Bob Melanson always wanted to be a rock star, and judging by his many accomplishments, one could argue he already is.
Melanson grew up in Moncton, New Brunswick, playing drums in a band at age 10 with his dad. That all changed when he discovered the guitar at age 13. The guitar became a major part of his teenage years, taking him all the way to Much Music, performing in 1990s Fender Guitar Wars competition as the Atlantic provinces regional winner. Although he didn’t win, he placed somewhere in the top five in Canada.
Along with music, Melanson developed an interest in the audio engineering field as it pertained to recording and mixing his own music. With that in mind, he completed a computer engineering degree at the New Brunswick Community College in Moncton, and the rest of his career fell into place.
For the past 20 years, Melanson has been involved in the post-production audio business, starting as a salaried employee for Salter Street Film and Powerpost, then as a freelancer for the past nine years.
From the comfort of his home studio in Port Williams, Melanson says he can do pretty much any audio-related work, from editing and restoration to music mixing.
“I’m primarily a dialogue editor,” says Melanson, “but have also worked as a sound effects editor/sound designer.”
Major productions he’s worked on include This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Mr. D and the Trailer Park Boys.
SECRETS BEHIND SHOWS
As a dialogue editor, Melanson is responsible for editing the production dialogue. Dialogue on set is usually recorded with multiple microphones, including a boom that is held over the actors’ heads, a lav (short for lavalier) microphone hidden on each actor and sometimes extra microphones placed in various locations.
The tracks from the various microphones are given to Melanson as separate audio recordings, in sync with the picture, by the video editor.
Depending on how many actors are involved in a scene, it wouldn’t be unheard of for him to get eight separate audio recordings for a scene, he explains.
“It’s my job to edit these recordings and organize them in a fashion that makes sense to the re-recording mixer, who mixes the dialogue with sound effects, foley (everyday sound effects) and music,” says Melanson.
He also tries to fix any issues, such as wind noise, overloud atmospheres, clicks, pops and anything that may interfere with understanding what an actor is saying, such as a bang or an overly loud footstep. This is done using specialized software, alternate takes, or by requesting it to be re-recorded.
“If I do my job correctly, you won’t notice I was even there,” says Melanson.
Part of Melanson’s work includes adding sound effects to audio tracks. Most of the sounds he uses come from sound effects libraries but sometimes, he says, he has to record his own sounds, which is often the case for a lot of docu-drama style TV series he’s worked on.
He’s recorded crows and blue jays from his backyard to create an eerie atmosphere, such as an outdoor murder scene re-enactment, or his daughter putting on her backpack to add to a scene with a student running with a backpack.
“The most unique sound effect I remember having to create was a magical cane that made a sound as it moved, without making it sound like a light sabre,” says Melanson.
Melanson’s career is expanding these days as he is now the product manager with Andra Motion Technologies. This company is developing various forms of motion tracking technologies, one of which is used to control the focus motor of a film/television camera, while maintaining focus on a moving actor, even when the camera itself is moving.
On set, the focus puller usually controls this focus motor manually (with a remote hand unit), changing the lens' focal distance to focus at a specific distance from the camera, so they are manually choosing who or what is in focus. This can be difficult and sometimes impossible if the camera and subjects are moving, as the focus puller has to guess the distance to the performer on the fly.
Adding to this difficulty, more and more cinematographers are choosing to shoot with the lens “wide open” - meaning that the aperture of the lens is set to its maximum setting. Without getting too technical, he says shooting wide open narrows the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects that are in focus (depth of field) so only what you want in focus is in focus and what’s in front of or behind that point of focus is blurred. This doesn’t give the focus puller any room for error.
“We’re not looking to eliminate the focus puller, just give them another tool,” explains Melanson, saying that this cutting-edge technology will give them the ability to pull off difficult and sometimes impossible shots with ease.
Melanson is responsible for testing, writing manuals, training (both in person and developing training videos and content) and liaising with software and hardware developers to make the best possible product. His family also plays a role here, as his daughters are frequently used as test subjects and his wife Davina does all the voice-overs for the Andra training videos.
Part of this new role with Andra means frequent trips to Sony Innovation Studios in Los Angeles. Sony has had an interest in Andra’s motion tracking technology for a few years now and Melanson says they are working with them to integrate the technology with theirs.
“As L.A. is the mecca of the film and television industry, these trips also provide us with opportunities to meet with other early adopters of our technology,” he says, noting with any luck, it’ll make its way into film and television productions at some point this year.
BE DIVERSE, GO TO SCHOOL
Melanson has worked hard to get where he is today, with a combination of independent learning and on the job training.
“I have to say I’ve been fortunate to have people believe in me enough to allow me to take on roles, even though I lacked the experience. I love to learn,” he adds.
For anyone interested in a career in the audio industry, Melanson’s biggest tip is going to school. Most audio courses now touch on everything from postproduction audio to music production.
“I believe to survive in the audio industry you need be diverse, as there are very few specialized audio jobs, especially since the changes in the tax credit,” he says.
When not doing work-related projects, Melanson can still be found messing around in his home studio, re-working and re-mixing some of his old guitar instrumental songs for eventual re-release on iTunes or Spotify. He’s also the guitarist in the band, Donair Supply, based in Halifax, with musicians he’s been playing with for 15 years.
“We’re an East Coast wedding/party band, playing everything from traditional Irish songs to the latest top 40 hits,” he says. “Part of me still wants to be a rock star!”
DID YOU KNOW?
- Bob Melanson’s daughter Kenzie’s voice is in the first Trudeau movie as “baby Justin” crying. Melanson recorded her when she was six months old.
- Although he hasn’t since the mid-1990s, Melanson has co-composed music for multiple television series as well as had some of his own music placed in TV/film and other medias.
- Melanson has earned various awards and four nominations as a dialogue editor (shared with the rest of the sound department).
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