Recent Work

I recently spent 10 days editing dialogue on a feature film. I’ve worked on a couple of features in the past but this was a bit different. I spent some time with Savalas doing some training and assisted on Red Road. I’ve mixed a feature length documentary (The Art of Time) but not for theatrical release, the same applies to the additional mixing work I did on Girlfriend 19. These forays into the world of film were fun but were fairly standard sort of work for me. Mandorla was very different. Firstly I was a Dialogue Editor, something I have done for TV and short films numerous times. However, the main difference was that before I have nearly always just worked on my own and was responsible for all the sound. To that end I found the process fairly simple as I was able to edit and clean the production sound knowing what other sounds would be in there. I was also able to work around noise issues by adding in sounds to cover issues like wind.

Mandorla was a whole different process and workflow. To start with I was working alongside Shaun Farley. I have known Shaun for many years now and have collaborated on a few online endeavours, mainly articles and online panel discussions with Designing Sound. I jumped at the chance to do some proper work with him, partly as he’s a friend and partly as I respect him as a peer. He’s a talented chap. I will confess now that I felt slightly like a fraud as this was highly focused work, the likes of which I have touched on but never actually done in full. That’s one thing I wish I could do more of, working with others as part of a team and to focus on one part of post-production sound.

After a chat with Shaun, I started my work piecing together a coherent dialogue track. It took a while to get into a good flow, mainly as this was a totally new way of working. Instead of removing as much noise as possible and covering the production sound with atmos tracks, I have to make the noise work. That meant more fades than I’ve ever created before. A trick I learned a long time ago is to take random small snippets of the production track with just the location’s atmosphere on and use that to cover gaps and noises in the dialogue. Again, this took that technique to whole new level that I’ve never done before. Using alt takes is another example of how I have only merely touched on dialogue editing in the past. All of this made me slightly like a fraud and was worried that my work wouldn’t be up to the job. Thankfully Shaun is a good teacher and gave me some great feedback, I’ve learned so much in the last week, it’s really stretched my sound editing skills.

The film starts the mix today (Tuesday the 22nd June) and I’m really looking forward to watching the film. Mainly to hear the results of my work and Zach Martin has transformed our work into a cohesive whole. I’ve never heard of Zach before but he must be damn good, mainly as he’s working as a mixer in Skywalker Sound! I will confess that I am bloody terrified of how my first attempt at proper dialogue editing will go down there. Hopefully it’ll be okay.

It’s actually been a busy time for me recently, a nice change after about 6 months of almost no work. A couple of recent projects have been my first collaboration with Dreambase Studios in Wootton Bassett. Again, I’ve known Alex Hudd for many years now but never had the opportunity to work with him. I was his Dubbing Editor on a cookery series that I’ve worked on before. Series 3 took Tales From The Bush Larder out of Kenya and into other parts of Africa. I’ve loved working on this show (Series 1 and 2 were done by Red Six Mix and Andrew Wilson is someone else I’m extremely fortunate to have worked with) as it’s full of really interesting things. Unlike other cookery shows, it shows food production and the culture in Africa, two things I love learning about. It’s almost more about anthropology than actually cookery.

Between these two projects I managed to squeeze in the post sound for an online sitcom called Staff Room. Thanks to a quick reply from me on twitter I did the post sound on the trailer and pilot last autumn and thought the show could do well as it was really good. Good writing, nicely shot and full of almost surreal moments of humour, not far removed from the likes of Spaced at times. The series got it’s commission from Wildseed Studios in Bristol. The series has lost the surreal nature and opted for a straight sitcom style. I love weird and unusual but the show is definitely stronger and will be far more (and deservedly) successful because of the change. The characters remain the same which is great as they are all well written and well acted. Ry McDermott (writer, lead actor and director) is someone who will definitely do well in the world of tv/film. I really appreciate that I got to work on the commissioned series as it’s 5 excellent episodes of good comedy. It says something when you have to stop work for a break as you’re laughing too much to continue.

I think that’s enough waffle for now.

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.

Workflows – how I mix

I thought I’d continue from my previous post about post production sound workflows. I used to work for a large company as a mixer. Although I did get involved in other areas my main work involved mixing other people’s tracklay. I found it quite a shock to start with as I’d done a little sound editing for others occasionally but I had mainly done all the design, tracklay and mix myself. It’s interesting to mix someone else’s work as it really highlights how different we all are in what we think should be done for a project.

