Pinnacle Auto Appraisers' Blog

Keeping the auto appraising industry up to date with important auto industry and appraiser information.

Listen Up: “Les Misérables” hits the Silver Screen

Les Mis Poster

Do you hear the people sing? And sing, they do, as we take a look behind the scenes at this extraordinary film.

The much-anticipated film adaptation of London and Broadway’s smash hit, “Les Misérables” debuted last week with a fresh new approach to film-making. Unlike typical musicals, “Les Mis” didn’t use a pre-recorded vocal score, but instead, the actors sang live on the set.

 In the past, movies from “The Sound of Music” to “Funny Girl” to more recent films like “Chicago” recorded the songs months before filming begins. On set, the actors just lip-sync to the pre-recorded score. Did you really think that Julie Andrews was singing live on that hilltop in Austria, or Barbra Streisand was belting it out holding onto that tugboat in the New York City harbor?

Director Tom Hooper wanted to do something that’s never been done before. He wanted to record this as a live musical, to give the actors a chance to perform the songs on set, without being restricted to a previously recorded score. This gave the actors a chance to interact with each other on set, and gives the performances a unique sense of realism. 

Hooper said, "With this story that's so much about the grind of living, you know, real people suffering, I wanted to, in a way, give the power back to the actors and allow the actors to do what they do best. If you're singing to playback, you've surrendered one of the most powerful mediums of acting communication, which is the control of time and pace. ... It's not conducive to really getting to a raw, emotional place.”

"The challenge I laid out to all my actors when I cast them was, 'You are all performing these globally iconic songs, and yet you need to make it appear that your characters have invented these songs in these times of crisis — have ripped them from their soul. You are not doing a rendition of a song, you are offering a song as a character does a soliloquy.' And I want to give them all the weapons at their disposal to do this.”

When Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean is moving quickly across the room, his voice has a breathlessness that matches it. When Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette gets up out of a bed, we hear her clothing move and her voice changes as she moves from sitting to standing. And in what is sure to be an award-winning performance, Anne Hathaway’s Fantine “I Dreamed a Dream” has an exposed and explosively raw emotion that is captured flawlessly.

A live pianist was playing along with the actors, fed through induction loop “earwigs” that were concealed from the cameras. The final score was created after the perfect performances were edited. The difficulties this created were unique. Each different take could have different tempos.  The sound effect designers had wanted their effects to blend in musically. Horse hooves were edited in time to the music, and if the tempo changed from one take to another, they had to adjust the beat of the horses.  The most challenging, perhaps, is how to record high-quality sound on the set, when most films these days rely heavily on ADR (automatic dialogue replacement) that lets engineers replace the sound recorded on location which is usually unusable, due to uncontrollable elements.

Capturing the performances on "Les Mis" was especially challenging. Extraneous sounds needed to be eliminated so that the voices could be used in the final production. This video is a fascinating look behind the scenes.  

Production sound mixer Simon Hayes discussed some of those challenges in an online forum, in particular the scene where screen newcomer Samantha Barks is singing in a rainstorm. In the film, you can heard the change in her voice as she turns her head down to her clothing – again, this is something that would never be heard in a pre-recorded score.

Hayes reported, “From the outset the whole movie was planned to avoid re-records and ADR, from set design to special FX. The Production Sound/Post Production Sound and Music depts. were all one team who collaborated from the beginning to help Tom (Hooper) achieve his vision. We had many tricks up our sleeve to achieve the highest quality singing possible on a movie set including 3 Boom Operators on main unit at all times who were part of a 7-man Production Sound Team."

"If we are to look at just one difficult sequence shown, which is Samantha Barks singing in the rain I can tell you how we achieved what you hear. Every roof top and every piece of floor not in shot was covered with rubberized horse hair to deaden the rain hitting it. Cameras were covered with a 'horse hair roof' attached over the top of it to stop the noise of the droplets hitting the polythene bag keeping it dry. The camera department were wearing ponchos made from black 'bolton' fabric over their wet weather gear to 'soak up' the sound of the water hitting them. Samantha Barks was wearing 2 radio mics, and they were changed on every take for fresh dry ones to eliminate possible moisture affecting the lavaliers. The Special FX team made sure that the actual droplets falling around the camera were adjusted into a fine spray to reduce impact noise."

"The guys at Abbey Road asked me to record the whole of Les Misérables without the use of limiters and that in itself was a fantastic challenge, because there was no safety net, the actors were trying different performances (volumes!) on different takes, but the results were worth it. Using the complete dynamic range of the equipment and trying not to ride the gain gives a more real and truthful performance ultimately because when the actor goes quiet you are not 'equalizing' their performance by bringing them up, and by the same token when they go loud, you are not eroding the dynamic of the performance by 'bringing them down'."

