Brief list of credits
Sinking Ship Entertainment, Dino Dana, Annedroids, Odd Squad, Chirp, The Passion of the Christ
Hi Sean, thank you for taking time and doing this interview. Let’s start by introducing yourself and telling us how you started working as a sound editor?
I’ve been working professionally in the film and TV industry since 2000. Initially I got into this line of work as a musician. Through the 90’s I was in a number of bands playing clubs in the Toronto area. During this time I found that what I really enjoyed most was working in the studio. I saw it as a kind of creative incubator. In 1999 I took a year off to study Sound production and Engineering at the Harris Institute of the Arts. Once I graduated with Honors I was lucky enough to score a job with composer Jack Lenz and Lenz Entertainment.
I started there answering phones and picking up lunch for him and the composing teams. Wherever I could I would do little sound jobs in between my normal responsibilities such as music edits or little recording projects after hours. Jack took notice and offered a great opportunity. He was looking to build his own in house recording studio to do off the floor music records and mixes. He asked me to build and run the new facility.
By the end of my first year there I had worked my way up to becoming his main in house sound engineer. At first I was just recording and mixing music for his film and TV clients. However, after a while I started getting some experience doing actual sound edits and mixes for the full shows. He then offered this extra service from me to his clients, and many of them agreed, getting their music produced with final sound edit and mix for the show all at once made a lot of sense.
Most of those first projects were small documentaries and lifestyle shows. It gave me a great opportunity build up my skills and credits in this new application. I found I really enjoyed it and clients were very pleased with the results. Everything then just began to grow from there.
How did you get involved with Sinking Ship Entertainment, one of the most prolific production houses in children’s programming?
After spending 4 years at Lenz Entertainment I decided to branch out and start my own studio offering my post audio services to the Toronto Film and TV industry. My studio was called KARP ADM Studios. Over the next number of years I built up a clientele of TV and independent film producers.
In summer of 2012 I saw an on-line job posting for a children’s production company looking for an in-house sound engineer. I sent my info and credit list in and they got back to me interested in meeting for an interview. That was Sinking Ship Productions! They had just completed their first 2 seasons of Dino Dan, and had done most of their post sound work in outside studios. They were looking to create a fully functioning in house post audio room, and were looking to heir an experience sound engineer to get theme started.
I was aware of the company from my kids, who were both fans of the show Dino Dan. Coincidentally I had caught an episode of Dino shortly before this connect while my kids were watching. I remember thinking what a great concept it was. A young kid who sees and interacts with dinosaurs in his neighborhood. I though what kid hasn’t imagined this? I really related to it and was impressed with its universal draw.
So when I realized I might be able to work on that show with such an impressive company I got really excited. I know I was up against a number of really experienced, talented engineers for the position. I’ll never forget when I finally got the phone call saying I got the job. It was a real moment I’ll never forget. After about 2 or 3 follow up interviews the post supervisor called me at my studio to say “great news, we’re giving you the job!”. I remember I replied” That’s fantastic! I can’t wait to start working on the next Dinosaur Dan!!!”. She said “that’s great to hear Sean, we’re really excited too. By the way it’s Dino Dan.”
As a supervising sound editor, what are your main responsibilities?
The main responsibility is to set a protocol and approach as to how we go about editing and mixing a show, that will guarantee a standard of quality and style. With the scope of our shows and in many instances having a number of episode being worked on at one time we need to use teams of editors and mixers to meet our delivery deadlines, this is not a one person job. Therefor my job in many ways is to ensure that all these different teams end up with a consistent result. That a Dana episode always sounds and feels like a Dana episode should.
At the same time, I’m not looking to have teams of clones doing the exact same thing as I would do every time. I want to utilize everyone’s individual take or creativity on an episode. So, in a way it’s trying to find a balance in the work flow to ensure consistency and foster creative input and ideas.
In building the Sinking Ship Post Audio team I like to bring in young fresh talent. People that I feel have a good knack for this kind of work but are still green and open to input and educating. That way I can teach them the general approaches I have developed over the past 18 years that have proven to get good results in quality and creativity. Then through those general approaches and techniques I try to encourage them to come up with their own ideas, and take our sounds to new places I may not have considered.
At Sinking Ship our core team is made up of myself, Noah Siegel, Will Preventis, Blag Ahilov, and Charles Duchesne. When we have a number of shows going at one time the team can expand up to around 12 to 15 editors and mixers, and that doesn’t include our foley people and composers.
Could you tell us a little bit about your process of editing the sounds for children’s TV show and what would you say are dos and don’ts when editing the sounds for children’s TV show?
With shows like Dino Dana, and Annedroides we approach each episode like a feature film, the only real difference is the running time of each one. For example, with a show like Dana we develop a costume made sound bank for each dino. Roars, grunts, purrs, sniffs. You name it, anything you can think of that would make up a vocabulary of a dinosaur we develop a unique group of sounds for each individual creature. For Dana, our whole team has input on new technique we can develop to keep coming up with fresh and interesting sounds.
Since these shows are made for younger kids we do need to find a balance between realism, and child-like fantasy. We don’t really hold back too much in the fierceness of say a T-rex roar, however to pull back on the scariness of the creature, we also add distinctive grunts and murmurs that give it a form of expression and speech. I find this balance softens the creatures a bit. So,it allows us to go full out with a ferocious roar, because after the roar the dino can tone down, and almost speak with Dana about how it’s feeling through lighter more expressive sounds. Giving it an almost familiarity, and thus making it not scary.
What do you think is the most important aspect of editing the sound for children’s TV show?
