Charles Maynes has been working in audio post production since 1994. He was part of several teams that won two Academy Award Sound Editing Awards – “U-571” (Jon Johnson was the Supervising Sound Editor) and ““Letters from Iwo Jima” (Alan Murray was the Supervising Sound Editor and won the Best Sound Editing Academy Award). He has also won two Emmy awards for best sound editing on HBO’s mini-series “The Pacific”, and the History Channel’s “Gettysburg” produced by Ridley and Tony Scott. However, he is perhaps most well-known for his sound design on blockbusters such as the Spider-Man series, Total Recall, After Earth and has also been a sound effects recordist for film and video games such as Call of Duty, Metal of Honor, BLACK and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series. We were lucky enough to catch-up with the man himself and ask him some questions about his long and illustrious career.
How did you first get into sound design and how did you career develop?
I got into sound design through being a musician and having been involved with audio and broadcast production at college. But since music is so very hard to be successful at, I thought that doing sound design work was using most of the skills and aesthetic education I had. The path itself was a little convoluted, as I started doing sample sounds for the early sampling systems in the 80’s, then I transitioned into software development and worked at Digidesign (prior to AVID purchasing them) and finally transitioned into film sound in 1994. My real education and development started when working with the likes of Rick LeGrand and Harry Snodgrass at Universal Pictures. They took a huge chance on me, and provided me with the foundation to grow after that. Probably the biggest break I got was with Steven Hunter Flick who took me under his wing and introduced me to the true A-List film world. I worked on many films for him including Starship Troopers and Twister. After that, some people who also helped establish my aesthetic and voice were David Yewdall, JonJohnson (U571), Richard King, Skip Lievsey, Ron Bochar, Randy Thom (who has been a magnificent mentor) and Rob Sephton.
What have been your proudest achievements and most memorable projects so far?
I think my best achievement is to be able to do this stuff as a real job and supporting a family with it. I think it’s really difficult to be proud so much of the work, when really all of it is based around people giving you a chance to work on their projects. My most memorable project is really hard to decide upon. I think it’s probably Twister, or maybe the first Spiderman film, though there are a few that seem worthy of a mention. Certainly, Starship Troopers was a big one, as it was the first time I really dealt with guns, and it was my first show recording guns. Mystery Men was also a really fun thing to work on due to the quality of the cast and the story being so absurdist. Tomb Raider was also great fun. I was hired to help out with some of the FX segments by a good friend Steve Boddekker who is a sound designer and supervisor at Skywalker Sound. We actually came into the craft in very similar ways, and had been friends for over 10 years before either of us were doing film sound. The best scene for me in the film was the Home Invasion sequence, which was awesome to behold. I did a lot of the scenes with weapons in that film specifically, and really liked the way that it came out sounding.
What are the main challenges associated with the job?
As a recordist, my first concern is getting a good location, and obviously the right weapons and such to get a good sound. Also, it is usually the case that the client will have specific sound requirements that I will do my best to deliver on. These tend to be everything from hyperclose-up sounds, incorporating a lot of device mechanics and distant perspectives which require care in capturing the sounds. I will typically record sixteen or more channels to capture a variety of angles, plus what I consider more signature sorts of sounds like the ones that the PZM mics deliver, which would not usually be used on their own, but function as sweeteners for the other mic angles, as well as things like contact mics and even having mics recording the projectile impacts down range. Usually, this is done for maximum economy and coverage. In terms of setting levels for the recordings, I think it’s best to understand the physics of the spa coming off the device, and how that, which will tend to peak at around 140db, can be best captured by mics with lower sensitivities. I’m also aware that the recorders have a limited dynamic range capacity. Although it is really nice to get clean recordings without distortion, sometimes the distortion through the analog chain can be beneficial, and the tail sound is the one I tend to set levels to vs momentary peak levels.
Are there any productions that stand out for you as featuring great weapon sounds?
As a sound designer, embracing sound as an extension of the characters is key. I like to make each sound compelling both in general concept, and in the context of the story itself. I think one flaw is making every gun sound as big as possible – which basically makes all the sounds smaller. Some of my favourite things to use on weapons sounds is the Waves L-316 which can do some really nice limiting that is pretty selective, and their Torque plugin for adding a bit of beef in a novel and interesting way. I also like working in layers, where I will have a low frequency layer, a mid crunch layer, a mechanical layer as well as separate layers for ambience. Nowadays, most games have pretty good sounding guns; although personally, I think they might actually even sound a bit too homogenized (which I might have a small hand in that blame). On the game front, the Battlefield series, especially 1 & 2 had really neat weapon sounds. Also, way back in 2006, I worked on a game for Criterion called BLACK which had really good sounding weapons. That audio team was quite incredible with Steve Root, Chris Sweetman, Ben Minto, Charles Deenen and a bunch of other great folks. In terms of films with great gun sounds, my two favorites are probably both Gary Rydstrom films -Terminator 2, which is amazing, and Saving Private Ryan, which is an exquisite track. I do think the work I did on Starship Troopers, Tomb Raider and Flags of Our Fathers wasn’t too bad either though.
How have you been incorporating Weaponiser in your recent project work?
I am using Weaponiser in a current show called SEAL TEAM which is on the US TV network CBS. I am largely using it with my own recordings, but I do love the immediacy that it offers in controlling the sound you can get from it. It certainly is a lot more direct than having to setup complex process chains for things. On SEAL TEAM, I am using sounds form Frank Bry, which include guns, impacts, helicopters, and vehicles. I am using Chuck Russom great stuff too. His gun libraries are great to add variety to things, and they are pretty essential for sure. I also use the London Warehouse Guns, as well as Frank Bry’s “Undercover Guns” for my interior gun layers.
How do you see sound design technology evolving in the future?
I think the technology will only progress, and the sounds will only continue to grow, which is really the best thing. If we look at how much has happened in the last 10 years in terms of the functionality of computers and recording technology, one can only be happy about the outcome.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in sound design as a long-term career option?
I think the key thing is to always be listening, and work really hard on EVERYTHING. Never let something go that you didn’t put your best effort into. It’s a classic sort of thing where a bad piece of work can invalidate a decade’s worth of good work. And also, be patient. If you are going to be hard on anyone, only allow that to be yourself.
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