Jose Rosa graduated from Ex’pression College in June 2010 with a degree in Sound Arts and currently works fulltime for PIXAR, freelances as a recording engineer, and in the past has done live sound for Live-Nation. Jose gave us the skinny on working at PIXAR -as well as their topsecret studio setup!
Q: How did you start working at PIXAR? I started in October of last year  as a temp. I was told it was going to be a two-week thing but it turned out to be two-months filling in as a Post P.A. I learnt most of my duties now from filling in that role, so when I went full-time it wasn’t as difficult for me in my new position. Q: How did you make the transition from being a part-time temp to a full-time employee? Well, it was a 3-step process. I started as a temp, then I was a Post P.A. from October to December , and now I’m involved with PIXAR’s corporate division. When I first started, PIXAR had me do some audio projects for them because we had lots of DAT tapes from old dialog sessions. They wanted to have these sessions ready for video editors on our server, so they
had me digitize all those old DAT tapes from ‘Toy Story’, ‘Toy Story 2’, ‘A Bug’s Life’, and a rush project for ‘Monsters Inc.’. Each DAT tape held an hour of dialog, and there were about 300 to 500 tapes per film. Our sound assistant couldn’t handle listening to the tapes because when you do these transfers into protools you have to listen to them and make sure there are no digital clicks or pops and sync them to time code -because it’s got to sync in AVID for the video editors. Then, I took a two-week break and they hired me back just to continue the DAT tape project, which went on until April of this year . Q: Were there any good outtakes on those old tapes? J: There were some good outtakes, but from listening to those tapes I started to learn the roles of directors and producers, and how they get their actors to do the lines as they envisioned the characters. So, when I do recording sessions with bands now, I push the vocalist to deliver the lines like they were in a similar scenario, because one of the issues I’ve had with vocalists is that they don’t sound very passionate -they just sound like they’re singing, and it loses the whole emotion of the song. I learnt how to direct singers into delivering their parts in a way that gives an emotional role to the song -but yeah there were some funny takes on the tapes. [sorry folks it’s classified information] Q: You transitioned from the sound-design artistic division to the corporate division of PIXAR, how different are those two worlds? They are quite different. Being over there with the sound department was great, and I got to learn their process of working, but after having done that project with the DAT tapes where each one took an hour and there were so many for me to do, I just started going into the room and yawning. I was in one room for 6-months just listening to dialogue and barely seeing anybody, not knowing whether it was raining, sunny, or cold outside. It started making me feel down in the dumps because I wasn’t seeing anybody. Vince, our main dialogue recorder for all our films, said sometimes it gets lonely because you’re there for so long and you don’t really get to have full conversations with most people. I looked back at the Post PA job that I had and realized I did a lot of traveling for that role -I got to go down to Skywalker, Disney, and IMAX to meet all those people. So, I decided to make the transition into the corporate division of PIXAR. I learnt what I had to learn in the sound department, but I felt there were more opportunities for
me to learn as a Post PA. The bottom line is that I enjoy just watching my coworkers, my supervisors, my managers, and my coordinators do their thing. Everyday here is a new learning experience. Q: Are there certain skills you recommend sound arts [SA] students at Ex’pression College learn that are vital to working at corporations like PIXAR? I recommend you take a look into ‘AVID Media Composer’ (the film editor), because PIXAR’s sound team works closely with the video editors who use avid. Sometimes the video editors cut sound effects into the AVID system because they want some sound in there so they can get the feel of the shot, and then they send that back to the audio team. So, I recommend looking into AVID just to get down the basics and key-commands. Film is close to dying, but it’s a good thing to know because like protools, everything in the digital world is modeled after analog gear. So just read up on film, watch old movies, and understand why they were great. Q: Is there a lot you’ve learnt in regards to dealing with people from working at PIXAR? Yeah, it’s all about reading the room. You have to know who you’re talking to –when to be serious and when to joke. You know we’re not an uptight studio but there are times when you have to be serious and there are times when you can joke and really let go. Also, presentation is a key thing –you have to be able to sell stuff. And when you know a way of doing things is better than the way you are currently doing things, then you’ve got to bring it up. Q: You engineer at recording studios, work at PIXAR, and occasionally do live sound for the band “I-The-Mighty”, how helpful is it to have that broad range of skills? It helps haha. I still enjoy working live sound and engineering at recording studios, and it definitely helps having that wide-range because you become a valuable asset to your team. I’ve been quite into the whole world of audio/ visual technology, which helps my team. I have the ability to go to the A/V guys and be able to say ‘this is our current signal flow and this is what we need’, and If something isn’t working I can look in and figure it out instead of calling an AV tech. Also, just knowing sound in general is a good thing -
because we do a lot of quality control. We can easily pinpoint when an ambiance drops out way too quickly and if it’s fixable we fix it, and if it’s not, we take that into consideration. Q: Can you tell us about the ADR studios at PIXAR? The way we do it [at PIXAR] is to use a [Neumann] ‘U 87’ aimed at the mouth about 2 feet away, and then a [Neumann] ‘TLM 103’ three-inches away from the ‘U 87’. The ‘TLM 103’ has a -10dB pad, so if you have an actor or actress deliver a good line and it clips the ‘U 87’ you have a backup. Both microphones go through Focusrite preamps into protools -as clean as possible. Q: Are there a bunch of plug-ins in the studio? Our sound editors have plug-ins, but for our dialogue it just goes into protools clean. Our sound-editors who work on trailers or rough edits have various plug-ins from dolby to WAVES, and for noise reduction they use CEDAR -which is amazing. Q: Isn’t the CEDAR system a whole external unit? They just released the plug-in version of it, which is great -it was originally used for audio forensics. Before CEDAR we used to use ‘iZotope RX’ to do noise reduction. The [iZotope] RX is still a great plug-in, but the CEDAR has a higher level of noise reduction. Q: Is most of the dialogue for the films recorded at PIXAR? We do the scratch dialogue recordings here in the main studio, which consists of a bunch of coworkers auditioning for roles. Sometimes they get used in the movie if the director or producer really likes it, but as far as the production dialogue is concerned we sometimes record it in the Disney lot, Sony Studios, or wherever the main actors or actresses are, for their convenience. Q: Are the sound-editors working with a digital mixer of some kind? They usually work with a Mackie 8 channel and some have digi-design [now AVID] mixers like the 003. We also have a small ‘Control 24’ room where
they do mixes and reviews that is equipped with a 7.1, 5.1, and stereo speaker array. Q: What advice would you give to an Ex’pression Student looking to get a job right after graduating? Never give up on where you want to work. I knew PIXAR is where I wanted to end up working, but I knew I had to do a lot of things that would help me reach that goal. It wasn’t like I graduated and here I am -even though it might seem that way. I started working within my first year at Ex’pression doing live sound gigs and getting my hands on projects. I don’t know if anyone has told you this, but you put in your time to get to the level where you want to be at. I recommend going to live sound companies and learning from them, intern at recording studios, or intern at post-houses and learn how they run their stuff. One of the benefits you get once you’re in a place is you start learning how they run their system and they get more comfortable with you. Then, you can decide if you have learnt enough to move on, because once you start working in a certain field, doors will start opening and it’s up to you which road you want to choose.
Interview by: Daniel Rolnik for PRESS - ISSUE 2A