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NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience

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Total immersion: that's what the 3D IMAX theater experience delivers, complete with vertigo-inducing visuals and state-of-the-art surround sound. Composer Eric Colvin, fresh from his recent collaboration with director Simon Wincer on the current Warner Bros./IMAX release of NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience, explains how he produced this landmark surround score entirely "inside the box" using Digital performer and his all-native, MOTU hardware-equipped studio.

During the past 10 years, I have been scoring films and producing music for various genres, collaboratively and individually. Along the way, Digital Performer and MOTU have served as the backbone of my creative environment.

For many years and various projects, I wrestled with the entanglement of numerous synths, samplers and outboard gear, traveling in and out of a non-recall mixer that made replicating my project mixes an uphill battle. The battle was compounded by client approval becoming an increasingly on-demand expectation. The inability to accurately and quickly rebuild a mix for discussion purposes started eating into already unrealistic deadlines. Compounded by overlapping projects, I knew there had to be a better, faster, cleaner way of doing things. The various incarnations of my setup eventually honed its way to being a non-console structure, controlled and routed exclusively through MOTU hardware and software. This was a huge improvement for me, creatively, logistically and productively.

Fall of 2004, I was hired to score NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience for director Simon Wincer, Warner Brothers and IMAX. This was the first project of mine utilizing my MOTU "consoleless" setup. I have my hardware synths and outboard coming into three 24 I/Os, two GigaStudios lightpiped into a 2408mk3 and live instruments recordable through my HD192 (as well as Virtual Instruments). As with any hardware console, this gear is permanently connected to the MOTU interfaces, but then controlled in combination with CueMix Console and the DP Environment. All fader positions, panning, sends and returns are saved like any document, allowing complete recall of my intended mix.

Now available on DVD!

NASCAR: The IMAX Experience

You may not get 3-D glasses or an 8-story screen, but you will get the full-on driver's-eye-view excitement of NASCAR: The IMAX Experience on DVD, along with Eric Colvin's inspiring score in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround.

After all the cues were approved on NASCAR, it was a simple process of printing everything. Considering all the routing and assignments that evolved during the writing phase, it was quite literally a matter of creating audio tracks, arming them and bulk printing 24 to 36 mono elements at a time. Unbelievable how powerful and easy this was! From there, my engineer (Andre Knecht of ARK digital) mixed the score in Quad for delivery to the dub stage, where all the time-stamped mixes where seamlessly dropped into dubbing rigs. As it should be, the hardest part of the process was the writing. All the gear performed dutifully, allowing me to focus on the needs of the score, and not worrying about technical mishaps.

It needs to be pointed out that scoring a film is a process that demands instantaneous flexibility. This is why it's common to see composers with lots of gear in multiplicity. It's never a good idea to print elements or mixes until final approval has been given. Therefore, I rely on 96 hardware instrument inputs with zero latency along with virtual synths, firing off in real-time, allowing me to explore the tiniest of tweaks that my clientele may request. With the touch of a few keystrokes, the combination of DP, CueMix, and Unisyn recalls my entire studio snapshot to the most recent version of a given mix. All my outboard synths and reverbs receive a patch change blast and sysex tweak alleviating the necessity for me to address each device manually, or by memory. Additionally, my virtuals (MachFive, MX4 and others) come back exactly the way they were saved with the DP session that contains them. Huge time saver!

As with any score of mine, I like to write and mix as I go. The sequence is progressively layered with combinations of samples, synths, and overdubbed instruments necessary to submit what sounds like a final version for my client's approval. Whether eventually recording a live orchestra or not, this first mock-up step is imperative in bringing the client on-board with my score concept. Disclaimers aren't my style, I simply prefer to hit the spacebar and let the director experience a self explanatory composition on the first listen. Having enough sonic firepower with the production capacity of DP I know my musical vision is always accurately represented.

I know it seems like a cop-out to make blanket statements, but it's impossible for me to single out a few key features of DP that effect my work flow. The entire toolbox that DP symbolizes facilitates anything I can dream up. I've been using DP for ten years, and have never felt unable to expressively produce what was in my head. The speed with which I can operate DP is scary. My keystrokes (Key Bindings) allow me access to all the repetitive tasks without being slowed down by the mouse. My operation of DP is to the point of reflex, and the environment stays right there with me.

It's always inspiring that each DP upgrade presents functionality that significantly expands the creative process.

  • Freeze Tracks has been a very cool addition on recent scoring projects. I absolutely love how automatic the process is. After selecting a VI region, the fact that DP knows how to auto-create a record track, assign its input source from the VI output, arm the track then print the pass, totally blows my mind. Perfectly captured, pristine audio, freeing up CPU resources for other tasks that I'm piling on to the session. Awesome.
  • Bounce To Disk Formats have been significantly expanded. I'm scoring an on-going series that requires my cues to be approved by a remote director and his Avid. Each cue I write is printed to a stereo track, then bounced to disk as an MP3 file for emailing to the director. Having the ability to bounce as an MP3 is saving me many steps and lots of time, every day of the week. Additionally, the same cues are sent via FTP to two other destinations. Oddly enough, they each require a different audio format. The animators need WAV files, while the studio, where the characters are recorded, prefers AIFF. I can quickly bounce all three versions of the cue and not get derailed with administrative confusion.
  • Surround functionality is probably one of the coolest features of DP that I get a lot of mileage out of. The series I mentioned above is delivered and dubbed in LCRS. I am not only mixing in that format, I work from the ground up in that format! My room is always set up for 5.1, and it's so easy to assign the appropriate Audio Bundles and panners in DP to reconfigure this project for LCRS. There is no reason why I wouldn't want to write in the exact surround format that is ultimately being delivered. Big advantage, by my estimation.
  • MachFive has dramatically reduced the need to employ my Roland S-760s. Having convert-loaded my entire Roland CD-ROM sample library with MachFive's UVI extract, I find it immeasurably more simple and enjoyable to search for sounds and build palettes. There's no comparison between the environment that MachFive offers over the limitations of the 760's ten-year-old hardware technology. Frankly, I find myself powering up the GigaStudios less often lately, as the handshaking between DP and MachFive complements each other so powerfully.

The capabilities of my current monitoring and mixing environment were financially impossible for me to touch, no more than three or four years ago. The solutions simply were not available at the time, and/or it required nearly six figures for entry level systems. The PCI-424 platform with Apple's G5 have honestly revolutionized all that. I can now deliver highly professional projects without cutting corners, nor re-mortgaging my home.

There is perfect synergy in the way I work with the design and function of MOTU. I could not ask for a better system!

What does Eric Colvin use with his MOTU hardware and software? Take a look at the gear list he maintains at his studio web site, www.ericcolvin.com.