Luca Fusi Sound Design | Implementation

15May/111

Behind – Post Sound

A quick write-up on a post project I took on with a few friends last term.

We three amigos were feeling pretty confident about our workload for Term 3 when we were approached by a graduating student from VFS' Classical Animation department about doing the sound for her final, the story of a day in the life of a young girl at play, and the magical backpack that protects her from harm throughout.

While we probably would have turned down just any old work to focus instead on our assignments, this animation was completely legit -- there was no way we could pass up a chance to get our sound on such a beautiful piece.

So we said yes, and threw ourselves into it amidst the rest of our coursework.

Going in reverse for this one. Here's the end result, and below that is some thinking/work that went into it.

Final Result

Early Planning

Our first look at "Behind" was a draft copy of the piece with temp music dropped in -- nothing locked yet, but close enough to completion that we got what the animator had in mind. The whole piece had a very Miyazaki-esque/Spirited Away sort of vibe to it, and we wanted that to come through unaffected in the final clip. Our job here was really clearly to support the visual and the mood just enough to elevate the movie, then get the hell out of the way.

Some early thoughts we had:

  • Less is more. Both the delicate visual style of BB's animation and the tone of the piece called for a really light touch from the sound department. We've been used to crazy psychic battles, fight scenes and explosions, so trying to create "soft" sounds was totally new for us. We decided early on to keep the sound effects and ambiences from being "over-real" and leave out a lot of the detail we'd otherwise put in.
  • Cede to the music. It's weird to say this, as sound people are usually jostling with the music guys to get their sounds played loudest in the final mix - but again, with a really delicate piece like this one, we had to concede that music could say a lot more than simple effects could to create the vibe we wanted. We were prepared to have our stuff played down.
  • If we can't get the crying working, we'll drop the dialogue entirely. It was a coin toss as to whether the girl was really vocalizing or not as she skips along, but we thought it'd be a great experience to get in touch with our acting campus and cast talent for the role, get some extra dialogue editing practice, etc. -- so we committed to putting dialogue in the piece, with the caveat: if it wasn't believable, if the crying felt false or got in the way, we'd strip it all out.

In all the student works (in-progress and final) I've seen so far in my time here, I've observed that dialogue is kind of a high-risk proposition. When it's good, or just average, it goes unnoticed and we simply absorb it, freeing up our brains to concentrate on the visuals/rest of the sound design that's gone into a piece. When it's bad, it hijacks our attention and basically spoils any chances of walking away from the piece thinking that it had good sound...

Recording and Editing

... Fortunately, we managed to find a couple of voice actors that fit the character we were looking for, and had one of those "Oh my God"/mutual turn-to-each-other moments after our session with Arielle Tuliao, who did the voice of the girl. That was a huge turning point in the process; after editing her stuff into sync and laying it on with our Foley, everything started feeling like it was really going to work out. Everyone else did a great job as well, with Brendan (one of the kids') voices also providing some neat source material for the bag roar when pitched down.

Apart from the music, the great majority of the sound that got played up in the final mix was our Foley -- all of it was captured with the Rode NTG-3 running through an FP33 mic pre into Pro Tools. Would've loved to have used the 416 on all that stuff, but didn't discover it until a few weeks later!

The sessions took us the better part of two days to fully record and edit. Notably "cool" Foley solutions were flicking our fingers with masking tape on them for the butterfly flaps, ripping pieces of cloth underneath a dirt pit for root tears/plucks, and a nice layer of fresh-picked green onions on our surface for some squeaky meadowy footstep details.

My buddy Gwen handled the BGs and SPFX , both of which I thought really had that soft sonic texture the piece needed, and were rich and full without being really showy.

Manuel took the animator's original Music, a simple piano melody, and really filled it out to score the entire piece with -- unfortunately, a lot of those changes didn't make it into the final mix, in favor of the director's starting piece. You gotta expect it.

Final mixes were done by a later-term student and VFS' Matthew Thomas.

Hope you enjoyed! Leave any questions or feedback in the comments.

3May/112

Say Hello to Kyma

The Kyma timeline environment. Not mine!

