For those who do not speak German here a translation of the in-depth 8-page article in German b2b magazine Medien Bulletin on the massive 8k video production of MANOWAR’s historic first ever live performance in Mexico, and its DVD/Blu-ray post production at Valhalla Studios New York. Original article starts on page 26 of the link. English translation below.
Source: With kind permission by MEDIEN BULLETIN
Special Edition, mebulive Produktion, #2.2020. For more info please see www.mebucom.com
Law & Order for the perfect concert film
In mid-March, heavy metal band MANOWAR cracked the earth with their first gig in Mexico, which had been long awaited by their fans. The live concert was recorded in 8K with Red cameras by Freiburg-based production company Neoxfilm. mebulive spoke with the makers about the high-end production, as well as with the band’s leader, bass player and tech guru, Joey DeMaio. The graduate sound engineer operates Valhalla Studios New York, in Auburn, NY which specializes in immersive sound concepts. The audio post-production of the concert recordings is currently in the works there.
In March 2020 over 50,000 metal fans stood shoulder to shoulder to celebrate the first MANOWAR concert in Mexico.
MANOWAR is cult in the metal scene and has been for 40 years. The band was founded by band leader Joey DeMaio. The bassist is also a composer, producer, band manager, sound engineer and much more. He is known as a perfectionist, also in terms of image and sound. The all-rounder is more open to technical innovations than most other artists in the music business. The concert production in Mexico is a good example.
In the year 2000 DeMaio founded Magic Circle Entertainment, his own metal label; the name is derived from Richard Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs”, as he admires the composer very much. In the past, the metal artist has repeatedly visited Bayreuth’s “Grüner Hügel” and has found inspiration there. This too is rather unusual for a metal musician.
DeMaio recently expanded his label’s own studios in a former church in Auburn, New York, not far from Lake Ontario. The 1,860 square meter (20,000 square feet) mixing and mastering studios “Valhalla Studios New York” (www.valhallastudiosny.com ) are equipped with excellent acoustics and plenty of high-end equipment and are now also open to clients of all music styles. Valhalla Studios New York are among the few studios worldwide that are certified for all three leading immersive sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Sony 360 Reality and Auro-3D. The 230 square meter (ca. 2,500 square feet) Studio 1 is also equipped with the world’s first immersive audio console from FIX AUDIO DESIGNS, Paul Wolff, and with Standout QB1 speakers by PMC. All MANOWAR records since 1982 have been produced by Joey DeMaio; since 1999 either in whole or in part in his studios, guided by the vision, according to DeMaio, of being able to achieve the perfect sound with the best technology and the best sound engineers.
“Since I’ve been making music, I’ve been in love with sound and I’m always looking for ways to make it even better. My goal has always been to make sound as loud and as clear as possible. Very early on I was hanging around in large stereo stores and checked which manufacturers had the best and strongest devices on offer. Finally, I also studied audio engineering,” says DeMaio in the mebulive interview. “To be better than others, to overcome boundaries, to have something you can’t buy, to modify audio devices and musical instruments according to your own ideas, that was always my theme. My guitars are all custom made, as are my speakers and preamps. Nothing that is good enough for others is good enough for me,” he stresses confidently. “Many great people” with whom he works closely, support him in this endeavor. John “Dawk” Stillwell, who passed away in 2015, was for a long time his congenial partner and close friend with whom he shared his passion for sound. In the metal scene, Dawk was best known as the chief designer of MANOWAR’s instruments. DeMaio plays a custom-made bass with a special, long neck and tremolo, which undoubtedly gives his bass playing a very special note.
The audio post-production of the Mexico concert is currently in the works in his Valhalla Studios. It will be mixed in all available immersive formats. Immersive specialist and award-winning recording and mixing engineer Ronald Prent will sit behind the mixer, and mastering will be done by four-time Grammy winner Darcy Proper. Executive producer of the Mexico concert is of course DeMaio himself. The release of the project is planned on Blu-ray in late 2020 / early 2021. A cinema release is also being discussed.
