The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) recently opened a new exhibit, The Heavens Are Opened, at its Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. The exhibit includes a seven-minute short film that depicts the First Vision, an integral moment in Mormon history when Church founder Joseph Smith prayed out loud within a grove of trees asking for guidance. In an effort to immerse the audience in the recreation of Smith’s original experience in Palmyra, New York, the production team filmed in the area using 14 strategically placed d:dicate 4006A Recording and d:screet 4061 Miniature mics from DPA Microphones.
The d:dicate 4006A microphones were used in a traditional DPA Decca Tree in the grove, to support the nine cameras that were shooting a 360-degree area. Though the video was edited down to only 240 degrees to accommodate the size of the video screen in the museum, all of the recorded audio elements are featured in the exhibit.
“The massive screen is upwards of 10 feet tall and wraps most of the way around the audience,” explains Dave McDougal, sound designer of the LDS Film and Video Division. “We wanted the audio to be just as immersive as the video, but there is no music in the piece. The entire thing takes place in a grove of trees early in the morning, so we decided that the ambience of the location was going to play the biggest role for the audience.”
McDougal incorporated five of his d:dicate 4006A Omnidirectional mics in a 5.0 pattern with nine of his d:screet 4061 Omnidirectional mics as an added “height” element. “We raised the 4061s approximately 15 feet into the air in different areas of the grove, at five o’clock in the morning, to record the ambient sounds that became the basis for the film’s entire sound design,” says McDougal. “We wanted everything to sound exactly how it was when we were there. We didn’t modify it, and we didn’t want to color it; we wanted it to be as natural and as immersive as possible. From working with DPA mics in the past, I knew I could depend on the d:dicate and d:screet mics to get the job done.”
In addition to the stand holding the d:screet 4061s, McDougal also placed the DPA d:dicate Decca Tree on another microphone stand below it, roughly four feet off the ground. “We wanted a very open, clear, and natural sound, and the DPA mics provide exactly that,” McDougal explains. “They didn’t color the sound at all. They captured exactly what the grove sounded like, and they were far more sensitive than the human ear, especially with all 14 of them going at the same time. That gave us the beautiful, natural recording we were looking for.”
Palmyra was the perfect setting for the shoot. “It was really nice and pleasant,” adds McDougal. “We filmed it twice, in the spring and in the fall. In the spring, there were quite a few birds, and in the fall, it was more subdued, with some nice breezes. It was probably in the 60s in the mornings, and there was very little humidity. It was perfect for this production.”
McDougal says the team captured some remarkably nuanced textures during both shoots. “We captured the sound of the birds and the subtle winds thanks to the DPA mics,” he says. “We could even hear the leaves falling from the trees during autumn. When I was listening on my headphones, I kept thinking, ‘This place is falling down on me, what’s going on?’ I had to take off my headphones to see what I was hearing, and it was simply a leaf falling off of a tree 50 feet away from me, and the mics captured it perfectly. I unexpectedly had to wait for a train to pass that was about seven miles away that I could not hear with the naked ear. The DPAs were so sensitive, they captured everything.
“I used the d:dicate 4017B Shotgun mic to capture specific birds that we could place into the mix, and a distant howling that the locals told me was a coy-dog, which hearing that over my headphones about scared me out of the forest one night. I even pointed the shotgun at my feet as I walked through the leaves and brush, that we were able to use as foley footsteps in the final mix.”
McDougal and his production team worked with the Church’s in-house engineering team to build the sound in the theater based exactly on how the mics were situated in the field and bring that immersive experience in the field to viewers in the museum. “For example, there’s a speaker directly above the heads of the audience members, which reproduces what the mics caught on the top of the stand enclosure,” he says. “The sound from the 5.0 array was played through a lower ring of speakers that were arranged in a typical 5.0 surround-sound fashion. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of the building, we couldn’t get the speakers behind the screen like you would in a typical movie theater. But, by blending upper and lower sets of speakers together, we were able to create a vertical phantom center that matched up the sounds exactly where they were on the screen.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long implemented DPA Microphones’ products into its productions, including live performances at the Church’s Conference Center and on its sound stages, often used for orchestral recordings for films. “We use them on almost everything we do,” McDougal says of LDS’ DPA products, which include d:dicate 4011 Cardioids and 4006 Omnis, d:screet 4061 Omnis, and the d:dicate 4017B Shotgun mic.