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Once Upon a Time Lives Happily Ever After at Disney Digital Studio Services Sound

Once Upon a Time Cast

Do you believe in fairy tales? In a world of Evil Queens, Jiminy Crickets’, Rumplestiltskins’ and Prince Charmings’ – the Digital Studio Services sound crew from Once Upon A Time helps to make us all believers. Fairy tales collide with the real world in ABC’s new hit series and the sound is just as epic as the characters that inspired them.

A modern take on Disney’s classic fairy tale, Once Upon a Time thrusts some of our favorite characters to “some place terrible” otherwise known as the real world where, as a consequence of the Evil Queen’s curse, all happy endings are taken away.

The show comes at the conclusion of the award winning series LOST, which was also created by master story tellers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Disney Digital Studio Services got the opportunity to talk with Co-Producer, Brian Wankum about the new series and what it’s like to produce a show that pays homage to so many Disneyesque themes right here on the Walt Disney Studios lot. We also got a chance to sit down with the post production sound crew, including Disney Digital Studio’s Re-recording mixers Mark Fleming & Tom Dahl, Recordist, Erik Flockoi as well as Supervising Sound Editors, Tom de Gorter & Joe Schultz, a for a look at what makes the sound on Once Upon a Time tick.

Brian Wankum, now on his second project with Disney/ABC Studios, couldn’t be happier to be back on the studio lot. With over 15  television series under his belt, Wankum is thrilled to work on such an original show with a studio that is no stranger to stories that begin with “once upon a time”.  “There are a lot a great places we could have mixed the show, but being here at Disney where the classic versions of  Snow White,  PinocchioCinderella and others were made lends a certain gravitas to what we do on Once Upon a Time. ” Wankum asserts.

There are a lot a great places we could have mixed the show, but being here at Disney where the classic versions of  Snow White, PinocchioCinderella and others were made lends a certain gravitas to what we do on Once Upon a Time

- Brian Wankum, Producer

And as suitable as it is to produce Once Upon a Time on the Walt Disney Studios lot, it’s just as fitting to mix the sound on Stage C where his first ABC Studios project, Eli Stone was mixed.

Home of re-recording mixers Mark Fleming, Tom Dahl and recordist Erik Flockoi, Stage C has cranked out a slew of such recent shows such such as Falling Skies, Fringe Detroit 1-8-7, Flash Forward, and Eli Stone and to name a few. New to Wankum, but not new to Disney/ABC Studios are sound supervisor Joe Schultz and Emmy Award winning sound designer, Tom de Gorter who was also the supervising sound editor on the series, LOST.

There are a lot of LOST Easter Eggs, probably more than we even know
The creative sound crew isn’t the only thing that Once Upon A Time has in common with LOST. Sharp viewers will notice a parallel between the two shows. Wankum explains, “There are a lot of LOST Easter Eggs, probably more than we even know of, but the most obvious ones are the Apollo Bar and McCutchen Scotch.” The Apollo Bar, a unique brand of candy found on LOST, which showed up in episode 1 of Once Upon A Time and the scotch of choice for the LOST crew can be seen in Once Upon A Time, episode 6. Other visual references include Regina’s street address, which is 108, the sum of all numbers in LOST. Schultz adds, “Geronimo Jackson, the band referenced on LOST, can be found on a sticker on the back of Emma Swan’s car in the Once Upon A Time pilot.” In addition to visual Easter Eggs, there were also Audio Easter Eggs. de Gorter points out one of the obvious ones as he discusses a OUAT hospital scene. “A few of the hospital pages have been for “Dr. Cuse, “explains de Gorter, “Carlton Cuse was an Executive Producer on LOST.”

Fairy tales often have their own themes and acoustically, this is very apparent in this show. Dr. Hopper aka Jiminy Cricket for example, eventually brought back the crickets in Storybrooke. Perceptive ears will notice an absence of crickets in the first few episodesuntil Dr. Hopper finally decides to listen to his conscious, accoding to mixer Mark Fleming who is responsible for the dialogue and sound effects mixing on the show.

Dr. Hopper

Actor Raphael Sbarge plays Dr. Archie Hopper aka Jiminy Cricket

“When he (Dr. Hopper) decides who he wants to be, you’ll hear the crickets start to go crazy. You’re enveloped in this cricket sound, which represents Dr. Hopper/Jiminy finally becoming free.” Wankum adds, “This scene was originally slated to be a huge visual effect where you were at ground level and saw all of the crickets hopping but instead we decided to go with the ‘all sound design answer’ which happily for us was a part of our sound package.”


Lana Parilla plays the Evil Queen

Another character who has her own theme is Regina, the evil queen in Fairy Tale land and the mayor in Storybrooke. Continuously surrounded by crows in fairy tale land, sound designers introduced the evil queen’s trademark pet more subtly in Storybrooke, editing in a crow ambience track whenever Regina is around.  While faint to the audience, the crew of Once Upon A Time is very keen on the crow sound. “Every time we hear it on the stage,” Fleming jokes, “we like to say ‘you’ve been crowed.’”

Creating a show with two very different realities requires a lot of special effects that present both challenges and opportunities to the sound crew. “The biggest challenge,” Mark explains, “was chasing the visual effects. A dragon will fly by and we will mix it one way. But then on the third day, the dragon will fly differently and then breathe fire.”A second challenge was presented in the Ballroom scene on Episode 4. Shot on an almost entire virtual set, the sound crew had to switch from playing with fire to recreating the sounds of rustling skirts. Wankum says, “We went to great lengths to preserve the production sound. butthe whole scene was full of taffeta skirts rustling upon the ground so the whole thing had to be recreated in sound post production.”

While virtual sets were challenging, they presented the sound crew with great opportunities to be creative. de Gorter explains, “within the ballroom there were hundreds of computer generated fireworks that all had to be recreated in post.” Fleming added, “This allowed us to be extremely creative in building sound for that environment. We created everything from the dress rustle to the fire sounds.”

So as you can see, the Evil Queen didn’t succeed in stealing all of the happy endings. With the help of a great production and creative sound crew, the awe-inspiring vision of Kitsis and Horowitz lives happily ever after on the Walt Disney Studios lot. This happy ending is only the beginning for the crew. After just two episodes and stellar ratings, the show was picked up by ABC for a full season and promises to re-introduce our favorite characters in new and exciting ways. Watch and listen for exciting new twists and turns and of course, plenty of visual and audio Easter Eggs for all of you dedicated LOST fans. If you missed any of the clues mentioned above or if you need to catch up on the series, you can watch full episodes of Once Upon a time on – click here>>

Once Upon A Time airs on ABC on Sundays, 8pm/7pm Central. Don’t miss it!