"Every scene was approached with this level of attention to detail and when a Sound Department has the director and the actors working with them and backing them up to try and achieve something extraordinary a lot can be achieved.”

Even the set designs were based around creating the best sound for the film.  More from Simon Hayes:

”One of the questions Tom Hooper asked me in the very early stages of pre-production on Les Misérables was whether I would prefer to record the exterior scenes on real exteriors and contend with the background noise issues, or whether I thought we could get better results on the vocals by building the exterior sets on an interior. My answer was I would definitely prefer to build the sets in a sound stage where we could guarantee quiet backgrounds. He told me the sets would be so big he didn't think there were any sound stages in the UK big enough to house us. He was of course talking about the Rue Plumet set which is the Paris street where the barricade is built, the battle is fought and there are many scenes there."

"Of course we have 007 stage at Pinewood but it isn't a Sound Stage and frankly has an awful acoustic, with reverb and you can hear the backlot studio traffic and a distant motorway. I told him that given the choice between a 'warehouse' like 007 or a real exterior I would go for a real exterior but the big issue would be aircraft. Wherever you go in the UK, because we are such a small island, aircraft noise is a big problem."

"A couple of weeks later Tom gave me some great news. Pinewood was building a new Sound Stage called "The Richard Attenborough Stage" and it was going to be the biggest in the UK, and it would be ready in time to shoot Les Misérables. In fact, much of the shoot was planned around the availability dates of the stage and we watched it being built with daily updates of whether the builders would hit their planned finish date because if they hadn't it would have caused huge timing problems with our shoot."

"Eve Stewart, the Production Designer, built a fabulous set, which literally filled this huge stage with the buildings going all the way up to the space lights! It was truly a sight to behold. So, we had a great, dead acoustic to record the 'exterior' Paris street scenes in which really helped with our effort to capture superb live vocals from the cast. The first step to being able to use the live vocals is making sure the backgrounds are not polluted and when editing between shots there is no background change, and the stage build allowed us to do that."

"Speaking of Eve, she asked me how to approach building a set that was going to be helpful to record live singing on and my reply was to try and build everything for real. When she put cobbles in, they were REAL cobbles, and the same for flagstones. She used a lot of big heavy timber frames so the sets sounded natural and unlike a movie set, so that the Foleys that we picked up under the vocals would at least sound real if we had to use them."

"Of course there was some cheating, like the fantastic idea of putting rubber shoes on the horses and replacing the steel wheels on the carriages with rubber. This allowed Tom to build up busy background action in the street scenes which didn't compromise the vocals. I also use rubber backed carpets whenever actors’ feet are not in shot to again allow cleaner vocal recordings and give the Foley editors the chance to use some really beautiful Foleys. I am a great believer in getting the dialogues (vocals) as clean as possible to allow the re-recording mixer to push the FX, music and Foleys more. That is impossible if the vocals are already swamped with 'onset' background noise. On Les Misérables we had a dedicated truck that was full of rubber backed carpet and sound blankets, and one of my sound team's whole job was dedicated to getting that carpet onto the set as soon as the lenses were tight enough to allow it."

"We also had an extremely helpful Special FX team. One of the systems I have been using on films in my collaborations with Matthew Vaughn is something we call 'silent wind’. When you build an exterior set inside, or work on a green screen interior that will become an exterior scene when CGI is added, one of the main issues for sound is the actors needing wind in their hair and on their costumes. What we developed is a system where the wind machines (fans) are left outside the studio and the air is piped in through holes in the wall inside flexible air conditioning tubes. Then a special FX technician holds and points a tube at each actor.This means the director gets the realism of wind, but the Sound Department only needs to deal with the actual noise of air moving rather than the electrical engine noise and rotor noise of the fans. The wind noise is just a high frequency constant that can be adjusted later, whereas the engine noise is so loud and broad frequency it usually leads to ADR. On Les Misérables we used silent wind, and with careful special FX technicians with precision aiming, and the use of wind gags on interiors we managed to get clean vocals even when the wind was blowing!”

As a fan of the show, and an audio post-production engineer myself, I went in to “Les Mis” with extraordinarily high expectations. They were exceeded. I can honestly say that this is a classic, and with such exemplary performances, one that will live on for years. Is every note pitch perfect? No, not at all, but this just adds a realism that matches the gritty reality of the story. Go see this movie again and again. I know I will. 

