Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

The video here and the other contents on this page give a glimpse behind the scenes of the production of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. Here you can see some of the faces behind the voices of Dark Adventure, and get a feel for the prep that goes into the performances. Our thanks go to sound engineer Chris Horvath, who worked on several episodes, for suggesting that we shoot some "making-of" footage. Below you'll learn about the talented musicians who score each episode, and get to hear some cues without all the drama laid over them. And you'll learn what indefatigable HPLHS illustrator Darrell Tutchton puts up with when he provides cover art.

A Radio Show with Props?

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre episodes can be enjoyed completely as a purely auditory experience, but the bonus prop items included with each CD take the entertainment to a new level. Props are magical items: as the physical relics of an imaginary experience, they exist in at least two dimensions simultaneously.

Including prop documents allows us to expand DART storytelling by adding new information, richer insight, historical and cultural context, and offering visual, tactile, and sometimes even olfactory sensations to stir the listener's imagination more deeply. When you hold in your hand the very newspaper clipping or diary page

or photograph that the characters in the show are talking about, you are transported into their world and become a part of the story itself. And the props can be the jumping-off point for listeners to create stories of their own. Perhaps you'll notice a detail in that page from the Necronomicon that the characters in the story overlooked....

Props Out of Time

Producing the prop documents can take quite a bit of work. Sometimes we even stage photographs by first building scenic miniatures to take pictures of, which makes them props within props. Every episode is different, but each one includes a newspaper clipping. For The Shadow Out of Time, for example, there is a clipping from the Arkham Advertiser with a story about Nathaniel Peaslee's first collapse: an iconic moment in Lovecraftian fiction. Like all our clippings, it is printed like a real newspaper on a web offset press. Peaslee writes numerous articles about his dreams which are published in medical journals, and such an article seemed like an excellent candidate for another prop document, since it would provide an opportunity to provide a picture of his nightmare city and Yithian writing. It's printed on glossy magazine paper. A vintage shore-to-ship telegram seemed like another good candidate, and the Marconigram we included is based on a real vintage Australian steamship company telegram. It is printed and die-cut on yellow paper, then each one is carefully folded by hand and sealed shut with a stamp. Finally, a page torn from an ancient occult tome: Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten, one of the many books that Peaslee consults when trying to figure out what happened to him during the period of his amnesia. After doing our research into what's known about that terrible book, we wrote the text for the page in English, and then handed it over to Peter Lang, a friend of the HPLHS who lives in Germany, for translation. Peter also consulted with us about the old-fashioned German blackletter typography needed to prepare the final prop, which is printed on a gray book paper with a laid finish, to feel as much as possible like the real thing. When the accursed page was finished, we then retranslated it back into English, badly, for the alternate English-language bonus versions of the prop that are available as website PDF downloads. For these bonus props, we needed to create a replica of the letterhead of the University of Uppsala as it looked in the 1930s. We turned to our many Scandinavian friends for help, and they came through with abundant research images. We'd like to thank David Munro, Björn Flink, Johan Forsberg, Peder Fredland Fuchs, Peter Möller, and Björn Lindström for all their assistance.

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre

Cast & Crew

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre would be nothing without the talents of these incredible, accomplished people. Go visit their links and follow their exploits!

Anatomy of a DART Cover

Creating the cover art and illustrations for Dark Adventure episodes is a collaborative process, involving traditional painting techniques and digital enhancement. To begin, producers Sean Branney and Andrew Leman will bat around ideas with HPLHS artist Darrell Tutchton, discussing what images best encapsulate the story.
For "The Shadow Out of Time", Darrell illustrated the climactic scene in which Peaslee is fleeing from the nightmare Yithian city in the Australian desert. The cover of a CD jewel case is 4.75 inches square, but when you open the folder you get a panorama that is twice as wide as it is high. Working in traditional mixed media, usually ink and watercolor, Darrell does original paintings at a size of 11 x 14, one for each side of the image, that are to be joined digitally by Andrew to create the full panorama.

Shown below is an example of the process of going from original paintings to finished cover art.

