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Keith Wester, 62; Sound Engineer Won Emmy, Nominated for Oscars

November 06, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Keith A. Wester, Emmy-winning and multiple Oscar-nominated production sound mixer, whose work included such films as "Armageddon" and "The Perfect Storm," has died. He was 62.

Wester died Friday of cancer at his Studio City home, said his friend Paul Petersen. His final project was the film "Cradle 2 the Grave," expected to be released next year.

Repeatedly nominated for Emmys for his television sound engineering, Wester won the statuette in 1986 for "An Early Frost."

He shared Academy Award nominations for sound six times: in 1990 for "Black Rain," 1996 for "Waterworld," 1997 for "The Rock," 1998 for "Air Force One," 1999 for "Armageddon" and last year for "The Perfect Storm."

Wester was known for his innovation and for mentoring younger engineers.

"If the sound equipment didn't exist to do the job," Petersen said, "Keith would invent it."

One of Wester's toughest projects requiring such invention was the wind and water epic "The Perfect Storm," in which he had to contend with on-set 100 mph fans and wave machines and, ultimately, record dialogue between fishing boat captain George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg as the set was submerged.

"It required that the microphone be able to record decent dialogue, first of all, and second, not be hurt when it was submerged, and third, pressed into use again for the next take," Wester told The Times after his Oscar nomination.

Working in his Professional Sound Recorders lab in Studio City, Wester put together a small microphone, electrical PVC tubing, acoustic foam, hot glue and a condom.

The contraption worked perfectly.

"I mounted it on the ceiling of the wheelhouse and it worked like a charm," Wester said. "I think I'm going to send that one to the Smithsonian."

Born in Seattle, Wester was a ham radio operator by age 13 and was always fascinated by radio and sound equipment.

After receiving his bachelor's degree from Cal State L.A. and a master's at UCLA, he worked on sound engineering for about 2,500 commercials. By the early 1980s, he was doing production sound work for major television dramatic programs.

Wester began concentrating on motion pictures in the late 1980s, handling sound mixing for such films as "Sea of Love," "Joe Versus the Volcano," "Thelma and Louise," "Frankie and Johnny" and "Body of Evidence."

Wester is survived by his wife, the former Joan Bursler; a daughter from his earlier marriage, Wendy Elizabeth Kadovitz; and one grandson.

A memorial service is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Old North Church, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

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