It’s been a while since I last posted about my dialogue editing techniques on a specific film so, with the release of the latest one I worked on, About Time, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a bit of software I experimented with on it - a relatively new plugin called Unveil by Zynaptiq that I’m sure most of you have already heard of and / or had a play with.
It’s an impressive bit of software: There are a few different ‘de-reverberation’ plugins available at the moment – the main ones that spring to mind are SPL’s De-Verb and iZotope’s new dereverb module in RX3 – but, in my humble opinion, Unveil is definitely the current frontrunner.
My intention is not to show you how to use it – google will offer up plenty of other sites which have already done that very well – rather, I thought it might be useful to provide a real working example of it’s accepted usage on a mainstream film.
It’s an interesting time for dialogue editing in terms of some of the blurring boundaries between what constitutes part of the editing process and what should be left for the dialogue premix in a dubbing theatre. Until this point, I’d only made use of Unveil on short pieces of audio; for example, the end of a line that used a different, wider slate or one word where an actor happened to turn his head off mic for a second. However, on ‘About Time’, one particular scene presented an opportunity to experiment with using it in a bolder manner.
The scene in question was shot in a cafe inside an echoey art gallery space. The booms weren’t off mic but inevitably sounded rather reverberant, while the radios were bumpy and shashy so couldn’t be used very much for reinforcement. Here’s where I got to with my final edit (this is just a short section of the scene):
Note, an example of the continually blurring boundary between editing and premixing: Earlier in the year when I worked on this, I felt differently but if I was editing this scene now I would render a notch of the very clear whine that permeates through this scene. I would always keep an untreated copy of the edit to hand just in case but with these very clear whines (that appear as an obvious solid line when viewed in a spectrogram) I don’t see the risk of a judicious editor doing the honours and saving a bit of time for the mixer in the theatre.
Anyway, as you can hear, the booms aren’t terrible but they seemed to lack a bit of focus that I was concerned might cause clarity problems once background FX and music were added in the mix. Therefore, I decided I’d have a go at ‘de-verbing’ the whole scene and offering the result up as an option at the premix so the mixer could choose which he preferred.
So, definitely ‘drier’ but I would say that the reverb reduction does sound a bit unnatural in some ways when heard this exposed. However, my idea was that this treated version would be given some ‘polish’ by a high end reverb at the premix. This is exactly what happened; in effect, the reverb was put back on but now clarity and focus could be controlled depending on the type and quantity of it applied. So, the end result, placed in the context of the final mix as a whole:
Although this de-verbed version of the scene ended up being preferred and used in the final mix on this occasion, this by no means opens the floodgates for me in terms of the regular use of deverberation on my dialogue editing on future films. The important point to note here is that this exciting development in software technology simply gives us dialogue editors one more card up our sleeve in the pursuit of improving clarity and minimising ADR line counts. Some of these cards are best played in the edit room, but sometimes they need to be saved for the theatre, to be decided upon in the context of the mix as a whole. I feel that this is how we can be braver in our editing choices on occasions – as long as you can present an experiment, such as the one I’ve explained here, as a quick, clear and simple A/B comparison to your mixer at the premix then you’re not locking yourself into anything and can make an informed decision together in the big room.
This weekend, I gave a very short talk at an event in Newcastle, called From The Horse’s Mouth.
It was organised by Tyneside Cinema as part of a short film course they’ve been running for 15-19 year olds in the North-East. The aim was to get a few industry professionals to talk a bit about how they found their way into the industry, with the hope that this might provide some useful advice to the course participants.
I’ll be honest, although I’m happy to give advice whenever asked, the main reason I agreed to talk was as a favour for the organiser, the filmmaker and writer, Ian Fenton, who I know and like from way back when I did the sound for his short film, Flickerman. However, in the end, I think Ian is the one who did me a favour: It was fantastic to get an opportunity to chat with the other speakers who had such diverse roles, like screenwriter, cinematographer, distributor and programmer. How often and how else would you get the opportunity to talk with such a cross-section of the industry?! I strongly recommend taking up such an offer if you ever get the opportunity – I’m sure I got more out of it than I was able to give.
Anyway, I promised Ian I would post a kind of reading and links list as a resource for any of the participants, should they be interested, so I’ve added it below. Firstly, I thought it might be worth adding a rough transcript of my presentation too.
Fellow pros, please feel free to add any of your own recommended reading, links or advice in the comments section.
TRANSCRIPT OF MY PRESENTATION
How did you get from school to where you are now?
At school, I naturally gravitated towards the arts; particularly English and then, when I went to University in Manchester, I studied History of Art. While I was at Manchester, I got very into the whole music & DJing / nightclub scene there. By the time I’d graduated, I’d become interested in learning how to make my own music rather than just playing other people’s, so I signed up to a course at a place called Manchester Midi School which was basically an intro to music production and midi programming. I absolutely loved it, and emerged from it, a year later, desparate to work in a recording studio.
