Workflows – sending work for review as a QuickTime

Working remotely is something that I’ve had a few discussions with other people recently. I also wrote a post here.

I said that I have been sending my clients an mp3 for them to review. This is under the presumption that they are either editing the project themselves or at least working in the same building as the Editor. It’s easy as an mp3 is quickly uploaded, copied and imported into the edit suite. I have been wondering if there’s any other easy way to review work, especially if a client isn’t in the office or working away and needs to listen to my work. I used to upload work as a QuickTime, it has the drawback of being much larger than an mp3 but the benefit of including the video. I just did a play and below is some specs I worked out that will give me a 30Mb file for a 6:15 duration video.

It gives a pretty small screen size but the image is still quite crisp and certainly enough for people to view with regards to the sound, which is after all the reason for the video’s existence.

I like to use QuickTime Pro as it is very easy to add it onto the end of my workflow, especially as I re-record my work within Pro Tools. You can simply copy an audio file and paste it onto a video and export. Much simpler than using editing software. I know that QTPro isn’t easily available these days and wont be around too much longer as it’s been replaced by QT Player, but it’s worth the small cost (£20/$29) to have this speedy workflow. Still, whatever your weapon of choice these specs should give you a nice balance between picture/sound quality and file size.

The Clandestine

I thought I’d write a post about my experience on an online series called The Clandestine. It’s the first online only project I have worked on and I have to say I had a huge amount of fun doing the sound on the project. I had a simple remit, to make the sound exaggerated and over the top. This is clear cue to have some fun.

However, the first job to do is to create a nice clean dialogue track to work with. Out came iZotope’s RX2 to remove or at least reduce the background noise and atmospheres. I will admit that editing and cleaning up dialogue is one of the most satisfying things in post-production sound. While there’s some parts that I was unable to clean to my own satisfaction I am quite proud of what I done. I appreciate that a “bad workman blames his tools” but however amazing RX is, it cannot do all the work. I would love to buy Waves’ WNS or even Cedar’s DNSOne but like any freelancer I need to be careful about spending my money. The dialogue was nicely recorded and the clean up was fairly easy so please don’t infer anything negative from my thoughts.

So, with a nice clean dialogue track, the first thing I like to do is to put in all the atmospheres. The story takes place in Belfast, although it’s not referenced in the dialogue, but the accents of the characters. I used some generic city atmospheres and nothing specific to Belfast. I spent four years living there and it sounds like any other city. Please correct me but I can’t think of anything to separate Belfast from any other city in the UK. The atmospheres were picked for two reasons; 1) to create the background noises from the locations seen and 2) to help cover up some of the dialogue cleanup. The trickiest part was in Episode 2 where the two central characters have a conversation in the harbour in Carrickfergus. Not only was there the traffic and the waves but it was quite a windy day. Ironically I removed most of those noises but then put them back in with the atmospheres. That said, it really worked as the dialogue balanced much better than the original recordings.

The next phase was to add in all the spot sound effects. Most of these are often mundane but thanks to the nicely recorded location sound I didn’t have to add in too much in the way of Foley. The main job here was to liven up the soundtrack with some phone and motorbike effects. What I love about post sound is the ability to do new things. I’ve (sadly) never had the opportunity to do animated titles before so this was a real treat.

The final phase is obviously the mix. I mixed this project like it was being done for TV. The only change to that was I allowed peaks to hit -6 on the meters. I think it would be a great idea to have some form of standards for online mixing. Perhaps ones that mean any mixes done for online playback will easily translate to either cinema or Television. I do wonder if this unification of media will become a reality? Especially considering the already emergence of online television playback with the likes of LoveFilm and BBC’s iPlayer.

Joseph has created a Kickstarter page as he is hoping to be able to make further episodes. Please visit it, check out the clip of the series and (hopefully) contribute. Click HERE.

Remote Working

I wanted to write up my thoughts on remote working after this post on Social Sound Design. I have worked remotely a lot in the last five years and in a few different ways. I guess the most common method that people can identify with nowadays is simply sending ones work to the Director/Producer for review via the internet. I work from home and for numerous clients based in another countries, they send me QuickTimes and an OMF/AAF for me. I do the tracklay/mix, re-record the sound within the session, export as a 320Kbit/s 16Bit mp3 and upload via FTP or DropBox. I then await notes about the work, once addressed I send another copy. Once the sound is done a full quality 24Bit/48KHz WAV is sent.