The Kyma timeline environment.

In balancing out such a crazy term, a few things were going to have to suffer. I present to you:

Sound Designing 2

Kyma Project - Scanner Duel

Part A
Using a microphone, record a vocal temp into protools to sketch out the sound design for the given quicktime (Scanners duel scene). Use as many tracks as is necessary and any plugin effects or audiosuite transformations that will make your design fit the scene.
Part B
Using any of the processes available in Kyma and any appropriate sound sources, create a sound design for the same scene, using the vocal temp that you created in part A as a template or blueprint.

Kyma Kyma Kyma. Such a wonderful and alluring word! I knew next to nothing about what this thing was or what it did, just that it was a device we had somewhere, buried in one of our back rooms, and that with the right level of arcane mastery, it could be used to create these incredibly techy, otherworldly textures and sounds that you couldn't get anywhere else. I knew we'd spent almost no real class time on it, and that however much each student chose to master the Kyma in the time given to him was solely on him. I was ready.

What is a "Kyma?"

This should start things off:

Kyma is a visual programming language for sound design used by musicians, researchers, and sound designers. In Kyma, a user programs a multiprocessor DSP by graphically connecting modules on the screen of a Macintosh or Windows computer.
-- Wikipedia, "Kyma (sound design language)"

Essentially, the Kyma is a very expensive, very powerful and -- in my limited experience -- very niche sound design tool. It is two parts:

  1. a sort of programming environment where one can set up large processing chains with which to mutilate your choice of source sounds, from loaded-in samples to stuff you synthesize yourself
  2. and the external Paca Rana box that crunches all the 1s and 0s that execute that processing chain. The box is essentially a tiny computer whose every cycle is devoted to rendering sound and nothing else.

All of the components within the Paca itself are of really high quality, and that dedicated processing power means that no matter how much you want to stretch out, granulate and murder that sound, it's still rendered very smoothly and naturally - and without messing with everything else your system has to do on its own, like run Pro Tools and whatever other plug-ins you have set up. It seems like it'd play very well in even crowded sessions.

Not as cute as the real thing.

Not as cute as the real thing.

The Kyma environment as a programming language is custom-designed for sound and sound alone, and genius founder Carla Scaletti has been at it for decades. It teases you in with seemingly infinite possibilities, a playful, hippie-ish sort of branding message and some very cool credits to its name.

If you've seen WALL-E, you've heard Ben Burtt's work on the Kyma in the title robot's adorably lilting voice. Video below, jump to a little past the 6min mark to see some of what the system's capable of in terms of voice construction.

That box, unfortunately, will also run you upwards of $3000 or $4000. And while getting started in that programming environment and making some very out-there sounds with it is pretty quick, it's not something you can jump into and use to go from a pre-planned Point A to Point B. Especially not in the one day timeframe I had left myself for this last assignment of the term.

Start to Finish in a Day

Fuck.

Fuck.

As I said, I was ready to kill this one. I'd heard what this box could do in the work of our badass late-term student, Javier, and I was ready to bend this thing to my will. But the film collaboration happened, the soundscape happened, the days rolled by without me learning much more than how to get the Kyma up and running.

Finally, I found myself at the end of the term, one day between myself and the deadline, and without a plan. Always a great place to be; I love working under pressure!

If you've been reading me, you know I can't work without a little planning. Here's what went through my head before I dove in on this one:

I made the decision to phone in the vocal temp. Yep, it was part of the overall assignment and grade, but I had missed the day's class we had been given to record and clean it up (ironically, because I had been up late learning the Kyma the night before and slept in). With 24 hours to go, it didn't make sense to spend the little time I had left polishing up the blueprint instead of the final actual piece. For better or worse, this needed to spring straight from my head to canvas in one go. Because of this, you're not hearing my vocal temp. At least without buying me a drink.

I watched the scene. Many, many times. Sounds obvious, but if you don't digest the hell out of the clip, even when you're in a rush, you're going to miss the visual cues and anchors you need to hit to create a really impactful sound design. This scene needed a lot of review here because of its extreme length and really slow pacing; there are no bullets fired, no punches or broken panes of glass or anything like that. A lot of it is just two dudes staring intensely at one another. I needed to find the moments where the stare intensified and hit them hard.

