Another Country’s Erik Widmark Goes the Distance
August 17, 2016 by Andrew Schneider
For everyone at Chicago-based sound design company Another Country, there are project assignments and there are bona fide career highlights. In the best case scenarios, something comes along that is both.
Every day, the company’s artists eagerly take on whatever challenges come their ways, to ensure that – for example – the key sonic aspects of a commercial are presented powerfully, in every nuance of every split-second. One of the very latest assignments for sound designer and mixer Erik Widmark involved a whirlwind trip to Tokyo, and resulted in his spectacular contributions to an :88 spot for Nike Japan that debuted on July 31, which currently stands among the planet’s most prominent commercial ads… and can reasonably be expected to win widespread industry accolades in days to come. Here are some behind-the-scenes details that elevated the experience – and the project – to the highest level.
Here in Chicago, it’s well known that Another Country is part of Cutters Studios, where the operations span to Japan by virtue of Cutters Tokyo (CT), and the launch of Dictionary Films Tokyo (DFT). At the helm of CT is film editor and managing director Ryan McGuire. This group was commissioned by one of CT’s longstanding agency/brand partners to produce an emotional short film where everything happening on screen – and in the sound realm – was of the utmost importance. Based on McGuire’s past working relationship with Widmark – a 2008 graduate of Columbia College Chicago who’s been on staff at AC since 2011 – the young sound designer quickly found himself on an airplane headed for Tokyo.
The professional familiarity allowed the artists to make rapid progress together. Upon arriving in Tokyo, Widmark went straight to McGuire’s studio, where the two talked through the initial cut shot-by-shot to brainstorm directions for the audio. “Given the spot’s live-action storytelling presenting groups, as well as individuals performing athletic feats, we wanted to create a juxtaposition between natural sounds and a more surreal, dreamlike approach,” Widmark began. “Sonically, we wanted to move the perspective around, so sometimes viewers were inside the head of the protagonist, and at other times, observing.”
Continuing, he added, “From a sound design standpoint, this was challenging as we had to tastefully choose our moments… especially because our voiceover track and the music also were driving the emotion of the piece.”
With its short turnaround time, Widmark scheduled himself into a mixing room at Imagica toward the end of his project window, right before delivery and the project’s subsequent debut. By the time he arrived there, Widmark had already accomplished much of the sound design using a custom mobile rig he devised on-the-fly.
“I hooked up my iPad as a monitor so I could do sound effects spotting from my Airbnb,” Widmark explained. “The setup featured a Mac Mini connected to the iPad, running Soundminer, the interface for our sound effects database. I also ran Pro Tools on this setup.”
Despite the tight timeline, Widmark reports that the work environment and the team spirit were phenomenal – and as a result, the exchange of ideas was seamless and complementary. “When we finally got to the mix sessions, we were quickly able to explore different music options along with sound design approaches, all of which informed our final mix,” he said. “After some exploration, everyone embraced the idea of music slowly overtaking voices, until in the end, thanks in no small part to the sound design and mix, a message shines through: Bold individuals prevail.”