and play that reel back, and we'd all be taking notes on what worked and didn't work. I'd then address any issues, and we'd move on to the next reel, and eventually we went through the entire movie, and this then revealed more things that needed adjusting. I don't like working on small segments, because it's not the way we experience a movie. Instead, I'm a big fan of doing things in long sweeps that may lack in detail, but that give you a sense of the arc of the film. You can always go back in to do the more detailed work. Finally, the director, the producer, and the mixers sign off on the final playback and that's it, that's the soundtrack.”

The Final Analysis

All the efforts of those involved would have counted for nothing had the resulting movie been a flop, but at the time of writing — only a few weeks after release — Les Misérables has taken over $340 million at the box office. The film won three Oscars, including a thoroughly well deserved win for Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes in the Sound Mixing category. "Given how well the movie has done at the box office, one can say that recording movie vocals live on set does work,” says Gerard McCann. "I imagine that it will be difficult for any director to do a musical after this and handcuff him- or herself to pre-recorded tracks.”

Simon Hayes agrees: "I hope that what we did will have a really positive impact on sound in film in general, and that Tom Hooper's emphasis on original performances will become the norm. Shorter musical numbers in dialogue movies may still be recorded using pre-record and miming, but for films that are entirely sung through from start to finish, I honestly don't think that these movies can be shot using the pre-recorded vocal method any more. From here on, sung-through movies will have to be sung live from start to finish. I don't think there's any other choice.”
Go to Part 1  

Mixing The Soundtrack Album

Lee McCutcheon.A typical vocal EQ chain for Lee McCutcheon's album mixes. Note also the extensive level automation!

"I mixed the album at FX Studios, London in Pro Tools 9 and using Focal SM9 monitors and the Avid Artist Mix for physical faders, but all EQ, compression, effects and so on were done in the box. My first step was to put up the print master audio of the film as soon as Andy [Nelson] had finished mixing it and listen for any edits and changes to vocal takes that had gone into the film at the last moment. Because the album was to be only one hour long, we then had to make decisions about how it was edited. The schedule was so hectic that time didn't allow us to get everything on the Highlights album that we would have liked to. We're currently looking at a creating a more complete soundtrack album.

"The soundtrack album is balanced differently from the film, with music being slightly louder against the voice, and fewer or no sound effects. While I was mixing, it quickly became apparent that a large part of the raw feel of the voices was that they were not covered in reverb. It worked for the album to put them into a small space, but anything unnatural took away from the emotion. For quite a few moments I left them completely dry, which has the effect of keeping the listener completely focused on what they are singing. I used [Audio Ease] Altiverb and [Avid] Revibe for putting these small natural spaces around the voices when needed. The Waves C6 was also used a fair bit on vocals, to grab some harsh frequencies, along with the UAD 1176 for compression. For other EQ, I used the UAD Pultec EQP1A and the SSL G-Channel plug-in by Waves. The UAD Precision De-esser came in useful on the vocals too. In a couple of places, I used an old plug-in called [Line 6] Amp Farm on the vocals, just a little bit under the main signal, to give it a little more energy and edge instead of using EQ to brighten it. A plug-in that I liked on the orchestra was the Steven Slate [VCC] virtual channel plug-in, and I had the Waves Kramer Tape plug-in to glue things together a little on the master bus.”