In my previous post, I tried to stress how important it is to keep your work organised. Working with other people can really pay off. The first thing I did when I got the tracklay from someone else was to re-organise their work. Partly as I wanted it to fit how I mixed, but also to speed up my mix in the first place. On the whole though this was a minor thing and I’m certainly not implying that their work was disorganised.

My mix session template is a fairly complicated affair. Although quite elegant and efficient when you get to grips with it. The most complicated things I mix are normally animated series. So, for this post I will only discuss how I mix animations. My audio tracks are divided into sections (that I also colour code).

Dial

Music

SFX

Stereo SFX

Footsteps

Atmos

The first thing I do is mix the dialogue. It means I can concentrate on ensuring that the dialogue hits whatever broadcast specs I am working with. I can also tidy up the edits made by the editor. At this stage I also add any reverbs needed as a send effect.

There is no right or wrong way to mix really. I could pre-mix my sfx but for the animated shows I have worked on I have never found a benefit as the track count is too small and the sound edit is not that complicated. The only thing I do do is reduce the amount of sfx tracks to a minimum. I prefer this method as I only normally have 8 faders to work with and it saves time not having to constantly be scrolling through banks of empty tracks. I don’t find grouping the same sort of sounds together advantageous as again my track count is small and the simplicity of the animations. This isn’t a large feature film with lots of similar groups of sounds that need premixed. I also mix the music and effects together at the same time, again as it’s simpler to.

A quick tip here: For a series that uses the same locations I always spend time on the first episode to get the atmos tracks pre-mixed. Once done you can import those tracks without having to re-mix them again and again for each episode. Very handy too is to setup a session with a very long version of the pre-mixed atmos tracks. This is preferable than bouncing down an audio of the atmos mix in case you need to alter anything for a specific occasion.

Once I have finished mixing everything with the dialogue the show needs to be exported and sent to the director and producers for review. As previously stated I like to re-record my work within Pro Tools. It’s then easy to export the region as an mp3 to send to for review. I have worked a lot with people in a variety of countries and this remote method of working is quite nice once you get used to it. It’s also nice not having directors and producers having discussions (or arguments) about the mix while in the same room as you. Even with broadband internet speeds I still send a 320/kbps 48KHz mp3 as it still sounds good and takes a fraction of the time than a WAV.

Workflows and organisation

Thanks to @rynde and @joecavers for suggesting I write about Workflows. Workflows are very important in the world of post-production sound, especially in TV where there’s never enough time before the work has to be delivered. For me, I think that working efficiently is the key to this, the knock on effect being one is far less stressed than other people under similar pressure. Here’s two parts of how I organise my workflows that are evolving to make my work more efficient.

The key to efficiency is organisation. To start with all my work is neatly organised on the HDD. A clear and easily remembered folder structure makes searching for files and folders incredibly quick.

This is important not only while I’m working but as happens in the world of TV I might be called upon to go back to an episode to make changes beyond broadcast (like a different version of a mix to suit a different broadcast specification). Being able to find the work you did 2 years ago goes a long way to making one look slick and professional in my opinion.

My ProTools sessions themselves are always neatly organised too. Most of the time I use a specific template for any TV work as it has all the tracks, plugins and routing already there for large and complex programmes. I inherited the session from my predecessor in Telegael, apart from the input/output routing it’s now rather different from when I first used it. It is also a structure I follow even if I create a session from scratch.

Here is a chart outlining the rough signal flow.

Obviously this is rather simplified but it does show a clear logic of how my sessions get setup. From the audio tracks I can quickly re-record my stems within ProTools, allowing me to select sections and destructively drop in any fixes at a later date. It also means I can easily export different file types (mp3s for reviews and WAVS for delivery) of the same mix without having to sit through the show again in real time. This signal flow applies to all the different elements of a mix; dialogue, foley, sfx, footsteps, atmos and music. It means I can generate all my different deliverables (full mix, m&e, music only, sfx only, dialogue only) all at the same time within ProTools. It is this form of session organisation that can save an awful lot of time when in the delivery stage of TV post production.

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…

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