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Bruce Howell on Editing Sound for South Park

Nov 30, 2009

Waves recently sat down with Bruce Howell, Supervising Sound Editor for South Park, where he gave us a rare backstage glimpse into the hectic creation of what might possibly be TV’s most twisted animated series ever.

Have you been using Waves for long?

I got into Waves like very early on, back when Pro Tools was just a baby as well, and I was producing music and stuff like that. And I’ve always thought they sounded the best, they sound the most transparent. My motto was always just buy the best tools you can and then do the best job you can, never skimp on anything because that’s your career, you know? So I’ve always pursued the best quality stuff, whether it’s mic pres or microphones or guitars or anything. I first ran across Waves many, many years ago, and then when I got this gig, I started to use them. In fact, I started using them on the movies and all this other kind of stuff, and when there’d be enough money for me to bolster up my own system, I’d buy the Diamond bundle or something and use that for the South Park movie, and then I bought a whole bunch of other stuff for the Team America movie.

Tell us about the South Park workflow.

On the show, schedules can become so tight that sometimes I have to mix the half hour show in 20 minutes. It’s that ridiculous.

I need to put out both 5.1 stems and stereo stems, so I’ve been using the 360° Surround Tools in a capacity where, on Wednesday morning when the show has to be ready to go on the air, I’ve broken it down into a matrix that I designed around those plugins. When I push a button, I’ll have all the stems and everything printing to the SR digital tape all at the same time, going through the matrix that I put together plus all those mix-down plugins. This really saves me time, because in the last three years we’ve gone 5.1, so instead of having to mix 5.1 and then the next week deliver a stereo mix, everything’s delivered in the same pass.

What other Waves plugins are you using?

I use the L2 Ultramaximizer all the time. I also use the Restoration plugins a lot, because those guys they just go in there, there are no notes, no anything, “We’re going to read six pages.” And they’ll change up the characters, they do all the voices, they do all the females, all the little kids, everything, and there is no time to adjust when they’re performing, because it’s as close to real-time as you can get. So, basically, I let them go and I leave the mic open, and when they scream I turn it down, and when they whisper sometimes I can’t catch it, so the noise floor comes up a lot. I use X-Noise all the time to clean that stuff up. For music, I use a completely different set of stuff, like MaxxBass and L2. I pretty much use everything, every EQ and every compressor and every limiter.

We have three different systems and we had a 5.1 set of Dorroughs for each one of them, but the logistics of running cables in and out of everything to get them to the Dorroughs and get them back are ridiculous. So when we got these new Waves Dorrough Meters, I just put everything up on our stem session just to make sure everything is right, just for the peace of mind. I could look at any track in any session and have the Dorrough plugins up, and I feel incredibly better than I did before, just because I can look at it and know everything’s going to the right track and everything’s got the right levels.

I use the Waves stuff every day. I couldn’t do the show without it; I really couldn’t.