After watching and rewatching, and staying deliberately in the dark about the overall arc of the real movie, I decided:

  • This battle needed to feel dangerous, the wounds terrifying. I'd never seen Scanners, didn't know what led up to the point of these two guys clashing, but any time you're facing down a foe so strong that he can get into your head and make you tear your own face off, the audience should fucking fear a guy like that.
  • The psychic battle component should be synth-heavy, push myself a bit into the realm of synthetic sound design, which I (still) know almost nothing about. All my experimenting was getting done on this front, and I was counting on the Kyma to give me some great, unique source material to work with that sounded like nothing I'd ever heard but still resembled an epic battle of the minds.
  • Each character's powers needed to have a distinct voice, so that you instinctively felt when the battle was turning one way or another. Of course, the bad guy's should sound more powerful, a little darker, a little more focused; the good guy's more benevolent, but full enough to take him down.

I'd leave the recorder running and just hope I got something randomly brilliant out of the Kyma. Sad times, but I didn't have the luxury of setting up an elaborate custom processing chain to get myself exactly the sound I needed with so little time left. I ran what I thought was some cool source material (ice cracks, resonant metals) through some intro-level Kyma patches until I stumbled upon something workable, bounced it, then edited from there. The Kyma's contribution ended up being mostly in the form of its really nice granulation functions, which I used (and cranked up) on a slowed down oxygen mask sample that I kept running throughout the scene as a bed for the whole encounter. You'll also hear some of these effects on the wounds the bad guy sustains early on. Though I can't remember why.

In the end, though, nearly all the sounds for this scene came from the Massive synth and a few tweaked presets. I found a few representative synths (bad guy powers, good guy powers, general sub bass, general "scanner duel" atmosphere) and ran through the scene a few times and made multiple passes, scoring the individual layers "live" with my fingers on a bunch of parameter knobs. Recorded it to MIDI, bounced it out to audio, left it to edit the next morning. This got me a lot of good stuff that was already pretty in sync with the pace of the scene, which made editing it pretty easily.

Final Result

That's about all there is to say on this one - editing took it the rest of the way. Some of the plug-ins used here were WaveArts' Panorama for stereo movement, ring modulation, the excellent Waves Doubler and MaxxBass plug-ins, along with a suite of reverbs, eqs and delays. If you have any specific questions, leave them in the comments and I'd be happy to answer!

What Went Right / What I Learned

  • Voice distinction. I feel like I nailed down a sort of personality for each character based on the sound of their psychic attacks; that evil boy sounds evil, and the good guy sounds a little purer.
  • Pain! Was pleased with some of the burning/searing accents on the bad guy's points of focus. This was done mostly with some drastic volume automation on the sizzles combined with pitch shifts/etc. on the sound of his powers right when his expression changed.

What Went Wrong

  • Frequency content. Working with synth presets can be tricky, because they bring a ton of broadband noise/sound with them and sometimes fill up a lot more of the sound spectrum than you want. I didn't have a lot of time to mix this assignment before submission, which means that there are some points where that synth noise really, really builds up and gets harsh. Maybe that serves the scene, but I think it'd need to be tamed a bit before this could go into the mix with BGs, dialogue, sound effects, etc. It's a bit of a spectrum hog right now.
  • Not enough time to really use the Kyma. That device is capable of much, much more than I give it credit for in this assignment, and with a little more time I would have liked to make it do what I wanted, instead of just hitching a ride on the stuff it accidentally did.
  • Injury Foley. I had the brilliant idea to use a pan full of semi-congealed oatmeal and rake my hand across it to simulate the sounds of good guy pulling his face off - but this came a week after I'd finished the project. That sound could have used some love.
  • Flat Fire. With a little more time, I would've stylized the fire sounds a bit more - they were left pretty dry as is, and could have fit better with the texture of the rest of the mix.

