NILES, IL, March 12, 2009 — The 81st Academy Awards kicked off on a comedic note, with host Hugh Jackman joking that a recessionary budget had forced the cancellation of an elaborate opening number. Left to create his own instead, the singing and dancing relied on cardboard set pieces, lawn chairs, and other yard sale props, put together with good effect to parody the films garnering the night's award nominations.
"It was an original bit featuring a cameo by Anne Hathaway," noted wireless guru Dave Bellamy of Burbank-based Soundtronics, "With only two people onstage, we used eight wireless mics. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the evening, which was extraordinarily RF dependent from start to finish."
Given the task of developing the wireless blueprint for the stellar event, Bellamy used Soundtronics' proprietary and fail-proof Phoenix III antenna system to help tame the confines of the cavernous Kodak Theatre.
Handheld Shure UHF-R® wireless transmitters with SM58®capsules were seen onstage over the course of the show, but lavalier mics managed a bulk of the input from podium to performances, with a total of 44 wireless channels dedicated to the tiny, roving capsules throughout the evening. Of these 44 channels, more than half were used with Shure bodypack transmitters. Shure UR1 bodypacks were used for all of the stationary applications at the podiums, cutting through a high noise floor onstage with 100 milliwatts of power, but for the talent on-the-move, away from the podiums, Shure's diminutive UR1M Micro-Bodypack was used.
"The working theory was to divide the stage and house into as many zones as possible," Bellamy explained. "Using this technique, the goal was to run as little gain as possible. It's a loud stage. The video projection puts out a lot of noise, and so does the lighting. I have to be able to tune that all out. That takes antennas with a lot of gain and directionality, and more power. The more power I have coming off the transmitters, the more I can turn down the gain, and then less noise comes into the system."
Overall sound design credits for the 81st Oscars went to Pat Baltzell, and Audio Director Ed Greene mixed for broadcast. The show's A2s were Debbie and Jeff Fecteau, Ric Teller, and Steven Anderson. Given the role of deciding who was going to wear which mic among the large inventory of lavaliers, Debbie Fecteau mapped a plan accordingly, which was then implemented by the rest of the A2s.
"The small size of the Shure UR1M Micro-Bodypack made it possible for us to just slip the transmitter into a jacket pocket in many cases," Steven Anderson reports. "Time is critical and with this bodypack, we were able to mic the talent and be gone before they even realized we were there."
For one medley of song and dance featuring performers in tuxes and tails, UR1Ms were sewn directly into the tails of the performer's outfits. "In a case like this, no one wants a transmitter sticking out of their wardrobe, it distorts the natural curves of the body," Anderson added. "The UR1M literally disappears, but still works flawlessly. I've even taped them to people's necks with surgical tape and covered them with makeup. For Beyonce's performance here at the Oscars, we sewed one into her top hat."
Tipping the scales at only 2.2 ounces without batteries, the UR1M is the most compact bodypack in the Shure catalog. Tunable in 25 kHz steps between 60 and 75 MHz, the device measures a scant 1.92 inches high by 2.38 inches wide, and is only .66 inches deep.
This year's Oscars aired on ABC. Producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark rewrote the script as part of efforts to breathe new life into the ceremony, and did their best to keep their work secret, even from the presenters and performers. A new set and stage were designed by David Rockwell as well, while action on the red carpet was orchestrated by Robert Osborne.