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Mamma Mia! DPA Captures Film Sound FX on the High Seas

Foley supervisor and film sound recordist Alex Joseph encountered a useful new addition to his arsenal of tried and trusted DPA microphones when working on the movie version of Mamma Mia! - the DPA 4017 shotgun mic.
Mamma Mia! DPA Captures Film Sound FX on the High SeasAdapted from the successful stage musical (which featured DPA miniature mics across the cast) Mamma Mia! presented Joseph with the brief of working the sound effects into the music while retaining many factors which make it a success on stage. Joseph worked with a core sound team of sound supervisor Nick Adams, sound designer Alistair Sirkett, dialogue supervisor Tim Hands, dialogue editor Jenny Evans and assistant sound editor Connor Mackey during the six-month project, on various location recordings and Foley studio sessions before mixing the film at Sound One in New York.

Set on a Greek island, water sounds feature heavily in the film. "We rented a local swimming pool for the afternoon, and the DPA 4060 high sensitivity miniatures came in extremely useful placed on the sides of the pool, close to the action," explains Joseph. "These recording proved useful in combination with other mics, giving the splashes some punch."

Another location recording was on a yacht off the coast of Southampton. Joseph roped in colleagues Martin Cantwell, Neel Dhorajawla, and Walter Samuel from DPA's UK distributor Sound Network. "We wanted to try a multi-mic sync recording from different perspectives rather than a 5.1 recording to cover different yacht sounds which might arise in the film," says Joseph.

Cantwell made a quad recording of the boat's interior using the 4060s. "These created a real feel of what its like on a yacht, both static and at sea."

Other recordings involved strapping a DPA 4062 miniature onto the stern of the yacht near the exhaust, and booming the bow of the boat with the 4017 inside a DPA WINDPAC windshield system. The yacht undertook manoeuvres to recreate choppy and calm waters, strong and light wind, the sound of the boat's engine, etc.

"The results were great; the bow mic picked up the bow wash, while the 4062 on the exhaust picked up the wash from behind."

Three mics including the 4017 captured the sails and halyards flapping and mechanisms such as the winch in action. On yet another recording, the 4062 was kept on the exhaust, with a combo of mid and high sensitivity 4060 and 4061 miniatures on the mast, a 4060 on the bow and the 4017 - again in a WINDPAC - pointing at the bow and out to sea, with two further mics on the sails. The recording made with the 4017 in the WINDPAC turned out to be a real winner. "The 4017 was clear and bright with no bass response from the wind and no proximity effect, and when used with the WINDPAC, no mic flair at all," he says.

Lots of static sounds were recorded at the harbour: the boat creaking gently on calm water, harbour atmosphere, raising the gib, fenders knocking, interior FX, and amusingly, a multi-miked recording with a 4062 on the jetty, and 4017s boomed at each end of the jetty as Joseph ran along trying to emulate Meryll Streep.

Two foley artists recreated footsteps and movement at Twickenham and Shepperton Studios. On the main shoot at Twickenham, Joseph used the 4017. "Having been so impressed with it in the field, I wanted to see how it performed in the studio. It proved very good in terms of headroom, obtaining bright clear recordings, even from different perspective points. For movement sounds for the characters it picked up the intricacies of different cloth textures more than any other mic I've used. It was also great for recording clapping which is extremely difficult to record, and I've never been satisfied with my past results, so I was very impressed.

"The 4017 picked up the detail of the surfaces and shoes well, and proved to be a great all round studio mic. It was good for recording big FX sounds, subtle background sounds and close up sounds alike, with no bass response. Often in the songs I had to pitch the sounds so they worked with the music pitch, and as it didn't colour the sound it was easy to do this."

Joseph also used the 4017 in the studio to capture close up sounds of leaves blowing, to match vivid imagery in the film.

"All in all, working on Mamma Mia! - the longest foley project I've ever been involved in - was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Once again the DPAs performed admirably, but no surprise there!"

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