Car and Driver interviews Peter Brown

Designing Sound recently shared Car and Driver’s Movie Car Sounds: How Hollywood Gives Vehicles a Voice, featuring sound designer Peter Brown and his field recordists George Pereyra and Tobias Poppe. I thought it valid that we go a bit finer into the detail here.

The article starts off by discussing Brown’s choice location:

California City is… stuck out in the middle of the Mojave Desert where it’s brutally hot in the summer and windstorms will sandblast the paint off your car any time of the year. But California City has an airport. And since that airport is never, ever busy, it’s the perfect place for Peter Brown to record car sounds.“The big advantages out here, is that it’s quiet and within driving distance of Los Angeles. Otherwise, well, it doesn’t rain very often.”

It must be nice to live next to an empty airport! What’s important to gather, though, is the emphasis on the location being quiet and remote. Even though cars are loud, background noise can still occasionally creep into your recordings if you’re not careful.

Next, the article discusses a bit of how-to on car rigging:

There are eight microphones aboard the Grand Sport. Four are inside the engine bay picking up everything from induction noises through the big four-barrel carburetor to the clatter of the oversize valves in the big-block. Mics also are taped to the vehicle just above each of the exhaust pipes to pick up the thump coming out there. And a stereo mic is right at the driver’s head to pick up the cockpit sounds.
“When you start recording engines that are as loud as jet engines,” says Brown, “they make virtually any mic crap out. The easiest microphones to use are the Electro-Voice RE50 or 635. They’re very old dynamic microphones used for electronic newsgathering. They’re very robust; you could pound nails with them. And they directly translate vibrations into electrical impulses. They’re not condenser mics, so they just drink up the sound. You can’t hurt them.” In the tight confines of some engine bays, Brown uses small lavalier-style microphones that might be seen worn on the lapel of a TV news anchor.

So it seems congruent with Colin Hart’s recent bike adventure that using dynamics on exhausts is advantageous when the volume (and vibration) climbs, and that condenser mics struggle with the vibrations. It also seems that Peter finds lav mics a great way to get into engine bays. I do find it interesting, though, that of his eight tracks four were mounted in the engine bay. I’m a bit curious as to where — I’d guess one on the firewall, one by the intake, the other two..? Peter does not share what he used for the external recordings, but does say:

The three guys in the sound crew record his acceleration from along the strip in 100-or-so-yard increments. Then the car runs at discrete speeds so each microphone can pick up the roar of the engine in full Doppler effect.

Peter also discusses his role as sound designer, as well as the designer’s relationship to the director:

“Our job is to achieve the director’s vision. Where there are gray areas, we get to insert our own taste. On Fast Five, for [director] Justin Lin, every single time something moves on screen the sound needs to move. When a gun is shown, it has to be cocked. Every time someone turns the wheel of a car, there’s a skid sound. The smallest change is hyperrealistic.”

Perhaps this is why, in Fast Five, the cars manage to squeal tires while driving on dirt.

The article also includes some tasty bits about the sharing and distribution of recordings among professionals, so be sure to head over to C&D and check it out.

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