  • darkblurbg
    Anatomy of a DART Cover
    Darrell Tutchton's original cover painting
    of Peaslee fleeing Pnakotus.
    Intended for the right side of the panorama,
    the cover of the CD.
  • darkblurbg
    Original painting of one of two options for the left side of
    the panorama: a Yithian silhouetted against a full moon.
  • darkblurbg
    The second Yithian option, this time without a moon in the sky.
    We agreed that the one with the moon was better...
  • darkblurbg
    ...but when we tried to join it to the other side of the image, the results
    were not entirely satisfactory. The ruins don't look quite right.
  • darkblurbg
    So we used the Yithian without the moon and got a better blend of the landscape.
    But the other Yithian was more menacing, and we really missed that moon....
  • darkblurbg
    ...so we surgically removed the head and right tentacle from the moon-Yithian and
    attached it to the body of the other one, and added a new moon into that landscape.
  • darkblurbg
    The picture still needed some more hints of Yithian architecture,
    so Darrell painted a Dream Pnakotus in isolation...
  • darkblurbg
    ...and he painted some miscellaneous bits of rubble and ruin.
  • darkblurbg
    Andrew digitally added these new elements to the composition, adjusting
    the shadows slightly so they seem to be cast by the light of that full moon....
  • darkblurbg
    To add one more touch of drama on the right side, Darrell painted
    some isolated bits of Flying Polyp to emerge from the pit next to Peaslee....
  • darkblurbg
    ...and Andrew added them to the composition,
    leaving out the great big eye...
  • darkblurbg
    Then Sean pointed out that the lighting on Peaslee seemed to be coming from the wrong direction.
    So Andrew made that adjustment digitally, and added the title graphic for a completed cover.

Music and Sound Effects

Every episode of Dark Adventure features an original musical score, and it is the heartbeat of the show. We are lucky to have extremely talented composers who are also fervent Lovecraft fans, Troy Sterling Nies and Reber Clark. Troy composed the Dark Adventure theme which begins every episode, but after that every episode features its own musical challenges. Some scores include relatively long atmospheric background music, while others rely more on short transitional cues. Both are crucial to shaping the emotional experience of the show. Composing music takes time, and our artists are often working from a rough and incomplete edit of the episode. They compose music to fit, only to have it cut down or lengthened when the timing of the dialogue is later changed. Although much of the music is performed on virtual instruments, we also record real instruments from time to time. To capture an Australian feel for "The Shadow Out of Time", Troy employed an authentic didgeridoo, which he played himself. For the Miskatonic Fight Song that appears in "Herbert West—Reanimator", Reber Clark prepared chorus parts which were sung separately and then layered together to create a stadium full of rowdy college sports fans.

Since the music in the show is almost always edited or at least partially obscured by dialogue and sound effects, we are pleased to offer some of the original cues as Troy and Reber wrote them for your listening pleasure.

Troy and Digeridoo

Troy, a former paramedic/EMT, uses his time between ambulance calls experimenting with the didgeridoo for the score of "The Shadow Out of Time".

Troy and Storm Footsteps

Troy and his son Storm recorded foley footsteps in the ambulance garage in Killdeer, North Dakota.

Sound Effects

The HPLHS has built up an extensive sound effects library over the years, inheriting collections from David Robertson and Kevin McTurk along the way. But even with all these recordings at our disposal, sometimes we have to record custom sound effects for Dark Adventure. Troy and his son Storm trudged through endless North Dakota snowbanks in order to capture sounds for "At the Mountains of Madness". Along the way they heard spooky goings-on at frozen Lake Ilo.

And Sean Branney has been known to buy roasted chickens from the local grocery store, then hang a microphone over them and tear them to pieces in order to capture the sound of mangled/reanimated corpses....

Troy and Storm Winter

In the unending quest for audio realism and authenticity, Troy and Storm brave the North Dakota winter to capture the sound of intrepid men trudging through snow for "At the Mountains of Madness"

The Production Process: Pre-Production

Writing

Adapting Lovecraft dramatically is a tricky deal; many of his stories are have great dramatic potential, but as HPL wrote them they're not well suited to formats like movies and radio plays. We always endeavor to keep as much Lovecraft as we can in our Lovecraftian adaptations. If we get too far away from Howard, we'll lose the quality about that writing that attracts fans in the first place.

To bring drama to a Lovecraft story often involves the process of externalizing. Many of HPL's stories are about characters going through intense mental events. Often documents, letters, and diaries play an important part in the story, but listeners don't want to hear a guy reading his mail or writing his will; they want stories where thing happen. So, we take liberties with some of the stories to make things as active and dramatic as we can. For example, in the script for "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" we have Olmstead (the narrator) being intereviewed by a federal agent who is pursuing an agenda of his own that becomes clear over the course of the episode.

We add characters as needed and often bring to life scenes which might be only referred to in passing in the story. For example in "The Shadow Out of Time" Peaslee describes his family as being frightened of his post-amnesia personality. We wrote scenes wherein the family actually talks with Peaslee as he's waking up. We experience it with them rather than just having him tell us what happened.

