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Read about Blaine’s professional experience and story in the April 2001 Post Magazine article below or download the PDF.
By Christine Bunish
Burbank – Blaine Stewart designed and built over a dozen music and audio post production studios for other people in his career. Last year he finally had a chance to build and a pair of sound design/mixing stages for himself when he opened Post Plus Sound.
“I’ve been in television audio for 20-plus years. I’ve built and run studios for other people and supervised their operations,” Stewart says. A graduate of Brigham Young University where he studied acoustics, theater and music. Stewart “fell into doing TV audio” for the last season of The Donnie and Marie Show in 1979 when the Osmonds began building facilities in Orem, UT.
He created four or five TV/music studios for the Osmonds and served as their audio operations supervisor.
When the California native returned to LA in 1986, Stewart designed the electronics for two studios at AME Inc. whose acoustics were created by Jeff Cooper. Stewart had stints working for Complete Post, All Post Inc., Grace & Wild Studios, Alta Vista Studios, Fox Broadcasting Network, Framework Sound Inc. and others.
While Stewart was establishing a client following digital audio systems were making their debut and the price point for equipping a studio was dropping.
“I grew up in the 24-track, 2-inch analog world and went kicking and screaming into digital,” Stewart declares. “My first digital experience was Synclavier – both the direct-to-disk system and the sequencer were good-sounding systems. Then I moved to Avid AudioVision and then to [Digidesign’s] Pro Tools which, in the LA/Hollywood market, has become very much the standard.”
At first Stewart found the new digital gear “sounded cheap next to good analog” and the systems were limited in what they could do. But over time he concedes that the digital systems have “greatly improved and become far more powerful in editing capabilities and ease of use than any analog/linear system could ever be. Today, the ability to work in a digital, nonlinear world far outweighs any negatives.”
During his time working at various facilities, Stewart did production recording and post production mixing for national and regional Sears, Dodge and Toyota commercials for Ogilvy & Mather and BBDO. He handled music prerecording, production and/or post production mixing for variety and comedy specials for Chris Rock, Janeane Garofolo, Adam Sandler, Donnie and Marie, and Dana Carvey. He did sitcom mixing for Married, With Children, Dave’s World, Alf and others, and remixed the last two Chris Rock HBO specials: Bring the Pain and Bigger and Blacker. Everything came together last year when Stewart finally launched his own shop. Post Plus Sound (PPS) currently occupies about 2,200 square feet in a one-story 4,300-square-foot stand-alone building in Burbank’s Media District. Stewart has created a relaxed environment where clients have access to the highest-quality audio available and make the most efficient use of their time. Designed with acoustics in mind from the start. Stewart reinforced existing walls with ample sound absorption and deadening materials, and provided both sound design/mixing stages with spacious voiceover booths.
There are 30 Ethernet lines throughout the facility so clients can plug in laptops and access high-speed Internet connections or print scripts.
Additional amenities include a client lounge and dining area. Both stages have their core Digidesign’s Pro Tools 5.0 system with the ProControl control surface instead of a mixing console. ProControl talks directly to Pro Tools for all audio levels, EQ and panning of audio elements. All mixing parameters and sound element automation are stored as part of the Pro Tools session file.
Doremi VI machines are used for instantaneous nonlinear cuing of video. Their use cuts time considerably for sound design, editing, voice recording and mixing. Digital Betacam decks are employed for video laydowns and laybacks as well as for source material and dubbing. Sennheiser 416 mics and Focusrite mic pre-amps combine with booth acoustics to give artists a full, rich and clean sound. Other equipment includes Genelec 1030A studio monitors and Sony Vega flatscreen TV monitors.
Sound effects are available via the mSoft SFX librarian system. Tens of thousands of sound effects are stored on hard drives and searches are instantly and seamlessly imported into ProTools sessions. Foley may be performed in the larger studio.
“A lot of what sets PPS apart has to do with the acoustical design of the rooms,” says Stewart. “I had formal training in acoustics and then learned by doing. I trained under people who have gone on to become some of the top acoustical designers in the country.
“I believe we’ve created a comfortable environment that turns out exceptional work, an our clients feel that way as well.”
Stewart, who plays about a dozen instruments and conducts and composes music, collaborates with Dave Dore’, former VP of Kids’ WB marketing, on original scores for clients. Dore’ wrote and developed the “Dubba Dubba WB” campaign that put the WB network on the map. He also composed the main title music for The Daffy Duck Show. Big Cartoony Show and Cardcaptors. He’s currently working on a music project for NBC.
“It’s rare for sweetening houses like ours to carry any music services,” Stewart points out. “But I’m thinking about offering more production music and custom music services.”
When Stewart interviewed audio engineers for the second studio “it was not just a question of who can do the work, but was the individual’s personality going to mesh?” he says. Among the freelance engineers Stewart calls on are Brian Fredrickson, who formerly had his own facility in Seattle, and Liz Irons, who is often hired by Warner Bros. as a producer.
Recent PPS credits include projects for The Disney Channel and Buena Vista TV as well as quite a bit of trailer work including one for the terror film Tangled which required extensive sound design to build up to a Psycho-like pitch.
Stewart continues to create sound design for and mix animated opens, bumpers and educational segments for Kids’ WB network’s Saturday morning cartoon block. He won two of three awards given at Promax 2000 for sound design and mixing for a series of animated projects for the network.
“Totally silent animation by River Street Productions in LA comes to me and I have the fun of creating the entire audio environment,” Stewart reports.
“In a :05 or :10 bumper I use 20 to 30 sound effects. Sometimes there’s more creativity in 10 seconds of audio for a bumper than in a one-hour show or a sitcom.” Stewart’s :60 Cat and Bunny open, a Silver Award-winner at Promax, features some 200 sound effects, layered and blended.