Les Mis Poster
Photo by: Sound and Vision Magazine Editor

Les Mis Poster



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Global Gouging: A Survey of Fuel Prices Around the World

Global Gouging: A Survey of Fuel Prices Around the World

Click to enlarge.

From the January 2013 issue of CAR and DRIVER magazine

In spite of increasing domestic oil production, four-dollar-per-gallon gasoline remains an on-again/off-again reality in the United States. That’s because oil and gas are global commodities, and the U.S. market isn’t as insular as we might like. The prices we pay, however, still stand out as cheap. Most of our global neighbors see fuel prices at the pump so high that even the most bumptious Texas oilman would blush. We’ve assembled the costs of a gallon of the most popular juice in every country we could—be it leaded crud in Ghana, sugar-derived ethanol in Brazil, or near avgas in Bahrain—based on the most recent data available. Check out some of the pricing highs and lows on the dimensional map above. And no, the price in Venezuela isn’t a typo—but we’d still rather empty our wallets at the pump here than live under Chávez over there.

Feature: Why Are Gas Prices Going Up When Demand Is Going Down? Tech Dept.: Natural Gas: The Next Step on the Road to Hydrogen The CAFE Numbers Game: Making Sense of the New Fuel-Economy Regulations

 

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Ford Finds Itself in Court Over Fuel-Economy Claims—Just Like Hyundai, Kia, Honda, and GM

 

Watching Ford follow Hyundai, Kia, Honda, and GM in getting hit with a class-action lawsuit over its cars’ advertised fuel economy, one wonders if the plaintiffs’ lawyers behind these actions have tried to figure out a way to sue the manufacturers of the metaphorical floodgates that are now open. This isn’t to suggest that Ford’s C-Max hybrid and Fusion hybrid, the vehicles at issue in the lawsuit, use as little fuel in the real world as their 47-overall-mpg EPA stats suggest. Even with lighter-footed drivers than those in the Car and Driver offices, C-Max and Fusion hybrids have fallen way short of the official EPA numbers, delivering 37 and 39 miles per gallon respectively to Consumer Reports. (Both returned fuel economy of 32 mpg in our testing). Our upside-down system for quantifying fuel economy makes this sound worse than it is—2.56 to 2.7 gallons per 100 miles instead of 2.13—but it’s a big drop.

Ford has, understandably, centered its C-Max and Fusion hybrid advertising on the cars’ EPA numbers. Both are rated at 47 mpg across the board—city, highway, and combined. The plaintiffs argue that Ford oversimplifies the EPA numbers in its ads: They don’t say that these are EPA-based estimates, or describe the EPA’s testing procedure, or that drivers probably won’t see comparable numbers driving these cars in the real world. Altogether, the plaintiffs say, the high numbers in the advertising led them to buy C-Max and Fusion hybrids when they otherwise wouldn’t have, to pay more for them than if the fuel-economy numbers were more accurate. And they all say they’ve used more fuel than they were promised they would.

But what cars don’t exhibit a gap between EPA estimates and real-world performance? For everyone who says their Honda Civic beats the 40-mpg-highway EPA number, there are three more who haven’t broken 30 yet. So many factors affect how much fuel a car needs—tires, road surfaces, temperature, driving style, driving conditions, elevation and atmospheric pressure, grade of fuel, and break-in of the engine, to name a few—it’s extremely difficult to come up with a widely applicable mileage estimate. We assume that Ford, like most automakers, to a certain extent “games” the EPA tests—they ensure their cars can meet certain parameters of the test even if those don’t have the biggest impact on real-world fuel economy. That’s a problem with the EPA’s regimen though, not a particular car company. Altogether, these are strong reasons to scrap the EPA fuel-economy estimations altogether. Until then, if the C-Max hybrid or the Hyundai Sonata are indeed rated at 47 miles per gallon on the EPA test cycle, the companies should be allowed to say so.

Lawsuits for Everybody!

At the point where so many automakers advertise heavily their EPA-estimated fuel-economy numbers, they’re nearly all exposed to similar lawsuits. How similar? The firm representing Ford owners left behind a reference to Hyundai in the brief it filed last week, a vestigial hangover from when the firm used the same text in a suit against Hyundai earlier this year. Most lawyers reuse pieces of litigation briefs, especially the boilerplate you see above—it’s the norm and it’s considered ethical—but it underscores just how much overlap we’re seeing in suits against carmakers.