The Sound Design community online seems to agree that the Kyma is a very powerful tool -- maybe the best -- for very specific tasks like granulation and cool vocal morphing, but that if you don't have a lifetime to spend mastering it, there are quicker ways to get to the sound you want. I also don't really see anything that it can do that Max/MSP couldn't do better, and for thousands of dollars less, if you're willing to sink time into mastering a sound design-oriented programming language one way or the other.

That all said, looking forward to spending some quality time with the Paca as the year rolls on, and maybe, finally getting it to do what I plan it to (and not simply something cool but unexpected) by the end of the year. I may never see one again, right?

Please leave any questions/thoughts/criticism in the comments!

26Apr/113

An Introduction to Film Sound

I love you.

They're always switching it around, but for our class, Term 3 was our first time getting our hands dirty with production sound and the challenges of recording on a film set. Over the last month, we all spent around 8 12-hour days collaborating with students from the school's Film Production program, trying to make short movies - WITH NO ADULT SUPERVISION. Woo!

It was the first time we'd really been out from behind the editing desk in several months, and a super eye-opening experience. So much so that I'm no longer so sure of where I want to end up, audio-wise. The whole world of sound is just so damn awesome! I thought I'd give a little rundown on some of the things I learned from this experience, plus some background info on how sound for movies happens (as I understand it so far).

Fair warning: the more you learn, the more you'll want to pay attention to it at the expense of, y'know, actually enjoying the film.

How Sound Gets in Your Movies

A beautiful American morning.

Let's take a fairly typical, yet morbid film scene:

INT. HOUSE - MORNING

GEORGE is heading out the door for work. He picks up his briefcase, turns the knob and opens the front door, walking out into the sunshine.

EXT. YARD - CONTINUOUS

BIRDS are chirping. Here he encounters his neighbor, MRS. DANIELS, trimming the hedges.

MRS. DANIELS
Morning, George!

GEORGE gets into his car, throwing the briefcase onto the front seat, and drives off.

INT. CAR - MORNING

GEORGE is driving along LISTENING TO THE RADIO. He takes his eyes off the road to adjust his part in the mirror, and suddenly hears a loud HONK. He looks down to see a car heading straight at him.

CUT TO:

FLASHBACK

GEORGE's entire life flashes in front of his eyes.

BACK TO:

GEORGE CRASHES into the car in front of him and dies.

You can pretty easily imagine how these scenes will sound because, besides the effects that'd accompany his flashback and the life-ending car crash, it's full of things you experience in everyday life. As a result, you probably never stopped to think about how they got into the film.

Before I started into this program - or way back, before I knew I wanted to do it - I wasn't thinking about movie sound much at all. If I did, I probably I still naively thought that maybe the actors were just wearing little microphones that captured everything that happened, and maybe there was a guy at a big mixer with a lot of faders who made sure everything was at max volume before they finally shipped the film.

What Really Happens

The "existence of tiny microphones" and "guy at a big mixer with a lot of faders" have some basis in reality, but the rest of what I knew was completely off. Looking at that scene again from a "where did the sounds come from?" perspective, it might go something like this:

INT. HOUSE - MORNING

GEORGE is heading out the door for work. He picks up his briefcase, turns the knob and opens the front door, walking out into the sunshine.

Footsteps
George's footsteps (the ones you're hearing, anyways) were recorded after the film was shot on a Foley stage by a very coordinated guy in a pair of near-matching shoes on a near-matching surface. This would've been done by a team of at least two people: a Foley Recordist there pushing the buttons to make sure all the audio was captured while the Foley Artist walked the scene out.

Afterwards, these footsteps plus everything else would've been sent to the Foley Editor, who would clean up those recordings (edit out clicks and pops, put the best takes in place) before submitting to the Mixer (guy at the faders), that places it in with the rest of the film's sound and decides how loud he wants it to play.

Hand Touches
The sound of George's hands clasping around his briefcase and his touch on the doorknob would be Foley'd as well, using either a real briefcase or a prop that sounds like one. Same process.

Cloth
The swishing cloth of George bending down to pick up the briefcase? Also Foley, done like this:

Working hard!