This inevitably focused my sights on London where, over a period of about 2 years, I picked up dribs and drabs of work experience or very low-paid / unpaid work as a runner at various studios around London (the most significant stint I did was probably running at Livingston Studios when Ry Cooder was mixing Buena Vista Social Club there). By chance, one opportunity that came my way at the end of that 2 years was a staff job as a runner at a post-production sound facility in Soho called Magmasters. Unlike running in a music studio, which generally only offered occasional shifts which you were lucky to get 20 quid for, I started at Magmasters for the princely sum of £7500, which enabled me to move to London for the first time, albeit into what was basically a squat in Brixton!
From then on, it was just about hard graft, and trying to be amiable, diligent, humble or confident, depending on the situation. I made teas for about a year and a half – all the time learning how to use the studios and their hardware. As a result, I was able to fill in when a sound editor or recordist was off sick or left to work elsewhere. From there, it just became about working hard to gain more experience, more responsibility and more opportunities. I’ve done all sorts of post sound roles since then and now work at another, smaller post sound company called Phaze UK, where I now specialise in Dialogue and ADR Editing for films.
What is your role now?
My role as a Dialogue Editor is to firstly take all the location recordings that the Picture Editor has used in his/her cut and make these sound as smooth, fluid and ‘natural’ as possible, so that there are no jarring cuts or distracting bumps and bangs on the characters’ dialogue. Any lines of dialogue that are unusable, due to noise, clarity or performance, have to be replaced with ‘ADR’ (Automated Dialogue Replacement) which is recorded in a studio with the actor/actress in front of a TV monitor, lipsyncing his/her original lines as they appear in the film. Finally, I record additional background voices with a ‘Loop Group’ (this is called ‘Crowd ADR’) for any crowd scenes or to cover any spurious background people who can be seen to be talking behind the film’s principal characters. Once all these stages are complete, I take all this work to a large dubbing theatre to be mixed in conditions intended to replicate how it will sound in a cinema. My dialogues are mixed together with FX, Foley and Music to create the Final Mix in Surround Sound.
From your own personal experience, what are your 3 top tips for someone who wants to get into the film business?
- Although I’d say a large proportion of people working in post sound are freelance, I would recommend starting off your career / getting your foot in the door via a staff job at a facility or small post soundhouse. It’s simply a great way of being introduced to the trade, learning the trade and working out what aspect of the industry most interests you.
- Don’t chase positions at facilities or soundhouses by simply posting bucketloads of CVs. I think this has always been a pretty futile endeavour but is particularly so since the internet and social media completely transformed how people connect and get each other’s attention. Use these tools to create a platform where you show your passion, creativity and commitment. Network and build relationships. Get involved in groups, attend events – increase your chances of having a stroke of good luck come your way.
- Don’t just focus on learning the specific technical skills of the particular craft that interests you. For example, with hindsight, I now feel that my English A-Level and History of Art Degree have served me just as well in the film industry as has my Diploma in Studio Recording. This is because it is just as important to understand the art of storytelling as it is to understand the principles of sound. Empathy, creativity and your analytical skills are as important as your technical ability. One of the fascinating things about working on films is that you experience an eclectic variety of subject matter, so an open and enquiring mind is always useful.
- “Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures” by John Purcell (The only dialogue editing guide book you’ll need – I’d hang on for this new edition as it’ll be more up to date)
Career / Attitude
- “The Start-Up of You” by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha
- “Linchpin” by Seth Godin
- “What Colour is Your Parachute? 2013 by Richard N. Boiles
- “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
WEBSITES OFFERING FILM SOUND CAREER ADVICE
- Social Sound Design (Search ‘Career’, for example).
- The Music of Sound - in particular, Career Advice Part 1 and Part 2 are must-reads.
RANDOM / MISCELLANEOUS
Google is such an amazing resource when it comes to researching, chasing leads, etc. – make full use of it! A relatively short search whilst preparing my talk offered up this eclectic mix of articles, vids and websites that are relevant in a variety of different ways. Don’t just look for advice from film industry pros – advice from any creative professional can be relevant to your own ambitions in the film industry.
After much deliberation, I’m finally up and running with my iPad 3 / Sound Devices MixPre-D sound recording combo! I only got about half an hour this evening to quickly give it a test run but I’ll share the resulting recordings with you as a rough demo:
My deliberation was due to originally wanting to use the Sound Devices USBPre2 but this setup was beginning to seem rather convoluted due to the USB Battery that would have been required. I worked out the setup in the diagram below but I’m not 100% convinced it would have actually worked:
The ‘Dr. Bott’ Buss is (as I understand from what I’ve learnt from trawling the internet) simply a device to add into the chain in order to trick the iPad into not thinking the USBPre2 is too much of a power draw (which it isn’t) and rejecting it. The Denecke is simply for taking the strain of the phantom power away from the iPad so that it’s battery would last longer.
I tweeted this picture a while ago and, after a few ideas and thoughts from others – namely Shaun Farley – Sound Devices themselves chipped in, suggesting I simplify things by using the MixPre-D which has it’s own built-in battery power supply. Why didn’t I think of that?! (Don’t answer that).
