To mark the recent release of X-Men: First Class in cinemas I thought I would put together a series of posts over the next few weeks outlining some of the various techniques, tricks and tools (alliteration FTW!) that I used as dialogue editor on the film.
Many of these may be well known, others perhaps less so but I want to put these ideas out there anyway – to create discussion if not to provide enlightenment. The inspiring thing about the internet is that there is always someone out there who knows more about something than you do (not just on the internet for some of us!) Consequently, by partaking in this flow of online information, it is nearly always possible to fine tune and hone even your most well-established work practices. In that spirit, I invite others to leave comments if they would like to share any alternative means – better or simply different – of achieving some of the results I’ll be describing over the next few posts on this blog.
One of the reasons I want to talk a bit about dialogue editing techniques is that, unless I’m just looking in all the wrong places, it’s one aspect of post sound that doesn’t seem to get touched upon too often.
Nearly everyone interested in dialogue editing must have read (or should!) Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures: A Guide to the Invisible Art by John Purcell. This is simply because it is a great book. However, this is also because (and correct me if I’m wrong) it is pretty much the only book of it’s type out there today.
I won’t attempt to give an authoritative explanation of why this is so because, to be honest, I don’t know. Sound design is obviously seen as the more exciting aspect of post sound, but nevertheless I feel that dialogue editing is going through a really interesting evolution at the moment, brought about by the constant improvements in new technologies.
Some of my posts will be quite detailed explanations of processes I use (perhaps using video if I get time to get it organized) and others will simply be software recommendations. Keep an eye out for them over the next couple of weeks and, as I’ve mentioned, feel free to join in the discussion.
Back to basics this month as I choose the theme for the first time since Rain back in November. ’Car passes’ may not be the most exotic theme we’ve ever had but it’ll be a very useful one if it provides us all with a greater variety of this type of recording to reach for.
As the club’s sound collection develops, I’d really like it to become useful to people for specific jobs they work on. In other words, if any members have a project approaching in the coming months for which they could really do with a fresh bunch of specific sounds (which are not location-specific) then give me a shout and I’ll try my best to make it a theme in time to deliver the goods for you.
With this in mind, I’ve chosen this theme for myself because it may be useful to me over the coming months. I’ve got a couple of relatively quick turnaround FX jobs coming up soon which are highly likely to contain many scenes which need background traffic passes covered. When you don’t have much time to pick out these individual passes, it’s really handy to have a good selection of recordings of a series of vehicles passing by, otherwise you have to compile the passes from an amalgamation of different recordings which is much more time-consuming and sounds less consistent.
Two particularly important attributes that a useful car passes recording must have are:
- Enough spacing between passes to give you full depiction of each vehicle’s approach and drive away. Two cars passing by together while another car passes by on the other side of the carriageway is of no use for this purpose (if at all).
- As with most types of recording, low background noise is important to avoid hearing a surge of noise as you fade the car pass in and out. What’s more, it muddies the definition of the sound of the vehicle itself.
Apart from that, though, there are very few conditions to adhere to. The vehicles must predominantly be cars but your recording may also contain bus / truck / motorbike, etc. passes too. The car passes can be as close or as wide as you like – although don’t go so wide that the individual car passes lose their definition and become a more general traffic atmos.
Think about definition: If you monitor at a low level but can still hear interesting detail from the engines, the road or simply from the acoustics of the street then the track is likely to work nicely when ducked down low in a mix around dialogue. If not, you’ll end up adding little more than surges of white noise to the mix.
A good selection of orthodox street / main road recordings at different speeds would be great, but I’m also hoping to hear some more unusual contributions too: eg. Cobbled streets, flyovers, speed bumps and manhole covers to name but a few variants.
Other than that, and as usual, I don’t want to tell you all too precisely what to record, but please feel free to comment below if you have any questions or if you think I’ve been unclear in any way; if so, I’ll provide more detail where necessary.
