Photo: Sound designer and recordist Charles Maynes with the Sanken CSS-5 stereo shotgun microphone.
Sound designer and recordist Charles Maynes has created startling sound effects for such films as Spiderman, Tomb Raider, Starship Troopers, and The Alamo, to name a few. His microphone of choice for this type of work is the Sanken CSS-5 stereo shotgun microphone. Developed by Sanken in conjunction with NHK, the revolutionary 5-capsule design offers sharp shotgun directivity in the mono mode, precise stereo localization in the stereo mode, and expanded 140° stereo in the wide mode, ideal for cinematic ambience and sound effects.
“I don’t know how Sanken did it, but this mic is the best all-around mic for what I do,” Maynes remarks. “I record a lot of guns and explosions and the CSS-5 can definitely take a really high energy signal, a dynamic range in excess of 140dB. But it is also terrific for recording soft backgrounds. In the stereo mode, or the wide stereo, it has a lot of output, so you an avoid the hiss you would get from having to bump pre-amps up to capture low level detail.”
To create the sound of bullets for such films as The Alamo, and the upcoming The Great Raid, Maynes explains, “I made an interesting discovery. If you use a wrist rocket slingshot and shoot pennies past the Sanken mic, it makes a sound that is repeatable and creates the image of a really tantalizing bullet going by. I recently switched to 96K-24 bit field recording and the CSS-5 performance is exceptional for hi-resolution work.”
Unlike conventional approaches, the CSS-5 is especially effective in the 400Hz to 3kHz range, which largely contributes to stereophonic perception. To create the web sounds for Spiderman, Maynes took the CSS-5 to a remote area near the Angeles National Forest where he has found near natural silence. “I set the Sanken up on a stand and then swung objects around the mic which were suspended from fishing poles and ropes. I recorded tennis balls, baseballs, etc. going at high speeds whooshing past the mic and it worked perfectly for the web sounds in the film.”
Maynes emphasizes the rugged durability of the Sanken mic when compared with others commonly used for film work which he has found to be fragile in the field. “After the filming finished on The Alamo, the special effects unit had 300 pounds of black power that had to be disposed of. The producers flew us out to the location to record the gunpowder being detonated. I had the Sanken mic within 50 feet of ten pounds of high explosives and it took it all in – spectacular.”
The Sanken CSS-5 has also been used extensively by Maynes to record sound effects for libraries produced by The Hollywood Edge and Sound Ideas. “This microphone has proven itself again and again,” he concludes. “It is my first mic in almost every situation.”