Over the past two years, Troy Hermes has worked with Off the Grid Studios on our most important film projects. He was the lead audio engineer and sound designer on “Corazon” and “Dubai on the Fly.” Troy creates sonic illusions that fit so perfectly within a scene, the viewer just assumes the sounds are natural. Need the flap of a falcon’s wing or the crunch of sand under a camel’s step? No worries, coming right up. It’s sometimes a thankless job, for if Troy does his job perfectly, no one ever knows that sound has been added or enhanced except for the production team. Welcome to his world.
Troy recently remastered the audio for the global release of “Corazon,” which premieres on May 23. You can learn more about this free premiere here.
We recently caught up with Troy on a blustery, frigid April weekend when a massive spring snowstorm was bombarding Troy’s Minneapolis home. Troy was strumming on his 1918 Gibson mandolin and contemplating moving to a warmer climate when OTG’s RA Beattie caught up with him:
Beattie: Ok. Let’s go back to the beginning of your career. Did you always want to be an audio engineer?
Hermes: Yes, but I think it took a while to realize it. After high school I went to the University of Florida and got a degree in journalism. Then, grad school in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). I completed a South Asian Studies post-grad course, and eventually went on to do my masters at SOAS as well. Halfway through my studies I ended up dropping out when I ran out of money. The idea there was to eventually go to India and find work as a journalist.
So I found work as an assistant engineer at various music studios throughout London. Having played music for a good portion of my life, I understood signal flow and already knew how to work some of the equipment. If you’re not that intimidated by the number of knobs on a mixing desk, you find out they’re quite intuitive, ultimately.
After a few years in the music industry, I eventually started doing location audio for the London bureau of NBC News, which included all the NBC channels and shows: MSNBC, CNBC, Dateline, and The NBC Nightly News. That job took me throughout Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel.
Beattie: Not India, but you were working in journalism abroad?
Hermes: Yeah, not India, but some other rough spots. I don’t mean that negatively, but you know … the news doesn’t go where things are going well.
Beattie: Totally. Were you doing run and gun kind of stuff? Swinging a boom, that kind of thing? Sound collection?
Hermes: Mmm-hmm (affirmative). Anything that was necessary. Running around with my portable mixer and microphones, wearing a flak jacket in blisteringly hot weather. Also, setting up audio equipment, IFBs and preparing for live shots. I went to Iraq with Tom Brokaw and was there for a couple of months. I was there earlier than anticipated. The guy, well, I don’t know, you probably don’t want to add this, but I was supposed to go a month later, but the other sound guy, who I was scheduled to replace, was killed by an RPG that hit a light armored vehicle outside of Fallujah. That was very sad and very distressing.
Beattie: Did you personally have any moments overseas, not that you want to get into all the details, when it was super hairy, and you were like, “I’m done with this. This is the last straw.”
Hermes: Yeah, I think the whole time I was in Iraq was that moment. To be honest, my first trip to Afghanistan was great! Afghanistan was pretty peaceful at the time. It was fascinating. The people were lovely, and things were relatively safe. Emphasis on “relatively.”
Iraq was exactly the opposite. It was 130 degrees. Every night I’d put a 2.5-liter Camelback into the freezer so I could walk around with a bag of ice on my back in the morning. It’d be melted within half an hour. People were getting killed and kidnapped. I had to take the mattress off my bed and put my bed frame against the window, because every night there was gunfire. Just worried that a bullet’s going to come through, knock out the glass, and it’s going to shatter. I ended up just sleeping on the floor for two months.
Beattie: That’s pretty good grounds for calling it quits.
Hermes: After that, I decided I wanted to be in the studio. At the time my goal was to work on films, but I ended up working on all types of projects. At this point in my career, the only thing I haven’t done is game audio. I’m not a gamer, but I do find the complexity of game audio pretty fascinating.
Beattie: You have this amazing talent. There are so many different things that you do when you work on a film that we’re producing. You’re making sure all of the levels are correct and all these other aspects of the audio workflow are working, but you’re really, really good at creating sound effects and creating these soundscapes that don’t even exist. What’s that like?
Hermes: It’s just something you have to do. When I was working in my first staff job at CrowTV in London, we were churning out daytime television for BBC. These shows had very fast turnaround times, and there were so many of them. In a season, I think there would be like 40 or 50 episodes. Most of the shows were an hour long, and we’d have two days to mix. That’s edit, prep, record voice-over, and get it approved by the end of the second day. It was a great training ground for working efficiently, and I learned Pro Tools inside-out. Once you become quick, you have more time to spend on other aspects of the workflow.
Eventually, when I had other projects that maybe had a little bit more of a budget or a little bit more time, I’d concentrate on all aspects of the sound. It’s a lot of fun to do, and people would be surprised to realize the difference that it makes. Whether I’m creating realistic ambiences, surreal or otherworldly dream sequences, or just enhancing what’s already there from the location recordings, sound design is a big part of telling the story and keeping viewers engaged with what they’re viewing.
In the past, I would take a piece of video and delete all the audio, or mute whatever soundtrack was attached to it, and re-build the mix using whatever was at my disposal. Foley, sound libraries, instruments. It’s first a matter of observation, then a matter of practice.
Beattie: I’m an editor and hand over the edit to you for sound design. Naturally, I see the before and after of your work. When it comes back, it’s interesting because people watch it, and they’ll love the media, but they have no idea that so many of the effects are created in the studio. I’ll say, “Hey, you want to see something cool? Watch this edit. This is without all of the sound effects. Then, here’s everything Troy created.” People are blown away.
Hermes: It’s the one unfortunate thing about doing audio post-production. Often, the best indication that you did a good job is that no one notices your work. It makes it hard to justify the cost of something if people think it exists naturally, you know? Car crashes, gun shots, footsteps and, yes, fish sloshing through the water in slow motion — all of those are generally added by the sound designer in post.
You can learn more about Troy and view more of his work at www.hermes-sound.com. “Corazon” and “Dubai on the Fly” are also available for viewing free on Amazon Prime. Lastly, we prepared a little multimedia bonus – the video above contains two examples of the edits – one with Troy’s sound design, and another sans engineering. Enjoy.