One bit of information I should have added to my post about my binaural walk through Waterloo was some pictures of the new MM-BSM-8 design; last time I checked Microphone Madness still hadn’t updated the image from the old design. I’ve also included a pic of the battery module and minijack-to-XLR adaptor (all from Microphone Madness) that I use to plug the mics into a 744T with the phantom power turned off.
Finally a new theme! Feels like ages since the start of the ‘Wind’ theme back in February – thanks for bearing with me these last couple of months while I’ve set up the new membership system for The Sound Collectors’ Club. As a result, we can now keep our collections of sounds online permanently so that they can continue to grow indefinitely, so I hope you’ll agree with me that it was well worth the wait.
Please have a thorough read through of the amended How to Upload your Sounds to the Club and Legal pages in the menu at the top of the page on The Sound Collectors’ Club website. Also, this summary may help bring you up to speed on the changes too. Essentially, everything’s the same except for a couple of important things:
- You will need to make a small payment to get membership to the Club for the year so that you can get access to the sounds.
- Vocal idents within all submitted recordings are now compulsory.
If, having read the uploading guide and legal page, there’s anything that still seems unclear then please feel free to contactl me and I’ll try to help you out.
Right, now for the much more fun bit; April’s theme. Our latest winner who gets to choose a theme is Angel Perez Grandi, who has contributed some stunning Argentinian field recordings over the past few months. In his words:
My suggestion for a set would be “natural echo spaces”, that is, spaces or sounds with inherent (natural) reverb. Diffused, decay, blurry background activity are words that pop to my mind. From canyons to temples to claustrophobic spaces as long as we get a strong sense of space. The resonance can be forced but not created through processing – a loud bang inside a tank would qualify too for example.
So; echoey sounds in a variety of interesting acoustic spaces – exterior or interior. This could include anything from footsteps in a stairwell to voices in a cathedral to gunshots in a valley to door slams in an industrial lift. As is often the way with my briefs, the main requirement is ‘character’. Can’t really add much to that – sounds like a great theme to kick off the new club setup. Enjoy!
I bought myself a new pair of mics for Christmas – MM-BSM-8 In-Ear Binaural Microphones (mine are a new, smaller design than the ones shown in the link) from Microphone Madness in the States. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I’ve only just got round to trying them out…..
I’ve started taking a slightly different route into the West End recently, which means my train now takes me into Waterloo where I catch the tube. The walk from the train platforms down to the tube takes you through quite a network of tunnels and corridors, and I’ve been struck recently by how interesting this walk is sonically, with acoustics changing quite significantly every 20-30 meters.
So I was wondering how well my new binaurals would capture what I was hearing.
Overall, not bad. Unsurprisingly, they’re quite susceptible to wind (the track is unedited apart from the worst mic bumps and blows). Spoilt by using Schoeps mics most of the time, I think these binaurals lack definition a little bit but I’d be interested to hear them in a ‘cleaner’ environment as noisy backgrounds can sometimes be unflattering to even the best mics. I’ve left the track au naturel but, to my ears at least, the recording benefitted from a gentle low cut from 100 downwards and then a subtle presence peak and hi shelf lift. Haha! Apart from that they sound great!
The result of the vote for the ‘Night and Day’ theme was a three way tie, so I’ve decided to give all three contributors the chance to choose a theme over the coming months.
First up is Dan Gallard of Sonik Boom Sound in Australia who has chosen ‘Wind’ to be February’s theme:
“My theme would be wind through different items be it trees, windows, doors etc. There have been a few times recently when I wish I had more wind to choose from.”
I don’t want to take over Dan’s idea (and feel free to comment to the contrary if this isn’t your wish, Dan) but one thing that I think would be good to try and focus on for this theme is capturing ‘atmospheric’ wind tracks (interior or exterior) and maybe trying to avoid anything that’s too similar to white noise. Obviously wind can convey all kinds of moods and emotions – everything from eerie whistles to relaxing breezes – and tracks like these can be priceless when it comes to needing to create interesting ambiances for films. Clearly, this is a tricky one as we will be at the mercy of Mother Nature but let’s see what we can all get together over the next few weeks.
