When we were asked by the guys at Team One USA to get involved in their energetic and cinematic vision for a Lexus ad that would feature not just one, but five of their high-performance range cars, we knew this would be an exciting opportunity to do something really interesting with the sound. Each of the cars has it’s own unique voice – there was no way that building it out of library sounds was going to suffice, we had to record these cars for real.
We started by studying director Markus Walter’s treatment to get an idea of perspectives and camera angles so we could prepare for what we would need to capture in order to build a dynamic, exciting and convincing soundtrack. Drones, Russian Arms, on-board, internal, bumper and wheel-arch mounted cameras to film every imaginable angle was the observation…
To help deal with the daunting prospect of recording so many cars from so many perspectives in such a short shoot, in which practically all the cars were to be filmed at all times under a super tight shooting schedule – effectively making them all but unavailable for microphone rigging (at least to any kind of visible rigging) – we enlisted the help of car recording expert and all-round location sound recording guru, Kiff McManus, with a CV of high-profile work too extensive to list, but most relevantly known for his work on Top Gear and The Grand Tour. Excited by the challenge, Kiff agreed to escape wintery London and join us on for the two-day shoot on the remote and picturesque Ascari racetrack just outside of Ronda, Spain.
Upon arrival in Ronda, we headed to the racetrack for a recce. It was here that we really realised the scale of the challenge ahead. The size of the track, the quirks of the body design on each car that would affect our ability to rig mics to the exhausts, engines, wheel arches, interior etc. and the stringent production schedule, meant that we were going to have to be so much more opportunistic, crafty and intensely focused than we first imagined if we were going to capture what we needed.
After a night of preparation, we arrived on set for day one. The first job was to mic up the Russian Arm car, so that we could record its perspective as it films the cars approaching, jockeying and tearing past. Like everything to follow, this had to be done in a super tight window of just minutes (before the crew could even notice it’s happened) and as securely as possible so we could happily leave it running all day, only checking in periodically to change batteries on the recorder.
The rest of the day we spent skipping around the crew; who themselves were racing against the limited winter daylight hours amongst other pressures. We had to rig our microphones as quickly and discreetly as possible before the cars were ripped away from us to be filmed tearing around the track. We capitalised on pit-stop camera rig changes, crew lunch breaks and strategically seized gaps in a given car’s shooting schedule to discreetly rig up a car ahead of it’s next circuit, or talk a kindly driver into shortening his break to take us on a secret lap around a section of track not being shot at the time.
In addition to this we needed to capture distant perspectives for the drone shots. The aim was to capture an array of field recordings by experimenting with different distances and varying Mid-Side, ORTF and Spaced Omni set-ups for a rich stereo ambience. In practice, this involved lots of running around the vast perimeter of the track, lugging heavy equipment and multiple microphones, trying to find the best location and setting up before the cars themselves get there. And plenty of diving into bushes to avoid being seen by a drone camera passing overhead.
We finished the two day shoot exhausted, battered and sunburnt (in my case, at least), but upon getting back to String and Tins HQ and getting to play around with the vast amount of varied, texturally interesting and generally badass recordings of these amazing cars we now had at our disposal, it was super worthwhile!
Given the nature of the shots in the film – tracking shots following or leading the cars favoured over static and panning shots – it was little surprise that the on-board recordings were the most valuable. It is not possible to record the kind of constant, sustained driving sound required for these shots from a static position without somehow carrying the recording equipment alongside the cars at the same speed, or mounting them on-board the vehicle.
Having a multi-track, on-board recording of a car as it drives a lap of the track enables us to mix between the perspectives in post to follow camera movements around the body of a car or match shots from different angles, bringing the appropriate channel forward in the mix.
Sadly, the perspective we had been most excited about exploring – the Russian Arm mounted mics – turned out to be the most disappointing as the noise of wind, car and road proved often to overbearing. In all but some key moments, this rendered the recordings unusable. I would, however, persevere with this approach next time as it does offer potential for a sustained recording that has a certain real and raw energy with a full-bodied sound given by that little bit of extra distance, as compared to the on-board microphones that are best for focusing on one particular (LOUD) element of the mechanics.
Overall, these recordings gave us a great amount of flexibility in post, and enabled us to match the perspectives and movements of the cars in a way we never would be able to with recordings from an SFX library. At the same time, using genuine recordings of the cars themselves, for that crucial sense of authenticity.
Andy Stewart, String and Tins
Agency: Team One LA
Location Sound Record: Kiff McManus, Andy Stewart @ String and Tins
Sound Design: Andy Stewart, Will Cohen @ String and Tins
Producer: Sascha Peuckert
Director: Markus Walter
Production Company: Reset