Boom Box Post is a high-end animation specific sound studio with a passion for sound design led by co-owners Kate Finan and Jeff Shiffman. Boom Box Post has a litany of credits that include DuckTales, Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus, Ask the StoryBots, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mickey Mouse Mixed Up Adventures and Muppet Babies. The studio’s work has garnered dozens of Emmy and MPSE Golden Reel Award nominations as well as wins for telling creative and meaningful stories.
Most recently, Finan brought her expertise to Netflix’s Gabby’s Dollhouse, following her work on The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.
Both Finan and Shiffman started their careers as sound designers at a boutique LA sound studio on their way to becoming supervising sound editors for Warner Bros Studios. With Boom Box Post, the versatile duo created a talent-driven boutique environment that truly lets everyone ‘Focus on the creative,’ as their mission statement highlights.
Alongside their numerous credits, the company also prides itself on its inclusivity and dedication to being an equitable workplace, with 50% of their team being made up of women and gender non-conforming individuals. In building their creative and diverse studio, both Kate and Jeff have drawn on their accomplished resumes and individual talents.
Since the company’s start, they’ve worked with top studios including Nickelodeon, Disney, DreamWorks, Netflix, and Amazon Studios. Awards Focus’ Byron Burton conducted the joint interview below highlighting their recent work in children and family programming.
Awards Focus: For Kate Finan (Re-Recording Mixer for “Waffles + Mochi’s Restaurant”) and Jeff Shiffman (Re-Recording Mixer on “StoryBots: Answer Time”), you’ve both contributed work to Emmy-submitted projects in the children and family category. What can you share with readers regarding the creative approach you take when designing very distinct sounds for very diverse shows?
Jeff Shiffman: One of the biggest strengths of “StoryBots: Answer Time” is its unique structure. Each episode has a main storyline where we follow a character on an adventure, learning something new as we go. These sequences are often very heavy on sound design and challenging in their own way. However, what really notched up the challenge for us on this series was the short-form content; interspersed within the body of the show. Over 200 individual pieces of animation were created, spanning all styles of animation and genre. We built and mixed entire worlds of sound in bite-sized chunks, which were seamlessly woven between the multiple-act, long-form adventure.
Kate Finan: “Waffles & Mochi’s Restaurant” was an incredibly unique project for us because of its mixed-media nature. It combined live action production with homespun visual effects, quirky hand-drawn animation overlays, and puppets. All of these super stylized and wacky visual styles came together to create an extremely fun romp of an educational show, and we were intent on creating a sonic experience to match that vibrancy.
We really thought outside of the box to design sound effects for the animation overlays, and instead of adding the obvious choices, like chimes for a hand-drawn sparkle effect, we instead opted for quirky cork pops layered with fireworks or processed slide whistles and xylophones. We wanted to give them sounds that weren’t easily recognizable and felt completely custom. We also dug into the homespun nature of the visual effects and puppets. Instead of keeping their sound subtle and handmade, we instead highlighted them by going over-the-top.
For example, we cut sound effects for the puppets as if they were real people, adding chewing, gulps, real hand grabs, etc. When we see Waffles & Mochi’s rocket, it’s obviously a miniature model on a string. But, we cut bombastic jet sounds and created warp-speed builds. This dichotomy really plays up the comedy.
AF: Sound design is often an underappreciated aspect of storytelling. How does sound design contribute to the immersion and engagement of young viewers in children’s programming. As a follow up, what elements do you consider to be the most crucial in creating a memorable auditory experience?
Jeff Shiffman: Thank you for saying that! We feel that sound design is essential for bringing audiences into a story. Especially at a young age, attention spans are limited and great sound design is such a valuable tool of the trade. Our goal is always to focus on the most creative and original approach to sound design for each individual project. We love the idea of creating an entirely unique palette of sounds that encapsulates the vision of each series or film. If you can hear a sound from the next room and know the project without ever seeing what’s on screen, we’ve done our job well!