The Door
The door opens, creaks and closes (every door in Hollywood must squeak like the most unique door in the world) etc. were probably selected by an SFX Editor, who could've pulled the sound of any random door from his personal library or one of the many professional libraries available. He trimmed the length of this door sound effect to match exactly what the door was doing in the scene itself (or just tried to get close, depending on his schedule) and eventually sent this material along to the Mixer.

EXT. YARD - CONTINUOUS

BIRDS are chirping. Here he encounters his neighbor, MRS. DANIELS, trimming the hedges.

MRS. DANIELS
Morning, George!

GEORGE gets into his car, throwing the trunk onto the front seat, and drives off.

The Birds
Sad news, these birds weren't real. I mean, they were real at one point, but for this scene they were selected from a library by a BG Editor, who is responsible for selecting all the ambient sounds that tell you where the scene is happening. The wind noises, the distant traffic - he picked them too. If there was an off-screen clock or a fridge hum in George's house, he would've been responsible for all that. When the BG Editor is done with all his stuff, he sends it along to the Mixer again.

Mrs. Daniels
Mrs. Daniel's Oscar-winning dialogue was, actually, probably recorded right there when they filmed the scene the first time, maybe even by one of those tiny microphones. Score!...

...Unless there was a plane passing overhead every time they tried to record it (common), or some crazy hobo yelling in the background, or a loud car passing by at the worst moment, or her performance just plain sucked. In these cases, Mrs. Daniels' actress would be called in to record ADR and redo her lines in a studio somewhere after everything was shot. She would be coached through this recording session by an ADR Supervisor while an ADR Recordist pushed buttons in the booth to capture every take, as Mrs. Daniels watched herself mouth the line on screen and tried to deliver it in sync, with the same emotion she did in the original scene.

This line, and any other ADR that needed to be done, would be sent along to a Dialogue Editor, who would choose a best performance from Mrs. Daniels' actress (or combine several), trim the little clicks, pops and mouth noises out of her speech, and subtly time-stretch or compress that audio to match her lip movements perfectly.

Ah, but Mrs. Daniel's line now sounds like it's been recorded in a vacuum, and is totally unbelievable when played sitting by itself in that scene. So the Dialogue Editor's got to take some isolated bunch of ambient noise (more like "ambient quiet") and make it into "fill," which doesn't sound like anything but a mash of what the audio on set that day was like. And that's the point. He puts this bed of "fill" under the re-recorded line from Mrs. Daniels so that it sounds more like it was recorded on set, and when he's finished, he'll send everything along to the Mixer again.

"It's digital, right? We can just take that sound out?"

Everything Else

Foley: George's outdoor footsteps, the hand touch on the door, the sound of him tossing his briefcase onto a car seat, the sound of him sliding his suit against the seat and maybe even his seatbelt buckling. Mrs. Daniel's hedge trimming snips would get recreated either in Foley or selected/edited from a library by the SFX Editor - or possibly done by both parties, leaving the Mixer to choose which version he liked the best.

SFX: the door close, for one. That same SFX Editor would also have to take some combination of a car starting, gear shift, engine reverse, tire crunches, engine accelerations and pull-away sounds from his library of hundreds or more and mangle them into sync with the picture. Easy enough for a car pulling out of a driveway, but imagine being the Sound Supervisor on The Fast and the Furious.

INT. CAR - MORNING

GEORGE is driving along LISTENING TO THE RADIO. He takes his eyes off the road to adjust his part in the mirror, and suddenly hears a loud HONK. He looks down to see a car heading straight at him.

CUT TO:

FLASHBACK

GEORGE's entire life flashes in front of his eyes.

BACK TO:

GEORGE CRASHES into the car in front of him and dies.

The slight hum of the AC in George's car and the occluded sounds of traffic outside are work for the BG Editor.

The sounds of George's car revving up, slowing down and driving are from the SFX Editor.

George's clothing swishes and seat creaks as he shifts around, his touches on the steering wheel and mirror, his hand running through his hair - all Foley stuff.

