Storytelling with Sound
Post production sound engineer Brian Eimer, ImagesInSound
By Dustin Driver
For Brian Eimer, audio post production is more than just pushing faders. "I love telling stories." he says. "For me, audio post production isn't about the gear or the technical aspects. I love using sound to enhance the visuals and narrative, to immerse the viewer in the TV show or film. That's what it's all about for me."
Eimer is Sr. Sound Designer and owner of ImagesInSound, a Toronto-based post audio house that creates soundtracks for broadcast and cable TV, cinema, and documentaries. The studio's credits include Survivor Man, True Stories, Bugs! 3D, and Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey. Eimer and his staff also won an award for best sound design for their work on the Large Format film Wild Ocean 3D. Eimer's career spans nearly two decades, and it all started at OIART.
Finding the Groove
The engineer dove into sound post production on a whim. "I didn't want to go to university and a friend of mine had found OIART," he says. "I was interested in music and audio production and the program was only a year, so I figured I'd give it a shot." It didn't take long for Eimer to find his groove at OIART.
"I was originally going to be a music engineer," he says. "But the post audio side of things piqued my interest. I didn't realize that there was so much to post audio. You can do music, you can do recording, you can do live sound, you can do almost anything. Sound is everywhere. It's in museums, movie theaters, themed attractions, malls. So if you're not a musician, there's still a lot of opportunities for you to grow. It sounded really interesting to me and that was the start of it."
Eimer spent a year at OIART and landed a job at one of Toronto's first post production houses, Master's Workshop. The job was basic—working with an engineer in dialogue replacement for TV shows and movies. Then he was put on the night shift as a technical assistant. For two years.
"There were shows coming in 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he says. "I was assisting the editors, basically striping time code to audio tape. It was tough, and I eventually moved into mixing."
The sound engineer eventually started mixing kids shows and then dialog for dramatic television. After 16 years with Master's, Eimer was a lead sound mixer in charge of several big-name TV programs and films, including War of the Worlds, African Skies, Dudley the Dragon, Grounding Marsh, Friday the 13th, and more.
Images in Sound
In 2004, Master's went belly up. Eimer saw a golden opportunity to open up his own shop, catering to old Master's clients. The first ImagesInSound shop was based in Eimer's townhouse and ran on basic equipment. "I had to do it as cheaply as possible, because times were tough," he says. "I just started out with some basic technology, and kept the customer service up as high as I could."
Today ImagesInSound has a 3,300-square-foot office in downtown Toronto. Eimer oversees a staff of three engineers who sound edit and mix audio for shows like Survivor Man, Mayday, Psychic Investigators, Property Virgins, and World's Greenest Homes.
One of the studio's biggest projects—both in scope and physical size—was the Large Format film Wild Ocean 3D, a film about the environmental degradation of the world's oceans. Eimer tackled surround sound design for the film at his home studio. "I had my garage built and tuned to be a miniature IMAX theater," he says. "I had an acoustic designer come in and we did everything to scale."
Eimer's home studio, and the new downtown facility are powered by Steinberg Media Technologies Nuendo 4. To mix Wild Ocean 3D, the engineer employed a 16-channel Euphonix System 5-MC and a set of JBL surround sound monitors. With the setup Eimer was able to overcome technical obstacles, but there were still plenty of creative obstacles. "The crew is based in the U.K., so I had to work remotely and deal with the time difference," he says. "The directors also happened to be the composers, so I had to be very conscious of the soundtrack."
The sound engineer also had to contend with a third dimension, and the massive proportions of the IMAX screen. "The screen is just so big," he says. "The sound needs to keep up with that and placement is a strong issue. In 3D, the viewers are in the film. The sound needs be to spot on or the illusion will be broken. The sound design simply has to play through. Wild Ocean was a challenging piece."
Eimer mixed the piece at breakneck speed, working almost 24 hours a day. In the end, the work and Eimer's talent paid off. Wild Ocean 3D won an award for the best sound design from the Giant Screen Cinema Association.
The Reality of Sound
Today ImagesInSound is mixing audio for several reality shows, including Property Virgins and World's Greenest Homes. The studio is also working on an immersive 3D show for the London Eye that will run at the base of the spectacular ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames. "I love doing the immersive films, the interesting attraction film stuff, the four-minute 3D spots," says Eimer. "That's the main draw for me."
Whether he's creating 3D soundscapes or mixing clean audio for reality TV, Eimer uses his instincts. "For me, mixing for audio post is like playing an instrument," he says. "I usually just put my fingers on the faders and feel it out. It's all about trusting your instincts and understanding the story you're trying to tell, making sure that you create impact where you need to create impact. It's not about levels, it's not about gear. The gear you work on is just tools. You need to know those tools inside and out, sure, but the mix comes down to the individual, your experience and instincts."
The engineer plans to use his experience and instincts to tell his own stories. Eimer has opened up production company called Whitewater Entertainment. "I formed a production company last year and we're developing a couple of projects because I enjoy storytelling," he says. "I would like to produce thinking-man stories, stories that you need to follow closely. But it's the early days yet and we'll see what kind of projects we come up with."
Eimer's advice to anyone looking to get into audio post production? "You have to be patient, and be willing to work hard," he says. "You need to soak up as much of the experience as you can, because there's a lot of knowledge out there in the industry. That's where being around the guys at OIART really pays off. They can teach you skills you can't get anywhere else."
Meeting Michael Jordan
Good sound design can make all the difference in an immersive experience. Eimer worked on the IMAX film Michael Jordan to the Max, a large format film about the basketball star. Many audience members had seen the games live, but the colossal IMAX screen and Eimer's soundtrack brought back all the suspense. "You watch this film with an audience, you watch them cheer and ooh and ah at a game they saw two years ago," says Eimer. "It's like they had never seen the play before. That's the payoff. That's why we do audio post, it's to create these stories and create these emotions that follow the visuals. That's what keeps me going in it."