Many of Pulse Graduates go on to work with some of the top artists and multi media companies in the world. We will check in on our Pulse success stories and find out what life is like post Pulse.
Pulse Graduate and Award Nominated Sound Engineer Dominic Lawrence, talks to Pulse News
In this month’s student success section, we profile Dominic Lawrence, a graduate of the Pulse College’s Sound Engineering Diploma course, who is currently working as a sound engineer for Brown Bag Films on many of their award winning projects. The highlight of his career to date is his credit for dialog recording on the Oscar nominated short film Granny O’Grimm’s. We delve deep and find out what it takes to become a successful sound design engineer and what life is like working on such prestigious high profile projects.
Q1. Background: Who you are, where you’re from, where you are now?
My name is Dominic Lawrence, I’m from Cork and currently work as a Post Production Sound Engineer for Brown Bag Films, Dublin. I’ve been responsible for the sound design and mix of all the long form series produced by Brown Bag over the past 3 years, these include “Olivia” Season one (52×11 minute episodes, currently sold to over 120 territories worldwide), “Noddy” (52×11 minute episodes, currently airing: UK – Channel 5, France – France 5/TF1, and Germany – Nick Jr). Other credits include dialog recording for the Oscar nominated short film “Granny O’Grimm’s, Sleeping Beauty”, Crap Rap special “Tidy Towns and Tangerines” (1x25min, RTE), Grabby Bag (12x5min, RTE) and dialog recording/sound design work on various commercials. I am currently mixing and designing sound for Olivia Series II (28×11 minute episodes) and Octonauts (50×11 minute episodes and 2×22 minute specials). Both series are currently in production in Brown Bag Films and due to air on Nickelodeon US and BBC respectively in the fall of 2011.
Q2. You initially studied Environmental Science in UCC, what made you to go on to study Pulse College’s audio course?
In 2004, I graduated from University College Cork (UCC) with an honours degree in Environmental Earth Science. By year 2 of it I had pretty much decided that this probably wasn’t going to be something I could work at for the next 40 years so whilst I finished the 4 year course, I did not want to pursue a career in it! I had always loved music (played the drums for a few years and can rarely remember going to school without a walkman on…) and I really liked movies and games. I took a year out after the degree, looked at what I liked and then looked at what courses were available. After going to a few FAS and CAO career days, I came across Pulse and had a quick chat, liked what I heard, went to the open day and liked what I saw – the clincher was the Pro Tools mix for the trailer to the Matrix – loved the sounds in the film and seeing it channel by channel just caught my imagination. Superficial reasons aside, Pulse came out on top because of its practical based courses, Pro Tools certifications, they weren’t just focused on the music business alone and the classes were small so you weren’t going to get left behind if you didn’t get something the first time. The equipment they had (and that you got to use) was amazing (I went in there knowing nothing about what it was or did mind you…) from Protools HD systems to classic analog gear, getting to know and use these things is something that has stood by me to this day.
Q3. What did you find the most challenging and beneficial part of the course?
Music Theory – I was a self taught drummer so I had no idea about reading music or chords etc so it took a lot to get my head around it. I liked the practical live sound parts but it’s something you have to do a lot of to be fast and confident. They were probably my only stumbling points really Looking back, there are probably 3 things that have stuck with me:Pro Tools Courses – I had never used it before coming to Pulse but I really liked it and found it easy enough to learn. Using it day-in, day-out on projects was great, I think they are well worth having – being able to walk into a studio and use Pro Tools fast and efficiently might just get your foot in the door. Overall broadness of the course – you come out (at least) knowing a bit about everything so while you won’t know it all, you have a decent grounding in most aspects from which to build on, friendly people who are willing to teach, answer any and all questions and in general help you out where they can.
Q4. How have the skills translated into the work environment?
They’ve been a great help – from the technical side, like setting up a protocols system, to the personal side dealing with clients/artists. The obvious one would be working with Pro Tools everyday on very tight deadlines – knowing key commands can literally save you days over the course of a 52 part series! Knowing some basics on video technology and frame rates really helped me at the start. With nearly everything I do in Brown Bag Films, there is an outside party involved – could be producers, voice artists, advertising, outside studios etc – and having that bit of practical experience from Pulse was a helpful start. I also have to edit music quite a bit so even the dreaded music theory gets used to mix and match different cues!
Q5. You started your career as live sound engineer. Tell us a bit about the types of venues, gigs and work you did during that time.
Tiny venues, some make-shift PA’s and a few egos characterised my start in live sound! It’s one of those things where you learn a lot in a very short time – think I made every mistake in the book but it was a good (if not always enjoyable…) experience! I’ll be the first to admit I was best working with software in a studio environment so it really was just something I wanted to try and do.
Q6. What was the most challenging live sound situation?
Probably dealing with a guitarist and a drummer (2 different nights) who thought they were rocking stadiums rather than 50 seater bars! One kept turning his amp up and up and the drummer ‘didn’t know how to play quiet’ – either way there was no way I could match volumes with the rest of the band so it was a bit of a car crash really.
Q7. You have now changed direction and work in sound design, what prompted this move?
It was always a big interest but I’d never really found the opportunity to get into it. Sounds silly but to this day, the larger-than-life punch fx from Indiana Jones always jump out at me and I guess the older I got, the more I watched films with my ears. I love the variety of sound design – for every one sound, just by speeding it up, slowing it down, adding reverb, putting it through guitar pedals or filters you can come up with a whole host of different variants. In fact if you use stuff the wrong way, you often come up with the best sounds! Mixing a show is pretty different to mixing a song but some principals still apply.
Q8. Congratulations, you were involved in Oscar Nominated Granny Grimm’s. Tell us about your contribution?
Thanks, yeh Granny was a great project that was developed by Brown Bag Films from a comedy sketch performed by Kathleen O’Rourke. I had the pleasure of recording all Granny’s voice over parts which was good fun – Kathleen and Director, Nicky Phelan, were coming up with new lines or adlibs mid record so it was always quite entertaining – and a little surreal hearing Kathleen jump from her own accent to that of an elderly Granny mid-sentence! Credit must go to composer Greg Magee and sound designers The Sound Butlers for their work on the rest of the soundtrack.
Q9. How did it feel when you heard the nomination?
Marginal shock, followed by big smiles and a long night of celebrations! It was mad to be honest and took a while to sink in. I only had a small part to play in it but it was great to be associated with something like this. The reactions the film received and seeing it on screen during the Oscar ceremony were the highlights for me. There was a certain satisfaction that we’d beaten Pixar to a nomination too which was a David vs Goliath moment.
Q10. You have now been involved in an Oscar Nominated Project which is a huge achievement, what are your future goals?
I guess we’ll have to go one better and win an Oscar next year! I’m working on some really great TV projects in Brown Bag at the moment so a Bafta or an Emmy would be super. We’re being asked for more and more 5.1 surround sound for HD broadcasts and down the line, feature film stuff would be great to do – hearing great soundtracks like District 9, Transformers, Wall-E or Avatar really gets the imagination going and with surround there is a whole lot more ways to mix and design sound. But hey, if none of that works out I’d honestly be happy to just keep on doing what I’m doing now.
Q11. Did you find that the Pulse College qualification opened doors?
It is definitely good to have on your CV and helps to get your foot in the door which is the hardest thing to do in the industry – you have to be sure to impress from there! There is no replacement for getting proper work experience in the workplace as this is where you learn A LOT – I learn something new from every project I work on BUT Pulse provided me with a set of tools that lent itself to nearly everything I do today – If I’m asked “can you do x, y & z?”, I usually answer ‘yep no problem’…[openday]