Producers Leaned on Brand’s Software Plug-ins for Emmy-Nominated 94-Episode “Sex and the City” Remastering Project
NEW YORK ― “Sex and the City” (SATC) has been a beloved series since it first debuted nearly 25 years ago. The series captured not just the lives of its famed ensemble (Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte), but also the pulse and energy of its fifth character―New York City. Fast forward two movies and an HBO Max reboot of the series called “And Just Like That,” and the ladies of SATC are once again very much in vogue. So much so that in 2019 HBO decided to remaster all six seasons of SATC. Today, all 94 episodes are completely restored in UHD HDR Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
The remaster was quite the undertaking for the special internal restoration team assigned to the task for several reasons. Not only did they need to go back to the original Kodak Super 16mm film and two-inch analog tape to rebuild the series from scratch, they also had to do so amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When the audio team started the project, they were together in the HBO offices. However, once the pandemic began, the team was relegated to their homes, which made the process a bit trickier.
The audio team needed support to capture the true essence of the original audio recordings while also enhancing them for a Dolby Atmos experience. The team persevered, creating new workflows with the help of NUGEN Audio’s Halo Upmix software, which allowed them to convert the old SATC stereo mixes into an immersive format.
“The mono and stereo stems from the original tapes of the series provided reasonable mix group separation, but at the same time presented some challenges for an immersive environment,” says HBO’s Director of Post Production Sound, Glen Schricker, who served as sound supervisor and lead re-recording mixer for this project. “Despite the age of the show and what we had to work with, we were able to make legitimate Dolby Atmos mixes from those stems, with Halo Upmix in our toolkit.”
“I’m a huge fan of presets and NUGEN knocked it out of the park with the hard center preset in Halo Upmix,” he adds. “It became our go-to background starting point. We ‘surgically’ extracted as many hard effects as possible from the original BG/FX stereo stems, yielding new FX objects for Atmos panning and cleaner stereo backgrounds for 7.1.2 upmixing. Occasionally, we would leave behind certain hard effects in stereo stems knowing Halo Upmix would appropriately direct those sounds to the center channel, which would leave the upmixed ambience intact and immersive.”
Schricker further explains that while Halo Upmix helps decide how and when to go from stereo to surround, it also helps make the decision on what to put in the height. “A huge part of what I love about Halo Upmix is that when you bring something from stereo to 7.1.2, it doesn’t do crazy things; it behaves in a very natural sort of way,” he continues. “Depending on how you’re adjusting parameters and what preset you start with, it’s not just making things obnoxiously immersive―and with backgrounds in particular, that’s very important.”
Re-recording Mixer Ryan McCambridge, who freelanced on this project, agrees, adding that Halo Upmix is a helpful tool, especially when you need to be cognizant of the downmixing. “Halo Upmix helped us keep control of how things translate when you are going to downmix,” he says. “It was just as important for us to hear it in stereo as in Atmos because not everyone has Dolby Atmos speakers at home and will ultimately listen in stereo. Halo Upmix creates an upmix that can be folded down to stereo without losing any sonic integrity.”
Meanwhile, Re-recording Mixer Aiden Ramos, who was tasked with restoring the original stems, says he was blown away by how well NUGEN’s Halo Upmix transformed the older audio that he painstakingly had to organize and premix before he, Schricker and McCambridge started the mixes. “I was basically taking the stems and lining up all the audio to picture, organizing everything properly,” he explains. “I was the one separating things into the correct environments―such as the background noises in Carrie’s apartment or in a bar scene. New York City background noise itself is basically like another character, so there were a lot of stems to go through and organize. Using Halo Upmix was super useful for all the backgrounds, just to get things to sit in the right place and feel immersive.”
The “Sex and the City” remastered series is currently available on HBO Max in Dolby Surround 5.1, a direct render from the Dolby Atmos mix.