MANOWAR spare no effort even for audio recording with an eye on immersive sound concepts. “For years we’ve been having our own very high-quality recording rack with us at all concerts. This is done by our own team led by Dirk Kloiber. And they do it really well. For me it is always important to have control over the sound recordings and to know exactly what is happening” says DeMaio. That would work better with his own people.
DeMaio has been fascinated by immersive technology from the start. The different formats for it are specified by different characteristics. To know what best fits for an audio project, you would actually have to try them all. “You have to experiment with it to see how they work. It’s like buying a new car” says DeMaio. Object-oriented sound enables the natural perception and localization of tones. You can experience the natural ambience of the room in which you are moving much better. “Immersive offers us a much more natural and satisfying listening experience than other sound formats,” he explains. In doing so, regardless of whether stereo or mono, depending on the application, they also have their reason to exist. In music, however, immersive audio with the ability to position sounds freely in the room, avoid frequency overlaps of individual instruments and use sufficient headroom is ideally suited to generate an authentic concert experience.
“Because of the size of the video production, the Mexico concert will certainly play a central role on the Blu-Ray, but we also want to use material from other concerts on the previous tour,” explains DeMaio. MANOWAR had performed around 20 concerts worldwide on the “The Final Battle World Tour” in 2019, including Germany, where the band has a large fan base. “We have a similar number of passionate fans in Mexico,” says DeMaio. The concert there took place as part of the annual “Hell and Heaven Metal Fest” festival. MANOWAR were the headliner, with their own “The Final Battle World Tour” stage. The band had never played in Mexico before. The rush and enthusiasm of the fans was accordingly large.
Production service provider Neoxfilm
As production company in Mexico, Freiburg’s (Germany) Neoxfilm was present, with Managing Director Marc Schütrumpf. The company specializes in live concert productions.
In 2019 on the “The Final Battle World Tour” Neoxfilm had already recorded three concerts (Stuttgart, Athens and Sofia) for EPK use (Electronic Press Kit) with four URSA Mini 4K cameras from Blackmagic Design. For the show in Stuttgart, the Neoxfilm team was hired on extremely short notice, just a day before. The task there was to capture the concert atmosphere and the interaction between the band and fans.
“We decided recording the Stuttgart concert very late. We hired Marc and his team at the last minute and threw them into the fire,” reports DeMaio. Neoxfilm did the job well and professionally. Of Schütrumpf he says: “We like his personality and the way he deals with other people, as well as his technical knowledge and high-quality standards.” Consequently, he was also hired for the Mexico concert. For the 8K shoot with Red cameras, however, there was significantly more preparation time than for the 4K shoot in Stuttgart. Neoxfilm was supported by TV Skyline from Mainz (Germany) during the technical pre-production planning. “TV Skyline and Neoxfilm benefit a lot from each other in the music field because there is always a lively exchange and we are on the same wavelength. In both companies there are people who are passionate about music,” explains Schütrumpf.
The first plans for the concert recording of the headlining gig in Mexico began in September 2019. “Producing a complex concert film for a cult band like MANOWAR in Mexico, while working with a production company on the other side of the world, repeatedly led to an increased pulse, since from the beginning of the year until departure in March we had to deal with repeatedly changing conditions from Mexico in terms of technology.” All in all the collaboration with Julián Baños and his company FilmaRED worked very well however, and together they recorded exciting material.
In many areas of the audiovisual implementation of the Mexico concert Joey DeMaio was the contact person for Neoxfilm. “Based on my experience with EPK concert recordings, we were able to optimally assess many positions and angles and, after a few consultations via FaceTime, were able to go into the detailed planning very quickly. Working closely with head editor Kevin P. McAuliffe from the very beginning was also extremely effective developing the optimal camera setup,” says Schütrumpf.
On the day before the concert everything was “meticulously determined”, regarding camera positions, dollies, pyro technics and everything else in collaboration with tour manager Jan Freitag and the production company.
