Johnnie Burn on Using Nuendo at Wave Studios

By Luis Dongo

Johnnie Burn is founder and chief sound designer at Wave Studios. Specializing in all aspects of sound for feature films and TV commercials, the company has worked on countless iconic adverts and films including Jordan Peele’s “Nope” and the Cannes prize-winning “Zone of Interest”. With 35 instances of Nuendo running across the company’s worldwide network of studios, he tells us why the software is Wave Studios’ choice of creative tool for everything from Atmos mixing to collaborative working.

How did you get started with Nuendo?

Wave Studios was founded on making commercials; our first job was a fairly well-known commercial for Guinness. Through that work we got to know a lot of our clients and they included Jonathan Glazer, a film director. About three years after we opened he said to me, you need to figure out everything you need to know about working on feature films because I've got a film coming up and you're going to be doing it. At the time we were working on Fairlight Systems and I thought that 48 tracks was probably not going to be enough for a film. I found Nuendo — I think it was version 2.0 — and we started working on that for our long format stuff.

What first appealed to you about Nuendo’s workflow?

It’s just better for long format work, and the enormously high track count is just fantastic. So over a period of a few years we phased the old system out and put Nuendo in everywhere across the world. That’s been such a plus for us because of the way we can all share our workflows and everyone has their own presets based on how they like to work — their own reverb presets and templates — that is a really refined thing for us now.

How do you manage having multiple locations around the world?

We've been going 23 years and we have eight studios in London, three in Amsterdam and three and a Dolby Atmos room being built in New York, and they all run Nuendo very successfully. We have edit rooms here in London and a lot of people who work remotely as well. The changes in working practices in the last few years have meant that we can afford to have a bigger workforce actually working on more projects, but with the same number of studios because our editorial workload is now predominantly done remotely by people who have a room at home that they use for that purpose. Everything is on a local network that's shared between here and New York and Amsterdam. So we can all access each other's projects whenever we like.

And the basis for this is Nuendo. How does it help to facilitate your workflow?

It’s everything you need in one piece of software. Someone in New York might well record ADR for a film that we're working on in the morning and by the afternoon, we're editing it here and looking at it with the director. The pictures and audio are all on a network. We have a central server for all our sound effects — we've got millions, every time we do a film new material gets added to the MediaBay and all the metadata is included. So if you need to find for example “wooden clog on wooden floor” or whatever it is, that’s easy.

So MediaBay is essential to what you do?

Absolutely. Using MediaBay we can now very quickly find and track pretty much anything we need. I think we have about 35 instances of Nuendo that we run at any one time between all the people working remotely around the world. And all of them can access the same MediaBay. What we all encourage each other to do is have a sort of show and tell and show off the new sound effects that you've made or created on a project then put them in the MediaBay. It's built into the infrastructure like everything else in Nuendo so you have a database for sound effects that's searchable across a network for everyone to use. You can place sounds directly in the timeline, or you can put a sync point directly in the timeline, or carve a section out that you might need and throw that in. It's a very powerful tool.

What does your typical post production workflow on a film look like?

I'll talk to the director about the script and then I'll be invited to the recce and the shoot, where I'll record a whole bunch of sound effects to capture the correct atmospheres for the scenes. We'll get all the rushes then we'll get a picture edit and move to doing ADR (automated dialogue replacement) if that's a requirement. Nuendo is great for that because the whole workflow is built-in and you can run it all from the screen. And with Nuendo 13 now it's fantastic because there's even a feature where you can have a web browser up and anyone in the room can retype the script, the director included. So no-one has to run to the voice booth and write out a handwritten script, it just appears on the screen with the correct new words. The ADR is an enormously powerful part of Nuendo’s workflow.

And what comes next in the process?

I try to keep everything as a very realistic natural field sound so I try and avoid using sound effects libraries. I really want to record all my own stuff, and then we will have a Foley recording session that will occupy another 200 tracks down the bottom of the Nuendo project. I tend to think of a mix more like a sculpture, so each reel will be a different Nuendo project. And if someone is editing Foley they'll also have the up-to-date dialogue and sound effects shared across the network. We sort of pre-mix as we go, editing effects because basically I see the mix as part of the sound design process. I like to present a director as finished an idea as possible when I am working on any project. So if I'm presenting a sound design idea, I want to have the dialogue clean and I want to have the correct effects in there. And that's a great thing with Nuendo because you can bring the mix together inside the box.

How big a part of what you do is Atmos mixing now?

Pretty much every project we do now, we start with a native Atmos mix because I think as an industry we're in a transition where at the beginning of a job someone says, “no, we don't need Atmos” and always by the time you get to the end of the job, they're like, “why don't we do an Atmos mix?”. I think that will go on for another year or two before people say, okay, let's do it. So we always work in Atmos now and we love Atmos mixing here because we are sound geeks. Who wouldn't want to work with this many speakers?
I love Nuendo because it was one of the first to integrate Atmos into the actual architecture of the software. It’s amazing when a software company tries to keep you ahead of the game. Because Steinberg's often thinking what's next? What do we need to do? And I think it's a company that reacts quickly to changes in the market and the industry.

What is it about working on movies that particularly appeals to you?

You're really telling stories with sound and it can be a lot more interesting in a longer format than doing TV commercials, which is a different skill set. I had a lot of fun in 2022 when I spent five months in Los Angeles working on a film with Jordan Peele called “Nope”. That was a brilliant film that we mixed at Universal Studios. I took Nuendo out there and it was entirely mixed in the box, with a hugely complex Nuendo Atmos mix going on. It was a film that really used a lot of sound to tell the narrative story and Nuendo has helped us enormously with the workflow of how we get all that stuff done.

What tools in particular stand out for you?

The reason I prefer to work in Nuendo on films is because essentially I do like to think of the mix as a sculpture, and all my team will have the entire mix in the box for whatever bit they're working on. This allows me to grow a mix from beginning to end and not think to myself, okay, there's going to be a point in time later when we all meet at the mix stage and mix it fully. Some people don't like the mix in the box philosophy, but if you embrace what's good about it, then you're going to end up with a much better end result. Nuendo really works as an all-encompassing playground in which you have absolutely everything you need.
What I'm saying is everything you need to do a film is in Nuendo so for me it's fantastic because I work all around the world and I may be in different places, I'll probably have three different films on my laptop at any one time, and it's just amazing to be able to pop that open, put some headphones on and start addressing mix issues or sound design issues or whatever as I go, and then take that into a mix stage in Hollywood, pop it open and play the Atmos version of it. And that kind of blows people's mind a little bit when you say here's the mix, I'm playing it all off the same machine on one piece of software.