Warner Bros. The Making of Harry Potter, Part 3: Sound

The audio and video portion of Warner Bros. Studio Tour The Making Of Harry Potter, as well as show control integration, were led by Vikram Kirby, who is sound, video, control designer with Thinkwell Group. He and audio designers Colbert Davis and Kari Seekins worked closely with systems integrators at Electrosonic for this portion of the project.

Kirby’s challenge was to create an audio environment that worked for both the attraction and the movie property, including the incorporation of the background music (BGM) throughout the two studio buildings. "We wanted placemaking in a way that felt authentic to the movies," Kirby explains. "The nuance to this project is that it’s not a theme park. We wanted to present movie soundtracks at the quality level, but also the volume level, that would not be distracting. Compared to a standard BGM system, even though our operating level is fairly reasonable—we’re in the high 60s, low 70s in terms of target sound pressure level—we used much higher quality componentry because we needed that extended frequency response for it not to render like a tinny ringtone feel."

Kirby used BSS Audio’s Soundweb London for audio control. "We used a redundant mirrored-pair of computers, running [Figure 53] QLab and feeding digitally into the BSS Soundweb, which is directly controlled by London Architect," explains Kirby. It is a large audio system with a number of rack rooms with a large number of outputs to control across the two buildings. "With the combination of all of the processing and the sheer size of it, we were at or near capacity just in the responsiveness of programming," says Kirby. "The software works very, very well. It’s transparent to the user; all of the functions worked as they should."

The day-to-day audio operations are controlled from the Medialon system. "It sends Ethernet instructions to the Soundweb," adds Kirby. "Out in the spaces, we have Medialon touch panels that are interfaced to the main Medialon system. Hosts can go to any of the touch panels to change levels to adjust for room occupancy or change wireless mic selections in a zone. The Medialon Showmaster show controller is very flexible."

In the main room, the many sets and displays comprise hundreds of audio outputs, but Kirby came up with a method to mitigate any conflicts. "We drive every single output discretely," he explains. "That meant we could use both level and tonality to contour the transitions between zones. There’s no physical isolation between those places; we used different areas of sound and then treated the buffer zones like noise masking. We were able to use a cross-point matrix to really shape how different adjacent sounds blended together in the speakers that were dividing the zones."

For speaker choices, Kirby and Davis went with a very large Meyer Sound installation, supplemented with JBL speakers. "We used the new Meyer Cinema Acheron line of products in the opening screening theatre," comments Kirby. "I am very happy with the 48V Meyer loudspeakers, which let us use self-powered loudspeakers for the BGM. We used the remotely powered systems, so we were able to cut down on infrastructure costs because we could power all of the speakers with a single cable from the rack room, instead of pulling AC power to each location. Plus they’re high performance."

One of the areas that the audio team worked on extensively was the onsite mix. "I am very pleased with the mix, and I really need to extend credit to Kari," says Kirby. "I made several trips over there, but she stayed for a fairly long duration mixing onsite to achieve what we did. Throughout the entire project, I feel we accomplished what we set out to do, and I’m happy with all aspects of the audio, control, and the video systems."

In the end, this unique studio tour captures the feeling of being on the film’s soundstage. It really celebrates the making of Harry Potter, the artistry of the different departments, and the incredible workmanship, as much as it captures the excitement of visiting the sets. It brings guests into the experience of making the movies as well as enjoying the fantasy of standing in the middle of the actual Great Hall.

"We all felt incredibly honored to be brought into the Harry Potter family," concludes Hanna. "It has been such a joy to work on this project and work with these extraordinarily talented filmmakers and genuinely sweet people. There is no end to my admiration for the artistry and craftsmanship put into even the smallest detail that was built, sewn, fabricated, or drawn by the Harry Potter team."

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