Artist Spotlight - Bernard O Reilly

Bernard OReilly Studio

If Bernard O Reilly is walking down a street it’s likely he has a handheld audio device recording everything around him. Whether car horns, sirens or tube station announcements, Bernard wants to make sure he gets them. But the bustling noise of the city is a far cry from where it all started for Bernard--on a farm in the middle of Western Australia. Now living in London, Bernard has an impressive list of TV and film credits stretching back nearly 20 years.

Were you at the school one day and thought "I want to mess around with sound"?  How did you get into sound in the first place?  Was it some kind of happy accident?

I've always been interested in sound.  It probably started with wanting to be a rock star, being in rock bands, which is what I dreamed of as a kid. I grew up on a farm in the middle of Western Australia, the middle of nowhere.  There wasn't much there as far as music went so I went to Sydney and worked in music studios there as an assistant. I did a bit of engineering and then came to London and got a job at Air Studios for a couple of years as an assistant.

Air Studios is a nice entry into the UK isn’t it?

Yes, I didn't really realise at the time.  I knew it was a good studio as I had done my research before I left Australia. I researched which studios I should go and see, and when I got here I went around to all the studios with my CV. I got freelance work doing a couple of days here and there over a summer.  I did some work at Air Studios and I got a callback and carried on.

“I love listening to films, especially on headphones because you really get to hear what it really sounds like. If it doesn’t have the right emotional power or energy then you won’t believe it. ”

I was at Air for two years and after a while I realised that sound design & sound effects--particularly effects--was really what I wanted to do.

So what was the catalyst for that thought process? Because it's a bit of a leap from wanting to be thrashing a guitar, singing into a mic or playing a drumkit to suddenly creating complex soundscapes that are augmenting another kind of work.  Was it a particular movie or a set of movies?  Were there certain movies you'd sat through and thought "Wow! the sound on that is awesome"?

I grew up on a farm so I didn't have the benefit of going to see movies, but it was one of those things I'd always been thinking about. I knew that if it was a monster then it was a combination of animals and people making noises. That always fascinated me but I didn't really have an idea of how to go about it.


You mentioned monsters, so you realised Godzilla wasn't a prehistoric creature somewhere you could go and mic. Were you also informed enough to realise that when someone got punched in the face, it was probably a watermelon being smacked with a baseball bat?

Oh yes, especially with Kung Fu movies and that sort of stuff. I knew it was someone slapping boards together and breaking bits of wood. The plan was to get over to London and get into a good studio and learn from great people. 

I knew that to learn from good people, you needed to be in a good studio. For me London was always the mecca for that, so that's really what drove me to come over here. At Air Studios big orchestras came in to record soundtracks for all the Hollywood films, they would be over all the time. To see what these guys were doing and meeting all these great directors was great.  I'd be in the studio as an assistant. I'd be around when all this stuff was being put together and recorded. It sort of went from there really, and it was then that I started getting into the post side of stuff.

So do you have a memory of the first films you were working on when you started really getting into this?

Certainly. The Tim Burton film "Ed Wood" was one, "Frankenstein" was another one, the Robert De Niro one.

And you were doing mainly sound design or doing mix?

No, just assisting on the orchestral sessions. At this point it was just the music side of it. Of course when they did the music, the director would be over with the music editor, composer, orchestrator and all those sorts of people, it was a great start.

Let’s talk about your work now. A lot of people would think it sounds like the dream job to be smashing stuff all day, walking around with boots on gravel and stuff like that. But you describe it as an art don't you?

Yes it is an art, hence the term Foley Artists. It is very much a performance, especially when you're doing feet and that sort of thing.  It's a movement so you sort of imitate the movement of someone on the screen. Even when recording loud noises and bangs it’s still an art.

How do you continue to develop your art?

I love listening to films, especially on headphones because you really get to hear what it really sounds like. If it doesn't have the right emotional power or energy then you won't believe it. 

It's all about the emotion of sound really. For example take a sword fight. If two guys are fighting, one of them might get killed, they're fighting for their lives so they're going to be whacking to protect themselves as hard as they possibly can. You need to convey that energy through the sound effects.  The same with a car chase. You want it to sound like they're revving the crap out of each other and about to skid over the cliff and try and get away.  You just need to have the right kind of squeals and scrapes and noise from the engine for you to believe that someone's in danger.