Music
But the music on the radio? That didn't just get thrown in there because it was the director's favorite song. The director might've had a say, for sure, but more than likely a Music Supervisor, with knowledge of the full film, thought hard about what should be playing in this critical moment when George dies. When he had figured all that out, he had to negotiate with the artist or label to get the rights to use that song in the capacity of the film and broker that deal. Finally, when the music has been cleared, a Music Editor will take the piece and select only the part of the song he wants to play in the car scene, trimming the audio to fit.

He will send it to the Mixer, who might add that "futz" effect (the tinny sound of something playing through a radio) to make it sound like that flawlessly produced track is coming out of the dude's little car system.

The Flashback
Suddenly, there's a loud honk chosen by the SFX Editor (honk = incoming car crash for the audience) and the screen flashes white and we find ourselves in George's flashback.

What was that sound that played when the screen when white? And where did this low, eerie rumble during the flashback sequence come from? Those were designed by the SPFX Editor, the guy who typically makes the sounds that don't really exist.

He might have reversed the sound of a cymbal, sped up a few whale calls, slowed down some of his own recorded breaths and done a whole bunch of other magic to arrive at these sounds. He can do whatever he wants and most of the rules don't apply to him, because we don't know what "having a flashback" sounds like. I mean, we do, from other movies, but there is no real-world flashback we can go listen to out there and compare, so he gets to personalize things a bit. When he is done, his sounds go to the Mixer as well.

If you noticed, all the voices and sounds in George's flashback were probably all washed-out and echoey sounding. The Mixer did that.

The Crash
And the car crash itself? Probably a combination of the SFX and SPFX Editors, especially if the crash happened in slow-mo. If George screams, the they might've recorded that line in ADR, and the Dialogue Editor will send a cleaned-up version of it to the mixer, or the SPFX Editor might just take a random scream from the library and mess with it until it sounds distressed and awesome.

Our Film Collaboration

With all the sound that comes after the film's been shot, what the hell were we even showing up to record?

Ostensibly, just the dialogue, even though we still need to roll the recorder during scenes where no one talks.

The first day or so we recorded, we had a few scenes like this, where we'd record a minute's worth of audio with only 5 seconds of "stuff that makes sound" happening. It was a little distressing, but as the days wore on, we began to feel a certain pride in even capturing those non-moments in the best detail possible.

I think that's one of the "things" about production audio, to try to record everything as if your microphone was the first and last stop for sound in the entire film. Sure, you really just need to try to get the dialogue, but why not take some pride in it?

The film is probably several months away from post-production and all those extra sounds being added in, and way before then, some producer somewhere is going to want to see progress on the film. And that progress will have a soundtrack: yours.

It's basically a two-part process, creating that soundtrack.

Booming

Booming is holding that giant black pole with the fuzzy blimp at the end of it, ever-so-slightly off screen, and maneuvering this into position to capture the best quality sound you can. Before we started this, I thought it'd be pure grunt work, but now I'm starting to see that it's a real art form for the guys who make a living out of it.

You don't just point the thing and stand in one spot until they turn the cameras off. What if the actors are moving around, turning their mouths? Standing up into sitting down? If you aren't constantly tracking the actors' mouths with your mic, a lot of that dialogue will end up getting up recorded "off-axis" (e.g. hitting the microphone from a less than ideal pickup angle), and those lines will lose a lot of body and presence in playback. They will sound "thin." That can be patched up, to an extent, but if it can't, you may be calling those actors in for ADR later. And Mrs. Daniels' rate to fly down to LA and re-record dialogue in a studio is not cheap.

So you move the mic around a lot to follow the actors' mouths (hope you've been studying the script!). But now the director wants to try another shot, start with a wide angle and then come in close, maybe pan around a bit. You need to know what that camera will and won't see at all times and have the good sense to stay out of it - tricky with a lot of motion. Don't forget that your boom pole's probably got a big mess of cables drooping down from it, as well; don't forget that those cables make noise when they clack against it. You'll probably have to find a new position to stand in. You might even have to climb something.

