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Sound Devices Takes a Wild Ride with ‘Mad Max’ Cast and Crew

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is a fast-paced, post-apocalyptic action film set in a desert wasteland. The story races across the desert with the protagonists, escaping a ruthless gang leader and searching for gasoline. Both escapees and their pursuers form a fleet of armoured vehicles, and among them were members of the audio crew, production sound Mixer Ben Osmo and vehicle FX Recordist Oliver Machin trying to capture the dialogue and sound effects while in motion.
Mad-Max-On-Location


Their gear mainly comprised Sound Devices portable digital audio equipment. “I used four Sound Devices 788T-SSD recorders plus four CL-8 mixing control surfaces, and did a mix down to each recorder, plus a two-track mix down to a 744T 4-track recorder for dailies,” said Ben. “I also had a 788T rigged in my sound cart and kept that in a larger truck for a couple of months, next to our video assist.” Oliver brought a sixth 788T in a bag to record extra vehicle effects when necessary.

Ben said, “Using several 788Ts became necessary when we needed to record multiple tracks under extreme conditions. They were very versatile. As well as ISO tracks and mix downs, we were able to set up mix minuses to avoid echoes and feedback, with auxiliary outputs into a monitor mixer. We had available 42 channels of radio mics so that we could pre-rig vehicles ahead of time, due to the repeater systems and different radio frequency blocks we needed for the crew. In my van, I would then cross over to the correct receiver blocks once they were in action.”

Oliver said, “It was a little crazy trying to keep track of that many transmitters. We were planting mics on the vehicles - and the key boom operator would also travel with a boom mic to capture the slates and sync effects at the time with the shots.”

Mad-Max-Ben-and-Oliver


There was also a separate action unit sound team, using a simpler system, still pursuing the action and - because the vehicle sounds were so loud – supplying usable guide track dialogue for the ADR, the automated dialogue replacement, for later on in the production.

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’ escape vehicle, and on a huge number of supporting cast members in other vehicles. Capturing so much audio would be a major task on a normal sound stage, but portability requirements for ‘Fury Road’ didn’t allow for a typical film-studio audio setup, so the crew took a creative approach.  

“We had a 4WD vehicle,” said Oliver, describing Ben Osmo’s van which they called the Osmotron. “Because traditional sound carts weren’t going to survive a road movie travelling at 80 or 90miles per hour across the desert, we built huge racks of radio mic receivers into Ben’s vehicle.”

 Mad-Max-Osmotron-in-Namibia


“It was lucky that I had the solid state 788Ts,” Ben said. “Even though most of the filming was fortunately off road, when necessary they performed extremely 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-month production schedule. “They never skipped a beat, even when travelling and recording on very bumpy and dusty terrain.”

The cast members were working it what was essentially in a rusty box, so the radio frequency (RF) reception had to be rethought, making repeaters sometimes necessary. The crew set up three multiplex systems that Ben had designed with the help of RF experts, with RF combiners and transmitter boosters to get the most out of the range of 1 to 3 kilometres, not only for recording purposes but also to aid communication behind the scenes.

“As we travelled long distances, the walkie talkie repeater towers were often out of range,” Ben said, “so I was asked to provide my communications in the radio mics and interruptible feedback systems to director George Miller and first AD and co-producer, PJ Voeten, as they also often were long distances apart - at least 500m to 1.5km. This set-up gave them hands-free communication. Cinematographer John Seale and two of his operators were on this system, and the first AC camera people, as well.”

 Mad-Max-Equipment-Rig


Similar communications were also used to feed audio to interruptible feedback receivers for major cast members. As sound mixer, Ben also had to feed a musical mix to musicians armed with ear wigs to help them keep 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, special effects team and the lonely sound van were in pursuit. The 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 fleet stopped for checks.

“It was like a whole armada,” said Ben. “Once it stopped, every department jumped into their 4WDs and travelled to assist, going five, six, seven kilometres across the desert, turning around and coming back again, or even further. The whole unit relocated to new technical base camps, then waited for the cue to go again. It was quite a feat to make that happen.”

The 788T-SSD is equipped with eight microphone inputs and 12 tracks of recording in a compact, lightweight steel and aluminum chassis. The 788T-SSD accommodates individual controls and connectors for each of its eight inputs, as well as numerous additional I/O and data connections. Mounted to the 788T-SDD, the CL-8 mixing control surface has rotary faders for each of the recorder’s eight inputs, plus input routing and setting control.

The 788T-SSD comes with a solid-state drive with a very large internal storage capacity, continuous recordings of over 60 hours of 24-bit, eight-track audio at 48 kHz, plus resistance to shock and extreme temperatures, and zero acoustic output. These qualities mean that, compared to a spinning hard drive, the drive used in the 788T generally increases transfer speeds.

Another benefit of the 788T is its reliable timecode synchronisation, or jamming, capabilities, making it well-suited to a complex multi-camera sync-sound production like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. Although the 788T has an accurate on-board Ambient timecode generator, 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. Ben said, “My 788T recorders and the 744T were jammed from the same Ambient master clock. All the recorders synched up beautifully and never missed a beat.”  www.sounddevices.com