We caught up with Robin Moore, Head of Innovation at BBC Wales, about the Doctor Who: 3D sound special
Can you sum up the pilot for us?
We’ve created a binaural headphone mix for ‘Knock Knock’, an episode from the latest series of Doctor Who, and made it available to watch (and listen to) on BBC iPlayer. Aimed at the sizeable audience who watch on-demand on a tablet or mobile, it gives viewers a much more natural, 3-dimensional listening experience - like having a surround sound system in your headphones.
How was it made?
We’ve been working with the Audio team in BBC Research and Development, who have developed an experimental production process that can take the various dialogue, music and sound effects that make up a traditional mix and position them in 3D around the listener. It then ‘binauralises’ the sounds to create a more natural representation of each sound’s direction and how they fill the space around you.
We think this technology particular suits drama, and Doctor Who Executive Producer, Brian Minchin, picked out this episode, with its creaky floorboards and mysterious sounds in the walls, as a particularly good fit for us.
A lot of work already goes into the sound for Doctor Who, to make sure you feel immersed in each episode, and we had to fit in with their busy schedule. My colleague, Audio Supervisor, Catherine Robinson arranged to temporarily set up this new production process in one of the Doctor Who dubbing studios, so that Dubbing Mixer, Darran Clement, could work directly on the mix he had just finished for the episode.
With many hundreds of sounds mixed together to create each episode, it was important to remix alongside the usual mix and on the same equipment.
This enhanced version then went through the usual revisions and sign-off with the Executive Producer, and was handed over to the Digital Drama team, based in BBC Wales, to deliver this extra episode to iPlayer and create supporting content and publicity.
Any challenges and what were the solutions?
This was not a run-of-the-mill delivery to BBC iPlayer. This version of the episode is not being broadcast on TV, so can’t go through the same iPlayer capture process as the rest of the series, and it required the best quality audio transcoding. Also, putting multiple versions of the same programme on BBC iPlayer could have been confusing for viewers, so we needed to come up with a way to clearly ‘sign-post’ which version requires headphones.
The BBC iPlayer team helped us deliver the programme directly for bespoke transcoding, and came up with a way of structuring the programme information so, hopefully, it is clear to the audience which version is which. Then the Digital Drama team created the 'pre-roll' video to explain to viewers what to expect and that they need their headphones on and the correct way around!
What are you hoping to learn from the pilot?
This pilot was partly to learn how we could produce a ’binaural’ episode alongside our usual production process, but that would be pointless if the audience who listen on headphones don’t appreciate the enhancement and feel more immersed in the story. Hopefully they will rate and share the experience to help us gauge whether the extra work is worthwhile.