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Digital Performer Scores the Impossible

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Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt in Paramount Picture's Mission: Impossible 3, now showing in theaters around the world. M:i:3 is directed by J.J. Abrams with original music written by Michael Giacchino, the same director/composer team that has brought you the prime time network TV smash hit shows ALIAS and LOST. Michael has used Digital Performer and a host of other MOTU hardware and software products to write all of the original music for M:i:3, ALIAS and LOST.

We recently caught up with Michael to ask him for details about his work on M:i:3.

Michael, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
My pleasure.

What version of DP did you use to score the film?
During M:I:3, we used Digital Performer 4.61, which worked like a charm.
Thoughout the process, Digital Performer has been run native, on its own system, from the composition process to the recording process.

Give us a brief description of the rig you used for writing.
For the creative part of the process, I used DP 4.61 on a Mac G5, Dual 2GHz processor with 4GB of RAM.

Did you use DP mostly for writing, or did any of your DP tracks end up in the final score recordings? What was the basic workflow?
DP was used exclusively for all the mockups. The score itself was recorded entirely live at the Sony Scoring Stage, but at times I would use audio tracks to drag in all kinds of drum and bongo loops during the composition process.

Did you use DP at the Culver City scoring sessions? If so, how? Did you run it on a PowerBook and if so, what model?
Digital Performer is a huge part of our scoring process. At the sessions, we had a laptop running DP 4.61, and in conjunction with a MOTU Traveler, we would not only record live stereo mixes of Dan Wallin's mix from the board, but the laptop also ran the click track for the orchestra (using the Urei Click), and any prelays we may have had. This way, everything is perfectly in-line with my composition sequence. This is also helpful if some notes missed in the score -- it is easy to consult the MIDI information and make quick fixes on the stage. The laptop also runs the video out to the displays, and DP slaves perfectly with any Protools rig flawlessly. This way everything was perfectly in sync and we could work quickly and efficiently.

Is Digital Performer used in a similar fashion for the network TV shows LOST and ALIAS?
On LOST and ALIAS, Digital Performer is used MUCH more extensively! From the composition process to the final mixes, everything is done in Digital Performer with a MOTU 828mkII.

For LOST, we generate the click track from Digital Performer, as well as run the video and output prelays to the board. We use the 828mkII's external Word Clock features to lock to an Apogee word clock. We even do our final recordings in Digital Performer. We bring 4 stereo pairs into the laptop from Dan Wallin's live mix via ADAT. On LOST, the mix consists of Orchestra, Piano, Harp and Percussion. From there, everything is recorded into Digital Performer using takes, which we can quickly splice between should there be a noise or mistake in the orchestra's performance. Once the session is done, we mix in pre-lays, such as synth sounds and percussion, inside DP. My assistant bounces out all the time-stamped SD2 files from DP and gives them to the music editor.

We have found this to be the most efficient workflow when scoring to picture. Sometimes, the turnaround will be a matter of hours. We have even finished episodes before anybody left the stage by mixing and bouncing during the orchestra's breaks. If we didn't use Digital Performer in this capacity, there is no way we could do it as quickly and efficiently as we do.

Were there any MOTU plug-ins, instruments or third-party products that also factored heavily in your workflow?
While there were no pre-lays on Mission: Impossible 3, I rely heavily on Spectrasonics Atmosphere and Trilogy when writing LOST and ALIAS. Using V-Rack, I can load many instances of each and use them between all the chunks (sometimes upwards of 20 for a TV episode). The AU integration is great and it all runs so smoothly on my G5.

Have you had a chance to check out any of the new features in DP5, and if so, do you think they will useful for your next score?
I am excited to learn the new features in DP5. These will be wonderful for future scoring sessions -- in particular, the ability to customize the click track and program built-in streamers on the fly. This will allow us to move even more quickly during sessions, if that's even possible!

Special thanks to Chad Seiter for his invaluable assistance with this interview.