Sound Devices records Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Devices records Mad Max: Fury Road

Published: MEA

NAMIBIA: Sound Devices’ 7-Series of digital audio recorders proved vital for the high-speed production of Mad Max: Fury Road, filmed in the Namibian desert. The sound crew, which included production sound mixer, Ben Osmo, and vehicle FX recordist, Oliver Machin, were tasked with capturing all the dialogue and sound effects, all while in motion.

‘I used four 788T-SSDs plus four CL-8s, and did mix down to each recorder, plus a two-track mix down to a 744T for dailies,’ said Mr Osmo. ‘I also had a 788T rigged in my sound cart and kept that in a larger truck for a couple of months, next to video split.’ In addition to that equipment, Mr Machin brought a sixth 788T in a bag to record extra vehicle FX when necessary.

‘The use of multiple 788Ts became necessary when the challenge was to record multiple tracks under extreme conditions,’ continued Mr Osmo. ‘The 788Ts were very versatile. As well as ISO tracks and mix downs, we were able to set up mix minuses with AUX sends into a monitor mixer. We had available 42 channels of radio mics. This was because of the repeater systems and different RF blocks in play, so we could pre-rig vehicles ahead of time, and in my van, I would then cross over to the correct receiver blocks once they were in action.’

‘It was kind of ridiculous trying to keep track of that many transmitters,’ added Mr Machin. ‘We were planting mics on the vehicles and Mark Wasiutak would also travel with a boom mic to grab the slates and sync effects at the time with the shots.’

There was also a separate action unit sound team, using a more simplified system, still pursuing the action and providing usable guide track dialogue for future automated dialogue replacement (ADR).

Microphones were hidden in the cabin and on the principle cast, in the engine bays, near exhausts, on top of the ‘War Rig’ (the main characters’ get-away vehicle), and on a vast number of supporting cast members in other vehicles. The challenge of capturing all of that audio was added to by the portability requirements. 

‘We had a 4x4 vehicle,’ said Mr Machin, describing Mr Osmo’s van which they dubbed the Osmotron. ‘Traditional sound carts weren’t going to cut it on a road movie traveling at 80- or 90-miles an hour across the desert. Nobody was going to keep up, so we built into his vehicle huge racks of radio mic receivers.’

‘It was lucky that I had all SSD 788Ts,’ added Mr Osmo. ‘Even though most of the filming was off road, they performed exceptionally well under extreme vibration.’ Separately, a 744T was suspended in a pouch so it could absorb the shocks of the Namibian desert during the six-mouth-long production schedule. ‘They never skipped a beat, especially when travelling and recording on very bumpy and dusty terrain.’

Adding to the complexity, the cast members were essentially in a rusty box, so RF reception had to be rethought, making repeaters sometimes necessary. The crew set up three multiplex systems with RF combiners and high-powered transmitter boosters to maximise the range.

‘As we travelled long distances, the walkie talkie repeater towers were often out of range,’ recalled Mr Osmo. ‘I was asked to provide my comms in the Lectrosonics radio mics and IFB systems to director, George Miller, and first AD and co-producer, PJ Voeten, as they also often were great distances apart. Cinematographer John Seale and two of his operators were on this system, and the first AC camera people, as well.’

Comms were also used to feed audio to IFB receivers for cast members. As sound mixer, Mr Osmo also had to feed a musical mix to musicians armed with ear wigs to aid them in keeping time to the beat while riding atop the “Doof Wagon” vehicle, and playing instruments, such as drums and a flaming guitar.

When the action call came, only the camera tracking vehicles, SFX, and the lonely sound van were in pursuit. Mark Wasiutak, key boom operator, travelled on the hero vehicles when cameras were on board. He was able to troubleshoot with assistance from the rest of the sound crew whenever the armada was stopped for checks.

While on location for Fury Road, the crew used Ambient master clocks with GPS antennas set to Greenwich Mean Time. All cameras were supplied with Lockit boxes and Deneke slates with Ambient Lockits. ‘My 788T recorders and the 744T were jammed from the same Ambient master clock,’ noted Mr Osmo. ‘All the recorders synched up beautifully and never missed a beat.’

Away from the Sound Devices recorders, the Osmotron was stocked with a range of equipment. This included a Pro Tools 10 system, six Lectrosonics Venues in a customised road case, a pair of Venue fields, a Mackie 1604 mixer for monitor mixes, a Meon UPS and Meon Life. In addition to this were four Lectrosonics IFB transmitters, DPA 4061 lapel mics, Lectrosonics IFB receivers and three video monitors.

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