SHAMU’S SOUND GUY
Feb 1, 2001 12:00 PM,
Mike Roussin has been recording and mastering the audio requiredfor the various shows at Sea World in Florida — and fordistribution at their various other locations around the country— for 12 years. He is also in charge of studio operationsthere. I met Mike after being contacted to service a few digitaltape machines. When S&VC’s editor approached me about anarticle on theme park audio, Mike seemed like a logical choice.Next issue, I will be interviewing Aram Friedman, director ofengineering at the Natural History Museum (Rose Center for Earthand Space) in New York City.
Eddie Ciletti: How did you get started in audio?
Mike Roussin: Well, like many people, I started with musicrecording, then radio and TV commercials, which I seldom do nowbecause they are handled through an agency. In the beginning of mySea World experience, however, I did several spots — evenwith an agency in place. For one of my last TV commercials, JaneSeymour was opening a new Shamu show here. I recorded her, and DDBNeedham did all of the post. Jane was also the recorded host on theJumbotron at Shamu Stadium, so it was easy for her to come to ourstudio and cut some voice overs.
What is your primary responsibility?
All of the orchestral music for the major shows is recorded inLos Angeles. The music and the song endings (tags) are usually, butnot always, recorded separately. When the master tapes arrive atthe studio here in Orlando, I load the various cuts into thecomputer, editing and looping according to the producer’s wishes.Then I do all the mastering and create a show master tape that isused to produce the CDs for the shows. The DAT is then stored untilchanges are required.
“I like the MiniDisc… the fact that you can recordand edit an announcement for short-term use, then erase it andreuse it, makes it a format that is easy on the budget and handy,too.”
— Mike Roussin
Smaller-budget shows are mostly “needle-drop” withextensive editing, looping, etc. When the appropriate effects areavailable on a sound effects library, we’ll use and abuse them tomake them fit. Otherwise, we create many of our own effects fromscratch.
I recorded all of the ambient park music not only for theOrlando facility, but also for all Sea World parks, distributed viaCDs. I also did the music recording for our new park across thestreet, Discovery Cove. My boss, Danny Pressler, was theproducer.
What equipment do you use?
Believe it or not, we’ve been using the Roland DM-800 and DM-80.Though since these products are no longer supported, we are in themarket to upgrade.
After you go home from the job, then what?
Show audio in the park is run on a PC with up to seven SCSI CDplayers hooked up. Should the computers fail, the back-up devicesare 360 Systems’ Instant Replay, also known as “HotKeys.” Instant Replay has 10 banks of audio cues, each bankwith 50 buttons, which allows access to 500 cuts, plus anadditional 500 via cursor.
Can you tell me more about Instant Replay?
Instant Replay is loaded in real time, via the analog or digitalinputs. Each cut is assigned a title and button number. There is asmall screen that tells the operator everything they need to know.All data within Instant Replay can be backed up to a DAT machineand can be used to upload another Instant Replay.
What other gear is used to replay the audio in the park?
“When people outside the business ask what I do, I justtell them, ‘If you hear it in the park, I’ve doneit.’”
Most show areas still have cassettes, but we’ve been using theSony MDM-X4 Multitrack MiniDisc for the laser show, with a completeshow backed up on the 360 Instant Replay. I like the MiniDisc nowthat the compression sounds good. The fact that you can record andedit an announcement, commercial or even music for short-term use,then erase it and reuse it, makes it a format that’s easy on thebudget and handy, too.
Beyond the stereo MiniDisc, I think the boat was completelymissed when the multitrack MiniDisc was pitched to musicians onlyand not to pro users. Multitrack MD has all of the same flexiblefeatures listed above and provides for four or eight tracks(depending on the model). This low-cost — and, in myexperience, very reliable — format gives near-CD quality,allows a pro user to have a stereo music track, a track for sfx,narration (or whatever), plus a track for time code.
We use the first two or three tracks for music and effects withSMPTE on track 4. On the built-in mixer of the Sony MD (multitrack)I have found that the SMPTE will bleed through a little, but therecorded tracks are clean and don’t contain any bleed.
Do you use an external mixer to eliminate the bleed problem?
All venues have a DDA mixing console. The direct outs from theSony multitrack MiniDisc are fed to the board.
As for near-CD sound, most people probably couldn’t tell thedifference through a stadium sound system. Early MDs soundedhorrible; but starting with ATRAC 4 and ATRAC 4.5 (compressionschemes), I changed my mind. For MiniDisc, like CD, the sound isonly as good as what you put in. Besides, live outdoor shows neversound as good as listening to your own stereo system in amore-or-less controlled environment.
Were the compression improvements available as soft upgrades oronly available in newer models?
Newer models, as far as these units go. To my knowledge theyaren’t upgradeable. Version 4 is used in the park, and 4.5 is usedin the recording studio.
Since you are more likely to notice compression artifacts in thecontrol room, do you have a special processing technique toovercome them?
Nothing special. I try to keep the audio as clean as possibleand EQ as needed before it hits the Sony multi-MD. The studiomachine is used only to record the final product to theMiniDisc.
What did you use before MiniDisc?
We have used various formats. MiniDisc replaced a proprietary4-track encoded CD with restricted frequency response and a muchhigher cost. The encoding/decoding scheme was developed by AkmanInc., located here in Orlando. In a way, it was the forerunner towhat Dolby AC-3 and DTS are now.
As with your use of MD, SMPTE is important?
Yes, SMPTE is used in the park in shows like Cirque De La Merfor the opening where the lighting and lightning effects are allprogrammed. All shows that use pyrotechnic and laser effects areall locked to SMPTE, which I like because everything stays lockedand consistent and never drifts.
What else is going on in the park?
Two shows emanate from the Nautilus Theater, Cirque De La Merand an educational series for area schools, the latter beingcompletely produced and run from a DVD player. We don’t own Cirque— it’s contracted out — but because it’s simpler thansome of our other productions, we are evaluating a system calledNexGen Digital Entertainment from Prophet Systems Innovations. Thesystem is capable of running the whole show, not just audio butalso the laser effects, lighting and pyro. The educational serieswill also migrate to NexGen.
Outside of the studio, who deals with the facility?
Upgrades to our Nautilus Theater and Bayside Stadium were made afew years ago. The detailed information is not readily available tome, but Kurt M. Graffy of Shen Milsom & Wilke/Paoletti in SanFrancisco did the sound design. They also handled the (audio) specsand prints.
Danforth Sound in Orlando installed the audio equipment. Smallerjobs, like minor upgrades and wiring, are done in-house.
All this seems a long way from recording pop music! How do youdescribe your job to other people?
Yeah! When people outside the business ask what I do, they don’talways understand answers like, “I run the recordingstudio” or “I’m a recording engineer.” So I justtell them, “If you hear it in the park, I’ve doneit.”
Mike Roussin is leaving Sea World to pursue freelance projects,especially to produce musical recordings of all styles for bands,corporations, etc.
Eddie Ciletti spent 19 years chasing hums and buzzes in New YorkCity. He now chases Luca in the Twin Cities area. Drop by www.tangible-technology.com for avirtual visit.
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