AF: Emmy submissions are a significant milestone, and they often reflect the culmination of a great deal of hard work. Can you talk a little more about the other projects that your company has submitted along with “Waffles + Mochi’s Restaurant” and “StoryBots: Answer Time?”
Kate Finan: We were fortunate to have worked on sixteen different properties over the past year which were eligible to be submitted for Children and Family Emmy consideration this year. We’re proud of every one of those projects, many of which represent a full year of hard work by our team. But, a few highlights from those submissions are “Transformers: EarthSpark” for Nickelodeon, “Storybot: Answer Time” for Netflix, “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Underground Rock Experience” for HBO, “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder” for Disney+, “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie”, and “Gabby’s Dollhouse” for Dreamworks Animation.
AF: Creativity in sound design often arises from overcoming challenges. Were there any specific challenges or unique requirements in these Emmy-submitted projects that led to innovative sound design solutions or techniques?
Jeff Shiffman: Due to the complex nature of “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie” and its structure, we ran into some situations where we had to start our work on the project before everything was finalized in picture. However, it could have been much more challenging if we didn’t have great management on both sides. With excellent communication between the production team and our sound team, we were able to prioritize what we had to work with in the initial cut and plan for upcoming changes, simplifying the eventual conform process.
Kate Finan: We had a number of challenges with Waffles & Mochi’s Restaurant. Because the project had so many mixed-media elements, we were constantly working with pictures at varying stages of completion. So, we would temp in what we thought might work with VFX but when they came in, often the sync would change or the visuals would look completely different than we had expected. The same went for the animation overlays. We were often told in the spotting session what would be placed in each spot, but we were continuously surprised by exactly what was added. But, the good news is that the surprises were always positive. Often, the visuals were even more quirky or cute than expected. So, we were able to go back and really dig into those moments with the sound to make it all work together cohesively.
AF: Both “Waffles + Mochi’s Restaurant” and “StoryBots: Answer Time” have their unique sonic identities. What do you hope young audiences take away from the soundscapes of these projects, and what sets them apart from other children’s shows in terms of sound design?
Jeff Shiffman: The presumption with any preschool show tends to be that it will be gentle and generally light on sound. “Storybots: Answer Time” is NOT that show. Each episode is built around an epic adventure, and so our sound team often found themselves designing and mixing sound on an extremely large scale. Playing with scope while maintaining a younger audience in mind was a very fun challenge. In the end, the goal is always to entertain; introducing this audience of young viewers to the idea of the true magic that can be found in big and exciting adventure stories.
Kate Finan: “Waffles + Mochi’s Restaurant” has such an amazingly original look. It feels handmade, off-the-wall, yet incredibly relatable. I can honestly say that in a time when everyone is pitching properties as “four-quadrant,” this is a title that is truly hitting that mark. I love watching this show with my kids. And a lot of that is because it’s an educational series, but the visual choices and the soundscape keep the audience thoroughly engaged and excited. For example, in the “Bread” episode, when the chef is showing “Waffles + Mochi” how to turn their bread starter into pan de coco, he suggests that they knead the bread by punching it. They added colorful starburst animation overlays with each punch. So, we really dug in and added over-the-top boxing punches as well. Just those little touches keep the content fresh and fun.
AF: Boom Box Post has established itself as a prominent sound design studio in the industry. What inspired you both to co-found Boom Box Post, and what unique qualities do you believe set your studio apart from others in the field of sound design?
Kate Finan: We were both really craving a workplace that put our passion for design first. We pride ourselves in being deeply steeped in the culture, references, and rich history of animation of children’s content, and we are committed to bringing that knowledge-base and sense of specialty to our work to truly elevate kids’ media with sound. When we started Boom Box Post, it was just the two of us designing everything ourselves.
With time, we added team members, personally training each of them to have the same passion and attention to detail that we have. And, this past year, we added a state-of-the-art custom sound design and mix facility to our Boom Box Post arsenal. Being rooted in a passion for design has really helped us to continue to engage creatively with each and every project even as we have grown from the boutique studio that we were to the more prominent sound facility that we have become.