Bigger Sound in Texas

Tomorrow I’m about to travel to Texas for the penultimate trip to finish Bots High. I’m meeting up with Sound Designer Kellen, where he and the studio he works at have been working on the sound for the film.

What’s sound design? Like most jobs in film, it’s one of those things where if you do your job well then the audience doesn’t notice. Bad sound is something you notice (and I’d say more annoying than bad video). There’s more leeway with documentaries, but narrative films can go so far as scrapping all the audio recorded on set and recreating everything, from bringing the actors back in to redo their lines (ADR – Automated Dialogue Replacement, though there’s nothing automated about it), background noise, footsteps, clothes rustling, and all sorts of foley sounds.

Here’s a cheesy video on foley artists.

Sound design and editing go hand in hand. A lot of the BotsIQ championship in Bots High was shot with multiple cameras. Each camera has a microphone and recorded sound from its perspective, but if you cut back and forth between each camera’s sound, it can be jarring, making you notice the cuts more instead of being immersed in the story. In sound design, all of that audio is smoothed out, so when you cut between one camera and another it’s not so noticeable.

Once sound design is complete it gets mixed. This is the part that gets to use the cool sound mixing boards with 20,000 sliders and buttons that looks like something from the Death Star (pictured above). It takes all the dialogue and sound effects and music and mixes them together. Music gets loud when it’s supposed to. Sound effects aren’t too loud to seem weird. You can hear the characters when they’re talking, but also hear the right amount of background noise. All of that and more is done in mixing.

What you end up with are three master tracks, or stems (well, I guess four). One with all the dialogue, one with sound effects, and one with music. And a master one that has them all together. There’s a commercial reasoning behind this. Dialogue is separate so when the movie is sold in foreign territories they can re-dub the dialogue with native speakers but keep the effects and music. Or you can censor curse words but not lose all the sound. And the music is separate just in case the licensing rights for a song expire or you don’t have international rights. You can add some new music in with the clean dialogue and effects.

So I’m heading up towards the end of sound designing. I’ll check out the work, see if anything needs to be added. Then this weekend we’ll be mixing the whole film. By next week I’ll be flying back with a hard drive full of mixed audio!

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