Updated: Nov 7, 2018
One fun, psych-rock, reinterpretation of the infamous scene from Disney's 'Dumbo' (1941), the Pink Elephant Parade.
Ultimately a sound replacement project, Jack Shannon and I took on the tripped out scene, and made it our own. Our mission was to re-create and re-record everything in a selected 4 min clip, from dialogue, through to foley and abstract sound design; reimagining the film's original effects and mood, giving the scene a modern twist. Also, playing out into a brand new score. Rather than an orchestrated feel like the original, we wanted heavy drums, driving bass, wacky guitar tones, and a 60s psych-rock inspired vocal. Jack and I have worked on previous projects together, one of which was the Black Spur project, which you can read more on here. We have a like-minded love for the psychedelic inspired projects, and wanted to work, once again, on another dark journey... this time we contort a Disney classic.
Here's the scene were working with:
We examined the scene, deconstructed the pieces, and broke each of the elements down into our production approach. First off, the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement).
We wrote out the ADR script based off the original dialogue, all of which was from George the mouse, as Dumbo is a silent character:
The scene shows Dumbo and George in a drunk like state, playing among bubbles and having a grand ol' time. Bubbles float around as George interacts. Dumbo begins to blow her own bubbles, which, in some forms, impresses George, until the pink elephants begin to appear. Then, our beloved characters become shocked and scared, and the Pink Elephant Parade takes its formation.
For this part of the clip we constructed a small list of Foley sounds that we need to reinterpret.
Foley & Sound Design Assets:
Swoosh (George runs under hat)
Pops (Bubble Pops)
Slide (George Slides down Bubble)
Squeeze (George Squeezes Bubble)
Whistles (George Whistles, Inside and outside bubbleS)
Hiccups (George/Dumbo’s drunken Hiccups)
Ambience (Characters are based in an outdoor environment)
The original film was very musically-inspired in the ways of its foley, which was a very popular approach for much of the earlier animated flicks. We wanted to design our foley with a musical feel, but mixed with a little realism as well. So the sounds above, will be recorded in a literal sense, but with some added musical exaggeration, keeping in contrast with the original film.
Lastly, we will completely re-interpret the score. Jack and I found inspiration in Tame Impala's Elephant, and Led Zeppelin's No Quarter. These tracks and their dark psychedelic aesthetics helped produce the idea, and we both agreed, as the visual aspect is like a psychedelic trip, nothing would be more fun to do than to produce a stomping drum track with wacky guitar tones and a 60s inspired psychedelic vocal. Allowing ourselves to dive further into free-flowing psychedelic mixing techniques and effects that will bring the final piece to life.
To make a start, I had to determine a few things. One being the tempo, and two being when the music dropped in. I opened up a Logic Pro X session and imported the original clip. I worked out tempo by following the animation. It was a little tricky as many early recordings we done without 'click' tracks. But I found that 112 BPM was a close enough tempo match. I then determined the starting point of the music, in this case, when the drums would drop in. After reviewing the original, I had made the executive decision to begin the beat at 01:55:25.79, right when the trumpet explodes and the elephants start parading out. Which is almost the halfway point of our clip.
Then I started creating a drum line. Being a parade, I wanted a marching style beat, but much heavier. I used an Abbey Road Vintage Ebony Kit from my Maschine 2 software, and drew in some MIDI.
Once I was happy with the basis of my beat, I then did some tweaking around what was happening in comparison to the clip. For example, crashes and a breakdown were added when a crash happens in the animation, giving the beat an interesting break. And towards the end of the scene, where the elephants seem to float away in a middle eastern dream, the ride cymbals are utilised, opening up the beat to a more heavy chorus feel. Once happy, and the beat was ready, I bounced the drum track out as a stem and sent it over to Jack to lay down some other goodies.
After getting the drum bounce, he experimented with some guitar effects that were available on his Fender amplifier. He tuned in a ping-pong delayed distortion, which had a long delay effect tail that would bounce around after the transient was struck. He also toyed with a fast Phaser, which gave us a more watery phasing effect. These guitar layers act as the prominent rhythmic shimmers for the entirety of the clip, including the first half of the clip, where the dialogue and foley lay. This is helping tie in the soundscape of the clip with the psychedelic feel of the track.
Jack also sang some lyrical layers. The lyrical content was written based of the original track's dialogue. George says the words "Do you see what I see?", after being shocked by the pink elephants suddenly appearing. We loved this concept as a theme of 'spook' for the track. We took it and ran with it. In terms of vocal effects, this is where we are going to get creative and implement some of Eddie Kramer's psych-vocal mixing techniques, which I talked about in a previous blog post - A Psychedelic Revolution.
