OLD LYME, CONNECTICUT - OCTOBER 2009: When it comes to Shrek, the star of DreamWorks Animation's Oscar(r)-winning film franchise, people are used to seeing the CGI ogre on a movie screen. These days, however, he has a new
home: Broadway - Shrek The Musical opened there in December 2008, and has since become a hit with critics and crowds alike. While audiences thrill to the smart set designs and clever costumes, they also benefit from something that they don't see - Sennheiser MKE 1 microphones worn by the cast on stage.
"MKE 1 microphones are everywhere on the cast, but you don't really see them because they're so tiny, yet they sound fantastic, they really do," enthuses Peter Hylenski, sound designer for the production.
The MKE 1 is Sennheiser's smallest clip-on microphone, designed to be virtually invisible and still offer outstanding sound quality. Despite its tiny 3.3 mm capsule diameter, the microphone provides high speech intelligibility, creating a full, natural sound with low ambient noise.
Capable of handling sound pressure levels up to 142 dB, it also has the added benefit of a thin, 1 mm diameter Kevlar(tm) reinforced cable with molded anti-kink sleeve that minimizes handling noise. The MKE 1 mics are part of a team on Shrek The Musical, however, feeding into Sennheiser SK
5212 bodypack wireless transmitters, which are picked up by a number of Sennheiser EM 3532 rack-mounted receivers.
The microphone's miniscule size saved the day during pre-production on the show, when costuming and make-up were being designed for the lead role.
"Shrek is an identifiable character who needs to look a certain way,"
explains Hylenski. "In order to do that, they hired a fantastic costume designer and make-up artist, along with a prosthetics team to create his look." While that paid off for the show, garnering a prestigious Tony Award for "Best Costume Design of a Musical," it made miking the actor playing Shrek - Brian d'Arcy James - very difficult.
Hylenski initially planned to use a different microphone, but it quickly became obvious that the other mic wasn't going to work out. "Shrek doesn't have hair or real ears, just little horns on top of his head, so it became impossible to use traditional microphone positions," laughs Hylenski. "We had to rethink where to put them. Shrek wears multiple pieces of latex prosthetics to create his look, but one feature that was uncovered were his eyebrows, so we tried to disguise the elements there. Unfortunately, he couldn't sweat through the latex, and with the microphone protruding from the prosthetic forehead, it created a channel where sweat was just flowing out! We were losing microphones left and right, plus it didn't quite sound the way we thought it would due to the acoustic shading from his gigantic prosthetic nose."
After more experimentation, Hylenski settled on placing a microphone on each cheek, up and away from the corners of d'Arcy James' mouth. "We needed a microphone that was going to be small enough to disguise in the latex cheek piece," he recalls, "I'd done some listening tests of the Sennheiser MKE 1 on another show of mine and loved the way they sounded, so I decided to give it a try on Shrek. Once we tried them out, I immediately began discussions with Sennheiser about 'How do we get these onto Shrek and make this the microphone of choice for the show?'"
Hylenski was nominated for his first Tony Award for "Sound Design" this season, albeit for another musical, Rock of Ages, but it's fair to wonder if his microphone choice for Shrek The Musical didn't help that show win its costuming award. "You'd never get away with putting a larger microphone element where we did on Shrek's face, but we managed to hide these tiny capsules right on the sides of his mouth," said Hylenski, marveling. "You really can't tell when you're sitting in the audience!"
Sennheiser is a world-leading manufacturer of microphones, headphones and wireless transmission systems. Established in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser is now a global brand represented in 60 countries around the world with U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Sennheiser's pioneering excellence in technology has rewarded the company with numerous awards and accolades including an Emmy, a Grammy, and the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.