So now the only addition to the chain is simply the camera connection kit which enables the MixPre-D to link up with the iPad.
Initial tests have given promising results I think; good, clean sound like I’m used to hearing through the 744T. I’ll do a more thorough variety of recordings over the next few weeks but tonight, unfortunately, I didn’t have a good stereo pair of mics to use recording some room tones, etc. so I’ve stuck with a quick voice record using my U87 and then some exterior train and siren sounds captured using my MKH40. See what you think.
As for the actual operation of the setup, Auria is great! If I can get everything packed up appropriately in some kind of bag with the iPad on top then I think I’m on to a winner. As far as I’m aware, Auria is the first app to enable 96kHz recording on the iPad, which was my original stimulus for trying to achieve this recording setup. Large meter display; a DAW at your fingertips; export AAFs to Dropbox – it’s hard to find fault really. However, a couple of tiny bugs that I’ve come across so far:
- Listening through the headphones, I had to ‘reset’ this by unplugging and replugging the headphone jack a couple of times. Once this was when I booted up Auria but wasn’t able to monitor the input until I replugged the headphone jack and then it kicked straight in. The other time was when I was recording and tugged on the headphone cable too much and it seemed to upset the audio output from the iPad and introduce digital glitching noises until I replugged the headphone jack at which point the glitching stopped straight away (and wasn’t on the recording). This is another reason to make sure that whatever bag I can get hold of to hold all this setup together has to protect all the USB connections and the headphone jack from any strain or knocks. By the way, in my view, the most vulnerable connection to protect is the camera connection kit into the iPad (though I didn’t have any problems with it this evening); the USB connection into the MixPre-D feels really solid to me.
- A tiny detail which may perhaps be through my own error: I did some editing in Auria before exporting the session to Dropbox and, strangely, the crossfades I did were carried through into Pro Tools but not the rest of the fades. Will keep an eye on this next time.
- As far as I can tell so far, the settings in the iPad dictate the sampling rate of the recording and the MixPre-D follows suit. However, when I connected the two devices and opened a 96kHz session in Auria, the MixPre-D continued to say it was set at the default setting of 48 kHz which was a bit unsettling. However, judging by the final AAF that I opened in Pro Tools, the recordings are indeed 96kHz and 24 bit so surely the MixPre-D did tow the line with the iPad otherwise the recordings would have glitched?
So, after only a quick play this evening, those are my initial impressions. I’ll keep you posted with any discoveries or bugs that I come across over the coming weeks, and Sound Collectors’ Club members can expect to see a lot more demos coming their way in the form of new contributions to various themes. For starters, I’m planning to take this setup along to record church bells with Raoul in September. Better get a move on with finding that bag……..
As I’m sure many of you are aware, voting for the Vimeo Awards is currently in progress. I recently discovered that a short film I worked on last year, ‘Skirt’, by the fantastic director, Amanda Boyle, has been entered in the fashion category. Please check it out and give it your vote!
Bar a few breaths and a couple of lines of Spanish, the film contains no dialogue but fully utilizes the foley services of the talented team at Park Road Post . I took care of the background FX, for which I was able to plunder a few recordings from The Sound Collectors’ Club’s Night and Day and Trains: BGs themes. Members spot them if you can!
UPDATE on 10/6/12: Skirt won the fashion category!!!!
The latest theme: ’Protest’ is in progress over at The Sound Collectors’ Club. For full info, head over to: http://thesoundcollectorsclub.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/new-theme-protest/
Also, the Night and Day collection is now back online – but not in the usual way; The Sound Collectors’ Club may well move it’s stock from Soundcloud over to Sugarsync. Check out the full details at: http://thesoundcollectorsclub.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/night-and-day-reopens-right-on-your-desktop/
A few months back, I started off my series (all 2 of them! One more to come soon….) of videos about dialogue editing techniques by saying that I didn’t think that dialogue editing was discussed much online – certainly not in comparison to sound design.
Consequently, when I do stumble across such information, as I did just the other day, I feel it’s only right that I do my bit to spread the word.
Apologies if most of you already know about these, but the other day I came across these videos of the man himself, whose book we all constantly refer to – John Purcell – talking a bit about dialogue editing. I’ve only had a quick look but I thought I’d share them anyway; see what you think of them.
The companion collection to June’s theme is in progress over at The Sound Collectors’ Club! For full info, head over to http://thesoundcollectorsclub.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/septembers-theme/
Quite a simple theme in progress this month over at The Sound Collectors’ Club, after quite a tricky one in July. For full info, head over to http://thesoundcollectorsclub.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/augusts-theme/
Once again, please feel free to leave thoughts, comments and feedback below.
NB. Still lo-fi I’m afraid: A long overdue computer update is imminent over the next week or so at which point I’m hoping I’ll be able to improve capture size and resolution and avoid all of the image stuttering and audio glitching that you’ll notice in these vids. Secondly, I tried to not say ‘er’ during the video but at Take 34 that went out of the window – man, it is hard!