Asbjoern Andersen


‘COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey’ is an absolutely stunning science show hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the National Geographic Channel / FOX. It’s the follow-up to Carl Sagan’s legendary television show from 1980, a show watched by at least 400 million people across 60 different countries.

I got the opportunity to talk with Joel D. Catalan, re-recording mixer on the new COSMOS series – and here, he gives an exclusive look behind the scenes on how the show’s stellar soundscape was crafted.

UPDATE: Joel has been nominated for a 2014 Emmy award for Outstanding Sound Mixing For Nonfiction Programming, for his work on COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey

 

Hi Joel, how did you get involved with COSMOS, and what was your role on the sound team?

I first got involved with Cosmos last summer. The producers have a good relationship with our sound facility and it was time for them to mix the COSMOS Comic-Con Promo. It was kind of a big deal. So, my mix partner Mark Hensley handled Dialog and Music while I was tasked with mixing the FX, sound design and Foley. I guess you can kind of say we were fortunate to be at the right time at the right place.
 

The original series is heralded as a milestone in science television. With the sound for the new series, what did you do to capture spirit of the original show, yet still bring something fresh to the table?

Great question! I must first say that I was fortunate to be part of an excellent sound crew over here at Smart Post Sound for this project. Our sound supervisor Chris Harvengt and Lead Sound Designer Rick Steele met early on with the producing team to make sure we were all on the same page. There was a deal of designing to do. One that sticks out right away was the sounds of SOTI (Spaceship of the Imagination). SOTI had to have a unique and not overpowering sound. I believe we did a good job with creating an environment that left room for imagination.

As far as capturing the spirit of the original series, we could not have a better person to defer to than Ann Druyan. Ann is not only the creator/producer/writer for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, but she was also a co-writer for the 1980 COSMOS series. On top of that, she is also the late Carl Sagan’s widow. So talk about being able to “capture the spirit of the original show” we had it in her. From original dialog used in the series to specific music cues that were recycled for the reboot, Ann was our authority and not a bad one to have!
 

What was the workflow like on an episode?
Joel and the team

Joel and the team

Our sound supervisor and sound designer would attend a spotting session with the video editors and producing team. Here they would discuss all aspects of sound for a particular episode. If there was ADR that had to be shot, lines that needed to be changed, specific sound design needed, this was where it was talked about. The notes would be taken and then it was off to work. Our dialog editor, Lisa Varetakis, would cut dialog while sound effects editors Rick Steele and Bob Costanza would creatively cut sound fx. After any ADR or VO recording took place, it’s time to mix.

At this point my mix partner and I would have a day and a half to mix an episode. And given the amount of sound design in every episode, we had to fly through it!
Our associate producer would then come for playback midway of day two and we would play down the episode and make all the appropriate fixes to any notes she and our sound supervisor had. Think of it kind of like a first run.

The third day of the mix would be set aside for our executive producers Ann Druyan, Mitchell Cannold, Jason Clark and Seth MacFarlane. After presenting them the sound mix we would then address the notes they had as a team and then we would print the show. And like that, we have a tv show.
 

How did you and the team come up with sounds for the series (especially the more exotic/alien ones)? And how did you source sounds for it?

We could not do what we do without the brilliance of our lead sound designer Rick Steele. Rick has something like 9 or 10 Emmys for his creative genius. He really was the creative driving force for the most exotic sounds in the show.

I would often tweak the sound design on the stage in order to make things “pop” or standout. So it became a very collaborative process. I’d tell him what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes you would not really know how a particular sound designed moment would feel until you got it on the mix stage with music and dialog. Rick has an incredible library of sounds but an even more crucial ability to “hear” it.
 

Rick Steele on creating the sound of a black hole
Award-winning sound designer Rick Steele was kind enough to share a sound that really stood out:

“Cosmos has been, by far, the most challenging show of my career. But, perhaps the most challenging sound design sequence I had to come up with was the in episode 5, “A Sky Full Of Ghosts”. In this episode, Neil drove the Ship Of The Imagination into, and through, a black whole in space.

The entire thing came together in an unusual burst of creative energy. Approaching the black whole was sourced with everything from arrow whooshing by overhead (taken from a western I worked on nearly 20 years ago) to the screaming metal of a train braking, in combination with a jet engine from an F-18 taking off from a carrier deck.