I think the most important thing is to not talk down to our audience because they’re kids. We want to give them the same quality and detail that we would for an adult themed production. I think kids are now exposed to some pretty intense stuff with their entertainment at a fairly young age. For a show like Annedroids or Odd Squad the audience is in the 6 to 12 year old demographic. Kids at that age are watching superhero movies, and fantasy’s that can get pretty intense. Look at the Wizard of Oz for example. That certainly didn’t hold back on its audience. I’m not saying we want to scare anyone, or expose them to the same intensity that we might produce for an adult show or film. I am just saying that we want to respect them as our audience and give them an experience that will really thrill and excite them. Give them the detail and quality in our work they deserve, the best we can give.
Do you also record your own sounds when you are preparing for the project?
We do a lot of our own sound production for these shows. First of all, each episode will get a full foley pass. For Dana we work with a foley artist named Jakob Thiesen. For Odd Squad we work with Brandon Bak. A great foley artist makes all the difference in creating a really fresh sounding, vibrant mix.
We want our shows look and sound fresh and original. Not canned and preprocessed, so producing our own banks of sounds is imperative to achieve this. As mentioned for our Dino sounds or Android sounds we take a long time trying different things out. Looking for just the right combination to give an individual character like the T-rex or android its own unique feel.
What would you say are your favorite sound libraries at the moment?
I wouldn’t say I have a favorite library. The sound bank libraries are generally used for the basic sound like cars, background and ambiances, etc. We will also utilize them in building our own sound banks.
For example, when coming up with a new dino sound bank we might look to some bird callsas a staring place. Right now, the current scientific theory of what happened to dinosaurs is that many of them evolved into birds, and therefor may have had very bird like qualities in how they acted and sounded. We do try to maintain a scientific realism in how we create the sounds for each dino. I guess that would go back to respecting our audience and trying to give them something authentic that can also educate them about nature and how the creatures may of acted and sounded. Education is a big part of these shows.
Since we want to have a fresh signature sound to our mixes, we try to use libraries in a sparing way.
This one is for the gearheads. Would you mind telling us a bit about your technical setup and the gear you’re using?
I have to admit I am not the biggest gear head, I put more importance to the people behind the gear. Software and gear are all just tools. Good quality tools are important to producing great work, but what’s most important art the people and the attitude they bring to a project.
We do all our editing and mixing on Pro-Tools, most of our plug in compressors and EQ’s are from WAVES. For sound restoration and dialogue clean-up we like to use audio RX. All our mixes are done in 5.1 as well as stereo.
I like mixing with Genelec speakers, but will also monitor through some cheap TV speakers to ensure the mix will translate well on smaller home systems. With the gear and software an engineer uses, I believe, the most important thing is to be familiar enough with how what you are hearing in your studio will translate out in the real world. Unlike film where there is a bit more control over how an audience will experience your production, with TV you are going to be screened in a number of different scenarios.
Some people will hear your mix on a high-end surround home theater, some through the built in stereo speakers on a flat-screen TV, and some through a cheap computer speaker. The challenge is to try and produce a mix that will give a fairly, consistent experience across all these different system people will play your mix on.
So what is really important is knowing the gear you’re working on, and how it will translate in the world to your audience.
What do you think was the most memorable moment in your sound design career so far?
Of the top of my head 2 experiences some to mind. First I would have to say the first time I found out we got nominated for Emmys in Sound editing and Sound Mixing for the 2nd season of Annedroids. I remember I was sitting in my studio waiting for a producer to show up to review a mix. Suddenly one of the engineers, Noah burst in and said, ”did you hear, we got emmynoms, 2 of them!!”.
I couldn’t believe it, I ran to the computer to check the nomination list, and there we were. I have to say when I’m working I’m thinking about trying to produce the best mix I can. To make something unique, fresh, and memorable. I’m not necessarily trying to win a trophy. However the feeling of having your peers in the industry say, “this work stands out and makes the grade” is an amazing feeling. Especially with the clout an Emmy nomination brings.
Another moment that sticks out was when I was doing film score records and mixes for Jack Lenz. When I got to do some music for Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. It was a huge achievement for Jack and all of us. Mel came into the city for one day to sit down with us and go through the music we had produced.
He sat down beside me at the mixing board and we went through the whole film with our score in it. It was a real thrill to meet him in person and work with him. He was really nice. I remember at one point he asked me jokingly what my favorite movie of his was. I answered The Road Warrior. He looked at me and said “how old are you?”. At the time I was in my early 30’s, and answered. He said with a big smile “ you were way too young to be watching that movie!”
If you had any advice for sound designers starting off in the business what would it be?
The main advice I would give to people getting started in this business would be to try and be yourself. Try to put your own unique voice into the work you do. Don’t be afraid to try new things and to fail. It is through 10 failed experiments that you might find one success that will give you amazing results, that you can then utilize and expose to the public. I think it’s important to try and build upon what has been done and find new directions and approaches in how we practice our craft.
Also, I would say, take small steps. In the beginning of a career the prospect of finding real success can seem daunting. There’s a lot of competition and many road blocks when trying to get yourself established in this industry, or any industry for that matter. If you look at the top of the mountain from the bottom it can seem almost impossible to climb.
However, you’re only going to get there by taking one step at a time, so just start taking steps, and enjoy each moment for what it is, even if it’s just a personal triumph or lesson. You should enjoy this work for the sake of doing it. After all, just getting paid to spend the day playing with sound is an amazing opportunity. I never lose sight of how lucky I am to get to spend my days earning a living doing something I love.
I would not say I’ve reached the top of the mountain in any way, but if you had told me 5 years ago that I would have 10 Emmy nominations to my name by this point, I would have said you were crazy. Yet here I am.
Sean, thank you so much for taking the time and answering my questions! I wish you all the best for your future projects.
Thank you so much for taking an interest in me, and my work! I really appreciate the interview, and I hope I was able to give you something of interest for your readers.