I find this way of working fairly straightforward and does lead to a more relaxed interaction between me and the Director/Producer. Plus it has the advantage of being mostly in writing so mistakes and missed information is seldom. However the fact that I don’t know what room and equipment the Director/Producer is listening in/on I cannot know if the work is being fully appreciated. This has lead to a few minor issues of a Director asking for a bigger sound when it already sounds huge in my studio and they were listening on small PC speakers (this is a made up example by the way). Another advantage is that this system works wherever my client is in the world. I can just as easily work with a client in LA as one who is in Cardiff. Like a lot of systems, this one has advantages and disadvantages.

One other disadvantage is that the feedback and changes take a while to get through. In my previous job I would review work via ISDN to LA and be able to speak with the Director just like being on the phone. The added bonus being that after an hour or so the show was finished. This system is obviously a lot quicker but can be quite costly. ISDN and now IP boxes to do this sort of setup are pricey and for a freelancer too much of an investment to warrant. I have looked into other similar systems such as Source Connect which streams the audio out of ProTools to IP as an RTAS plugin within your session. I have used it before but again it’s too pricey for me at the moment, it’s a shame as it now has the ability for a Director to review the stream via an iPhone or online.

I am hoping that live online streaming is something that becomes easier and cheaper to do as would make the review process easier for smaller facilities and individuals who cannot afford large hardware expenses. Whatever happens I like working this way as it suits me to work from home at the moment and also means I can be cheaper to hire than a large post facility.

Professionals and Equipment

What is professional equipment? It’s been long stated that home recording will be the death of the larger recording studio. I have heard similar talk in the world of Post Production Sound in the last few years too with a few people I know moaning about people working in their bedrooms and not in proper studios. When I started out I did a little bit of freelance work (in addition to a normal full time job) on short films from home on a now terribly underpowered PC, but I was able to get some good results. I was happy enough for the time until I started getting some TV work so I bought a 17″ G5 iMac, ProTools7 (and DVTK2) and a pair of Genelec 8030s. Even though I was still fairly in-experienced I needed certain tools for the job.

The following year I got a job as a full time Dubbing Mixer down in Galway. Suddenly, I was confronted with a “proper” studio, complete with a ProTools HD system, I/Os and a control surface. For 4 years I plied my trade and finally was a “professional”. But what makes a professional exactly? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur”. So one can be immensely talented and experience but because money is not involved you are not a professional.

I have recently become freelance again and have setup a home studio. I am now far more experienced that I was when I started full time but my equipment is relatively basic in comparison. I now have an iMac, ProTools9, MBox2, MC Mix and my trusty Genelecs. I have also bought some rather powerful plugins too (iZotope’s RX2, PPMulator+ for example). Recently I blogged how I have made some DIY acoustic panels as well to treat my room. So, I now have some rather powerful kit in what is still a bedroom in my home but I am using said kit to do the entire tracklay and mix for a large pre-school animated series for the international market. Now I have years of mixing under my belt I feel comfortable enough to work in such an environment as I know it’s shortcomings and can compensate. I had this notion validated last week after taking two episodes to a Dolby approved cinema mixing stage in Cardiff to have a listen. It sounded great and just how I thought it would.

So, my question now is where is this technology going? My iMac feels just as powerful and certainly faster than my HD2 system from my previous job. Will this lead to more professionals buying cheaper equipment to do high end work and will we see more people working from home as it is cheaper than paying rent for a premises? However, I firmly believe that there is still an absolute need for large facilities to exist. It doesn’t the best bringing a client into your house when compared to the studio kitchen. Film mixing is also another necessity for large facilities.

Personally, I think we may see more people working remotely from home. Partly because of the equipment but also the increase in internet speeds that will help facilitate this. Why pay to build and kit out numerous tracklay rooms when the same work can be done from a freelance sound editor working from home for example?

This is more a conversation than my opinion so hopefully we’ll get a little debate going sometime…

iPod/iPhone Apps

Way back in 2008 I bought an iPod Touch. To me it was an amazing device that did everything what I wanted from a handheld computer. I had owned an HP PDA a few years before that and while it was good, I never used it much as the technology wasn’t around to do what I wanted. I wanted a handheld device that I could type on, connect to the net, do email and most of all handle audio. The 2nd Generation iPod Touch almost did all that. Back in September 2010 I was in Gatwick Airport and picked up a duty free 4th Generation model. Wow, what a difference. Having the on board mic and cameras really transformed the device. Finally I could start using it for audio.

Before you start to think ill of people using such devices in a professional environment I urge you to stop and really think about it. I wouldn’t use it to do any editing or mixing work obviously but it does have some peripheral uses. Here is a list of Apps and how I use them. Some are actually really useful and some are more fun geeky things.

