Brigham Young University - Idaho (2017)
Projection System Designer
The story of Big Fish follows a son exploring all the tall tales his dying father, Edward Bloom, has told him throughout his life. The audience is constantly moved in and out of reality from one scene to the next. We needed a clear and distinctive way to indicate to the audience whether or not we were in actual reality. To accomplish this, I used an intensive surround sound setup to provide sound to the audience from nearly 20 different directions all around the theatre.
Audience members would feel their were in an enchanted forest alongside Edward Bloom, and music could swell into the surround sound mix to completely envelop the audience during the peak of an emotional beat. When applicable, the system was used to cause confusion and apprehension amongst the audience. There were moments when I really wanted them to feel what Edward was experiencing. This setup allowed me to achieve that.
Edward Bloom standing next to the projected giant, Karl.
Big Fish featured a large USO production number at the beginning of the second act. Because I love to run my mouth and suggest things, I was tasked with designing sound for a firework display, as well as creating the animated fireworks for the sequence, which you can read about here. Luckily our director had quite the obsession with fireworks, so I ventured out in the cold winter to his home to test out my new field recorder. After about an hour of sampling various fireworks, I had what I needed.
The interesting thing about this design, which I’ve run into on other projects, as well, was that most of my design needed to be synchronized with the projections. At times it can feel as though I’m designing sound for film more than live theatre, although the payoff can be complex sound sequences with great visuals, and I’ll take that any day. Here is the final result, animation and all.
A scene in the latter segment of the show gives us an uncomfortable look at Edward Bloom as he spirls into a state of defensive apprehension. After a fight with his son, we dive with him into a medicine-driven nightmare, where his son continues to put his intentions on trial. The transition into this is a tough sell, so we knew we’d need a device to help lead the way. During our paper tech meeting, the director and I had an idea of what could go here, just days before opening the show.
I picked certain lines of Edward and his son from various parts of the show that could come together to create an overall narrative for the sequence. This would all overlay a piece of music coming from a documentary Edward is watching on TV as he slips into unconsciousness. The music provided to us for this scene was less than admirable, so I reorchestrated the existing music and then laid some different effects over it to fit the overall feel of the sequence. I’m incredibly proud of this sequence.
Karl the Giant
An element of the show that we knew would rely heavily on technical advancements was Karl the Giant. After our decision to make him completely animated, I met with the actor portraying the giant to learn a little more about his voice. I found that asking him to speak in his upper registry, then lowering his voice a major third, gave me the exact result I was looking for. Here’s the thing… he sings. To remedy this, we would raise his sections of the songs a major third when recording his parts, then I lowered them back again.
After we filmed his sequences on a green screen, we ventured to the studio to record his ADR. While sitting with the director, we recorded a large number of takes, giving him notes in between each of them, to achieve the desired result.
The end of the show called for the actor playing the giant to be present on stage in a moment that’s supposed to merge the two realities of the show together. We needed to have him speak like the animated giant on stage. The pitch bending functionality on our DigiCo SD9 was surprisingly limited, so I opted to feed his microphone to QLab on a Mac which handled the voice processing and fed it back to the board. The effect was convincing and sounded just like his recordings.
Thank you for reading about my Sound Design work for Big Fish at Brigham Young University - Idaho! If you'd like to see more from this show, check out the post on my Projection work for Big Fish here.