Just a couple of ‘updates’ to mention regarding the club this month:
- This month, I was going to completely close the door on any entries which don’t have a vocal ident but, considering the difficulty of the theme, I will be a little bit flexible for one more month. However, vocal idents are still preferred if possible. Otherwise, as usual, your recordings must contain some form of imperfection (mic bumps, shash, etc.) to prove that they are not taken from some FX library CD. Once again, please don’t take offence if your perfectly manicured contribution is not accepted; I’m just trying to cover my arse.
- Lastly, due to a very low vote this past month, I think I’m going to put less emphasis on voting and winners. Essentially, I don’t think all that stuff really matters – I presume everyone’s main interest is simply the collecting. Therefore, once the ‘Night and Day’ winners have chosen their themes, I’ll just choose themes myself unless there happens to be a strong vote one month for some reason or if a theme gets a lot of requests in the poll widget in the sidebar of the club homepage.
Over at The Sound Collectors’ Club, November’s winner, Alastair Sirkett, has chosen the theme of ‘Night and Day’ for December’s theme. I’ll let him explain further:
“On the topic of the next theme. Maybe something like ‘Five minutes outside your front door’. Then you’d get a good range of sounds, countryside/city/people, etc. And then maybe they could record twice, one day/one night, more useful that way. Give people the opportunity of work or home, whichever is the more interesting?”
I like this idea as it’s really easy (you can’t get much simpler than sticking your mic out the window) but also by getting one recording during the day and then one during the night the sounds should come in really handy as atmos fx for when you have a location in a film or tv programme that you return to at different times of day.
I’m not going to set any restrictions on what the recordings should be but bear in mind the idea that your recordings should be useful for showing a transition or contrast between night and day at a specific location – they shouldn’t be two completely unrelated subjects. As Al explains, feel free to simply record outside your house or workplace but more adventurous locations further afield are obviously very welcome too.
A few things to mention for this month:
- I’m afraid I’m going to be a lot stricter about the necessity for a vocal ident on your recordings this month. I haven’t been able to lockdown the legal side of things just yet so the vocal ident idea is my insurance policy for now. Please help me out with this as much as possible. I may still consider accepting entries that don’t have a vocal ident as long as they are obviously not library fx but I can’t guarantee it. Please don’t take offense if I have to reject your submission(s) for this reason.
- From now on, I’m going to set a minimum sample / bit rate requirement of 48k / 24 bit, and I encourage you to record at higher sample rates whenever possible. This is directed at myself as much as anyone else as last month I submitted an old minidisc recording which was at 44.1k because I was short on time to get new recordings. However, I really want everyone to feel that they’ve gained a pro-quality collection of sounds at the end of each month so I think this is a necessary new standard to set. Likewise, although I’ve been an advocate of them for lo-fi ‘guerilla’ recording, phone recordings don’t belong in a professional sound collection like this either so will not be accepted.
- We’re fortunately already in the position of it being quite a task downloading all the submitted tracks! Apparently, Soundcloud are planning a ‘Set Download’ button that’ll save you having to click on each track, so that’ll eventually make life much easier. However, in the meantime, bear in mind that Soundcloud preserves any metadata that you load into your wav’s – at least it does when you load your metadata in Pro Tools which is what I tend to do (if you don’t use Pro Tools, don’t worry, just enter your metadata as you would normally and we’ll see whether it survives or not). Consequently, if you make the file name the same as the title you give the track on the Soundcloud upload page and then you make the ‘description’ box in Soundcloud show the same info that appears in ‘File Comment’ in the Pro Tools workspace then we won’t have to do any cataloguing at the end of each month, i.e. the info related to a track that appears in Soundcloud will already be contained within the file when it is downloaded. Conveniently, in this way your files can carry your contact info should they be needed by someone.