For the interior of the black whole I was able to create some incredibly bizarre rise rising tones (based on the sounds from a formula one racer and magnetic tape degausser) that, thanks to my friends at Sound Toys and their wonderful plug-ins PitchAccumulator, Phase Mistress, and Tremelator, shaped a sonic experience that would rival anything from any A-List feature films to date.

The entire sequence came together in about 4 hours! Everything just fell right into place, I felt like a hero presenting this completed sequence to the stage!”

 

Working on the mix

Working on the mix

Joel, any tools or plugins that were particularly helpful working on the series?

When it comes to plugins and tools, I am a fairly simple mixer. I use the standard 7 band EQ on all my tracks, I have an internal, external and 5.0 verb (ReVibe) and I utilize L1 limiters on my sends.
The one plugin that I definitely used more often than any other was Waves LoAir. You may not have noticed it much on tv, but if you listen to the Blu-Ray which has just been released, you will definitely “feel” it! The producers really enjoyed the low end on many of the flashier, sound intensive scenes. We had a blast!
 

How much involvement and input on the sound were there from the director, Neil deGrasse Tyson and others outside the sound team?

We got most of our sound direction and notes from our producing team. Neil was not really involved in the direction of sound. He did have a good deal of input while recording his VO and ADR, but he really left it in the hands of our sound supervisor Chris Harvengt.

In the beginning Brannon Bragga, Executive Producer/Co-Director, did have some specific ideas about how SOTI should sound, but overall they all let us be as creative as we could. If anything bumped them we would make adjustments as we mixed. They were all a very trusting group and that meant a lot!
 


Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 
  • Horror Distorted Perception Play Track 146 sounds included, 44 mins total $25 $8

    Need to create a tense atmosphere to induce madness, craziness and fear in your Horror or Sci-fi project? DISTORTED PERCEPTION is the library for you.

    Abnormal melodies, strange sound movements, transitions and distorted cinematic impacts are some of the things you will find in this collection; sounds with a distorted, saturated and tense feeling to grab people’s attention and provoke fear, tension and suspense in them.

    Yu can also use the sounds to enhance musical productions or create some nasty and crazy musical moments, thanks to a nice selection of percussive elements. The library contains two musical compositions using only the sounds in this library (using the percussive sounds with some of the atmospheres and transitions). Apart of being a great library for Horror or Sci-fi games and movies, this collection works well for trailers too.

    Sounds included:
    Atmospheric elements: Abnormal melodies, feedback and tense drones • Cinematic basses • Saturated bass drops • Distorted cinematic impacts • Sci-fi impacts • Sound movements • Noises • Percussive elements: Drum kicks, distorted drum kicks, hi-hats, snare drums, movements and sequences • Transitions

    68 %
    OFF
    Ends 1519862400
  • Fire Designed Fire Play Track 255 sounds included, 34 mins total $35 $25

    Designed Fire explores the further sonic realms of a powerful element. It features special effects, ambiences, swooshes, whooshes, fly-bys, drones, textures, glitches and more, that range from heavily designed to basic elements.

    Created in collaboration with Bend Audio Design.

    Designed Fire highlights:

    255 24bit / 96kHz WAV files / Meta-tagged (Soundminer)
    89 Swooshes / Wooshes
    75 Short elements
    29 Impacts
    28 Winds
    34 Textures

    29 %
    OFF
    Ends 1519862400
  • Drones & Moods Aberrant Drones Play Track 79 sounds included, 409 mins total
    5 out of 5
    $49.99

    Discover nearly 7 hours of individually flavoured, hauntingly musical and ever-evolving drones, packaged neatly into 79 of the kind of audio files that you can never have enough of.

    In many ways, Aberrant Drones is the sister library of the Augmentation Elements library, as it provides you with the creative tools required to augment your sound design.

    Whilst the Augmentation Elements library arms you with tools such as whooshes, risers and stings, allowing you to sweeten specific elements of your sound design, the Aberrant Drones library allows you to augment the mood of an entire scene. Each audio file is populated with richly descriptive SoundMiner metadata, making it easier than ever before to sift through hours of abstract drones.

    This is why the metadata is usually described in terms of feeling and mood, like so:

    Drone,Sci-Fi,Abstract,Cacophonous,Glowing,Impending Doom
    Drone,Sci-Fi,Abstract,Textured,Vibrating,Oscillating,Anxiety

    Augment your creative tool-box with Aberrant Drones, and transform your sound design work!


