About Rob Nokes

My career started in 1987 in my hometown, Winnipeg, Canada. Just before I turned 17 I got a job as a cameraman and TV Switcher for the local racetrack network. Following a couple of years of doing that, I went to a school called OIART on a whim and by 1990 I was in Toronto working at a studio called Masters Workshop. I also had a brief stint at a company called ISTS in which we set up infrared translation systems for business meetings and what not. Working there I found that, even though I was doing well financially, I didn't find it interesting and had no passion for that business, so I took the job at Masters Workshop from a guy named Jim Frank. I immediately fell in love with being in the studio and spent many nights and long hours working. I was a 20 year old kid learning from really good engineers like Mark Wright and many others who worked there.

One day I was assisting in an ADR session for a guy named Rick Ellis and they were doing the movie "Scanners 2" where heads were blowing up and exploding, I thought the sound effects were really cool. So I went over to the SFX editor (Dan Sexton) and he had all these synthesizers and equipments and I watched him create sounds, I found it to be fascinating. This discovery came at the right time, since I originally had the idea to be a music producer, but the music I was doing was more like SFX than actual ambient surround type of music for films. So SFX fulfilled my artistic needs and at the same time turned into a career for which I'm thankful.

Later on, my interest in SFX was solidified while working for IMAX. At Masters Workshop, while working as an ADR assistant, I was given the task that required me to modify a computer set up that a superior had created, in order to fulfill the functions and needs of the ADR department. At that time (1990) not many people knew much about computers. Fortunately, I had enough of the knowledge to work on the computer, but I also had enough fear of that superior in the company not to mess with his set up. My approach was to repeatedly ask him to work with me to fulfill the functions that were necessary...and at the end of my show, he ended up having me terminated. Jim Frank was really kind and said "this is the best thing that ever happened to you, even if u can't see it now". He felt my enthusiasm and energy would be better served elsewhere but for me it didn't seem like he was right at the time.

Sure enough he was right, and a couple of weeks later I was working for a gentleman by the name of Peter Thillaye, who is well known in Canada for making lots of the IMAX movies. Working with Peter was very exciting for me. For the movie "Green Contract" we went out an hour and a half east of Toronto and we're in the wilderness emulating gorilla's SFX. I also logged all the DATS for "Green Contract" for him. They were recordings from Guatemala, Costa Rica, the Amazon River, lots of recordings of the rainforest which were incredible to hear. So working for Peter was very inspiring. I worked for him for 4 or 5 movies and then I started getting job after job and would have 4 or 5 offers at the time.

Later on, I was working for Greg King for Sounddogs Toronto and we had a really good sense of team and purpose, functions and goals. We had a lot of drive that propelled us to a lot of success. At the time we were very young and the over enthusiasm sometimes got in the way. Then we moved to LA, at the age of 25, and by that time we had done pretty well for ourselves in our careers.


I've had the privilege to meet great people who have inspired and encouraged me in the early days. One of these people is Joe Cirillo, a guy I worked for at Winnipeg racetrack's TV station. He was really talented and smart and encouraged me to work with the cameras and even loaned me the studio to shoot a music video when I was 17. That was a great experience, I got to use a lot of material that many 17 year old kids did not have access to at the time.

At Masters Workshop, all the engineers were great: Mark Wright, Steve Foster, Rick Ellis, Tim Archer, Jim Frank, Yuri Gorbachow, Dan Sexton among others. I found that because I wanted to help out so much and do so much, lots of the guys there took me under their wing and took their time to teach me and show me things. If I had been less involved, then people maybe would not have taken the time. Working like that was really a great experience because certainly some people gave more than they had to.

John Hazen was another mentor I had. At the time he was more of a technical guy than an artistic guy, he had a really good handle on technology which in 1990 was quite rare. John also had microphones and would loan them to me so I could go out and record, he had lots of good advice, a great guy. Also Peter Thillaye, who I mentioned before, was one of the best sound effects influences I've had. He was a "come as you are" type of guy, wearing a t-shirt and jeans and crazy hair, for him it was about the work not the looks, which is something I've always agreed with.

