News Archive
Archived news from MWS Media

Articles tagged with: Audio

11
September
2014

Ears Are Idiots

This may be a little bit of a technical blog but fingers crossed it will highlight some things you already knew, but didn’t know you knew about how things work in the audio industry.

Sound is a wonderful thing and our ears allow us to hear such aural delights as birdsong, a child's laughter, Iggy Azaleas new single or the noises our MD Ben makes in the 2 days preceding a half hour gym session (maybe not the last two).

But what you might not be so aware of is that in relative contrast to your eyes your ears can be deceived relatively easily. Currently here at MWS we are mixing and designing the sound for our upcoming feature film collaboration with Primley Road Productions 'The Catch' (Plug, plug). Now although 'The Catch' is a relatively straight forwards film in terms of sound design (we have no huge car chases to foley or new alien dialects to create), it comes with it’s fair share of challenges. But let me first draw your attention to some more obvious examples that you can relate to.

Star Wars

What would an actual star war sound like? Would they sound anything like master sound designer Ben Burts epic soundscapes of explosions, laser cannons and screaming ion engines? No they wouldn’t because space is a vacuum and no sound travels in a vacuum. Therefore what we would hear would in fact be silence, Burt and co cheated our ears into thinking that there was (awesome) sounds when in fact there would be none.

Ok maybe that's a bit harsh on our ears as few of us have first hand experience of space audio. How about…

Car Tyres

Ever scene a car pull away in a movie and heard the tyres screeching on tarmac? Loads I bet. Ever heard the same thing in real life. Perhaps, but lets face it when a young buck pulls away from traffic lights on the A4 having whipped the clutch out like their movie heroes, the wheels make a stuttering gripping noise as they struggle to find tarmac. Rarely the uniform constant rotation on a smooth surface which would cause such a screech. Do we care? No because it sounds great and adds gravitas and power to the moment. Let’s stick with vehicles...

Gear Changes

During the famous canal chase scene in James Cameron's masterpiece Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Arnold’s bike changes up a gear 14 times (sources vary). Fast and Furious movies see our drivers shift through around 200 gears with a simple stick shifter. It certainly helps to build tension though.

Fighting

Ever punched/been punched/seen someone being punched? (Don’t answer out loud) I myself being a rugby player have no idea what one of those is but I have it on good authority that is sounds absolutely nothing like it does in the action films. If it did such films would be very short as one of those impacts would be paramount to a blow with a sledge hammer.

Nightclubs

Again, no idea what these are except from seeing them in films, but have you ever wondered how people can talk to each other at such a graceful level whereas inside the real thing you’ll be lucky not to blow your voice out ordering a drink (orange juice)?

I could go on and I’m sure you have plenty of examples yourself and will annoy your family next time you sit down to watch TV (mine don’t let me anymore). So why do we so readily deceive our poor ears? Two main reasons. For dramatic effect and to help the narrative. We touched on examples of dramatic effect above with screeching tyres, epic battles and crunching blows. Try to imagine those horrible scenes in horror movies. Bone crunches, flesh ripping, blood and guts, all of those distressing noises are amplified in volume considerably higher than is realistic in order to pull you in to the happenings and further immerse you into the terror.

As for the narrative part take the 'Nightclub'. If we can’t hear what our characters are saying to each other then we are going to struggle to follow the story. Think of all the times you’ve watched a scene with someone far from the camera with perhaps a busy road in between them and you. Hows the dialogue? Clear as a bell? Of course it is as audio designers and engineers we sometimes have to compromise realism for clarity and story telling and thankfully most of the time our ears let us do that.

So maybe it's harsh to say that our ears are idiots. In fact the ease at which they can be deceived leads to a much wider breadth of creativity and greater margin of error for some technical aspects. Most of your summer blockbusters will be overdubbed using ADR a technique whereby the original dialogue is replaced with studio recorded sound and synced to the footage. Look closely and you can sometimes pick out minor mis syncs on even the grandest of productions (again, I recommend doing this on your own away from friends and family). But it leads to lovely clear crisp dialogue and often the ability for a director to recapture elements of a performance after the shoot.

Ears, you may be a little stupid. But we love you.

Nick

Categories: Film, Audio

13
June
2014

Improvised Film; Sound Mixing

 

In my blog post last week I talked about recording the audio for our latest feature film, which is a completely improvised film with no script, just characters who meet at a tree in a field and essentially have a completely unscripted conversation. Even we didn’t know what they were going to say and our job was to record it, which as you can imagine was a bit of a mission!

We placed multiple mics around the location itself and the two actors also wore lapel mics that were discreetly hidden under the tops they were wearing. The lapel mics were initially considered more of a backup solution, just in case the other mics didn’t pick up clearly enough the dialogue. However when importing and syncing the eight different mic sources it became clear that while the six mics placed around the location had captured the dialogue cleanly, none of them had captured the level of detail the lapel mics were giving us.

Before importing and syncing the audio sources I’d imagined we’d be using a blend of mic sources to create the final mix itself, but there were phasing issues, and the sources themselves sounded too different from each other to easily swap back and forth between different mics. It would’ve been a bit of a nightmare trying to select the best source for each line, then also have to try and EQ each mic so that they all sounded cohesive and natural to listen to.

The other option was to simply pick the best source, which was clearly the lapel mics, and to work harder on getting those to sound as good as they can. For the most part this method makes it a lot easier to achieve more, faster. I applied simple compression, EQ and basic gates to each lapel mic source and then proceeded to listen though to the tracks individually, adjusting the setting for the inserts as and when each required it. After approximately fifteen to twenty minutes I’d heard as much as I was going to in terms of range of dynamics and volume, so I was confident the setting of the compressors, EQ’s and gates would be good enough to do the job of keeping the sound mix of the film under control.

The next step was to painstakingly go through the two tracks individually again, picking out all of the pops, clicks, interference and general rustle and noise on each lapel mic track. For some reason one mic was particularly prone to interference noise, while the other was more prone to clicks and pops? Either way, I used good old-fashioned cut and paste techniques to cover up any noises I didn’t want to hear. There were lots of moments of silence between the actor’s dialogue where I was able to steal snippets of “silence” to paste over random clicks and pops.

The actors were also sat close enough to be able to dip the volume of one mic and bring up the other mic momentarily, where I needed to cover a click or pop that occurred when an actor was speaking.

Probably the biggest challenge is wind and plane noise. It’s random, can sometimes completely cover a line of dialogue if its loud enough, and worst of all happens just when you don’t want it to! I used EQ as best as possible to reduce the level of wind and plane noise during dialogue, but ultimately in the end we decided that the rustic, gorilla feel that we took to the film meant that leaving some wind and plane noise in actually brought quite a nice texture to the sound mix, especially considering there is nothing else to listen to in the whole feature other than two actors speaking. The film is actually sometimes more about the silence between the lines than the lines themselves as well. Because the actors were improvising every line, there are a lot of beautiful silent sections where you can see the characters thinking about how to respond to what’s just been said. And so all those little things that make up the audio soundscape of the field they were in at the time, the birds, the trees, planes flying overheard, wind, rustle of clothing during movement, these are all the things that make it actually quite an interesting listen as a sound track, rather than simply tidying the whole thing up, whacking some music and audio sfx here and there and just giving audiences exactly what they expected to hear.

We hope it’s a nice refreshing change if and when you ever view the film, to know that every moment you see, and in particular hear, was a natural, organic moment created by the two actors as their characters, and everything you hear is exactly how it happened on the day of filming itself as well.

 

Phil

Categories: Film, Audio