Final sound mix tips

February 18, 2010

We just finished production on our latest show, Magic Tree House: Space Mission and now it’s time for the surround mix. While we usually do the sound design in-house, we decided it would be much more efficient and cost effective to send off our surround mix to an outside house. So we send it off to Alex Markowski at Audio Kitchen Post who does a mix in his studio and then comes over to our dome, plugs into our surround speakers (and brings his own) and does a final mix.

If you’re new to producing digital content and don’t know some of the details of what to do once you’ve finished the sound design (or if your surround guy is new to planetarium mixing), here are some tips:

1. Exporting for the mix – OMFs

Because your sound mixer may not use the same platform or application that you used to do sound design, you’ll probably be asked to export an OMF.  You may be thinking, “WTF is an OMF?” An OMF is basically all of your sound clips and timing information in a generic format that other programs can use in one large file. Your mixing person can take this file, import it into his application and tweak away.  *IMPORTANT* – Apple’s Soundtrack does NOT export as OMFs (it does export AAF’s but that’s a different story). I’d suggest just using another program if you’re using a Mac such as ProTools LE, Logic or even just Final Cut.

Before you export, make sure your tracks are organized in groupings (dialog, VO, music, sfx). Levels, pans and filters cannot be exported as part of an OMF so it is important to have a….

2. Guide Track

When you send your mixer your video domemaster for reference (make sure it’s not 4K or it’ll be a pain in the butt – shrink it down to 1K), export your audio (the guide track) as an aiff and attach it to the video or send it as a separate file so that the mixer has a good sense of what you’re trying to make the audio sound like.

3. VO in the dome

Normally when you mix VO for 5.1 surround in a movie theater, you put the voice in the center channel and then just a bit in the left and right. However, in the dome, it’s usually good to bring the VO up in the left and right (about -3db from the center level). This way, when sitting in the left part of the theater, it prevents the VO from sounding like it’s coming from the right part of the theater and vice versa. Let your surround guy know.

4. Do the final mix in a dome

Don’t trust your headphones or your fancy-schmancy Alesis monitors. Things sound very different in the dome. There’s a lot more reverb and subtle sounds can get totally lost, especially in a big dome. Have your sound guy set up a computer in the dome and plug it into your surround system or set up his own speakers. That way you’ll get the real deal.

5. The Final Files

Here’s what you need from the final mix:

  • 5.1 surround mix (6 files – Center(C), Front Left(L), Front Right(R), Back Left (Ls), Back Right (Rs) and Low Frequency (Lf))
  • stereo mix (2 files – L and R)
  • a 5.1 dialog and M&E (music and effects) mix  – this is so you can hand it off to a planetarium in a country that speaks another language and they can replace the dialog track with their native language.

Is there anything else you’ve had to deal with or keep in mind? If so, let us know and we’ll add to the list.

Designs of the Future

February 15, 2010

As we get deep into preproduction and asset creation for our next Fulldome show, a key piece of equipment they’ll be using in the reality we create is their ship. After a long period of distilling down ideas from classic rockets, to the more realistic shuttles… We settled on something reminiscent of a fighter jet mixed with a flying saucer. ShipSketchblockedOut

The big issue we’ve been considering is scale… Just how big should it be. Originally the thought was that it shouldn’t be much bigger than the existing shuttles that go into space. But proportionately the cockpit would have been just under 18 feet wide as displayed in this first drawing.


We quickly blocked out the dimensions and started some camera move tests. It was just feeling too cramped. So we went bigger.


Changing the diameter of the cockpit to something closer to 30 feet gave us a lot more space for the characters to be able to move around, and allow our camera to move a little nicer through the scene. With larger more graceful motion paths.  Also allows us to mix up where the characters will be standing in the environment, and giving us a little more bang for our buck. Who says you can’t fly a skyscraper of a ship into space… it’s the future, right?

Best of Domefest 2009 at Morehead on Feb 17

February 10, 2010

DF09_smFor a bunch of reasons, we weren’t able to make it to Domefest 2009 this year. Missing it, as you might guess, really sucked. After being so inspired by all the great content we saw in Chicago in 2008, we were really looking forward to the 2009 gathering. We saw all of the finalists on the Domefest vimeo channel, but it’s just not the same on a flat screen.

So instead, we’re bringing Domefest to us. Morehead is taking place in UNC’s CHAT Festival (CHAT is “Collaborations: Humanities, Arts & Technology”) this year. As part of that we’re going to be showing the Domefest 2009 winners on Morehead’s dome on Wednesday February 17 at 7:00. If you’re local and want to check it out, let us know.