The German broadcaster ZDF Digital created a 3D audio podcast for the Lufthansa inflight entertainment. For the spatialization, the team relied on dearVR PRO. In the following interview, Renée Abe, the sound engineer of this project, gives us insights into the production process and his experiences in the field of spatial audio.

Why a 3D audio podcast for Lufthansa?

Since 3D audio is the audio format of the future for us at ZDF Digital, we felt it would be more than appropriate to produce the podcast in 3D. Additionally, the story offered many great possibilities to create immersive scenes in which plenty happens in a 360-degree space around the listener. Forward thinking series like "Black Mirror" came up again and again in concept discussions and are the types of series we wanted to associate ourselves with. 

Can you describe the production process and how the workflow was structured?

The production process started with the recordings of the actors and voice over actors.The podcast label Viertausendhertz recorded some of the actors in a radio play studio in Berlin. They also wrote the scripts and were responsible for the overall production.

We really didn't want to go the conventional route and record everything in the studio. In order to make it sound as natural as possible and to make sure that the interactions between the actors didn’t seem staged, many of the scenes were recorded on location.

My colleague Marcus Fass did the onsite recordings. Every actor was equipped with lavalier microphones so they could move around freely. In addition, we recorded the atmosphere with the Sennheiser AMBEO VR microphone.

After that, we edited all the voice recordings. We also made a rough cut and set a rough timing for the scenes. Following this step the actual creative process began. My team, consisting of Tom Putsch and Marcus Fass, started building the virtual rooms and atmospheres for the individual scenes.

The AMBEO recordings were supplemented with further SFXs and atmospheric sound effects taken from our sound effect archives. In the meantime I was also composing the title music as well as adding more music to the individual scenes.

Renée Abe with his team in the studio

Every recorded voice, SFX, atmosphere and music track had the dearVR PRO spatializer plugin in its signal chain right from the beginning. This allowed us to quickly pre-position the sounds and experiment with dearVR PRO's reverb rooms before actually mixing them.

In the final mixing process, all sound objects were precisely positioned with dearVR PRO, automated and then finally, reverb rooms were meticulously programmed. We produced everything in 3rd order Ambisonics to have the largest variety of options as well as the best audio resolution at the reproduction stage.

Is it even possible to listen to 3D audio with regular headphones? Will you be able to listen to the podcast on the plane?

The great thing about 3D audio is the fact that a binaural 3D audio mix can be listened to using any standard headphone on any streaming platform. To distribute our production on streaming providers like Spotify, Deezer and Soundcloud, we rendered the Ambisonics mix binaural at the end using the freeware plugin dearVR AMBI MICRO.dearVR Ambi Micro available for freeOur podcast “Backup" will be available from November on, in the Inflight Entertainment of Lufthansa, Austrian and Swiss Airlines as well as on Spotify.

Can you tell us more about the storyline of “Backup”?

"Backup" is about a woman called Klara, who loses all her memories in a car accident. She then tries to find her way back into her life in order to uncover her true identity. She is accompanied by Max an AI robot and her father. These two characters come into conflict throughout the whole story resulting in dialogue that embodies the major themes of the podcast itself. Both characters want to push Klara towards their own view of who they think Klara really is. "Backup" takes place in a globalized world, which is characterized by hypermobility. Due to the development of the transportation infrastructure, geographical distances no longer play a significant role in daily life. Everybody has the freedom to live wherever they want: Living in New York while working in Hamburg - anything is possible. In this world, technological progress can be experienced in a fascinatingly new way.

Who played the voices of the characters?

The actress Marleen Lohse voices the role of Klara. Nico Sablik is the dubbing actor for Daniel Radcliffe and Chris Pine. Andrew Garfield is the voice of Max, the AI in Klara's ear. Mia is voiced by actress Barbara Stollhans and William Cohn voices Klara's father Tom. Isaak Dentler and Marti Fischer voice other supporting characters.

What is the difference between a 3D audio production and a stereo production? What were the specific technical challenges?

The key challenge was the question of how to use the dearVR PRO spatializer plugin in order to enhance the auditive perception of the content. A practical questions was: How do we illustrate that Max, the AI in Klara's ear, can only be heard by her? What is the position of the audience?

From a technical perspective there weren't that many problems. Also, the technical differences between a 3D audio and a stereo production weren’t that drastic and also not much more time-consuming. Everything prior to the point of the final positioning of the objects in the room could be compared to a traditional stereo production.

Renée Abe mixing directly in VR with dearVR Spatial Connect

The only factor that led to an increase in production time was the range of new creative possibilities which 3D audio offers in post-production. You aren't restricted to sound movements in the stereo panorama and in the depth of the stage. You have the whole 360° space to bring stories alive and to give the listener the feeling that he or she is a part of the story.

The really amazing user interface of dearVR SPATIAL CONNECT as well as the truly realistic sounding reverb simulations of dearVR PRO are a game changer that enable us to mix 3D audio productions quickly and intuitively with a quality that stands above anything of its kind.

Do you have any further spatial audio projects with ZDF Digital?

In addition to the 360° video and VR productions, we are currently developing and producing further podcasts and radio play formats in 3D audio. We are also working on 3D audio mixes and the possibilities of upmixing existing documentaries that are otherwise only available as a 5.1 mix or as a stereo mix. Music mixes in 3D audio are also an important and exciting area for us. In general, we are trying to advance the topic of 3D audio. We are moving more and more away from the classic channel-based mixing to object-based mixing as well as establishing new workflows.

There is still so much more education that needs to be done on the whole topic of immersive audio and we need to show key decision makers the benefits of 3D audio. But we are in good spirits, everyone who listens to a good production on 3D audio for the first time immediately recognizes its advantages and possibilities. Also, the upcoming audio format MPEG-H will pave new possibilities for immersive audio productions and hopefully will trigger a rethinking of traditional production workflows.

Learn more about dearVR PROView of Renée Abes workspace