Last, we have to work within the confines of the form. Most classic radio dramas of the 1920s and '30s were 30 minutes to an hour in length. We allow ourselves to go a little longer, but a CD only holds about 80 minutes of audio, so most episodes are between 70 and 80 minutes. Because a page of script equates to about a minute of the show, most scripts are under 80 pages.

Re-writing

So once somebody coughs up a first draft of a script (often Branney) he turns it over to the other guy (often Leman) to have a go at it. The second writer will bring ideas of his own, clarify the murky, cut the extraneous, and overall do his best to make the script better. We'll pass a script back and forth a couple of times and usually by the 4th or 5th draft we have something of the right length that we both think will make a good show.

Auditions & Casting

We're very privileged to count a large number of professional Los Angeles actors among our friends. Sean and his wife Leslie run Theatre Banshee, a small professional theatre in Burbank, California. As a result we regularly cross paths with many very talented actors who work regularly in film, television and on stage. And both Leman and Branney are classically trained actors with MFAs in theatre. But to get the right cast and to give everyone a chance, we usually hold auditions. We regularly bring in new people because, (a) someone we meet might be just right for a role (not just anyone can be Wilbur Whateley) or (b) because a role requires something beyond the grasp of our usual gang. Once we figure out who we want, we call them up and ask them if they want the job.

The Bub-L-Pep Jingle

Unlike other DART music, the tune for Bub-L-Pep was written by Andrew Leman, then orchestrated and substantially improved by Harald Lindell and his wife Kathleen Demarest. Here is some behind the scenes clips of that process. First Andrew sings the basic tune. Next you hear what Hal and Kathy, real musicians, did with it.

The Production Process: Production & Post

Recording Dialogue

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre has been recorded in a variety of studios. The first two episodes were recorded in the dressing rooms of The Banshee theatre in Burbank. Several episodes were recorded at the Cactus Tree Motel studio in Venice, CA, and engineered by our good friend Chris Horvath of Jamnation Music. More recent episodes have been recorded at the Jungle Room recording studio in Burbank, and engineered by Julian Beeston. Announcer Josh Thoemke records all of his lines in Utah, where he lives.

In order to make the most efficient use of studio time and actor availability, we try to record multiple episodes at the same time. That leads to strange recording sessions in which actors switch between parts and record scenes from different shows completely out of order. It can be rather confusing for cast and crew alike.

Editing

Once all the dialogue is recorded, the arduous process of editing begins. For most episodes we've got roughly six hours of recordings, chopped up into hundreds of pieces comprising about 4.5Gb of audio files. The first pass through it all is what we call the assembly edit. We take the recordings, find the best performances and put them into the right order.

Sound Effects

Once the show has been assembled into the right sequence and all the best takes have been selected, we go back through the show to add in sound effects. We select them from our own libraries, record them ourselves, or license them from online sources. As we insert the sound effects, we also clean up the edits, set the levels of volume on the different tracks, adjust the panning (what sounds come in the right and left stereo channels). We also use the computer to create different acoustic spaces (e.g. a lecture hall or a ship's radio room).

It's All in the Timing

A replicated CD needs to be 78 minutes or less for reliable replication. As we finalize the edit with music and sound effects, mixing and dynamics, we sometimes discover that the show is just too long. When every pause that can be shortened or eliminated has been handled, then comes the tough decisions about cutting lines or even whole scenes from the show in order to make sure the finished show can fit on a disc. Although it can be painful, the show is always better for it.

Audio Complete

So once we get all of the pieces together, we mix the show and test it out on a bunch of different speaker systems (cars, ipods, households, theater speakers, etc...). We do a little last minute tweaking and finally proclaim it done. Then we take the final pure audio and apply the Mythophone effect to it. That gives the show a tinny old-time-radio quality at the beginning and the end; we lessen the effect during the middle of the show so it sounds good. Once that's done, we finally output the audio, burn a master CD and send the CD and the cover art off to our replication facility. They'll make a glass master and press our CDs for us and print the artwork on the disc surface.

Assembling

When the CDs come back from the replicator and all the printed pieces are in hand, it's time to stuff jewel cases. Because the prop inserts come in a variety of nonstandard shapes and sizes, some with torn edges and special folds and seals, each jewel case must be stuffed by hand. The Shipping Shoggoths laboriously prepare each prop insert and assemble each package, risking both sanity and carpal tunnels. Each jewel case is sealed and then shrink wrapped by hand.