Let's talk about reverb.  I'm guessing that plays an important part of the whole process doesn't it

Well it does depend on the movie obviously. For instance, I was doing sound effects on a film before called "Suffragette". It won't come out until September this year. It is set in 1915/1917 in the East End of London and the Sound Supervisor was telling me that the Director wanted to have the sound of the East End: the sound of families next door with kids crying occasionally or people walking past, horses going past, that sort of stuff.

For the reverb I wanted it to sound like someone was walking past or kids were shouting like it was coming from outside, and a lot of the recordings I've got are inside. So by using reverb, you can give the impression that actually the sound is not that close to you. It's more of an atmosphere kind of thing, so you want it to sound like it was distant but the right type of distance.

Sometimes I'm using the reverb as a sound effect, a sort of flavour. I’m not putting reverb on it to make it sound like someone's calling from the next room. It's using reverb to create a sound.

“I don’t quite know the maths between convolution and algorithmic reverbs, but they do sound a lot different from each other and I think something like the R2 has got more depth to it.”

What were you using before you started using the Exponential Audio stuff?

Well of course the Lexicon 480 and the 240.  I've used those in music studios and then when I first started, I was on Audiofile until about 2005 and then with Audifiles, you didn't have reverbs. But I used a PCM81 and that was the main reverb. It was a fantastic reverb the PCM81 and did some great effects. Then when going into Pro Tools, Waves ones and the ones that come inside Pro Tools, were the ones I'd been using. R-verb and that sort of thing

So, you’re now using Exponential Audio reverbs, how have you found them?

I think they're great, I really do.  I think they are a fantastic reverb. As soon as I started using it, I thought, "this sounds like I used to have with the E64 and going through the PCM81".  I really did.  I don't quite know the maths between convolution and algorithmic reverbs, but they do sound a lot different from each other and I think something like the R2 has got more depth to it.

Most of the time I have been using the R2 although I've been flipping between R2 and PhoenixVerb a lot of the time. I’ve used Altiverb but you don't get that thickness to the sound that you really do want sometimes when you're doing sound design.

“If you saw somebody getting mugged, would you record it before you helped them? No. Probably not in that case, but it’s a tough choice.”

What advice would you give you to 16 year old Bernard if he was about to want to get into this?

Well first of all, you need perserverence and passion, and if you haven't got those, it's not going to really happen. And I always loved sound so the combination of loving sound plus really wanting to do something in sound and having a passion for sound, that's what kind of drives it along I suppose. 

I would say you need to record a lot of stuff.  I think recording sounds is always a good thing. Just to keep it, just catalogue all these sounds.  You record stuff and you think "I'm not going to use that ever again" or "It's not going to come in useful". But it's amazing how much stuff that you go back to, especially with RX. You can salvage stuff and find something good in sounds that in the past would have been unusable.

Macro Of Digital Dictaphone

So are you audio journaling all the time

Well almost, yeah. I've got a D50 which I carry everywhere. Before my iPhone, I used to carry a little camera around just in case I needed to take a photo. But now I like to leave the house with an iPhone and a sound recorder, just in case there's something I need to photograph or get the sound of.

I kind of go through phases of doing a lot of recording. The easy bit is the recording: you just record for 5 minutes. But then when you get it off of whatever device you've got, you might want to put it into Pro Tools and top and tail it a bit, get rid of the bumps and label it and put it into Soundminer. That all takes yonks.

If you don't keep on top of it there's no point in recording it. Usually at the end of a project, I'll spend a day or two of just putting it altogether and labelling it because you forget what you've done or where it was.

So what you're saying is that it's the Boy Scouts motto "Be Prepared".

I think so. If I go for a run in the park or whatever, I'm not taking the microphone with me but if I'm going away for the weekend or I'm going to town even, I just put it in my backpack.  You just never know, the stuff you'll come across.

If you saw somebody getting mugged, would you record it before you helped them?

No. Probably not in that case, but it's a tough choice.

Find out more about Bernard's work here