Recently I spoke with Supervising Sound Editor/Designer & Re-recording Mixer Bret Killoran and Sound Designer & Supervisor Dashen Naidoo.
Bret has worked on over 100 films so far in his career. His holistic approach to post sound has led him to often join a project before shooting has begun and then contribute to the entire audio post-production process from sound edit to final mix. This experience has given him the capacity to be a strong leader but to also work well within any role of a post sound crew. He is equally comfortable at virtually any audio task from recording sound effects in the field, to experimenting with new software in his personal studio space, to mixing in an immersive format in the largest dubbing stages in the country. This all-embracing philosophy and skill set allows him to push the limits of what can be achieved both technically, and creatively, while always making sure that effective storytelling and his client’s desires remain the priority.
Dash was born and raised in Yellowknife, NT. After graduating high school, he spent a year at the University of Alberta studying Film Theory. In 2003, he moved to Oakville to attend Sheridan College. It was during his first year of college that he found his passion in Sound for Film and spent the rest of his time at Sheridan focused on that field. Shortly after graduating in 2006 he started his career with Sound Dogs Toronto. Since that time he has transitioned from Intern to Assistant to Editor and now, Sound Designer & Supervisor working in both television and feature film with credits that include The Strain, The Expanse, The Shape of Water and most recently, Nightmare Alley and Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City.
How did you get into film and what was your big break?
Bret: I, like many people in audio post production, started in music. I grew up wanting to be a rock star and once I was a working musician I strongly gravitated towards producing and engineering, and specifically mixing music. Through an early internship at Revolution Recording in Toronto I was exposed to a large orchestral scoring session that piqued my interest and years later I had the epiphany that I always got more excited about movie releases than I did about new music and started to take the steps to transition into post production.
While I still feel like I’m constantly learning and growing so it’s hard to identify a big break, I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities along the way and only in hindsight can I trace back to how they contributed to where I am today. If I had to choose one as the biggest so far I would say it’s my first mentor Daniel Pellerin taking a chance on me and taking me under his wing and giving me a foundation to continue to build off of.
Dash: Once I graduated school at Sheridan College where I majored in Sound for Film, I was fortunate to get an internship with Sound Dogs Toronto. I’ve been with them ever since, working my way from intern all the way to Sound Designer/Supervisor. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved “big screen” feature films and Sound Dogs has and continues to do amazing work in that world. Getting my foot in the door, mixed with having Supervisors Nelson Ferreira and Nathan Robitaille mentoring me throughout my career has been my big break.
What were some of the biggest challenges with RE and your greatest success stories?
Bret: For me, as a re-recording mixer, it was letting go of certain conventions. We are making a video game movie and our director, Johannes Roberts literally told us to go “bonkers”. This allowed Andrew Tay, who was mixing Dialogue and Music, and myself to approach scenes with a fresh mind and with the attitude of “let’s try it”. We were given the space and time to make mistakes, and those mistakes and experimentation are what led to some really great scenes.
One of my favourite parts of our mix was our use of all the speakers. We mixed the film in Dolby Atmos and it really helped to create the chaos of the Spencer Mansion. Because the mansion is huge, dark, and has many floors, we could have sounds of Zombies coming from the ceiling, sides, and back, to make it feel uncomfortable and like there is always danger around every corner. I hope people get the chance to see it in Atmos and experience the scenes that way.
Dash: The words “Unsettling” and “Disturbing” were used early-on by Director, Johannes Roberts. These words became the goal and challenge from edit/design all the way through into the mix. For me (and natural to Resident Evil), it starts with Zombies!
I used a high-resolution microphone to record and create libraries of zombies both male and female. Including myself, I had a hand-full of people in our shop record passes of creepy zombie vocalizations, covering everything from breathing to hunting and all the way to attacks, snaps, and bloodthirsty. Once organized and library’d, I pitched and used Krotos Reformer to add animal and wet layers to the vocalizations to give them that zombie-edge. It all took a bit of time, but organizing these thoughts and ideas in the beginning makes the creative cutting so much more enjoyable. This is a workflow that I follow on any show that I lead. In addition to zombies and creatures, I also spent some time creating unique “suspenseful” and “horror” design elements.
