Case Study: Mr. Robot - K3rnel Pan1c

Case Study: Mr. Robot - K3rnel Pan1c

Introduction

In this case study I'll be analysing a scene from the episode "K3rnel Pan1c" from the show Mr Robot, which is a show based around the character Elliott (Rami Malik) - a cyber vigilante that suffers from social anxiety disorder and clinical depression - who has an alternate personality known as Mr Robot. The aim of performing this case study is to extend my knowledge of mixing film audio. I will be analysing the dialogue, music and effects separately to determine how they were created and processed; how they interact with the video image; and also how they interact with each other.


 

The Scene

The main subject within this scene is that of Elliott attempting to rid himself of Mr Robot by taking copious amounts of Adderall. His theory is that, since Mr Robot only takes over him at night, if he can keep himself awake then Mr Robot won't have an opportunity to reveal himself. Throughout most of the scene it appears that his plan has worked and he feels elated. However, after five days without sleep, his joy begins to deflate as he realises that he can't keep himself awake forever and that his plan will soon fail.


Dialogue

This scene only features three dialogue tracks: that of Elliott; Elliott's voice over; and Elliott's friend Leon (Joey Badass). The first thing to note is the difference between Elliott's two tracks as it is the same actor and same character but sound very different from each other. Clearly the voice over is recorded with the actor within close proximity of the mic, which is defined by the presence of lower frequencies of the voice as opposed to the diegetic dialogue track. The dialogue track sounds distant and in a much higher register. Also the actor projects his voice more whereas the voiceover is spoken very calmly and quietly.

It is possible that Elliott's dialogue was recorded as ADR rather than location sound. If they needed the actor to record a voice over, why not get him to redo the entire thing? The reasons I believe that the dialogue is ADR is mostly because of the locations where the dialogue is spoken: inside a busy restaurant; outside on a basketball court, next to a street. I noticed in a scene from a previous episode - also set in a restaurant - that there is a little room tone that exists whenever Elliot speaks (suggesting location sound), which is not present in K3rnel Pan1c.

It's important to also note that there is a definite hierarchical order to the different dialogue and effects tracks. This hierarchy is in the order of:

  1. Elliott's voice over
  2. Elliott's dialogue
  3. Leon's dialogue
  4. Key foley/FX
  5. Other foley/FX
  6. Music

This order is made plain by the tracks lower in the order being ducked whenever a track of the order above is playing. At first I assumed that this was done through the use of side chain compression. However, I changed my mind when I realised that there are sections during Elliott's voice over in where the music track ducks below that of the voice over, but does not release during small breaks in between sentences, and it is unlikely that a side chained compressor's release would be set for so long. This is evident at 00:35. The key foley/FX refers to effects that are embellished and play 'in front' of everything else, such as the sound when taking the pills at 01:31 and the sound when ascending the stairs at 00:39.


Music

The music within this scene is a definite mood setter for the audience. Although it plays mostly in the background, it is a strong accompaniment to the visuals. It starts out as bright and cheerful but is run through a mild flanger. This is most likely to mirror the usual fogginess of the character's mind. The flanger is then lifted after the character explains why he's happy, while at the same time distorted guitar and percussion is added to give the music more power, showing how happy the character really is.

The music drops out at the same moment of Elliott's sudden realisation that his plan is about to fail (02:05) and is replaced with nonrhythmic ominous tones to mirror his dread in defeat. A high synth slowly builds in and is eventually replaced with a sine wave (around 1kHz) at 03:31. This is to disorient and cloud the mind of the audience in order to relate to Elliott's current frame of mind. At 03:43 everything stops and slowly builds back in again to signify the start of a new, but not pleasant, day.


Effects

There is a fine line between what could be classed as diegetic and non-diegetic foley & effects in this scene. Many effects are designed to be the diegetic sound for the visual action while others are meant to accompany a visual action (such as the computer sound as Elliott is ascending the stairs) yet are embellished beyond the point of realism. Of course, these could be classed as internal-diegetic sound, which is explained by Wagner as:

" Sound coming from the mind of a character (an interior monologue of the character's inner thoughts) that we can hear but the other characters cannot. Internal-diegetic sound can also refer to distortions of sound heard by a character that reflect that character's state of mind." (2016).
 Slam dunk (01:44)

Slam dunk (01:44)

There are several actions that are accompanied by what I would categorise to be internal-diegetic sound due to their embellishment and also considering the premise of the scene is a transformation within Elliot's mind. An example of this is the slam dunk (01:44). In order to accent this action they added a chain rattling sound despite that the basketball net is clearly nylon. 

 Turning up the volume (00:39)

Turning up the volume (00:39)

What's important about these sounds is the way that they assist the visuals. The chain is added to the slam dunk because Elliott is finally enjoying the game and the chain sound makes it seem more exciting, as opposed to silence of nylon. The sound as he's ascending the stairs is similar to that of the volume buttons on a Mac computer. The sound to the visual that pops up when adjusting the volume on a Mac. The two work together to represent the volume in Elliot's mind being turned up, which ramps up the audience's excitement.

While on the subject of effects I should talk about sound field as it's the effects that are generally shuffled around the sound field. In the case of this scene though, there isn't much moving around at all. The dialogue is always in (as is the norm). The music and atmos are spread around the sound field quite evenly as they are intended to stay in the background. Even the effects, for the most part, stay in the center. The one exception is at 00:36 where the shuffling of the basketball players is panned off to the far left. In this section, as the camera zooms in on Elliott, the court can be seen on stage left but as Elliott is looking stage right the shuffling is panned to that side to sound as though it's coming from behind the audience's left shoulder. It would appear that most effects are centered is due to them being visually centered or they are, at that moment, as important as dialogue.


References

Dance Cory. (2016, November 28). Mr. Robot - Kernel Panic [video file]. Retrieved February 24th from, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2m2Oh0Qe-g

Wagner, S. (2016). Internal Diegetic Sound Film. Retrieved March 1st, from http://www.jukolart.us/narrative-film-technique/sound.html

chris g. (2015, August 27). Mr. Robot - Season 1 - eps1.0_hellofriend.mov [video file]. Retrieved February 24th from, https://vimeo.com/137542719