The story of how Neil Aldridge came to be working on top movies in New Zealand reads like the plot of one of the many Peter Jackson movies he has worked on, giving up his life in London music studios and travelling to the other side of the world to be with his precious.
"The reason I am in New Zealand is because of a lady" he laughs "I started in recording several years before, it was 1990 and I wrote off to all the studios I could find in London — hundreds — asking them to give me a job. I have two big lever arch folders of rejection letters from some top name studios, most of which have now closed down". Eventually Aldridge got a job at Jamestown Studio in Whitechapel and then spent most of the nineties working in London studios with pop and R&B acts such as All Saints, Rod Stewart and Emma Bunton. He continues his story of how he ended up in New Zealand; "I met Charlotte, a Kiwi, in London three weeks before her visa ran out and she had to leave the country. We really hit it off so we stayed in touch. I'd never had any intention of leaving London, let alone England, but four months later I found myself moving to Australia to be with her. Then in 2003, we moved to Wellington, New Zealand."
"It was just as the final part of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was being made. There is a thriving music scene in Wellington, but the the film thing was really taking off and it seemed like a great time to get in on that". We take a moment to consider the impact that Peter Jackson has had on the New Zealand film industry; "it's astounding what he has done for this city, country and for the New Zealand film industry." Aldridge continues, "I had a meeting with Mike Hopkins, the Dialog Supervisor for 'Rings', and he said there was an opening on King Kong the next Peter Jackson film. I joined the team as Dialog Assistant and made the move into film in 2005."
“When you work in music you are almost on your own, perhaps except for the producer. Working on big films there is an immediate peer group, which is just wonderful.”
From Music Production To Movie ADR
"Really interesting" is how Aldridge describes the move from music to post. "When you work in music you are almost on your own, perhaps except for the producer. Working on big films there is an immediate peer group, which is just wonderful. It was great to work on a team who were all fascinated when someone found a new shortcut", he laughs, "by accident!"
We are intrigued as to what drew Aldridge from music to ADR, and not music for film or sound design. "Having found myself in dialog I found a natural affinity with it and having spent since 1990 recording people in booths, ADR recording was a natural extension of that. I spent all my time in studios observing studio etiquette, dealing with people in what can be a tense and fraught environment and keeping everything cool and moving along. So I suppose the ADR recording built on my music career." He thinks that his music background helped, "I used to create stacks of tight vocals on pop and R&B tracks and I definitely think that some of those skills have informed my dialog editing."
We spend a moment distracted by some of the great movies he has worked on, most of which have been action and fantasy, this must bring challenges to ADR? Many of these movies have sprawling action scenes sat in complex and, often, huge spaces.
The Challenge Of ADR
He first talks about the challenge faced by the actors, "if you put them in the ADR theatre we record in, it is a completely silent space with a huge screen they perform the dialog to. They have their headphones on and they can hear what they did, but it is nothing like the scene they are looking at." This is the first place where Exponential Audio reverbs are used in the process, "I have PhoenixVerb on the ADR rig on the stage, I record dry and I might feed the actor a little bit of reverb if they need it."
The second place Exponential Audio reverbs play a part in the process is when the takes are auditioned back. "When we are listening back I'll add a little bit of reverb because the performance has got to be sitting back into bounces and mixes that have already been processed." Often the scenes on these movies are situated in large halls or caves "it is nice to be able to play it back and hear it sit in context, it helps the ADR director and the actor". He uses two PhoenixVerbs for this "one set up for interior and one for exterior. When you are recording ADR you will be zipping around a lot of different scenes and environments and it's nice to be able to flick between them. If the exterior doesn't work I've found it's a painless process to be able to flick through a couple of presets until I find what I want. With PhoenixVerb the dialog just slips into the track, it's fantastic."
“I never got my head around plug-in reverbs quite so much, but I’ve really taken the plunge with PhoenixVerb and now there’s no looking back.”
Discovering Exponential Audio Reverbs
Aldridge is no stranger to great reverbs, "I used a Lexicon PCM60 and PCM90 in the first studio I worked in and then I moved onto 224s and 480s," but he admits never to have really had an interest in plug-in reverbs before "I never got my head around plug-in reverbs quite so much, but I've really taken the plunge with PhoenixVerb and now there's no looking back."
His discovery came through reading about Exponential Audio on some forums. "I had seen it on a couple of forums and knew about Michael's heritage, so you pay attention when you realise that this guy has coded some of the great reverbs. Then one of the Effects Editors on the team told me that he was evaluating the reverbs. It is both the sound and the surround capabilities and of course the CPU load that gives it a huge advantage for me."
Still Music In The Blood
Even after nearly a decade working on top movies Aldridge still loves to get back to music when he can. "I'm very much looking forward to playing around with R2. I have a music project I'm hoping to get back to when Hobbit madness is over and I'm sure I will be employing it on that."
As a final word he returns to where it all started with a word of advice for those wanting to take a similar journey; "You get out what you put in. The people I have come across who have achieved the most have also put the most in. There's the old adage that the luckiest people are the ones who work the hardest, you do make your own luck I believe."