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Capturing The Plight Of The Great Apes With DPA Microphones

Recording audio on film shoots in extreme locations always presents technical issues, but when Great Apes are your subject matter you really can’t afford to get too close without upsetting the animals or putting yourself at risk.

This was the situation sound designer Craig Carter faced when he undertook 15 weeks of filming in the jungles of Africa, Indonesia, Sumatra and Borneo for The Last of the Great Apes, a 3D film covering all six species of Great Apes. His microphone of choice for capturing surround ambience was a DPA 5100 Mobile Surround Microphone, while for avoiding unwanted extraneous noise he turned to the DPA 4017B Shotgun Microphone with a Rycote Windshield solution, which he used on a long boom so that he could capture the sounds he wanted without disturbing the animals.

“After taking some very helpful advice from Julius Chan at DPA’s Australian distributor Amber Technologies, I chose the DPA 5100 surround microphone for its sound pressure capabilities and its ease of use in the conditions I was working in,” Craig explains. “Thanks to its compact size and extreme portability, it was ideally suited to these very challenging conditions. Also, the DPA 5100 has only one multicore cable, which was an
important consideration because I was mainly recording and booming on my own. Having lots of cables to worry about would have made the task way too difficult.”

Craig adds that the DPA 4017B Shotgun Microphone proved very responsive, and thanks to its highly directional supercardiod pickup pattern it gave him good, clear sound.

“It was easy to mount quickly and had an excellent signal to noise ratio,” he says. “Because it is very directional it was easy to eliminate unwanted sounds and was certainly my first choice of microphone for shots where there was a lot of background noise. It's also very light, which counts when you’re booming in an awkward position for any length of time. And, of course, it was reliable. I didn't have any issues with it at all."

As one of Australia’s most accomplished and well-known Sound Designers, Craig Carter was the perfect candidate to work as sound designer and audio recordist on The Last of the Great Apes. Craig’s career spans almost 30 years in the industry and he has worked on over 70 feature films, as well as many television productions and independent and short films.

Produced by Australian film company, Visionquest Entertainment, The Last of the Great Apes is a feature-length documentary that will be released in cinemas and supported by a six-part TV series. Conservationist Holly Carroll fronts the documentary, which focuses attention on the plight of these magnificent animals whose fate hangs in the balance as
their populations decline. Holly’s adventure brings her face-to-face with the poachers, animal smugglers and loggers who put the survival of the world’s Great Apes at risk. On a more positive note she also meets experts like primatologist Jane Goodall who are working hard to save the Great Apes.

“With this project I took a drama approach to the audio recording by trying to capture ‘edge of frame’ dialogue and, wherever possible, taking a multi-track approach to FX/atmosphere recording,” Craig explains. “My main microphone was the DPA 5100 but I also linked two Sound Devices 8-track recorders at times, which allowed me to include other microphones, such as a DPA 4017B, in the set-up as well.”

Conditions in the jungles were varied and the film crew had to do its fair share of hiking and carrying equipment through dense undergrowth to very remote locations.

“At times it was humid and condensation was the most constant issue,” Craig says. “However the DPA 5100 is surprisingly robust and was highly resilient to the humidity. We just took as much care as we could to protect all the equipment from the environment so that nothing came to any harm.”

In terms of the actual audio recording, Craig says his main issue in every location was the signal to noise balance.

"Getting in close enough to a subject to be able to record a defined effect and separate it from the background ambiance was tricky, especially as jungles are normally intense with the sound of cicadas, etc,” he says. “The DPA 5100 coped with this very well because it gave us low sensitivity to background noise and good dynamic range.

Although Craig found the conditions testing at times, he happily admits that it was a life changing experience to work in such close proximity to such amazing animals.

“When you look into the eyes of a Great Ape you really wonder who is looking at whom -and just how little DNA separates us from them,” he says. “This, of course, makes their threatened existence seem all the more tragic.”

With The Last of the Great Apes project now completed, Craig Carter is turning his attention to future projects, one of which involves filming in the desert.

“Both of the DPA microphones I used for The Last of the Great Apes perform incredibly well for me and I hope I get an opportunity to use them again in the future.”


About DPA Microphones:

DPA Microphones is the leading Danish Professional Audio manufacturer of high quality condenser microphones and microphone solutions for professional applications in studio, broadcast, theatre, video/film and sound reinforcement environments. All DPA microphones and components are manufactured at the company’s purpose-built factory in Denmark.

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