Production sound Mixer Ben Osmo is no stranger to DPA Microphones, having used the company’s d:screet miniature microphones during the filming of Mad Max: Fury Road. Therefore, it was no surprise when he once again chose DPA for his next major film project – recording the audio for Ridley Scott’s 2017 Sci-Fi film, Alien:Covenant.
“This film made unusual demands on the sound, costume and props departments because the cast not only had to wear radio mic transmitters but also an in-ear/comms set up, which was part of the storyline,” explains Osmo. “We were predominantly using DPA microphones for location sound recording, so we chose d:screet 4060 and 4061 lavalier microphones, which we hid in clothing and space suits. We also used d:fine headset microphones on cast members as props – for example as talk back mics in space helmets.”
A sequel to Prometheus and the sixth installment in the Alien film series, Alien:Covenant stars Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Demián Bichir. Location filming took place at Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand and at a disused water reservoir near Sydney. Bodyworn microphones for the film were supplied by DPA’s Australian distributor, Amber Technology.
In some scenes, the complexity of the spacesuit costumes worn by the main cast members and the need to remove space helmets to fit in with the storyline meant that up to three microphones were needed to capture the sound.
“We put one d:screet 4061 in the front of the space helmet with the cable inside the foam supports and a small transmitter positioned in a cavity of the helmet,” says Osmo. “A second 4061 was placed below the locking ring in the space suit, with the transmitter inside the suit, then a d:fine 66 omnidirectional headset microphone was dressed under a cap and shot as a practical talk back prop. The transmitter for that microphone was mounted under the back pack, alongside the Lectrosonics IFB R1a receiver.
“This set up allowed the cast to start the scene with their helmets off and then put them on while the camera was rolling without having to stop the dialogue. Having the three body mic alternatives gave post production the option of using whichever microphone was most suitable. They also had the sound from the boom mics. Once the cast had their space helmets permanently on, we found that the d:fine 66 headset microphones were the best option.”
Working alongside Osmo on Alien:Covenant was key boom operator Shanti Burn, boom operators Tod Moore and Mark van Kool (also in charge of radio mics) and Ben Yeadon, who was in charge of cable/utility.
“Shanti did a great job in pre-production, liaising with the costume department and getting them to sew special pouches into the costumes for both the Lectrosonics SMV and SMQV radio mic transmitters and the IFB1Ra receivers,” says Osmo. “Tod set the transmitters, receivers, mics and in-ear pieces off set with the costume department while the cast were being dressed. Later, when Mark joined the sound crew, he replicated the setup of the radio mics but also added his personal stamp on rigging the DPA mics in the costumes.”
“Milford Sound was a breath-taking location, and the acoustics for loud gunshots and explosions were amazing because the sound bounced off the mountains,” explains Osmo. “However, the elements were often against us and we had many days when it was cold and rainy. Ridley loved the look, so we kept filming and got around the problems caused by the weather by waterproofing as much of the equipment as we could.
“The d:screet 4060 and 4061 microphones worked well in these damp, windy conditions, producing warm and even sound for most of the cast. When using the high EQ cap, they have a nice sparkle in the top end that lets the dialogue come through clothing evenly. There were a few occasions where we had to swap out mics when they got too damp, but after drying them out, they worked fine again.”
According to Osmo, the cast of Alien:Covenant was very patient with the sound crew and accepted the need for some microphone tweaking between takes. Interior scenes were filmed on a shooting stage at Sydney’s Fox Studios and some of these boom mics could not be used because the corridors in the space ship were too tight.
“In those situations, we worked with the camera department and placed a d:screet 4060 with a small transmitter on the Steadicam operator or on the camera itself,” says Osmo. “This gave us a prime position when the camera tracked backwards with the cast.”
One unusual aspect of this film was that the crew used sound cues for camera movements, props and SFX. This meant that Osmo had to come up with noises for the aliens – something he had great fun delivering.
“I used some takes of our previous recordings of yells and blood curdling screams and recorded some guide yells from the actor who played the Alien,” he explains. “I also used the d:screet 4060 mic that I used for my own comms/slate mic to record my own weird voice making some unusual sounds.
“I imported a few takes into Pro Tools and edited a few versions. Some were slowed and pitched down and mixed into two versions (young Neomorph and Alien). These were then played back on set as a guide for the cast to react to, via speakers or into their comms.”
Thanks to the sound quality of the DPA microphones and the fact that they could pick up clean dialogue in trying conditions, very little ADR was needed.
“As in all films, it’s the collaboration of all departments that allows the sound department to achieve a good result,” says Osmo. “That was certainly the case with Alien:Covenant.”
Since completing the movie, Osmo, who is based in Australia, has worked on a live action and CGI feature, which is now in post-production, and two 90-minute television features.