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.
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.