Cleartune – Being a failed composer I find it easer for me to isolate frequencies musically. If I have a drone/noise issue I whistle the frequency into my ipod and it tells me the MIDI note and frequency, I can then remove it with EQ and quickly work out the harmonics involved in my head. It’s pretty accurate too as you can easily test by playing some 1KHz tone into it.

SPL Meter – An handy and configurable SPL meter using the built in mic. Fascinating to use.

Mini Piano – I use this to help identify frequencies (mainly before getting Cleartune)

Frequency Generator – I’ve not found a use for it personally but if I was doing OB or live I dare say it’d be handy to plug in to send tone down a line for checking signal flowss.

RTA Lite – Made by the same company as SPL Meter but gives you more information about SPLs across the frequency spectrum.

AC-7C Core Mini – A control App for PT. Handy having a second controller for things missing on my MCMix like a shuttle control.

Retro Recorder – This is my weapon of choice if I am out and about and not got my H1 on me. I’ve never used any of its recordings but there better than one would imagine.

I do have some other fun stuff like the Moog Filatron but I’ve yet to really have a play with them and find a use.

I’ll probably update this list periodically too if/when I find something new.

Ian

Sound Effect Libraries

I fell head over heels for this idea when Tim Prebble released Vegetable Violence on the world over a year ago. Since then I’ve discovered dozens of people making and releasing these libraries. The best list I have found is on Designing Sound who list them as Independant SFX Libraries.

Here’s a few more missing from that list.

Wraughk FX

Samuel Justice

Martin Pinsonnault

Airborne Sound

Bruitages

Pole Position

Unidentified Sound Object

Daniel Gooding

Coll Anderson

I recorded the sounds for a library way back in November and thanks to illness and then moving countries I’ve still yet to edit it for release. It’s no secret that it will be called The Bells upon release. My father has collected bells forged in the village of Aldbourne, where our family comes from, by various people from 1694 – 1826. There were literally hundreds of bells but  narrowed it down a bit for the sake repetition. I’ll do a full blog post on the library when I release it.

In the meantime I have created a very small library as a way of seeing what is involved in creating and selling such a thing. Last weekend my wife heard some odd metal noises which turned out to be a JCB scraping the road as it picked up sand from an Urban Beach as part of the Blackwood Festival. I wandered down with my H1 and the driver kindly allowed me to record him scraping the road. I cleaned up the recordings with iZotope’s RX2 and then added in all the metadata using Iced Audio’s AudioFinder. It’s the first time I’ve edited sound not in ProTools. It took some getting used to but was fine and allowed me to keep the audio at 96KHz as PT9 will only run at 48KHz through my MBox2. Now, I have routed all the sound on my iMac to the MBox2 so how AudioFinder and RX2 were able to cope and ProTools is a question I doubt Avid would be willing to answer. Finally I added some pages here to my blog and used E-Junkie to store and sell my library and PayPal for the money side of things. Quite simple in all once you’ve worked out all the details involved.

I know no-one has bought the library yet but to be honest I was more interested in working out the system more than anything else. Please do make any comments and suggestions about the library as this is my way of learning my mistakes this time around before I work on The Bells.

LLAP

D.I.Y.

I started out after University working on my own as no-one would employ me. Back in 2003 there wasn’t the online community that we have now to go to for help either. This lasted for about 4 years, during which time I had to improvise and work things out for myself. I am now back working on my own, but this time armed with years of experience working in a top end facility. So a shopping list of gear was put together, bought and now almost all is setup and working fine. The weakest link in my chain is my room. I do not own the house so can’t do much to the room as it would damage the walls.

So, how does one acoustically treat a room in this situation? My first thought was to buy some panels. The easy option I thought but having spent a small fortune on my kit I didn’t want to spend another one. I then remembered that my Brother-In-Law built his own recording studio a few years ago and used copious amounts of rockwool. A cunning plan then developed with the help of my painting and decorating father.

I measured the walls and thought how big I wanted the panels. My father got some 9mm board and cut out the panels. We then placed the rockwool on top and cut it to shape. Earlier that day we had gone to a fabric shop in Marlborough (Dible and Roy for those of you who live in that part of the world) and bought some nice velvety fabric (in the sale) and laid this over the rockwool. Flip the entire thing over, bring in the fabric on all four sides and staple to the board. Hey presto a home made acoustic panel.

This is the result…

First impressions are rather good. You can no longer hear much noise from the rest of the house and they have taken all the roomy ring out of the studio.

The last thing to do now is try to take a measurement and see how the room is performing across the spectrum.