Supervisor Nelson Ferreira took on the challenge of re-recording all of Dr. Birkin’s dialogue as he is transforming into the monster. He used a Sanken co-100k microphone to record at a high resolution which allowed us the freedom to manipulate his voice as he transforms and mutates.
Do you prefer a Foley style sound or digital creations and why?
Bret: I think the blend of both is extremely difficult and Dashen did such amazing work on it as the sound designer. We need the natural sounds to ground the elements and make them feel like they are part of the scene and we need the designed layers to give more “oomph” to the experience. I think Birkin’s transformation is a perfect example of the two types of sounds working so well together.
Dash: Foley and digital creations complement each other. Foley is the quiet hero that binds a track together. Foley artists Steve Baine and Peter Persaud did an amazing job. These natural foley Fx help to ground our more subjective material into a believable world. It’s really satisfying to hear how foley and designed sound-effects can find harmony. Thanks to Bret, these two crafts live seamlessly in the mix.
What are some of the challenges Horror presents vs other genres?
Bret: Every genre has its challenges but for me, when mixing Horror, I try to make the sounds be bold and larger than life, but still sit within the scene. When I watch horror I find sounds that I don’t feel as part of the movie take me out of scenes, so I’m always trying to find that balance of making the sounds fun and interesting, while still making them feel a part of the movie and in the same world as the dialogue and other effects.
Dash: Horror can be extremely dynamic and you become very selective on the sounds being played, especially in the case of Resident Evil. As editors, we show up with a lot of layers to play with in the mix, which is important because we all need to see it take shape a few different ways before landing on a style that works for the film.
In Resident Evil, we made very selective choices and heavily minimized everything else to make things more impactful ie: Young Claire in the orphanage and the “Itchy-Tasty” scene. By making these subtle choices to be minimalist for these moments, it pushes the “unsettling” theme.
How did you attempt to give the film a unique sound yet keep it connected to the prior films and games?
Bret: Fun fact, Johannes and Mr X (VFX team) worked with Capcom and were given the actual blueprints for the Spencer Mansion and Police Station from the game, and recreated them perfectly for the movie. I wanted to make sure that we gave the sound of these spaces that level of attention as well.
I watched a lot of game play footage from the original games our movie was based on and I really noticed the heightened foley and reverbs. The game is visually very dark so the reverb on the feet really lets you know where you are. When you walk into a new room you can tell if it’s small, big, carpeted, tile etc. I really tried to work some of that sonic signature into the mix.
Dash: As a designer I make a list of all the thematic story ideas, characters, etc. These elements become a priority for me to create from scratch and give them a signature and unique quality. For Resident Evil it was, of course, Zombies and creatures, but also suspenseful tonal design elements – The sounds you feel more than you hear! ie: when we first enter the mansion there is a low-frequency, slow pulsing that plays to give that first entrance some subtle tension, almost like the mansion is breathing.
I watched a lot of the story-mode and game-play of the previous games on Youtube to see what the game sound-designers did. It was all so awesome. Sometimes it’s specific sounds and sometimes it’s the overall tone and feeling that I used as design-inspo to create sounds for the movie.
Johannes also loved the idea of using the classic zombie moans in certain moments to give the day-one fans some nostalgic ear candy. You can hear a few of these as they make their way through the mansion.
Beyond that, a lot of the overall sound signature is created in the mix and also the music, thanks to Mark Korven’s score.
What type of prep did you do?
Bret: As mentioned, I spent a fair amount of time watching gameplay footage on YouTube. I know that a lot of people that are going to watch this movie are very familiar with the game, and I think the sound of the game plays a big role in their subconscious experience with it.