Recently, I went up to Elephant & Castle to record some urban atmoses on the notorious Heygate Estate.
I think I was expecting to get nice slap-echoed shouts and bangs, dog barks – the stereotypical ‘estate’ sounds you always hear. However, the estate was actually completely dead. Most of the buidlings are to be demolished as part of a larger regeneration programme in Elephant & Castle, so nearly all the residents have now been moved out. Initially disappointed, I soon realised that this afforded me the opportunity to get some really clean ‘skylines’ because the high-rise blocks gave me shelter from directly hearing the very busy main roads. Usually you have to go high, i.e. to the roof of a building to get the necessary distance from traffic, voices and passing footsteps in order to get a good skyline atmos ‘bed’ (to lay your FX on top of) but I found the enclosing walls of a desolate high-rise estate to be equally effective.
However, I’m sure you’ve all heard urban skylines before so instead I thought I’d share one of the outtakes of my recording trip with you all. As per usual, in any busy environment, there’s always a few who want to stop and ask you if you work for the BBC or something (I just say yes now) and the Elephant & Castle did not disappoint. Normally, the inquisitors are fairly wild-eyed if not just downright scary but on this occasion I actually had a policewoman (amongst others) stop and ask me what I was doing.
To start with I thought she was going to ask me to move along or something but she did just genuinely seem up for a chat. Now, in some ways I feel a bit bad, as though it’s perhaps underhand, that I’m publishing this conversation on my blog but on the other hand I was standing pointing a bloody great fluffy Rycote in the air when she came over and started talking to me so I don’t think this can really be considered ‘stealth’ recording as such.
Apologies if the content of the recording seems a bit boring. It’s not so much what we’re discussing that interests me; I’m not sure what interests me about it to be honest. Maybe it’s just that us sound editors spend so much time trying to separate the real world into nice clean layers that we can reconstruct and mould into an onscreen ‘reality’, that it seems odd when every once in a while you end up recording a slice of life without even trying.
Just to round off my trip, at Elephant tube station on the way home a young couple with a kid in a pushchair got into a row with an older lady in the lift going down to the trains. Shockingly, the argument culminated in the older lady hitting the kid in the pram and, not surprisingly, the young mum screaming at her and basically trying to throttle her. Didn’t stick around to record that slice of life.
Just a quick post to mention The Little House that aired on Monday on ITV1, attracting nearly 6 million viewers and trumping the “Spooks” penultimate episode over on the other side. I was Sound Supervising Editor on the job earlier in the year, working with director Jamie Payne and producer Jeremy Gwilt.
I’d just like to mention one of the sound challenges that I faced in this show, which is an issue I seem to have faced in a few TV programmes over the last couple of years: A baby playing a very significant role but having little or no sync sound to cover the multitude of different moods that it goes through during 2 x 60 minute episodes.
Luckily for me, I happened to have recordings of my son crying, gurgling, chuckling, screaming – the lot. I’d recorded some when he was pretty much newborn, only intending to capture the cute little noises he often made but inevitably ending up getting crying sounds too.
Later, when he was about six months old, I worked on another ITV programme called Sleep With Me which similarly required baby vocalisations throughout it’s entirety – mainly distressed crying and screaming. My little boy was waking a lot during the night at that time so it was very easy just to leave the mic in the corner of the room when he woke us up crying. I can’t say I was terribly popular with my wife for doing this but it has resulted in giving me a great stock of sounds to cover a variety of baby moods and ages when needed. My little boy is now nearly 3 so it’s getting increasingly weird to hear these familiar baby noises coming out of the TV, but it’s very nice in a way too.
The reason I mention all this is that I happened to stumble upon a rarety; a TV review that mentions the sound! It’s actually an ITV Discussion Forum, which comments on these baby sounds throughout Monday’s episode of “The Little House”. As the sound editor on the show, I’m sure you can appreciate that some of the comments are quite satisfying for me to read. Others are just plain funny.