Then at Sounddogs, Greg King was certainly a mentor and a leader. What really made him stand out as a good mentor is that he comes from a background of sports coaching, with lots of drive and hard work. Looking back on it, his influence changed me from being loose to be definitely more focused and detail oriented. When Greg and I came down to California in 1995 we had a partner named Bob Grieve, he was really instrumental and showed me how to be a diplomat, understand people, listen to their needs and adjust my expectations. Bob had a softer touch with people so I tried to adapt and learn. Those were the people who made the biggest impact in the early days of my career.

Love For Sound Recording

It's hard for me to say why I love my job so much, it's like trying to define why I love horses so much. I love them because of the way they make me feel, when I'm around them, I feel at peace and happy.

Sound recording is like a treasure hunt. It's like a magic moment when you recognize that a sound is unique and good. And then you have to take that sound from 70% to 100% quality. You know, part of what we do is we have to recognize that a sound is good, that it's emotional and then using technique or performance we take it to the next level, so that when the viewer hears it they're also experiencing that emotion. So I guess I just love the thrill to find that magic in a bottle.

Favorite Part Of This Job

Working for sound supervisors and sound designers is very rewarding, when they tell me the sounds we provide are great and how much we've helped them. I believe this relates a lot to me growing up playing hockey and being a selfless team player, I do get a lot of satisfaction helping other people in the form of a team or teamwork. I get a lot of satisfaction when others succeed, and part of their success is because we did a good job.

There's no real favorite kind of work per se, what I like doing is being challenged with different tasks and different situations and having a broad range of knowledge and skills. My personality does not lend itself to doing just one thing, so for me to be recording ADR, loop group as either a sound supervisor or engineer, working with actors or getting the best performance for the producers, being on a dub stage working with editors and mixers and executive producers, achieving what their goals as quickly and efficiently as possible for the studio, or recording a great set of sounds for a supervisor for a movie...these are all really fun things to do.

If I'm supervising a movie I can sit there and edit 12 hours a day and focus on getting something exactly the way I want it. Like on "Miracle", I went out of my way to get exactly what I wanted with the details and accuracy of the skating, pucks and sticks so no one would ever watch the movie and go "oh that's not there" or "it's out of sync". This happens with talkie movies: the accuracy is just not there, the details are not perfect. I also enjoy setting up a good work flow and communication so we focus more on getting the job done and less on technical problems that may arise in production. I love it all, I mean, it's a great job and career, I'm very fortunate and grateful. I just like being able to do everything and strive to do a good job at it all.

Favorite Kind Of Sound

My favorite kind of sound would be anything that is unique, original, rare or fantastically great. What I mean is that there are a thousand toilet flushes, there has to be at least 20 thousand door recordings, there's a lot of generic traffics and so on. So what I look to record is material that has not been recorded, or is not well recorded or there's just not enough of it out there. At some point, about 6 years ago, I found that recording water or wind, unless you're really doing it differently or you've found a location that is extraordinary, is not worth it since there's a library that already has these sounds. Artistically, I'm trying to push myself to find unique new sounds. I'm not a studio (like a foley studio type of recordist) because it doesn't motivate me artistically, it doesn't move me. What does excite me are unique sounds, trying to find a cave path in the lava tunnels in the Island of Mangaia in The Cook Islands to record the sound of water crushing on the coral reef below ground. That's good, I wonder how many people have heard that sound before.

Also sounds of history are very interesting to me, if there's a historical meaningful location or place then that sound has added meaning. For example, I was a the Terezin concentration camp and we went into a room that was about maybe 4 by 8, in which they would hold 50 people at the same time. The door in this small chamber, this is the door that those people heard in World War II. The sound of that door, the echo in the room, to me that's historical sound. This might be just another good sounding door, but there's more to it, this is the door that people in this concentration camp heard for years and for some, this was probably the last door they ever heard. This sound provoked fear and hope, it's charged with emotions, it has meaning. These are the type of sounds I'm after.

Anecdotes Of Working On The Field

It's very exciting to record on the field, exciting and sometimes dangerous. There are many factors which can't be foreseen and accidents happen. I do remember being at Isla de Lobos in Uruguay, an island that is the habitat of thousands of sea lions. I was recording on the single males only beach and I got too close to this angry male sea lion who was about 200 lbs., he proceeded to chase me as I squealed like a little girl running away from him. As you can imagine I was the laughing stock of those who got to watch the whole thing.