Use of 13 REDCAMs
For the Mexico recording a digital cinematic multi cam setup with 13 REDCAMs and 8K Zeiss Prime lenses was used. A 4K camera drone was also on board. The RED systems consisted of a 5K camera, six 6K cameras and eight 8K cameras. The big sensor cameras were part of RED’s new DSMC2 system, which is available with four different sensors: Monstro 8K VV, Helium 8K S35, Gemini 5K S35 and Dragon-X S35. Regardless of the choice of sensor, the DSMC2 delivers motion picture quality and an impressive dynamic range. Like other RED cameras, the DSMC2 has a modular structure, so that developers have the opportunity to put the camera together for their individual needs. The DSMC2 supports a variety of functions, including interchangeable lens connections and OLPFs, data rates of up to 300 MB / s, in-camera 3D LUTs, the ability to simultaneously record REDCODE RAW and proxy formats such as Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHR/HD.
Three RED-Monstro 8K with telescopes were placed 50 meters away from the stage on pedestals, which were almost always shot in the same setting. One was aimed at lead singer Eric Adams, one at guitarist E.V. Martel and one at Joey DeMaio. “We took the 8K cameras because we have a lot of room while editing and can zoom in better when fine-tuning. With 8K, you have the chance do a lot in post-production later if the artists move quickly back and forth on stage,” explains the Neoxfilm boss.
Another RED-Monstro 8K was positioned on a Panther Dolly on a 20-meter rail at the Front of House for wide shots of the stage, fireworks and crowd-surfing shots.
Four RED Epic 6K cameras were used for the musicians, located in the pit in front of the stage. A low shot with ENG standard optics was aimed at the lead singer at an angle of around 30 degrees and one, hidden, from the front towards the drummer. Two other low shots with standard ENG optics were moved on light dollies with skater wheels on the edge of the stage. The operators were below the dollies and rails and had their preview monitors wired down. “Similar to operas, the MANOWAR show has clearly defined images and cues, but also spontaneous moves of the musicians and extremely intense interactions with the fans. To capture both, we designed the light dollies in the pit as a backup for the musicians, so that we could spontaneously react to the stage actions without the risk of losing good backgrounds or neglecting framing”, explains Schütrumpf.
In addition, on the left side of the stage a camera with wide-angle optics on a Technocrane Supertechno50 telescope crane was placed, for a wide range angle of the three front musicians, the epic set design and audience shots, as well as a wireless camera in front of the stage that only focused on fan footage. Schütrumpf: “Fans are very important to the band; it is the first “DO” in their guidelines. So, I was very grateful that MANOWAR flew my DoP Christopher Stöckle from Stuttgart to Mexico. Christopher not only speaks Spanish fluently, which helped me a lot in the preliminary discussions and prep days as well as during the sound check in the night, but also to establish good communication with the camera people. Above all, however, he is a passionate documentary filmmaker who has not only won awards with his documentaries, but above all has an incredible sense and eye for the moment and was able to capture incredible moments of the Mexican ‘Manowarriors’. He worked in the pit with a RED helium and his self-built Easyrig, with which he is much more flexible than with a tripod and can still work through continuously.”
On stage was a remote-controlled backshot camera with 8K prime lens that could show the drummer and front musician flat from behind to the audience and a mobile RED Helium 8K camera operated by cameraman Thomas Preisser from Germany. He knows MANOWAR well and knows what is important to film on stage. “His job was to create the connection between the musicians by shifting the focus in the picture, from one to the other, and showing how they interact with each other. We wanted the reactions. You don’t see that in front of the stage. These were very unusual shots that Thomas picked up, alternating from one side of the stage to the other,” reports Schütrumpf.
