DPA Microphones used to Record the Unique Film Sound of Les Misérables


Award-winning production sound mixer, Simon Hayes, discusses how he used DPA 4071 lavaliere mics to capture live audio for this innovative film

Last Updated: January 11, 2013 3:43 am GMT
(Alleroed, Denmark--January 11, 2013) DPA Microphones played an integral part in recording the audio for the film version of the hit musical Les Misérables, which features an all-star cast including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Simon Hayes on the set of Les Misérables. Photo by Laurie Sparham. ©Universal Pictures

Nominated for nine BAFTA Awards, including one for sound, Les Misérables used an innovative technique that involved recording vocals live on set with the cast singing to a live piano accompaniment played to them through earpieces. The orchestra was recorded later in post-production, with the musicians taking their lead from the performances of the cast.

This break with tradition enabled director Tom Hooper to create a truly emotive experience for audiences watching the film. Production sound mixer, Simon Hayes, who was responsible for capturing the film’s entire audio content, says it was a truly unique way of working and one that would not have been possible without exceptional microphones, in particular DPA 4071 lavaliere microphones.

“When judging different lavalieres, I had always considered the differences in sound between various brands of lavaliere to be a matter of taste rather than a clear cut situation of one brand being superior,” says Hayes. “That was until I listened to a DPA up against the competition. In my opinion the DPA is better, more open sounding, less chesty and sounds more like a boom mic than any other lavalieres I have heard.”

Hayes had 50 DPA 4071 lavaliere microphones at his disposal during the filming of Les Misérables, all of which were supplied by Richmond Films in conjunction with DPA’s UK distributor Sound Network.

“Normally when I am recording a film I prioritize boom mics, especially if the scene is being shot with a single camera,” explains Hayes. “But with Les Misérables, Tom [Hooper] wanted all the angles covered from all sides to capture the perfect performance. This meant we couldn’t rely so heavily on the booms because the wider angle coverage would stop them getting close enough. Our solution was to come at the recording from a different angle and make lavaliere microphones our priority.”

DPA 4071 lavalieres to be disguised in clothing

Abbey Road engineers checked the sound quality of the DPA 4071 lavalieres to make sure they were the best choice for vocals. Hayes says they were impressed with the results.

Oscar® winning director TOM HOOPER and DANIEL HUTTLESTONE as Gavroche on the set of Les Misérables

“We tested various models and found the DPAs were clearly the best,” continues Hayes. “In fact, nothing else came close. The sound quality, frequency response and dynamic range were easily good enough to master, and they were able to handle very high SPL levels from vocals without sounding harsh as they approach their maximum SPL. I have never heard a vocal make them square off, yet such is their dynamic range and sensitivity that they can faithfully reproduce even the smallest ‘breathed’ vocal.”

Oscar® winner RUSSELL CROWE as Javert in Les Misérables. ©Universal Pictures
Oscar® winner RUSSELL CROWE as Javert in Les Misérables. ©Universal Pictures

With the Abbey Road engineers happy with his choice of lavaliere, Hayes’ next task was finding a way of using the mics that gave the best sound but still allowed them to remain invisible to audiences.

“We collaborated with the costume designers to conceal cables within the clothes and to disguise microphones that were positioned on the outside of the costumes,” he explains. “DPA’s mini concealers allowed us to mount them perfectly so they were virtually undetectable. This solved the problem of clothing rustle and, on the rare occasions when they were in shot, we were able to paint them out afterward using post production techniques.”

Les Misérables took 15 weeks to shoot and an additional seven weeks were spent rehearsing with all the actors mic’ed up so that the audio could be sent to Abbey Road for feedback. Hayes says he is delighted with the sound and believes what was achieved wouldn’t have been possible without the DPA lavalieres.

“They are the only lavalieres that could cope with what we were trying to do,” he concludes. “Apart from their exceptional audio quality and dynamic range, they were also incredibly durable and gave us no problems, not even when we got them soaking wet during the scenes we shot in the rain. We simply swapped them around and dried them out with a hair drier before using them for the next take.

“Normally I record dialogue, not music, so this was a very different kind of project for me, but I absolutely loved it. Lots of people thought what we did wouldn’t be possible, but we pulled it off, and I am very proud of what we achieved.”

DPA Microphones A/S 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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