Latest releases:  
  • COUNTRYSIDE WINTER – Ambisonics brings you 15 ambisonic atmospheres recorded during different times of a day in winter: early morning, morning, afternoon, evening and night.

    All these recordings have been done in Sierra Morena, Andalusia (Spain). Being winter, birds tend to be much quiet and insects are almost gone, so most of the ambiences are pretty silent. You will hear mainly birds such as sparrows, doves and woodpeckers. At night dogs and roosters make an appearance.

    Recordings have been done with a Sennheiser Ambeo + Zoom F8. All files are in 96 kHz/24 bit and meta-tagged.

    About this library:

    This Ambisonics sound effects library contains the original recordings in A-Format (no processing whatsoever) and in B-format (AmbiX). By using Harpex, 5.1 (LRCLfeLsRs) and stereo (ORTF) mixdowns have been also added. Note that the Lfe channel is mute. It hasn't been removed to follow the SMPTE  path order.

    The Ambisonics version contains all the formats. Stereo version only includes the stereo files.

    Soundcloud demo plays the stereo version.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1520553600
  • Fire Designed Fire Play Track 255 sounds included, 34 mins total

    Designed Fire explores the further sonic realms of a powerful element. It features special effects, ambiences, swooshes, whooshes, fly-bys, drones, textures, glitches and more, that range from heavily designed to basic elements.

    Created in collaboration with Bend Audio Design.

    Designed Fire highlights:

    255 24bit / 96kHz WAV files / Meta-tagged (Soundminer)
    89 Swooshes / Wooshes
    75 Short elements
    29 Impacts
    28 Winds
    34 Textures

    29 %
    OFF
    Ends 1519862400
  • Ever wonder how game developers get those awesome signature sounds for their games? How do sound designers and audio engineers come up with fantastic user interface and game play sound effects? Well… this is it: Puzzle Game Sound Effects Library. 550+ industry defining game ready sound effects. Full of spunk, sparkly tones and bubbly frequencies, Puzzle Game gives you access to the game sound assets your users are expecting.

    The Puzzle Game SFX library features sounds such as:

    • Game Accents and Achievements
    • Bonus Sounds, Breaks and Collects
    • Connects, Drops, Items
    • Magic, Menu, and UI
    • Merge, Tile Movement
    • Gear and Lever Switches and Turns
    • Notifications and Alert Sounds
    • Upgrades, Poofs, and Disappears
    • Organic UI, Static Hits
    + many more
  • This library is a collection of various curtains and blind sounds. For both curtains and blinds, we recorded various materials mounted in a number of ways for a diverse, well rounded selection of unique sounding effects for an often generalized household sound.Each track includes multiple movements. The recordings are mono and unprocessed, so they sound natural and can be easily placed in your stereo field.

    All tracks recorded on the Zoom H5 using the Neumann KMR81

    20 %
    OFF
  • STUTTER MATTER delivers a fresh sound set of syncopated hi-tech stutters and ultra-triggered sound effects. Whether you work as movie trailer or game sound designer, editor, soundtrack composer or experimental musician STUTTER MATTER will add a touch of sound dementia to create a more diverse listening experience.

    If you are looking for brutal syncopated bursts, head spinning dynamics shifts and industrial dyslexia this sound pack deserves a listen for anyone seeking out interesting sound design.

    Categories:

    • Stutter Chopper
    • Stutter Filter
    • Stutter Reverse
    • Stutter Woosh
    • Stutter Sequences and Glitches
    • Unprocessed/Raw Stutter elements
    + Bonus folder – 40 Hi-Tech Hits


Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

The show features a mixture of live footage, animation and CGI. How did you handle this in terms of sound, and what did you do to create a coherent soundscape?

This was a big task. When we would make jumps from live production to animation, there had to be a very distinct difference. For instance, I relied heavily on what our Foley team provided during the animation scenes.

Those were some of my favorite to mix because we had to create some unique environments

Those were some of my favorite to mix because we had to create some unique environments. We looked back quite a bit in history and to get an opportunity to re-create some of those very important moments was straight up fun.

To touch briefly on some of the CGI, there were often times we did not get final visual effects shot until the day of the mix. I always kept markers in my session of sounds that might work. It wasn’t until I saw the final that I knew I could grab this or that. There was never a dull moment on this show.
 

What were the most challenging sounds to get right? And are there any episodes or segments that particularly stand out to you in terms of sound?

