Post-production finishing for the first season of the Paramount+ drama Wolf Pack was recently completed at Pace Pictures, Hollywood. The full-service post house provided sound and picture services for the series, written and executive produced by Jeff Davis, including sound editorial, automatic dialogue replacement, sound mixing, color grading, and editorial finishing.
Supervising sound editor Jan Bezouska and dialogue supervisor Taylor Westerfield led the sound team, while Jason Knutzen served as colorist and on-line editor. Heath Ryan was post-production supervisor.
Based on the book series by Edo Van Belkom, Wolf Pack follows a teenage boy and girl whose lives are changed forever when a California wildfire awakens a terrifying supernatural creature. The series stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rodrigo Santoro, Armani Jackson, Bella Shepard, Chloe Rose Robertson, and Tyler Lawrence Gray. The Wrap recently ranked Wolf Pack among its top “breakout shows” of the year.
Wolf Pack’s dark, paranormal plot and thrilling action are supported throughout by inventive sound treatments and a distinctive color palette. “Our aim was to do something different,” says Davis. “We wanted to distinguish ourselves from other genre shows, and especially young adult shows, by giving Wolf Pack a layered sound design and a uniquely cinematic look. It’s still stylized but the show feels more real, more adult.”
Working under Davis’s supervision, Bezouska, Westerfield and their team began building sound treatments more than two months prior to the series’ debut. “I wrote the scripts with sound design always in mind,” recalls Davis. “I asked the sound designers to go for it. Get creative. Do whatever inspires you and don’t worry too much about tethering it to reality. The result is that Wolf Pack has more sound design in a single episode than most shows use in an entire season.”
Bezouska observes that it was great to be part of the series from its beginning with the opportunity to establish its signature sounds.
“The show features high school kids with superpowers, werewolves and a terrifying creature of unknown origin,” he notes. “We had the chance to create sounds that serve as leitmotifs for individual characters and will be part of the series throughout its run.”
The sound team devoted special attention to the show’s werewolves and the shadowy CGI creature that is its main antagonist. “We avoided using library sounds and other pre-existing materials because we wanted our werewolves to sound unique,” Bezouska notes. “They needed a human quality because, while monstrous creatures, they have human souls.”
To accomplish that, Bezouska and Westerfield brought in the show’s cast for ADR sessions and recorded them making animal sounds with their voices. They then used a variety of post-production sound techniques to give those sounds wolf-like qualities. “If the werewolf was acting aggressively, we’d ask the actor to growl to match that performance,” Westerfield explains. “Their voices gave it energy, aggression and spontaneity, and we liked that.”
Westerfield points to a scene in the show’s first episode where a werewolf is involved in a fight. “As we played the scene back, the actor grunted, snorted and roared,” he recalls. “It was challenging at first, but after a few takes, he really got into it. We used various processing techniques to make his vocalizations deeper and more menacing. The results were fantastic.”
Sound processing was applied sparingly to retain the ADR recordings organic quality. “We used processors to bring it down into lower registers and dig out the animal,” Bezouska says. “Then, as a finishing touch, we employed two plugins, Reformer and Dehumanizer, from the British company Krotos. They make it possible to morph voices into any kind of animal—an elephant, a tiger or a wolf.”
The human quality underlying the snarling werewolves ultimately makes the creatures sound more frightening. “The young characters who turn into werewolves are becoming something they don’t want to be,” Bezouska observes. “The sound design reflects that conflict. The human that doesn’t want to become a monster. It’s way more interesting than a traditional werewolf sound.”
Like sound, color was central to Davis’ vision for Wolf Pack. “A lot of series today go with muted colors, very little contrast and shadows that aren’t so deep,” he explains. “I wanted a bit more variety. Horror shows live in the shadows, but we also have moments where the colors pop. The contrast works amazingly well.”
Knutzen assists series cinematographers David Daniel and Rich Paisley with look development from the start of production. “Although the production was based in Atlanta, we were constant communication, reviewing dailies and talking about looks,” Knutzen recalls. “We developed a kind of shorthand in talking about color that continued through post.”
Knutzen says that Wolf Pack is more nuanced than most shows of its genre. Subtle variations in color mirror twists in the story and signal emotional shifts. “We’re in many different places, at different times of day,” he relates. “We used color to create a road map to help viewers track these characters and everything they are going through. We used it to reinforce the storytelling.”
He cites a scene from the first episode where a school bus is threatened by a fast-spreading wildfire. “As the fire progresses and moves nearer to the kids on the bus, the scene grows darker,” he notes. “Everything becomes warmer. Reds and oranges take over the color palette, adding to the drama and suspense. There was natural smoke in the scene, and we brought that out more to accentuate the feeling of imminent threat.”
Davis says the color treatment adds to the drama. “It’s exactly how I saw the scene when I wrote the script,” he recalls. “When your cinematographer, colorist and other members of the post team bring an image to life just as you imagined it—or even better—that’s a dream for a writer.”
Knutzen remained in regular contact with Daniel and Paisley as they reviewed graded material remotely. Color sessions were supervised in person by series executive producer Christian Taylor and post-production supervisor Jan Kikumoto. “It was a team effort,” says Knutzen. “Despite being across the country from the DPs, the process was smooth and easy. We were able to achieve the looks they wanted and push them further.”
Davis says that it was a welcome convenience to finish picture and sound at the same facility, but he was even happier by the commitment of the Pace team. “I love Pace Pictures because they're not just superb technicians, but true artists,” he states. “They didn't see their role as simply to make the look consistent and add background sound. They approached each episode with an incredible level of skill and creativity, adding both scope and subtlety to our show.”
Pace Pictures provided a similar package of post services for the Paramount+ original feature Teen Wolf: The Movie, based on the hit series of the same name. The film is also written, and executive produced by Jeff Davis and directed by Russell Mulcahy. Bezouska, Westerfield and Knutzen served in the same roles on that project.
“Our job was to make the sound robust, dense, epic,” says Bezouska. “The challenge was to maintain the style of the television show to satisfy its diehard fans, while moving it into a bigger, cinematic world.”
Pace Pictures http://www.pacepictures.com