Mixing

Mixing is holding the recorder (or another few pieces of related gear) shown at the top of this post, pressing record when the take starts and twisting volume knobs to make sure everything is coming in at a good volume. That's the simple version. If it's a nice, quiet indoor shot with little movement, just you and one guy with a boom pole, it can be a pretty relaxing affair.

Now you're doing a slightly more involved shot, and you've got the boom operator's signal plus the incoming feeds of two tiny clip mics to balance against each other, it gets a little more involved. Now you're doing that shot on a dock in the pouring rain** and have to worry about the mics getting wet, sputtering and fuzzing out and ruining the entire take - even the perfectly sound boom track - if you don't turn them down fast enough.

You're watching battery levels, always.

The actors go from talking to shouting to pushing each other, thumping one another on the chest right next to your delicate little clip mic, and you have to ride that volume knob the entire way to keep the signal from clipping and becoming distorted.

And if anything in that take doesn't go right for sound, you need to speak up and get it re-shot or let the director know (easy when the director loves the sound crew and you're ahead of schedule; probably not so easy on a multimillion dollar film), or it's your butt on the line when that sub-par sound is playing for the producer in LA who's reviewing the day's takes.

**That rainy scene happened for us, and it was trying as hell. None of us ever want to go back to Cates Park, North Vancouver, ever again.

Final Thoughts

I'm not sure who works harder - production sound guys or editors - and I think it's just safest to say that capturing and creating great sound is equally tough, that you'd have to be equally insane to want to do either one for a living. I can say that I have way more respect for the production sound types after this experience, though.

Film sound guys wake up early, rush around, wait, have to deal with team dynamics, endure shitty weather, stay on their feet all day - but they get paid for it, the weather is sometimes gloriously sunny, and it's sure as hell fun. By the end of our collaboration, our little sound crew was pretty tight with those film students. We had a blast.

Now that I'm back in front of a glowing rectangle and cutting sounds in Pro Tools all day. It doesn't rain indoors, but I can't say which side of the process I enjoy more. I was hoping to rule things out with this program, make my decisions about the future a little simpler, but the doors won't stop opening.

Fingers crossed to land some great work on either end this program's finally out.

2Mar/114

Term 2 Work, Pt. 1

Intro to Post Audio Editing

BGs, SFX and SPFX

Without a doubt, this course was the term's heaviest hitter (and most prolific source of assignments), running us through the basics of selecting sound for an editing BGs (backgrounds, uninterrupted sounds that flow throughout an entire scene, like birds and wind), SFX (on-screen sounds like a rushing waterfall, a car crash, a heavily layered punch) and SPFX (perceptual or mood setting sounds, otherworldly stuff without a distinct source, sweeteners for dramatic moments).

Opening statement: It's been a long time since I was in school, and it's been longer since I've known a really life-changing teacher, but our instructor for this class has almost single-handedly inspired our class through this term. Really dig his work ethic and emphasis on organization, and it's clear that he loves what he's doing. So, a look at what I managed to produce while under his wing for a couple of weeks.

Son of the Dragon - Fight Scene 1 - SFX

Day one SFX exercise, pretty standard stuff - lots of whooshes and several layers to cover lows, mids and highs for the different hits. You might think that sync is a big issue with fight scene SFX design, but it was the easiest part of the process for me. If I could do this again, I'd get more highs in there and make the table drop a bit bigger.

I didn't do enough EQing to scoop out the bassy frequencies that were going to stack up here, so the final product lacks a lot of punch that would be there with better mixing. The compression on this really dulls it out; early lesson learned.

Son of the Dragon - Arrow Fly - SFX

Second SFX exercise of the term, tough because of the toolset we were still restricted to at this point. Key points we needed to hit were 1) the sense of some mechanism firing the projectiles from far off and 2) good, synced audio cuts between the arrow approaches (rising pitches) and bys (doppler-like effects as they crossed the camera). Used some pitched up F1 car bys for the arrow whizzes, re-used some of my favorites sweeteners and impact sounds from the previous SFX exercise, and slowly raised one resonant part of the EQ on a few wind tracks to give the whistling sense of the arrow getting close. Far-off catapult/arrow launcher guy deal was constructed from a couple of pieces like clanking metal, rattling chains, wood groans and arrow twangs.