I felt like our team did a very good job getting some of the more challenging sounds right the first time around. When something did not feel right we were generally close enough that all it took was a bit of tweaking.
For instance, with some of the CGI sequences where stars exploded, we used firework explosions for the initial impacts. Playing them straight up did not work, but once I rolled a good amount of high end off and boosted the sub we were there.

One episode/segment that pops to the forefront of my mind when thinking of memorable moments comes from episode 5 “A Sky Full of Ghost.” In this episode we explore The Event Horizon. Talk about fun, this was awesome!
There is a moment when Neil is riding SOTI to the very edge of an Event Horizon all while explaining that, “Something with the mass of 4 million Suns lies at the center.” We pushed and pushed the level to the act break and then BAM, we came back in with only FX’s.

That was one of those moments you live for as an FX mixer

No music or dialog, just a moment to really imagine what it would feel like passing through an event horizon. That was one of those moments you live for as an FX mixer. There you are exposed and to be able to deliver something that impactful was such a great feeling.
 

What’s next for you?

This summer is going to be a busy one. I am back on two shows I previously worked on, Being Mary Jane for BET and Chasing Life which premiers June 10th on ABC family. It’s been a fun ride with Cosmos. This project was a huge part of my life for many months and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. The whole Cosmos team did a remarkable job and I am just so honored to be a small part of something that is bigger than life.

About Joel D. Catalan
Joel D. Catalan works at Smart Post Sound where he’s been on the sound team for shows like Modern Family, Bones and Salem. He’s also worked on all 13 episodes of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odysey, along with the rest of the sound team.
 

Please share this:


 


 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog
from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement
- a few highlights:
  • Horror Distorted Perception Play Track 146 sounds included, 44 mins total

    Need to create a tense atmosphere to induce madness, craziness and fear in your Horror or Sci-fi project? DISTORTED PERCEPTION is the library for you.

    Abnormal melodies, strange sound movements, transitions and distorted cinematic impacts are some of the things you will find in this collection; sounds with a distorted, saturated and tense feeling to grab people’s attention and provoke fear, tension and suspense in them.

    Yu can also use the sounds to enhance musical productions or create some nasty and crazy musical moments, thanks to a nice selection of percussive elements. The library contains two musical compositions using only the sounds in this library (using the percussive sounds with some of the atmospheres and transitions). Apart of being a great library for Horror or Sci-fi games and movies, this collection works well for trailers too.

    Sounds included:
    Atmospheric elements: Abnormal melodies, feedback and tense drones • Cinematic basses • Saturated bass drops • Distorted cinematic impacts • Sci-fi impacts • Sound movements • Noises • Percussive elements: Drum kicks, distorted drum kicks, hi-hats, snare drums, movements and sequences • Transitions

    68 %
    OFF
    Ends 1519862400
  • Prepare for impact! This EFX Bullet Impact collection features a huge number of impacts into cars, metal, walls, water, body impacts, as well as passbys, ricochets and underwater passbys.

    A must-have for for actual bullet and combat sounds – and for adding oomph to many other types of impact sounds too!

  • Fire Designed Fire Play Track 255 sounds included, 34 mins total

    Designed Fire explores the further sonic realms of a powerful element. It features special effects, ambiences, swooshes, whooshes, fly-bys, drones, textures, glitches and more, that range from heavily designed to basic elements.

    Created in collaboration with Bend Audio Design.

    Designed Fire highlights:

    255 24bit / 96kHz WAV files / Meta-tagged (Soundminer)
    89 Swooshes / Wooshes
    75 Short elements
    29 Impacts
    28 Winds
    34 Textures

    29 %
    OFF
    Ends 1519862400
Explore the full, unique collection here
 
   
FOLLOW OR SUBSCRIBE FOR THE LATEST IN FANTASTIC SOUND:
 
                              
 
GET THE MUCH-LOVED A SOUND EFFECT NEWSLETTER + 40 FREE SFX:
Just enter your details below to get the newsletter and free sound effects (soundlist):

One thought on “Creating The Breathtaking Sound Of ‘COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey’

  1. Excellent sound design work! Your environments are very well done. And great interview. On the flip side, I have noticed that Neil, not really being a trained actor or voiceover artist, swallows a lot of his words. The ends of his phrases are often unintelligible. It must be quite a job dealing with that, trying to pull out so much of what he says– and even then, the result on the air is that the viewers still lose a lot of what he’s saying. And without a verbal explanation, the visuals lose meaning as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.