Instrumented Test: 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid Instrumented Test: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid Instrumented Test: 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5

One-hundred bucks was the cash payback for Honda owners included in a class-action suit settled last spring, who could also opt for a $1000 discount on a new Honda. (The plaintiffs’ attorneys scraped up $8 million in that settlement.) Typically, people who bought these cars see little more money. The benefit of class-action lawsuits in general, we hope, is that companies are punished for wrongdoing and deterred from taking advantage of people—particularly for amounts of money it’s otherwise not worthwhile to fight. There will definitely be some deterrent action as a result of this latest California Gold Rush of plaintiffs’ suits; perhaps carmakers will more-carefully word their advertising, or add stickers to showroom cars saying “You won’t match the EPA estimates.” But at the end of the day, we’ve got an EPA system that delivers unrealistic numbers, and an EPA that is on this topic almost impossible to sue.

 

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Retro Wheels on Modern Rides: Torq-Thrust, BBS Super RS, Fuchs, Minilite

Remastered Classics: Retro Wheels on Modern Rides

First came retro cars; now wheel companies are mining the past for legendary designs, too. Though these new rims may look just like their ancestors, they’ve grown in size over the years,  just as cars have. We chose four retro wheels and put them on what we deemed to be their modern automotive counterparts. The guy in these photos actually is from the ’70s. READ MORE ››

 

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Maserati Product Plans Through 2015, Proposed Price Points Appear Online

Maserati is in the midst of revamping its lineup and adding new models in order to become a full-line luxury automaker by 2015, and now the company’s plan for all of this has appeared online, first showing up at Carscoop. We already knew Maserati plans to augment its GranTurismo grand tourer and all-new 2014 Quattroporte flagship sedan with a smaller four-door (the Ghibli) and an SUV called the Levante, so what the leaked document does reveal is how this new lineup will come together. 

The image above appears to have be an internal Maserati presentation slide, much like recently leaked Alfa Romeo plans that made their way onto the interwebs. No specific timing for each model is given, but we know Maserati intends to add the Ghibli and Levante before 2015. (The company is hoping the new and redesigned models will bring global annual sales up to the 50,000-mark. What is shown on the slide is Maserati’s proposed price points for each new model in Euros—don’t worry, we’ll convert those figures to American for you. The Quattroporte sedan and GranTurismo lineup will span from just over $100,000 to close to $200,000, while the new Ghibli will occupy the space between $70,000 and $100,000. The Levante SUV will get a slightly wider—and higher—price spread between roughly $80,000 and $150,000.

Instrumented Test: 2011 Maserati GranTurismo Convertible First Drive: 2013 Maserati GranTurismo Sport Coupe and Convertible First Drive: 2013 Ferrari California

Not mentioned on this slide is the brand’s proposed small crossover, which presumably would occupy the space below the Ghibli in Maserati’s lineup. We don’t expect this compact SUV to arrive sooner than 2015, which would explain its absence from these product plans, which appear to cover Maserati’s product offensive between now and 2015.

 

Pinnacle Auto Appraisers is your Vehicle Appraisal Company - We believe in individuals and companies knowing the true worth, diminished value, and investment potential of their property.

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Free Review:

If you are looking to increase your insurance coverage on your vehicle, the insurance company may require you to obtain a certified auto appraisal.   If you have a custom car, truck or motorcycle, the insurance company won't pay you more than book value. Get a stated value appraisal to cover money spent customizing your vehicle.  Have a collector or exotic vehicle?  Book value does not justify the vehicle value  In case you are in an accident, have a certified auto appraisal done.  Contact us today for a Free Evaluation!

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FLEET VEHICLES:

Pinnacle Auto Appraisers prides itself on quickly handling large amounts of vehicles. We routinely handle fleets for: vans, trucking, limousine, shuttle, buses, SUV, corporate, taxi, dealership, clubs, rental, and delivery companies. We handle large national chains, small family businesses, and car club appraisal(s).

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Accident:

If you were involved in an accident and the insurance company deemed your vehicle a total loss, we can help.  If you don't agree with the insurance company's offer, you have the right to hire an independent certified appraiser to determine the actual cash value of your vehicle.  Our certified appraiser will go to the vehicle location, conduct the inspection and complete a certified total loss appraisal on your vehicle.  Total loss claims do require a negotiation phase which we will take care of for you at no additional charge!

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CAR CLUBS & REPAIR SHOPS:

Our Appraisers are repair shop and car club fanatics! We enjoy when local and national clubs invite us out to their local gatherings. We offer an appraisal discount that lasted all month. We love everything that has an engine and drives on the road. We do our best to help everyone in need of an appraisal!

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