We tracked George's dialogue, and parts of our foley, in accordance to our ADR script. I had the honours of being the voice actor on this one. We recorded my dialogue using a Rode NT2A, and intuitively tracked to the animation. We kept these takes completely unprocessed, so we could later edit and tweak in to suit the mix. Also, recording some balloon squeezes, pops, whistles, and swooshes for the initial layers of our foley. We will later add to these layers in the goal of designing more farfetched foley sounds, similar to the musical foley sounds in the original.
We then bounced out all stems, and transferred them into a new Logic Pro X session, because... I like to use Logic Pro X. Plus Logic Pro X has a really user friendly MIDI edit window, and the virtual instruments are far more vast in their selection. I utilised some of the default orchestral sounds that Logic offers to create some foley for character movement and reactions, and bubble effects. Also, I toyed with some synthetic sounds for some added effected elements. In particular, when Dumbo flexes her back trunk like an accordion. I used some creative and robotic pitch shift processing for when George is inside the bubble, which gave us a internal fish-bowl like sound.
After designing a bunch of foley, positioning all the sounds in time with the clip, and processing a few of the musical aspects of the project, I did a quick draft mix for a feedback session. The feedback I received was: more foley sounds for the impact moments, eg. the horn explosion, adjust foley levels through intro, and some slight tweaks to the mix. I took these changes on board, did my adjustments, then began the final mix.
The main components to mention about this mix would be the vocal processing I did for Jack's psychedelic vocal, and the parallel mix bus implemented to compress all elements separate from the drums. Here's what's in Jack's vocal chain. Firstly, for Preamp colour, a slight Gate, a subtle Comp, and some very nice tonal EQ, I dropped in Andrew Scheps Omni Channel from Waves. I found a complimenting preset, which I then tweaked to suit Jack's singing style. Though, the main reason for using this one was the preamp colour and compression. I find this one works really well with dynamic microphones, like the SM58 that Jack used for his vocal takes.
I then added another slow compressor, just to round off those transients a little more. This one is the CLA-2A. I nice tool again by Waves, and one of my go to compressors at the moment.
One of my favourite things to do to effect vocals is use guitar pedals. This time, I used Logic Pro X's virtual pedals to put together some psychedelic effects so that Jack's vocal can dance around the mix. First in the chain was the Phaze 2 pedal; a mix of two LFOs, combining opposing phazing effects to creating a whirlpool of sound. Then, I applied a Graphic EQ pedal, to boost some of the upper mid range, whilst cutting some of the low end.
Next was the Squash Compressor, which pulls together the sounds of the phazer and EQ, and sustains it. And lastly, a Reverse Tape Delay, for that dancing tail-end effect I was after.
That's all for the pedal board. Next in the signal chain was the Ensemble plugin. A very nice touch for any lead vocal, especially in Pop music. 3 voices and 100% wet in the mix, it gives vocal a nice spread using some extra harmonics.
Then, some Tape saturation, because things were sounds a little too digital for my liking. This plugin is the Oxide Tape by Universal Audio. It's subtle, but very effective.
Once I was happy with the signal chain for the lead vocal, I then bused two auxiliary Pitch Shift channels out, panning one hard left and one hard right. Both pitch shifters were subtly tweaked at the Cents, the left being +6 Cents, and the right being -6 cents. Then, I juiced up the bus levels on my Vocal channel, feeding in some more harmonies. Then, one last send to a separate Aux channel, which will be my parallel compression. I used a very similar technique on a previous blog. You can check it out here: https://www.stonewaxproductions.com/blog/some-much-needed-wizdom
Now, for my Parallel Mix Bus. For this little trick, I was finding my drums were getting a little lost in the mix, due to being a single Mono channel for the entire drum sound. So what I did to create some separation between the drums and everything else, was to send all the musical elements, bar the drums, to a separate Mix Bus. Then patched in another CLA-2A Compressor. What this does is, it uses the most dominant sound source as a trigger to work the compressor. In this case, the lead vocal is most dominant. So everytime the vocal is present, the other instruments fall back, ever so slightly in the mix, which in turn, pushes the vocal forward. When there's no vocals, the instruments will fill the space out nicely. None of these elements have to compete with the drums, and vise versa. The drums can now groove consistently, and all the other elements create their own space, whilst holding the most important element out front, the vocal. I love this technique. It can really help boost all elements without muddying up your mix.
After a few revisions, and some adjustments to panning, Jack and I were happy to finalize this one. I exported the project to the movie, and sent it out to the world. You can check it out right here:
Pink Elephants by Jack Shannon and Steve Summers
Thank you for hanging out, and Stay Tuned for more.
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