Things left unsaid - Audio Post Blog 1
For the last four weeks, I’ve been working as an Audio-Post engineer on a short film called ‘Things left unsaid’. My team members were Alexander Malual and Jasiah Buckley as co-engineers. Tristan Meredith, who is an Audio-Post lecturer at SAE Institute, Melbourne, oversaw the whole audio side of the project. The project was a bit challenging but also very fun to do.
The film is a neo-noir, crime, mystery, thriller themed around unrequited love. It is centered on John, who is apparently a Private Investigator and his co-investigator and friend Sam, who apparently is in love with him. John is hired by some Mrs. Benson (a character not revealed in the film), to spy on her husband (revealed to be Franko Cassorini, a mobster) who is apparently cheating on her. A lot of questions arise when John finds out that the women Franko is having an affair with, is actually his own wife. Two murders take place during the film which leave a lot of questions unanswered and a lot of things unsaid.
Our job was to create and edit all the sound for this 6-minute film clip, which included Dialog Mixing, Atmos, Foley, Sound Effects and Design and Music composition. To start with, we were given a low-res version of the film with a rough dialog mix (which was all over the place) and the Atmos recorded on set.
Most of the production work took place in the D-Command 24 Studio at SAE except for the dialog mix, which was done in the S6 Studio, again at SAE. I was in-charge of Pro Tools and Console Operation, Sound Recording, Design, Editing and Mixing.
Avid D-Command 24 Console
Pic credits - https://www.rspeaudio.com/Used-Avid-ICON-D-Command-ES-24-p/avd-dcmd-es-24-rsl.htm
The biggest challenge of this project was Dialog Mixing. This was because the dialogs given to us were recorded on set and had a lot of inconsistent background noise, which changed in levels with each shot. My speculation is that the on-set recording engineer did not set the gain structure on his recording preamps appropriately. The noise was too loud and in some places the dialog was barely audible. We tried reducing it using the iZotope RX6 Denoiser but in addition to the noise, it was removing a lot of detail from the voice as well, so eventually, we decided not to commit to it. The reason for this was that the noise and the dialogs were sharing some of the same frequencies. Anyways, our job was to work with whatever we had and make the best out of it.
To make this Dialog Mix work, I decided to ‘Add’ noise to it so as to make it sound consistent and to fill the gaps after each line was spoken. This ‘added noise’ was the Atmos recorded from set itself. I added ‘fades’ and crossfades’ on the audio clips wherever needed and used a combination of changing clip gains and volume automation. Dialog mix was probably the most difficult part of the whole project but it was also the most rewarding. Tristan seemed very happy with it and so was my group.
After the dialog mix was done, it was time to record Foley. We used a super-directional condenser microphone called the Sennheiser MKH416; a very popular boom microphone in Audio for Video applications. Tristan suggested that we use this microphone because of its high noise-rejection quality and also because it is an industry standard microphone in Post studios. Also, it was better to use this microphone rather than a conventional condenser microphone because it’s easier to handle and is also very sturdy.
Although, there were some sounds provided which were recorded on set, most of the Foley was recorded by us in Post. Jasiah was our Foley artist for the majority of the project with Alexander chipping in some Foley as well. I overtook most of the Foley recording, editing and mixing part. I added corrective and creative EQs where necessary and added reverb to match our Foley with the sound of the space in the shots. I also had to automate this reverb using the D-Command Console to create a more realistic effect.
The most difficult aspect of recording Foley was doing it in the D-Command Studio. This was because the soundproofing in that studio was not the best and we were getting a lot of noise from the common room nearby. Most of our Foley sounds were very subtle in nature (like tying shoelaces, camera handling, writing on a piece of paper, etc.). For this reason, we had to keep the preamp gains high and thus it was also capturing a lot of that noise coming from outside the studio. But, I managed to tackle this issue with some in-the-box gating and EQ.
After Dialog Mix and Foley, the only things left were Sound FX, Design and Music. Alexander took charge of composing the music and I started working on SFX. It was amazing to see Alexander finish off the music in 4 hours. He used Ableton for music production and he will probably cover more about it in his own blog.
There was not a lot of SFX and Design work in this project apart from the glitchy visual effect used by the director and some gun sounds. I used the raw sounds given to me by Tristan and designed it by chopping, pitch-shifting, time-stretching and adding delay and reverb effects to create the glitch SFX and the rhythmic cliché-metallic-stab SFX. I also added distortion to the stab effect, taking suggestions from Alexander to make it sound undesirable, irritating and to make it standout in the mix.
After the SFX Design and Music was completed, we automated the music and added fade-ins and outs according to the film. I also left a long tail of reverb at the end to signify the unresolved story and the possibility of a sequel.
After all of the sounds were in, Alexander and I worked on mixing them together. I manually automated the pans for our Atmos in 5.1 surround field to create depth and make more room for the dialogs and all other important stuff (Foley, music, etc.) and also as a creative effect.
To summarize, I would say that it was a pleasure working on this project. I’m happy to have learnt some cool new techniques and practices during the Dialog Mix and 5.1 mixing under the guidance of Tristan and I’m also very thankful to Alexander and Jasiah for being such great team players and sharing their technical and creative skills, knowledge and experience with me.
Final Video link - https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B6BKgM3bo6RAQmNOMGREbjcwUTQ