Stories from a Pro: Steve Boeddeker on RX

What do Tron: Legacy, The Exorcist, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have in common? Skywalker sound design ace and film composer Steve Boeddeker.

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Boeddeker has carved out a niche making scary and exotic sounds in some of the most renowned horror, science fiction, and fantasy films of the last decade. Among the many tools he employs, iZotope RX and Ozone play a key role in transforming and professionalizing his sounds. iZotope spoke with Boeddeker to gain some insight into his working methods and his long experience in sound design and restoration. Along the way, we also uncovered an interesting fact about the movie work of his Great Dane, Otis.

Mom, Dad, Music, and Effects

Boeddeker credits his mother and father for setting him off in the musical direction that eventually led to his career working in blockbuster movies. "I've always played one instrument or another," he says. "My parents insisted on lessons across multiple instruments, and I wasn't always that into it. I now feel it's one of the best gifts they ever gave me." Boeddeker's passion really took hold when he was exposed to an EMU Emulator II sampler, a device that helped him learn to sample, sequence, compose, and hone his skills as a sound designer. Whether it's writing music or designing sounds or mixing, "it's all about getting to where it all feels right," says Boeddeker.

From early tweaking with the Emulator II during high school to studies in electronic/computer music in college, Boeddeker enjoyed listening to and playing experimental music that "blurred the lines between music and what often bordered on noise."

"I still love that 'no man's land' between music and effects," he says. His passion eventually led him to a summer job making sound libraries for EMU (the manufacturer of the sampler he loved), and ultimately a job designing samples for a number of different keyboards and samplers. A chance meeting with sound designer Ren Klyce resulted in a partnership doing sound design for commercials and eventually movies. "The first film job we got together was SE7EN," Boeddeker recalls, "and neither of us has looked back."

"Ozone ended up being one of my 'go-to' plug-ins for adding punch to many of the vehicle recordings in TRON."

Worldizing in Hollywood

Boeddeker and Klyce's work on SE7EN called for a lot of recording on the project and worldizing. He explains: "If we wanted to hear a commercial through the wall or some big beats from a car driving by, we would write and record a fake commercial or a new hip-hop song and go out and worldize it."

Did you know? "Worldizing" is the act of playing back a recording in a real-world environment, allowing the sound to react to that environment, and then re-recording it so that the acoustic properties of the environment become part of the newly recorded material.

And when David Fincher wanted big music in SE7EN's Lust scene, Boeddeker and Klyce wrote some, artfully adding layers by worldizing the piece in six different spaces and then crossfading between them as the heroes walked deeper into the depths of the club and the scene.

The movie proved a challenging and rewarding project for Boeddeker to cut his sound-design teeth on. "SE7EN was the first movie Ren Klyce and I sound designed, and we didn't really know what we were doing... but in a really great way."

"Whenever I start a new project, I always have RX close by when I'm working on sound design, often to really mess with sounds and get unusual sound design material."

Cleaning up TRON

"iZotope RX is always on hand for cleaning up noise and occasionally for sound design," Boeddeker says, recalling how he pushed the audio repair toolkit pretty hard in the early production stages of TRON: Legacy. "There was this annoying noise in some of the production dialog, coming from the light strips in the actors' suits." Boeddeker needed to determine if it was possible for the post dialog team to eliminate the noise, but with production just getting underway, the team had not yet arrived on the project. So Boeddeker took off his sound design hat and dug into the dialog tracks. "Sure enough, RX did the job and defused a Sunday afternoon emergency in the process," he recalls. "Ozone also ended up being one of my 'go-to' plug-ins for adding punch to many of the vehicle recordings in TRON," Boeddeker says. "Especially with the Light Bikes and Light Runner. Ozone was an essential tool for getting the most out of the sounds I was creating." Boeddeker returns to Ozone often, in fact. "I usually have Ozone ready to go on a bus or master, a great sounding tool right there and handy."

Otis Makes the Scene, and Refreshing a Classic

"In [Tim Burton's] Alice in Wonderland, I ended up using RX and Ozone to clean up some recordings I had of my Great Dane, Otis," Boeddeker recalls. "I wanted to use some of his breathing and deep growls for the Bandersnatch, but they really needed to be clean, because it's an otherwise really quiet scene." Boeddeker used RX to clean out the room air and Ozone to increase the intensity of the growls.

"Alice in Wonderland was a great project, but my favorite was definitely the re-release of The Exorcist," Boeddeker shares with pride. "It's always been my favorite movie, and when William Friedkin asked me to take it on I was both thrilled and terrified." The Exorcist was already a sonic masterpiece in its own right, leaving Boeddeker with quite a challenge. "I ended up taking the approach that the sounds we were adding needed to feel like they had always been there, just re-mixed for surround." In reality, Boeddeker ended up replacing more than half of the original sound effects for the re-release.

About halfway through the process, Friedkin requested a few additional cues for some parts of the film. They needed to work with the existing music and definitely not call too much attention to themselves, so again Boeddeker employed that same tactic, writing as if the music had been there all along. "It was really exhilarating and challenging. A rewarding experience for sure," Boeddeker says.

What's Next?

Boeddeker is staying very busy, recently wrapping up sound design for William Friedkin's new movie Killer Joe, as well as the mix on an experimental film and a documentary. Moviegoers can expect to enjoy plenty of his work in theaters for years to come, but movies aren't his only passion. "Of course, I'm always trying to fit in more songwriting and recording for my band, Dogs of Distortion," Boeddeker adds.

He is currently finishing up mixing a documentary in which many of the scenes were originally marred by nasty production noise. After a pass by the dialog editor, Boeddeker still uses RX to clean up the tracks. "Whenever I start a new project, I always have RX close by when I'm working on sound design, sometimes to clean up noise or hiss, but often to really mess with sounds and get unusual sound design material." Boeddeker uses RX to learn the frequency characteristics of one recording and then apply those settings to another totally unrelated sound.

Whether it's Bandersnatches, Light Bikes, or serial murderers, Boeddeker has helped define the soundscape of many iconic movies. iZotope can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

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