We help create visceral experience of Oscars: Onsite engineer

Over a dozen engineers, sound mixers and technicians join hands to ensure crystal clear sound at the Oscars every year, says onsite engineer Gary Epstein, adding that everybody works collaboratively to provide a visceral experience

Saturday, March 01, 2014 | 2:36:18 AM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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Over a dozen engineers, sound mixers and technicians join hands to ensure crystal clear sound at the Oscars every year, says onsite engineer Gary Epstein, adding that everybody works collaboratively to provide a visceral experience of the annual extravaganza.

This year, the Academy Awards are slated to take place Sunday.

Epstein is the Oscars onsite engineer associated with audio company Dolby, which took over the Los Angeles venue that hosts the award ceremony in 2013.

"The Dolby team assists the dozen or more sound mixers, engineers and technicians to make sure the sound is clean and clear as it travels from the theatre to the broadcast compound outside, to the nearby mixing truck, up to the satellite, across the country to the ABC broadcast center in New York, and from there to a small army of satellites - 23,300 miles above the Earth," Gary told IANS in an email interview.

"Our crew is responsible for making sure we can hear the host's jokes, the orchestra's notes, the performer's songs, the winner's speeches, and the crowd's laughter. These are the folks who help create the visceral experience of the Oscars," he added.

He says the sound team's goal is to place the home viewer in the middle of the audience.

"When Dolby took over the theatre in 2013, it completely revamped the facility, adding a new level of audio sophistication to the Academy Awards that is palpable to those in the theatre and at home on the couch," he said.

"Numerous sound teams are at work. The music mixer who mixes the show orchestra, the mixer for the microphones in the audience, and additional music mixers for bands that may be performing.


"All those feeds are sent to the show's main production mixer, who's tasked with creating the final mix for the television broadcast. Our goal is to place a viewer from home in the theatre," he added.

This will be the 13th year that the Oscars ceremony will be mixed in Dolby 5.1 surround sound.

How do you make sure that audiences at home also get the 5.1 surround sound output?

"Now, with select clips featured in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, viewers with home theater systems will have a front-row seat to the Oscars from the comfort of their living rooms, hearing the ceremony much as their favorite celebrities inside the Dolby Theatre will hear it," said Epstein.

"On the big night, an estimated 1.2 billion people around the world will be watching the Oscars. We work closely with telecast director, lead sound mixer, producers and nearly 50 additional sound experts and audio engineers to bring audiences around the globe the very best sound experience possible," he added.

He says the sound technicians have the most important role to play at the Oscars.

"Hours of work and years of experience go in to putting up a great show at the Oscars every year. With so many sound sources and so many microphones to manage, the sound technicians at the Oscars are like highly skilled line cooks during a dinner rush...they have a dozen things to do at any given time and sometimes only seconds to do it," Epstein added.

What are the challenges you face?

"Before anything else, the team charts out the potential problems like odd feedback, a malfunctioning microphone, or even an audience member who might be louder than everybody else at the grand event. Sometimes it is even the winner themselves that the mixer needs to look out for," he said.

"Some winners reach down to tap the microphone to test whether it's working. That noise can blast the audience out of their seats. Mixers have to keep a hand on the mixing fader at all times, constantly adjusting the sound throughout the show, whether they're lowering the sound on an overly effusive audience member or the sound of coins jingling in the host's pocke"."

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