There have been situations, like when we were recording cars for "Fast and the Furious" at California City, where I feared for my life, really. We were recording fast pass bys and the guy driving the car was not a professional. At some point in the shoot he was drifting a corner and pointed directly at me and I didn't know him, and I said to myself well...I'm not going to find out whether he will be able to control the car or not, this car is coming right at me...so I just ran away because I thought he was going to hit me. I can shoot the sound again but I don't have nine lives. I usually work with people that I trust and professionals, it's important to be careful and stress safety when you work with people.

On "The Santa Clause" we had a strange occurrence. We wanted to record kites for the sled whoosh-by's so Greg, Darren King and I went out to Lancaster and we found this place and started recording kites. It was midnight and between takes I tell the guys "do u see that light in the distance that's coming towards us?" they said it was just some farmhouse or something. Then 5 minutes later, the same thing, I ask them if they see the light approaching and they say no and then 10 minutes after, the same thing until they go "oh, it is coming at us!". It turned out we had wandered onto Edward's Air Force base, and they have a lot of secret stuff up there. The light was MP's closing on us because we had trespassed. So there we were, three canadians trespassing on Edward's Air Force base, flying kites in the middle of the night. They escorted us all the way to back the 14th freeway...we thought they were going to lock us up.

In Kazakhstan I had a funny/embarrassing experience. I was there with a group of locals and some camels. Suddenly, I hear the men laughing and this incredibly awesome sounds coming from the camels. I walk around to see what's happening and there they are, these two camels having sex. Now I get really happy because they are making these incredible vocal sounds, I could see those sounds being used for monsters on a film, it was perfect. So I get my recorder and start recording and after a while I realize the joy of these sounds made me forget to put the recorder on "record"...so I only got a bit of the sounds.

Choosing Locations And Props

When on the field, I think the number one thing is recording the right sounds. Finding the source is important. You can do that by asking people who specialize in that source, for example, if you're recording a machine, ask the operator. If you're recording animals, ask the keeper or owner what makes the animal make sounds. Use descriptive words to express what you want to get. Another example would be someone that's been working at a windmill farm will be able to point you "this windmill, when the wind hits from the south west, it makes this crazy sound". So ask a lot of questions and talk to experts and ask which parts of the place, object or animal is going to make the best sound. Wherever you are, ask the people that know the environment and they know what sounds best under what circumstances.

The other thing is location, if you can move a good source to a quiet location that's great. An ideal location has very few airplanes or traffic, few insects or birds. Finding a good location will save you hours or days of cleaning up sounds on editing. When you find that good place to record, it's really important to know its patterns: know when the wind is at it's lowest, what time there's less traffic, when are the birds quiet or what time of the day or season has less insects.

There are two types of recordings. There's the recording where I have a specific thing I have to record and what I do is locate the best sound for what's needed and the best environment and then perform at the best. This is typically when I get hired for a movie.

The second type is what I call basically just wandering around, living by fate and look for a place or a location that has potential to have a unique material whether is an abandoned factory, caves or mines. I just try to think of things that I haven't heard or haven't experienced and go to those locations. I also ask locals, wherever I am, "is there a place like this or like that" and you have to be open to experiencing it and quickly decide whether a place has potential or not to be a great sound.

On "Real Steel" we did lots of recordings in Uruguay, South America. We were looking for an abandoned saw mill that was about 110 years old and we took a wrong turn and came across this steel truck bed that had no wheels and was put on wood planks and immediately I'm thinking that this could produce some good steel sounds. We did stomps, hits and pounds and everything we dropped on it would resonate with the incredible steel sound. Those are the kind of things you have to be open and aware of when you see them.

After recording the truck bed we went over to the saw mill and it was really secondary and nowhere near as interesting. It was basically stone and the reverb wasn't good. If I'm in an environment that has really interesting reverb that's exciting, like the churches in Czech Republic, they had incredible reverb. Or the Nidaros cathedral in Trondheim Norway, it also had excellent reverb.

When you travel in search for SFX, you kind of just have to walk around and talk to people. In Vientam we found an old traditional rice mill from hundreds of years ago in Sapa. We came across it by chance, we were hiking the mountains in search for good nature recordings and then bam! this gem of sound is right there waiting for us.

Unless you put yourself out there to take the time to experience the world you're never going to really find great sounds. It's important to get out there and wander around and look. They are everywhere, you need to leave your everyday environment and experience new things.