Dash: Like Bret, I watched a bunch of the Resident Evil game-play, especially from Resident Evil 2 (2019) which is largely re-created in Welcome to Racoon City. In addition, I re-watched other zombie/undead films to gain inspiration – I am Legend, World War Z. Those sound teams did a killer job!
Bret and I also stayed in constant communication early in the process to bounce ideas. Sometimes these ideas are filled with “grand plans” and other times they are more grounded in the finer detail. I find it really motivating to have someone (especially the Fx Mixer!) to throw it all on the table regardless of where we ultimately land.
How far in advance of filming do you begin?
Bret: As a re-recording mixer I am often one of the last people to come on. I was working with Dashen behind the scenes leading up to our premix just to get familiar with his material, but ultimately I officially started mixing quite a bit after filming wrapped.
Dash: I have yet to start a project before filming commences. Sometimes we may be included in creative conversations and scripts that early on. If a production is filming in Ontario and there is access to vehicles, props, etc. it’s a great opportunity to grab our recorders and capture sound effects of anything that will help make our work as accurate as possible. However, I have heard about other shows that require sound design collaboration before or during filming. It all depends on the needs of a specific production.
What is the sound process like during film and post filming to get the final cut?
Bret: I’ll refer to Dashen on this one as he works closer with Johannes prior to the mix, but my experience was getting an updated picture every time there was a new cut worth sending out. These early cuts tell us a lot about the tone and style of the movie, and seeing it early helps to sink ideas into my subconscious. That way I could be walking one day, long before we start mixing, and have an idea pop into my head to try when I premix Resident Evil. I like giving things time to develop mentally and when I start my premix I’m not trying to come up with these ideas on the fly while watching the movie for the first time.
Dash: The first thing I like to get my hands on is a script. Scripts provide a ton of insight and literal descriptions of what to expect. It’s usually the first motion in the mechanics for us.
After that, I love to see any cuts being distributed, even if it’s “version 1,” we can really start to understand general ideas and also get things organized for any and all worldly sound effects – vehicles, doors, animals, etc. The dialogue and ADR conversation can start at this time as well. The earlier the better for Dialogue Supervisors.
For Resident Evil, I started working on creating sounds during the picture editing process. This is preferred for a few reasons – The first being that it allows for a more cohesive and detailed Avid sound track which helps the Director and Picture editor focus on the picture cut. Secondly, it starts the creative process of getting sounds and ideas approved. Finally, we can iron out any picture/sound issues and ideas more comfortably and collaboratively. The “final cut” on a studio feature film can often run into the very last day of mix or final playback. Usually the changes are very minimal as we get closer to the final day.
Do you have to work with the Composer to link up the sound with the music or do you mainly work with the Director?
Bret: Mark Korven was the composer, but in this case we had Rob Hegedus on stage with us as our music editor. Mark trusted Rob, and us, to work with his music and make the decisions we needed to with Johannes. It was a very collaborative process and nobody had any ego about their own work and we really got to serve the film.
Dash: It’s a case to case workflow. I always reach out to get composer tracks as soon as possible as it helps me to understand where sound design can live; It helps us to find our moments.
Being in communication with the Director helps to know what will take priority and when. Ie: “I want sound design to take over here” or “I really want to make this a music moment.” For Resident Evil, Dev Singh (Picture Editor), was adding versions of Mark’s score into the picture edit as it was being completed, which meant that I was able to hear it progress as I was cutting. Super-helpful! In the Mix, Andrew Tay (Dialogue & Music Mixer) and Bret work together to make it all harmonious.
What do you have upcoming?
Bret: Coming up for me, I will be mixing another horror/thriller early 2022 which will be a lot of fun. I’ll also be mixing two drama features that I’ve been quite excited about for some time. I can’t talk about any of them at this stage, but I will share the work when I can!
Dash: A couple really interesting projects that I don’t think I can mention at this time.
I can say that one is in the Horror/Fantasy genre and the other is in Drama/Action. I’m really excited to work on both!