Audio Post Production Sound Design for TV and Film
June 20, 2018
With modern-day television and film, we’ve come to expect a certain level of sound quality along with the high-definition visuals. When that sound quality lacks, it can distract, sometimes ruin, the rest of a project. Along with having the right equipment and proper recording configurations, audio post-production and the workflow can make or break the final product. Spending a little time to learn what to expect from your sound designer and mixer will help you both financially and artistically, resulting in outstanding sound quality and an even better final product.
Communicating with Your Sound Engineer
It starts with the story. Give your sound designer an idea of what the story is about and what style they should follow throughout. It’s the job of the sound designer and mixer to present you with ideas and alternatives when appropriate to fit your style. They’ll want to know what type of emotions you are looking to evoke during certain areas of the productions. Whether it be with natural sounds, music or other varying effects, getting the right emotional feel is key.
The engineer will need to look at your project (rough or final) to allow them to get a sense of how much work is going to be needed to edit the production sound and create the sound effects, foley and ambience of your project. This will give you a sense of the quality of your production sound and a direction of where your budget should go. If the cost for what you’re trying to accomplish is too high, it is best to know from the beginning, so adjustments can be made to fit your price range.
Start by building a DAW master template that is suitable for the given project. It should house more than enough audio tracks to cover the whole films dialogue, sound effects and foley ready for mixing the audio post production. Thinking ahead is beneficial in the long run. Begin importing the necessary files. OMF/AAF files are the files used for delivery of the production tracks synced by the picture editor.
Whether you are working by yourself or with entire production team, a spotting session is a must. This is where you have discussions about production audio and ask specific questions about the sound design to build and expand on ideas. If working with film or video, having the picture editors in the same room would be beneficial if there are questions about b-roll or different mic channel configurations. It is not uncommon for requests to repair or improve less-than-ideal production sound at this point.
Dialogue Editing/Sound Design
Dialogue Editing is trimming and extending clips, adding fades, duplicating, swapping out takes and rendering audio repair effects onto clips. Also, removing any inconsistent and uncomfortable sounds allows the re-recording mixer to perform the mix with smooth and clean dialogue tracks.
Sound effect editing and sound design is where you build layers of sound effects taken from personal or commercial libraries to create an immersive soundscape in line with the director’s notes. These sounds come in multiple categories.
Spot effects are intended to cover obvious sounds on screen such as doors, vehicles, fist punches, etc. They may also be used to replace or enhance sounds captured on the production tracks that aren’t suitable for the final mix. Intended to sell the continuity between shots in your scenes and transitions.
Background effects are often long, consistent and looping sounds that will direct an audience to feel or sense what is on screen (or not on screen). Along with sense direction, this is used to widen the stereo image of your film, and surround the viewer in the mix or even to hide issues in the initial production track.
Sound design is the elements covering unnatural sounds. Usually musical sound or audio that must be manipulated and heavily layered to get the desired result.
Foley is intended to cover human (and sometimes non-human) interactions with objects. A foley artist watches the picture and performing relevant actions with various objects to enhance the sound. The main aim of foley is to cover footsteps, clothes movement and additional sounds that may not be picked up during the original shoot.
Delivery of Project Files
A specification sheet should be given that details how they would like to receive the project. A video specification sheet contains information such as the timecode stamp. In video production and filmmaking, SMPTE timecode is used for synchronization, and for identifying material in recorded media. A camera assistant will typically log the start and end timecodes of shots, and the final data will be sent on to the post-production team for referencing those shots during editing. This is crucial for workflow. As mentioned multiple times before, organization is a key part of creating a quality product in efficient timing.
Pre-Mixing to the Final Mix
Production sound is usually the prime focus on the pre-mix. Matching sound of audio across edits, dialing-in consistent loudness of audio, as well as focusing on audio restoration and noise reduction where needed. Final music is usually available to know how to add other elements such as sound effects, ambiance, and how-to time align visual cuts. Right before you receive your final, mastered mix, you should start to hear your film as it would be as the final product. After the first rough listen through, there should be a second playback.
During the playback, tedious notes should be taken on anything that should be changed, deleted, or enhanced. After that mix you will receive your masters and stems. Masters are the full, final mix where stems are the different categories of sound (VO, dialog, sound effects and music) split out separately. When receiving the final, mastered mix, you’ll likely get a surround sound mix, as well as a stereo mix.
Note: While involved in a similar craft, no two sound design studios will approach creating the sound for your film in the same way. Knowing what is involved when collaborating on your audio’s character and design will help you to choose who does your audio post production.