Brad North is a Supervising Sound Editor for television and film. He has 22+ years of experience and has worked on shows such as Stranger Things, Bosch, Love, Death & Robots, Shadow and Bone, Mare of Easttown, Station Eleven, and Watchmen.
Doug Siebum: Hi Brad, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got your start in sound?
Brad North: Growing up I had a passion for music and movies. While in high school, I thought that a career path for me could be composing for feature films. During that time, Jurassic Park came out. There was a special on TV with Gary Rydstrom on how they did the sound for Jurassic Park. They showed how they made the sounds for the dinosaurs and how they crafted a scene by taking out the music and only hearing feet, and then it builds from there. I thought that was really cool and interesting. It exposed me to post-production sound, so I looked into it. I ended up going to Full Sail in Florida and got a Recording Arts degree.
DS: Jurassic Park was a big inspiration for me too. One of the big sound moments in that film that made me realize how powerful sound was, was the dinosaur footsteps and the cup of water. You see the vibrating in the cup of water and hear the footsteps. It just built this tension. It was very cool.
BN: You could write a whole essay on how that all worked. All the ingredients for making a cool track for a big movie is right there. It’s all about playing what you want them to feel. Take out all the music and there’s nothing to support you. You’re alone with these footsteps. Then you hear the rippling water and you feel the presence of the dinosaur to create tension. It’s really incredible what the post sound artists can do. It can be very powerful.
DS: What’s interesting about that movie in particular is that it was so far ahead of its time in sound, just in the sense that they didn’t have all the tools and technology that we have now. It’s absolutely amazing.
DS: How’d you find your way into television and film?
BN: While I was at Full Sail, feature mixer Ken Teany visited the school. While he was there, he would visit some of the classes and talk to the students. I introduced myself and told him what I was interested in. He would keep in contact with a couple of students and offer up internships. I was lucky enough to be one of those people. He offered me an internship after I graduated. Once I got there, he introduced me to Ann Scibelli. She took me on as an intern and she became my mentor. I honestly couldn’t have been with a better person. I sat with her and learned while she designed and edited effects. She gave me the opportunity to cut on some of her projects. She also introduced me to one of her mentors, Harry Cohen, who I’m still friends with and get to work with occasionally. That was 22 years ago. That’s how I got into this industry.
DS: Looking at your IMDb page, it looks like you transitioned from doing mostly film to television around 2011. Was there a reason for the change?
BN: The transition was around 2004. I started my career in 2000 cutting sound effects on movies. We mixed some of these films at Universal. That’s when I was introduced to the manager of the sound editorial department. In 2004, my schedule had opened up so I reached out to him to see if he needed a sound effects editor. He told me the movies were crewed up at the time, and asked if I would be interested in editing a TV show. I said yes. Lucky enough, that show was House. When things were going well in both industries, I was cutting sound effects for House during the TV year, then worked on a movie or two during the summer. That’s why when you look at my IMDb page, there’s some overlap. Once I started supervising House, it was tough to do both. I felt that I needed to stay on House for loyalty reasons. I stuck it out with House and I didn’t do any more movies after that. Then one thing led to another and I stuck with supervising TV.
DS: Well it looks like you’ve been busy, so it’s definitely worked out for you.
DS: Who are some of your biggest influences in sound design?
BN: When I was first learning about the industry, I was exposed to Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom. I’m very lucky that I got to meet both of them. Those were the two that opened my eyes to post sound. Once I was done with school and came out to LA, obviously Ann Scibelli and Harry Cohen were big influences. There are many sound designers that I admire. Lucky enough, one is Craig Henighan, who I get to work with on one or two shows a year. I’m very lucky to be able to say that I’m close with a lot of the people who influenced me and mentored me.
DS: Would you say that you have a particular style to your sound design?
BN: I am a sucker for dynamics. I like hot and cold. I like big and small. I try to find a way to hit transitions in a cool or interesting way.
DS: Can you tell me about your use of Reformer Pro in Love, Death & Robots?
There was an episode called “All Through the House.” In this short, two little kids hear Santa Claus downstairs, so they want to sneak in and check out Santa. This Santa Claus happens to be a monster. The monster comes out and scares the kids. He says each kids’ name and says if they’ve been good or not. The very talented Fred Tatasciore did the creature voice for Santa Claus. He did a higher breathy vocal pass. Then he did a lower register vocal pass. The director had his selects of each version. Then I made a comp track.
