Mark Lanza is a Supervising Sound Editor with 30+ years of experience in the industry and over 267 credits to his name. His credits include Independence Day, JFK, Dexter, Justified, Electric Dreams, Sneaky Pete, Homeland, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in doing sound for Television and Film?
I am originally from New Jersey and I had a strange start in my film career. I never even thought about being a part of the entertainment industry growing up. I moved out to Los Angeles while in high school and was a computer science major in college. That is when I ran into someone in a programming class, who had been doing TV sound and now was starting to do sound for film. He thought that with my computer knowledge and his sound abilities, we could do a movie digitally. Everyone was still cutting sound on 35MM film at the time. So, I was taking college classes in the morning and doing films in the afternoon/evening. Nobody at school knew. I was leading a double life, classes by day and meeting with Oliver Stone at night, like Clark Kent! I instantly gravitated toward sound design and effects editing, I liked shaking the theatre.
How did you first hear about Dehumaniser software?
I had seen an online article about the original version of Dehumaniser. I wound up buying it and it was pretty cool, but had a good amount of artifacting. I thought it was promising but didn’t really use it much and sort of forgot about it. A couple of years later I was reading through some more literature and saw that there was a new version, Dehumaniser 2. I watched the online demo and had to have it! I wound up talking to Orfeas Boteas (CEO and Founder of Krotos) at an MPSE event and he told me about how the first version was really a proof of concept, and about other products they were working on like Reformer Pro. I was really interested in the new plug-ins, after seeing what Dehumaniser 2 could do. Since I was a sound designer before I started supervising, most producers and directors bring me onto projects that are design heavy. Even when I am supervising, I like to design key elements and hand them off to my editors.
Can you talk about your use of Dehumaniser on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow?
Absolutely, I started supervising Legends on season 6. There are SO MANY creatures / monsters / aliens in this show! I have an amazing designer / editor working with me on it, Austin Krier. He is a tank and his stuff is amazing! This show is a perfect vehicle for Dehumaniser 2. The main recurring aliens I use it for are named Kayla and Gary. They are a couple, but the female of the species is the dominant one. We start with voice actors for Kayla and Gary, Lex Lang and Marsha Clark play the aliens. Since Kayla (the female) is the dominant one, we have Lex (the man) do her voice and Marsha does Gary’s voice. Confused yet? Well buckle up… Necrians have multiple voice boxes, so we do three passes with each actor and then Lex does a pass on Gary’s voice. Once I have this raw material, then I start on it. I edit the voices to get the phrasing and also to make the characters work together, and they are usually arguing or at the very least Gary is getting yelled at. Then I have a preset in Dehumaniser 2 that I run both aliens’ voices through. After this I duplicate the main alien voice track and I use Reformer Pro to swap out the voices with fruit squishes, so I get some gushy alien vocal cord movement to play low. I duplicate it one more time and run it through Reformer with a set of socket wrenches that I recorded, this replaces the voices on the track with the socket wrenches gives me a chittering track that directly mirrors the words the aliens are speaking. This adds up to six tracks for Kayla and seven for Gary. I give this to all our mixers Jeff Haboush and Joel Catalan, who put it in the show.
So you’re creating multiple layers with Dehumaniser and adding in some Reformer Pro?
Well I have multiple layers of original material from the actors. I add in one layer of Dehumaniser. I think more than one would muddy it up. I want specific phrasing that I created to show through. Then I add the reformer layers as sweeteners. One squishy element and one clicky element.
“Reformer saves me a lot of time cutting it in sync with the phrases AND it directly mimics the attack and decays so it sounds as though it is a part of the vocal cord movement and not just something laid over the dialogue track.”
You mentioned Kayla and Gary, on what other character’s did you use Dehumaniser?
Kayla and Gary are the main ones, but there is usually a bit of Dehumaniser in most of the aliens and some of the monsters. We had a Mothra type alien in one of the episodes and I had an effects layer in there with some Dehumaniser.
