iZotope at the 2018 Winter Olympics

By Dave Godowsky, iZotope and Melissa Misicka, iZotope

February 23, 2018

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One hundred two medals across 15 disciplines. Thirteen venues over 10 days. An estimated $10 billion cost. Any way you slice them, the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics are immense in undertaking.

We spoke with sound engineer Filip Jacobs about what it’s been like working at the 2018 Winter Olympics, challenges that come with engineering this stature of an event, and more.

Tell us about your role and your rig at the Olympics.

I work on OB (outside broadcast) trucks at the Olympics. That means I am responsible for the entire audio operation at a certain sport. Pyeongchang is my eighth Olympics. Next to post production sound, I like to get out sometimes—just to leave the studio, get my hands dirty and go for a more technical challenge. Here, my setup is a MacBook Pro with an RME card, hooking up via an optical MADI line to the digital mixer in the OB truck. I rely heavily on iZotope products to get my dynamics and tonal control in order with the specs.

Nice! Which products are giving the Olympics’ sound a “competitive edge?” (Yes, we went there.)

For the live broadcast in 5.1, I use Neutron 2 to process both 5.1 crowd sub mixes and 5.1 FOP (field of play) sub mixes. Ozone 8 will sit and guard the 5.1 output for true peak limiting and multiband compression of front, back center and LFE.

For the sound design of the FOP, I constantly use previously recorded sound effects that are getting EQ-matched in RX, sent back to Pro Tools, and eventually end up in KONTAKT where they are triggered by foot switches or a MIDI keyboard in the live broadcast. (We have a lot of wire and rail cameras, without which we miss following the skiers, so they need sound designing and sweetening.)

izotope-olympics1

What are the biggest challenges you face when doing sound for the Olympics?

The biggest challenge is the fact that the standards are super high. The organizer demands Olympic quality and has a 5.1 quality control room installed where they monitor every feed that goes on the air. With over 90 stereo microphones, six surround rigs, and eight live playout machines on the mixer, one needs to be hyper-focused and make no mistakes. There is a 0% margin for error.

Sometimes people are surprised to hear that sound effects are added to Olympic events. What's your response when people say that's "cheating?"

Does anybody know how a car door sounds or a real horse? In all feature films, they are sound designed to make the movie as immersive as possible. I like to think it is the same in sports. We need to get inside the perspective of the athlete, fighting for his or her medal. Driven by courage, compelled to achieve results. There are few areas where we "cheat." I’ll give you one example:

There is a stretch of camcat (a camera on a wire flying over the track). This camera "flies" at about 30 mph and makes a terrible sound. This is where sound design takes over on top of the real ambient sound to give it a subtle touch of immersive-ness. At the end of the day, everyone expects a clean and immersive output. Means to an end I'd say.

What Olympic event is your favorite to work on from an audio perspective?

My favorite is ice hockey in the winter Olympics. Doing this in 5.1 with PZM mics on the boarding going slightly to the LFE channel. Sweet when a player gets smacked in the boarding. The viewer can "feel" the impact.

What Olympic event has the biggest audio challenges?

iZotope saves the day every day! The shooting range on the biathlon has an immense count of super-fast transients thanks to the rifles and the impact of the bullets on the metal target. There is no other limiter or multiband compressor that copes with these transients like Ozone 8. Not even the very expensive TC Electronic 6000 MD4 algorithm holds these transients under control. The shooting range in particular is a challenge because on one hand there is the shooting, but you also want to hear the athlete breathe as he lies on the ground getting ready to shoot.

Finally, which Olympic event is your favorite overall?

After ice hockey, I'd say Bobsled and Luge are sweet. Fifty to sixty mics are mixed and followed over a track that takes 60–70 seconds to descend. The only thing that gives the viewers a sense of the immense speed they are going is sound. Sweet when you get it right!   

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