Orchestral Miking For Les Misérables At AIR

1 Main Room L: Neumann TLM50

2 Main Room C: Neumann TLM50

3 Main Room R: Neumann TLM50

4 Main Outrigger Wide L: Schoeps MK21

5 Main Outrigger Wide R: Schoeps MK21

6 Surround L: Schoeps MK2H

7 Surround C: Schoeps MK2H

8 Surround R: Schoeps MK2H

9 Surround subcardioid: Schoeps MK21

10 Surround subcardioid: Schoeps MK21

11 Side L1: Schoeps MK21 (not used)

12 Side R1: Schoeps MK21 (not used)

13 Side L2: Neumann M49 (not used)

14 Side R2: Neumann M49 (not used)

15 Main Room Ribbon L: AEA R44C

16 Main Room Ribbon R: AEA R44C

17 Violin 1: Neumann KM84

18 Violin 1: Neumann KM84

19 Violin 1: Neumann KM84

20 Violin 1: Neumann KM84

21 Violin 1 Low : DPA 4011

22 Violin 1 Front Ribbon 1 : Coles 4038

23 Violin 1 Front Ribbon 2 : Coles 4038

24 Cello: Neumann FET47

25 Cello : AKG C451

26 Cello : Neumann FET47

27 Cello Solo : Neumann U47

28 Viola: Schoeps MK41

29 Viola: Schoeps MK41

30 Viola solo: Neumann M147

31 Violin 2: Neumann 84

32 Violin 2: Neumann 84

33 Violin 2: Neumann 84

34 Violin 2: Neumann 84

35 Violin 2 Low: DPA 4011

36 Violin 2 Front Ribbon 1: Coles 4038

37 Violin 2 Front Ribbon 2: Coles 4038

38 Bass: Neumann U47

39 Bass: Neumann U87

40 Bass Overhead: Neumann M50

41 Horn L: Neumann U67

42 Horn R: Neumann U67

43 Horn Close 1: Shure SM57

44 Horn Close 2: Shure SM57

45 Horn Close 3: Shure SM57

46 Horn Close 4: Shure SM57

47 Horn Close 5: Shure SM57

48 Horn Close 6: Shure SM57

49 Woodwind Overhead L: Schoeps MK4

50 Woodwind Overhead R: Schoeps MK4

51 Flute 1: Coles 4038

52 Flute 2: Coles 4038

53 Oboe 1: Neumann TLM170

54 Oboe 2: Neumann TLM170

55 Clarinet 1: Neumann TLM170

56 Clarinet 2: Neumann TLM170

57 Bassoon 1: Neumann TLM170

58 Bassoon 2: Neumann TLM170

59 Trumpet 1: Neumann U87

60 Trumpet 2: Neumann U87

61 Trumpet 3: Neumann U87

62 Tenor Trombone 1: Coles 4038

63 Tenor Trombone 2: Coles 4308

64 Bass Trombone: Neumann FET47

65 Tuba: Neumann TLM170

66 Harp Low: Schoeps MK4

67 Harp High: Coles 4038

68 Harp Amb L: Schoeps MK2H

69 Harp Amb R: Schoeps MK2H

70 Guitar: Neumann KM84

71 Accordion: Neumann U87

Dreamed Up

This screen, from the song 'I Dreamed A Dream', shows the meticulous work that was necessary to create Pro Tools sessions that the orchestra could record to. James Bellamy: "I took this session to Air Lyndhurst for the orchestra recordings. There is a tempo map at the top. 'Edit ED' is the Avid dialogue track, hence the D. Edit E is the cut of the film that we were recording this song to. They start with Edit A and work through several versions, and this is edit E. In some songs they got quite far beyond edit E, but this particular song didn't change, because it famously was done in one take. Underneath that is the MIDI track with a Pro Tools plug-in, which is bussed to the next track down, Click Rec, which is a recorded version of the output of that, which is the click for the conductor. 'RJv6' is the mocked up orchestra, meaning 'Rael Jones version 6'. The nomenclature of the orchestral mock-up files was very precise. 'MO4' is the ID for the cue of 'I Dreamed A Dream', 'R2vTH17' is the reel number, scene 28, 'NoVox' shows that this was an audio version without vocal, and it's version 6 done by Rael Jones. There's obviously an edit, I had to move the orchestral mock-up in sync. The tracks below that are MIDI tracks for streamers to give the conductor visual clues of the tempo. If you look at the 'Making The Music' clip on YouTube, you can see that there are the coloured wipes that go across the screen, and they were fired by Pro Tools via MIDI. The green streamers at the top are all on the downbeat of the bars, the blue stream is the direction to him to bring the orchestra off before she sings 'the dream I dreamed' at the end. You can see in the tempo map at the top that the tempo varies quite a lot.”