How did Dehumaniser help with developing those characters?
I usually start out with a sound in my head of what I want the creature to sound like and then I figure out a way to do it. It doesn’t need to be exact because happy accidents happen along the way that might change my vision slightly. Once I establish the sound for the character it stays static. I make notes of exactly how I did things and name the setting appropriately so I can recreate it from episode to episode. Our Producer Geoff Garrett has some great ears, he would notice any slight changes from episode to episode, so I need to keep it the same once we establish it. Also, since this show revolves around a time machine, you never know when we might see the character again. Even if someone is dead, we could encounter them in a different timeline. Some of our principal characters are dead.
That sounds like it can get a bit tricky. Can you talk about your process for saving and archiving the sound of a character, as it sounds like your character creation process is pretty involved?
Well I save the original takes from the actors, but I will not use all of my tracks again, I will grab specific phrases that I might need for another scene from the actors original material and then start my process over again so it is never the same as a previous one. These are really unique performances that are done by the actors and deserve to be treated as such. I will take the liberty of stealing those little bits and then creating the language that is appropriate for the scene. Besides doing this for the actors, the director, the producer, as well as myself. I also know the fans are crazy about this show. They analyse everything. I think If I reused our alien voices, they would find it and go nuts on-line. That Mothra type monster that I did this season, they wanted a retro sound and I created a Godzilla element for the roar when it got angry. Word got back to me that fans complained it sounded too much like Godzilla. The next week I did a shrieking worm alien and I was worried I might get compared to the shrieking eels from Princess Bride.
You jumped onto Legends of Tomorrow in season 6. Was Dehumaniser already being used when you got on the show?
No, it had not yet been used on the show. I introduced them to the Krotos software and I think they like it. The producers have no idea how we make the sounds, they just know when the sounds work, and they like how they help tell the story.
Do you have any tips or tricks for using Dehumaniser that you would like to share?
Try running things through Dehumaniser other than voices. It does some crazy things to your whooshes and other effects. I will also use Reformer Pro for creature footsteps. I record a track where I make footstep noises with my mouth into a microphone in sync with a creature’s footsteps. Then I adjust them, so they are perfectly in sync. I now have a guide where I can use Reformer Pro to audition new sounds for the feet as I use it to replace the existing mouth ones. I can add a mud or squishy layer, a foot on leaves or breaking branches, whatever I think might be interesting without recutting them all. Great for auditioning new ideas.
Do you have any favourite presets that you like to go to?
Depends on what I am trying to make. I love the presets with the “beast” type fx. I also love the robots and the glitchy stuff.
Do you use any other Krotos products? Have you used Krotos products on any other projects?
I keep mentioning Reformer Pro, even in the section about Dehumaniser tips I mentioned Reformer Pro. It helps speed up my workflow a lot and allows me to quickly try new sounds. I also have used Igniter for doing some cool spaceship sounds and Weaponiser. I have used it a lot for Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. My designer Harry Snodgrass loves the Krotos products and he did a lot of design for this anthology. We had to reinvent the wheel every episode and it was an extremely heavy design. We wound up winning the MPSE Golden Reel Award for this show!
Do you have any final thoughts?
Krotos makes some great software that helps me expand the arsenal of tools I bring to a project.
“Krotos allows me to take ordinary sounds and twist them in new ways while speeding up my workflow. I think Krotos plug-ins should be a part of every designer’s toolkit.”
I can’t wait to see what new ways they will come up with to massage and warp my sounds into new things I have never heard.
Interview by Doug Siebum
Doug Siebum is a sound effects editor and dialogue editor who has worked in a variety of areas in the audio industry. He has been interviewed for articles that appeared in The OC Weekly, The New York Village Voice, The St. Louis Riverfront Times, The Roseville Press Tribune, The Rocklin Placer Herald, and the book Beyond Sound by Scott L. Phillips, Oxford University Press. He is a voting member of the Motion Picture Sound Editors, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.