Once I had the comp track, I did a Dehumaniser pass to get a big low end bass. I believe I started with the Angry Beast preset to pitch it down and make it rumbly and growly. That layer was to give it a huge presence. For some of the other layers, I used Reformer Pro. I wanted to get a low mid layer made up of animal sounds. Reformer Pro has a lot of cool animal libraries, like the leopard and the bengal tiger. I would put a different animal sample in each quadrant and move the X/Y Pad in Reformer Pro. I would “perform” these moves while recording the audio back into Pro Tools. I edited the best five or six takes and cut it together to give it the creature layer. I also needed a gore layer because the monster’s mouth was dripping with slime. Plus, you could see its breath. So I did fruit squish on one of the quadrants and a crunchy foley sample on another. I wanted to have some breathiness, so I added ice and some compressed air to the other quadrants. Again, as the comp track plays through, I move the X/Y Pad across the different samples, basically performing it. I edited the best bits and called it a breathy gore track. I think I ended up with 4 or 5 different layers and then mixed it all together. Before you know it, you have this big, beastly Santa Claus that’s coughing up slimy gifts for the kids. I was really happy with the final sound. But it all starts with the voice talent. Fred is incredible. That’s one of the ways that I use Reformer Pro.
DS: I’ll have to look out for that Santa Claus, because I’ve watched some episodes of Love, Death & Robots, but I haven’t made it to that episode yet.
DS: Do you have any other tricks for Reformer Pro that you want to tell people about?
BN: I’ve used Reformer Pro to sweeten regular sounds. Say there’s a big truck by that’s on a cut or transition, and you want to fatten it up and make it big. Run it through Reformer Pro and put some Big Beast or Big Creature on it. Just perform it several times and you’ll get the right sound.
DS: So you can set up a Reformer Pro track and just sweeten your sounds real quick that way?
BN: Oh yeah, absolutely. You can have it on a separate track and drag your audio to it. Perform it and re-record it and put it back on your cut tracks and you’re done.
DS: Did you also use Igniter or Weaponiser in Love, Death & Robots or other shows?
BN: I use Weaponiser and Igniter mostly for sweetners. I’ve pulled guns into Weaponiser and messed around with them. Most of the time I’ll use Weaponiser for a sweetener or mechanical effect like a mag click or a dry fire hit. I’ll pull that in and add it to the existing gun shot and it will give it more life. I use Igniter in a similar way. I will play with different vehicle bys in Igniter. They’re dynamic with a lot of movement. I’ll pull those in and cut it along with the real effects to give it some life.
DS: Those are some great tips! I’m going to have to play around with doing that on truck bys and stuff.
BN: Yeah, it’s pretty cool.
DS: Did you use Krotos sound effects libraries in any of these shows? If so, did you have any favorite sounds there?
BN: I have the Krotos Everything Bundle, so it comes with a lot of library sounds. I love the Krotos library. The big effects are dynamic and interesting. The hard effects sounds are well recorded and have some life. The Foley and movement libraries sound full and real.
Krotos also has the SoundMorph libraries on their website. Those are two of my favorite libraries. When I’m looking for a sound effect in my library database, I will sort by library and go straight to the Krotos and SoundMorph libraries. That also helps me avoid some of the older sounds that don’t have the same quality.
DS: One thing that I’ll do, is when I get stuck, almost like I have writers block or something. I’ll go into a specific library and just start opening the folders. I go through random folders like “what have these guys done?” You’re right, some of the stuff that’s been around forever, it’s old, it doesn’t sound as good, maybe it has some noise in it. If you go to some of these newer libraries like what Krotos has done, you get some great animal sounds. They’re big and they’re full. It’s everything that you need.
BN: I agree. The movement is so good too. Whether it’s trying to fill in for animation like Love, Death & Robots or if you have a bunch of ADR that you need to put in some specific movement like a leather jacket. If the production track doesn’t have it and the Foley didn’t get it, you can fill it with the Krotos foley library.
DS: Can you talk about your workflow for sound design and how does the Krotos line of software fit into that workflow?
BN: Yeah, whenever I start doing vocal design, it starts with Dehumaniser and Reformer Pro. Then I go into other plugins if needed, but that’s where it starts.
DS: Are you putting them on the track itself or are you using an aux track?
BN: I use an aux when I’m trying to process multiple sounds with the same processing at the same time. It also makes it easy to rerecord.
DS: Do you have any advice for the new people that are just getting their start in the industry?
Brad North: The advice that I give to people that are interested in this or just starting, is to understand that you are a part of a team. It’s all a team effort. It’s always important to know where you are and where you fit in to the team. Sometimes it’s time to give an opinion and sometimes it’s time to listen. Sometimes you need to be a leader and sometimes you need to follow direction. As you get more experience and come up through the ranks, you have the ability to have more creative input. At a certain point you’ll be able to develop your own sound. Then people will start to hire you for you.