Son of the Dragon - Fight Scene 1 - SPFX

Day one SPFX exercise, strung together quickly as king of a kung-fu stinger from some reverse cymbals, piano string scrapes and a rattlesnake tail. Ran a few elements through a lo-fi filter to try to give it that 70s sound. Neat idea, maybe a bit too musical, and definitely more towards the subtle side of SPFX design. The temptation to go big all the time is definitely there - especially since that's our teacher-mentor's style - but I like going towards the less impactful side of things with SPFX design and letting the punches, kicks and sword shings handle the big sounds. At least for this style of film. We'll see if my tastes change.

Born to Raise Hell - SPFX Moment #1

Early SPFX exercise, we were to choose a couple of visual effect-y moments from a clip and throw some abstract SPFX over them. Short and sweet for this one, made from a scream and a couple of resonant metal impacts.

Born to Raise Hell - SPFX Moment #2

Layered here - several breaths (pitched up and down), metal impacts, a bowed cymbal, some repurposed metal shing noises and low rumble (source unknown). Was pretty happy with the way this one turned out.

Son of the Dragon - Market Chase and Fight Scene - BG, SFX and SPFX

Final assignment for the course, three rolled into one - we were responsible for all audio here, with the BGs running most constantly from front to back. Anything missing SFX is likely because it was out of the bounds of the assignment. I mixed these together (they were submitted independently) after the fact to see if they'd all mesh up; usually, you won't have the same person responsible for BG, SFX and SPFX design, but I wanted to see if having one person (me) in all those three roles meant that I'd leave myself some good holes in one mix to fill up with another, maintain cohesiveness of sound sources, etc.

Tons of layers here, with the SFX being the most complicated and the session a total nightmare to get under control when it came time to bounce. This is the first project we'd been able to use elastic audio (dramatic pitching/time-stretching tool) on, and I used it to create the slowdowns and ramp-ups during the water impacts. Tried to differentiate the henchmen and the main character with different tonalities for their whooshes using some hissy sounds for the bad guys and low, raw animal sounds for the good guy's incoming swings.

With the SPFX, tried to keep these as kung-fu themed as possible again by sticking to Eastern and natural sound sources instead of going all the way to The Matrix side of things. I wanted to create the sense of the main character channeling some mystical power source for his moves, hence the spiritual chants. I think they went a little towards the subtle side again, but I'm good with that! SPFX for the table jump-up, slow-mo jump kicks and flying scenes were done with: reversed and crazy echoed Buddhist chants, a lion, dove flutters, monkey chittering, a 909 chap, a bullwhip, finger cymbals, reversed gongs, rattlesnakes and some sine wave rings.

 

Intro to Sound Designing

SPFX

TC Drug Sequence - SPFX

( Vimeo screwed up with this one and appended about 28 seconds of still video to the front of this clip. Skip to 0:28 for the start of the sequence. Sorry! )

Final assignment for our (too short!) Intro to Sound Designing class. I had a vision for this one, and it came together really quickly - very happy with the end result. Recorded several layers of breaths, whispers, gasps and crazy mouth noises, chopped them up and stretched them a bit with elastic audio and went very heavy on the echoes, delays and panning to create this chorus of voices in the guy's head. The siren was elastic audio'd a bit as well to get the pitch wind-down in there and has a chorus effect laid on it. Synth undertone is from an Absynth patch, tuned to fit the 909 bass kick hits at the beginning.

Other sounds include a manipulated lighter, pill bottle, heartbeat and some broken glass. I found myself thinking a lot about frequency content ahead of time on this one, why is probably why the mix came out so balanced.

In the next post, I'll go through my Game Audio impacts and give a quick look at my temp mix for a short section of a student film we had for our Mixing II course.

**All of these were just roughly mixed/mastered before I threw them up - any out of whack levels etc. are intentional in that that's where I am right now. We can watch my mixing ear improve as the year goes on!