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Mixing Sense8 | Tom Marks
Using Halo Upmix for Netflix 'Sense8'
Based in Hollywood, Tom Marks, CAS is a re-recording mixer with many popular television and cinema movie titles to his credit. Currently, he’s serving as re-recording mixer for the hit Netflix series “Sense8,” which just wrapped production of its second season.
Here, Tom describes how the latest generation of digital audio technologies is empowering his work. In particular, Tom describes how he’s using NUGEN Audio’s Halo Upmix tool to streamline creation of a 5.1 surround upmix for “Sense8.”
Tell us more about your background and career.
Like a lot of people in the industry, I was heavily influenced growing by entertaining films, tv shows, and music. I started experimenting with my own audio mixing equipment at an early age, which led to an opportunity at a local TV station. After 3+ years working in live TV, I got an electronic engineering degree from ITT in Indiana, followed by attending Full Sail University in Florida. Fourteen years ago I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in audio post-production – and I’ve been here ever since.
Audio technologies have evolved a lot in recent years. How have the changes impacted your career?
The digital revolution has brought tremendous change in the industry over the last couple of decades. For the first part of my audio career, everything was analog and there was no automation. Then new digital audio technologies started to emerge with consoles, workstations, and plugins, which totally changed the way we worked.
Digital allowed films to be made at a lower price point cause you could do more for less. This applied to audio too. Now we have 4-8 computers running thousands of tracks, picture, and recording all of our deliverables, which can sometimes number over 100+ tracks for Dolby Atmos mixes.
With digital, product designers aren’t tied to a physical manufacturing process & shipping. Software and plugins are made around the world. Anyone can buy them and start using them almost instantly. It’s all pretty amazing!
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work, and what were the drivers that lead you to seek out solutions like Halo?
In film and TV post-production, re-recording mixers are handed a wide range of source materials for music. They can be anything from orchestral music recorded live, synth mixes that come directly from a composer, and songs from every genre of music. A lot of this material can come in as stereo files and it’s our job to get it to 5.1 or 7.1. In the past, there have been a few ways of doing it, but upmix plugins have given us another valuable tool.
When doing an upmix, it’s important to maintain the integrity of the original stereo mix. You never want to feel that you’re losing something by going to surround. Halo gives you the controls so you can initially push the sound too far in the surround field, then pull back to where it’s right.
Where did you first hear about Halo Upmix and NUGEN Audio?
A colleague of mine pointed me to NUGEN Audio’s booth at a trade show, where I met the company founders, Paul Tapper and Jon Schorah. Later on, Paul reached out and asked me to put Halo through its paces and give feedback. I found that it sounded great, was light on the CPU, and did a fantastic job of folding back down to stereo in the LtRt mix.
Can you describe how you used Halo in your daily workflow for “Sense8?”
A lot of the music we get for “Sense8” arrives at the dub stage as mixed 5.1 stems from the scoring mixer. In addition, there are stereo stems delivered for some cues and songs from albums. My job is to make it all sound like one cohesive soundtrack.
I’ll use a few techniques and tools to get from stereo to 5.1. One of them is to put Halo on a stereo aux track and bus several stereo audio tracks to it. As I get different versions of a song, I can keep all of them on their respective tracks (muted) while only listening to the current version. When a client wants to hear an old version, I can do that with two mute buttons. Meanwhile, only one instance of Halo is being used. And if I change the setting on it, that will apply to whichever version gets picked.
When I begin working with a new cue in Halo, I’ll start with the center channel arc control, then adjust the surround arc control, and finally the LFE level. At this point, I’ll solo/mute speakers on my monitor controller to listen to what the upmix is doing. A/B the upmix to the original stereo mix, and check the stereo downmix. If needed, I’ll adjust other controls within Halo, but these get me the sound I’m looking for most of the time.
Are you using any other NUGEN Audio tools?
I’ve been a fan of NUGEN Audio products for a while. They’re extremely stable with GUIs that are intuitive. Besides Halo, I use NUGEN Audio’s Visualizer for audio analysis and the ISL 2 true-peak limiter. I’m also using MasterCheck Pro to check mixes in real time to hear how they’ll sound when they’re streamed online. With Sense8 being a Netflix program, it’s important for me to be able to replicate what an average viewer’s experience will be. With MasterCheck Pro, I’m able to switch from the 5.1 mix to the LtRt “streaming” mix on small speakers to do that.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about working with NUGEN Audio?
I’ve worked closely with Paul, and he’s been great to deal with and very accessible. I really appreciate being able to work directly with the creator of the product, and Paul has been extremely open to listening to my input to shape future upgrades.
Mix & Mastering