Congratulations to Jeremy for the success of the first episode which you can still watch online for a little while, and best of luck for episode 2 on Monday at 9pm again!
Recent improvements in Soundcloud’s private sharing features have enabled me to put into action an idea that I’ve been wanting to set up for quite a while now but which I haven’t felt able to in quite the simple and fuss-free way I envisaged.
The Sound Collectors’ Club is basically a private account I’ve set up on Soundcloud. The idea is that people can upload their recordings on a given monthly theme to this account via the dropbox on the club homepage. Once the recording or recordings have been transferred into that month’s private ‘set’ (by me) I will then e-mail you a private link which will give you direct access to all the tracks which that set contains and which you are free to download and use within commercial projects without any restriction (other than you obviously mustn’t go and sell them on as sound effects – individually or as libraries). Hence, from contributing just one recording you could end up with a small arsenal of sounds to add to your library. However, a contribution is necessary in order to even be able to audition any recordings within the private set.
Part of the big appeal for me of using Soundcloud for this venture is that some of it’s ‘Stat’ features come in really handy. Once you’ve gained access to a set you can comment on each other’s recordings and ‘favourite’ a sound – all of which I’m hoping will soon be able to be automatically documented on Twitter for people to follow. The creator of the track that gets the most downloads (or decided by the number of ‘favourites’ that a recording gets if several tracks’ download numbers are tied) gets to choose the theme or topic for the following month. In this way, participants get a chance to supplement their libraries in the way that best suits them rather than me dictating the subject matter every month.
As is probably evident from this idea, I’ve been very inspired by the flurry of activity that has occurred over the past year or so within this global sound community that is currently thriving online. The Sound Collectors’ Club borrows ideas from several of the products of this community that have come before it but tailors them into a package which best suits me and my interests.
In a nutshell, the club is basically inspired by 4 things:
- I love the (potentially) phenomenal productivity of crowdsourcing (nod to Tim)
- I love the idea of field recording workshops but I’m always a bit frustrated that the pooled results are just for listening purposes and cannot be used on commercial projects.
- I like the concept of Shaun Farley’s Sound Design Challenge but I want to participate in a field recording version of this.
- Soundsnap. I’ve begun to dip into this from time to time over the past year or so and have grown to quite like using it for grabbing a couple of fresh sounds here and there. In this way, I don’t envisage the club providing definitive collections such as Tim’s Hiss and a Roar ventures; rather an occasional supplementary boost to the palette of fresh sounds at your disposal.
My current priority is just to get this idea out there and see if anyone’s interested in joining in. However, if people are interested, I do have a lot of ideas that I would like to try out in this format. One such idea is to do a larger worldwide version of Noise Jockey and fieldsepulchra‘s Project MoMa collaboration that they did back in May and then pool the results. Also, I’d like to try and make this not just a virtual club but also organize field recording meet-ups with other local sound enthusiasts and then once again use the club account to bring all our efforts together.
The whole basis and appeal for me of this idea is it’s simplicity but please do bear with me if there are any rough edges that crop up over the coming weeks that I may have overlooked. I’m no web wizard: I have no idea how to set up a website (hence I’ve stuck with wordpress.com) and have no real intention of learning as I prefer to focus all my attention on my primary ambition which is to keep getting better and better at sound editing. This is still a work in progress: I’ve made a point of avoiding the inaction that overdeliberation can produce but as a result I will need to continue fine tuning things over the coming weeks (including the appearance of the club homepage which still needs some work). Having said all that, in theory the club should need very little supervision other than accepting submissions so I’m hoping this is a very straightforward yet fruitful venture!
Feel free to offer up any comments or suggestions within the club homepage or through the club’s Twitter feed. With a bit of luck, there’s a few of you folks out there that are keen on this idea too and we can start getting a few sounds together!
Look forward to hearing from you -