A clear visual language, which takes into account the large sensors and the metered defocus moments, also makes cutting and reframing easier in the end. Recordings that were steep from below or tilted were not wanted. It was also agreed to zoom less and prefer to focus and shift focus, for example when the vocalist walked to the side and the drummer played a solo in the background. This also means reduced movements of the dolly and crane. “The framing concept was designed in a way that we could work ‘crystal clear’ without quickly zooming or panning by the operator. To ensure a uniform visual language for all operators, everything was clearly predefined and discussed in advance,” emphasizes Schütrumpf. He also discussed many creative details with the Mexican dolly operators in the pit within their frame, such as background motifs and useful defocus options. The cameras in the pit in front of the stage were all RED 6K cameras. Schütrumpf: “6K was enough there because with the help of the chief editor Kevin we were able to define the images we wanted to capture very precisely in advance.”
When recording the concert, the crew had to adhere to very strict guidelines. “However, these guidelines were not a restriction for me at all. On the contrary, they are actually the basic recipe for a very good concert film, which requires extremely clear and intensive planning, imagery and implementation, but without any compromises,” says Schütrumpf. The band’s guidelines were after all based on 30 years of concert film experience and could certainly be seen as “a kind of law & order for the perfect concert film”.
DeMaio praises: “We had a good combination of production people with a broad background, from film productions to modern digital recordings. Everyone had something productive to contribute. It was a pleasure to have such qualified people around me. ”
All RED cameras recorded in the RED codec REDCODE RAW on storage media in the cameras themselves. All camera signals were also sent to a central control room in an OB van and recorded there as a backup in HD. Except for the two radio cameras on and in front of the stage and the video drone, all other cameras were connected to the OB vehicle via fiber optics. The sound recordings and communication via Riedel Artist also ran through it. “As soon as Kevin saved the images from the camera’s memory cards, the HD backup was obsolete,” says Schütrumpf. The OB vehicle itself was used only for control and communication with the cameramen.
MANOWAR played around 120 minutes in Mexico. In addition, documentary material was produced around the concert. This resulted in a total of 30 TB of material.
The Neoxfilm managing director reports: “The show was spectacular. The stage visually depicted a volcanic landscape on two levels. As with the previous MANOWAR concerts in 2019, there were also twelve Vikings in historical look. The consistent set design and the structure of the show resulted in an exciting mixture of metal concert and opera. ”
Schütrumpf emphasizes: “I have been producing concert films for over 20 years now and I can say for sure that this extraordinary collaboration with this band and Joey DeMaio is one of the most pleasant, but also the most challenging and professional projects in my career so far.”
DeMaio himself admits: “I am very special and picky.” That does not make his partners’ and crews’ work particularly easy. This also applies to his head editor at MANOWAR, Kevin P. McAuliffe, whom DeMaio describes as “big deal in the industry”. “We still need some time before the new Blu-Ray is released. We are very careful when choosing the individual shots. These are documents for eternity and therefore they have to be perfect. The same applies to color grading. We only release the best,” he explains.
McAuliffe himself sees this in a rather relaxed manner when talking to mebulive: “I’ve only been working with the band for seven months, I’m the baby in the MANOWAR family, so to speak. Joey is the most reliable person you can work with. He always asks: Can we do it like this? If you say yes, then you have to be able to deliver that. I like that because it allows us to do things as we have discussed. ”
In Mexico, they approached the project as if they were making a movie. McAuliffe: “We told the operators at the stage dollies that they shouldn’t drive back and forth as much because otherwise they would miss something interesting. ‘Not too crazy with the cameras.’ I can fix some things in post, but nothing that was not recorded. I was in line with Marc. We ended up with very little useless material.”
For McAuliffe, like for Schütrumpf, good planning is everything. That is why he was responsible as the digital imaging technician in Mexico, to collect, secure and manage the REDCODE RAW material produced. “We have a ton of material and we want to work with it as simply as possible. Everyone needs to have access to the files they need,” he says. The Mexico project was designed for a top-to-bottom workflow. With a master copy in the highest resolution, you can be as flexible as possible in post with any desired content creation and detailed framing.
“Joey always wants the best sound and video quality and always has an eye on every aspect of production. It is nice for me to be able to work with someone who is so committed,” emphasizes McAuliffe.
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