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About Time – Dialogue Editing Techniques

October 13, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 19.58.31

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.

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