Most music for the Kids’ WB projects is composed by Richard Band under the direction of Dore’. Dore’ himself composed the scores for a series of WB Brain Snacks animated educational segments. Stewart recorded the Animaniacs singing the jingle as well as other character voices and created the Brain Snacks sound effects.
Coming up on its first full year of operation, PPS is operating in the black and is picking up an average of one new client every two to three weeks.
Stewart’s design for PPS’s two studios should hold the company in good stead for some time to come. The sound design/mixing stages are prewired for 5.1 surround and ProControl is 5.1 compatible. “We just had one of our clients – the one who was first through out door last June – who is talking about 5.1 for interviews for a DVD movie title,” Stewart reports. “Just give me 24 hours notice to get additional speakers and a subwoofer, and we’ll be ready to go.”
Post Magazine, April, 2005
According to Blaine Stewart, president of the Burbank-based Post Plus Sound (www.postplussound.com), the new Kirstie Alley series Fat Actress, which airs on and is produced by Showtime, is a mixture of reality television and scripted sitcom. “It’s shot in reality style with lots of microphones and each person is recorded discreetly on various tracks on HDCAM decks,” he explains. “You have anywhere from one or two characters a scene to up to six that are miced separately, as well as the fish poles mics. Even though the show is scripted, it’s designed to look and be very ad libby.”
That explains why Stewart, who also serves as a sound designer and mixer at Post Plus, takes the mix supplied by the production mixer and throws it out. “I’ll go back to the discreet tracks and remix it,” he explains. “It’s pretty tough to be on top of all those microphones during production, and since it’s shot on location if you leave all the mics open you’re going to get a lot of unwanted noise. So it’s easier for me to go back to the original microphones and remix the show by opening up the mics that are need for each scene.”
Post Plus is responsible for mixing the show, as well as adding the sound effects and Foley. “We’re basically doing film-style mixes,” Stewart reports. “We put in all the footsteps and all the cloth movement. We also have to deliver a fully-filled M&E for foreign distribution. Music is embedded for us as part of production, if they get it in time, if not I add it later.” Stewart does two full audio mixes of the show. “I do a full complete stereo mix of the show and then go back and do a 5.1 mix on the show as well, rather than taking a 5.1 mix and folding it down to a stereo mix. You don’t always get the best quality by folding a 5.1 down to a stereo mix, so I do a separate mix. We derive one from the other, so it’s not like remixing everything from scratch.”
Although the demands of 5.1 mixing will be pushing the facility to upgrade, Pro Tools 5.1.3 is still being used and run on Mac G4s.
Stewart, who started working in the audio post field 30 years ago, is still amazed at the speed and quality found in today’s sessions. “I remember thinking the we had arrived when we got two Studer 24-track machines with 48 tracks of Dolby noise reduction and the synchronizers,” he admits with a laugh. “At some point we had to make the jump to computers because that’s just the way it is in the industry. The trend is that we’re putting out a much better product than we were five or 10 years ago. We can do it quickly and much more efficiently. It used to take me five minutes to lay in a gun shot. Now I go to my Msoft Library, type in ‘gun shot’ and have 250 gun shots to choose from. I’ll click on one or two of them and within a minute I can drag it into my timeline and I’ve got it placed perfectly. This gives you more time to worry about the artistry and to make things sound better.”]]>
Post Magazine, March, 2009
By: Christine Bunish
Now well entrenched on broadcast and cable networks, reality programming has expanded beyond competition-based shows to include documentary-style series and real-life help panels, which require post production workflows tailored to their individual needs.
Hollywood’s Base Productions produces a slate of documentary-style reality shows that currently includes the second season of Known Universe which airs on National Geographic TV, the second season of Sports Science on Fox Sportsnet, and the second season of Crime 360 on A&E.
“Our signature look is really high-quality production and CG, and we spend a lot of time on our mixes and sound design,” reports director of post production Scott Bramble. The shows are unscripted. “When they set up a task for the athletes in Sports Science they don’t know the result,” he says. “For Crime 360 we follow the homicide detectives through the process from day one, whether they solve the case or not. New evidence can surface and red herrings can wreak havoc on a post production schedule.”
“Since our shows are very effects driven and have fast-paced cuts, the mix plays a huge part,” Bramble notes. “There’s hardly any [sound] downtime on shows — music, whooshes, drones, sound effects all drive the pacing of the shows forward.” A lot of sound design begins in-house as a road map for mixer Blaine Stewart at Post Plus Sound, who replaces or refines elements on his Digidesign Pro Tools system. He delivers some shows in 5.1 surround and others in standard four-channel.
Once shows are locked in offline they move to color correction with freelance colorist Eric Stolze, who uses Synthetic Aperture’s Color Finesse plug-in. Then Swanson tweaks and polishes the cuts, adding any last-minute CG sequences.
“The process is really all about juggling multiple formats in a short amount of time and being as efficient as possible when each show has different needs and delivery specs,” says Bramble.]]>
Today I did a session at The Stewdio with a voice actor who was at her home in Glendale, CA via ISDN. This is how it went down: I “phone patched” the session to the client in Hollywood where they listened in and approved the VO. Then I mixed the job and sent a QuickTime for approval to the client in Hollywood along with full quality WAV mix files.
For those who don’t know a ton … or anything … about ISDN or Source-Connect, here is a little explanation: ISDN is a phone line service that allows voice actors to actually be recorded “live” in a remote studio at full quality in real-time. Source-Connect is a ProTools plug-in that does the same thing but over the internet. These methods make it seem as though the voice actors were there at the studio with you.
So, ISDN and Source-Connect is a big deal. It allows us to use voice talent from anywhere in the world.]]>