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Monday, August 20, 2007

Sound Effects

There's only so much I can do with sound-wise with the rough cut of Elan Vital. Do I begin dialogue editing? Do I layer in the sound design? Do I continue the music work that I've begun in preproduction?

The answer should be yes to all three. However, since I'm my own personal sound triumvirate (or audio trinity, if you like) - and if you, the reader, find yourself in the same predicament - it would be best to do the entire process, as well as you can, one step at a time.

Anyway, the director (Jason) and I agreed that compiling sounds for the effects track would benefit the postproduction process most at the rough cut stage. And so here I am working on the effects track (which deceptively will contain a plethora of tracks).

For a movie like Elan Vital, sound effects will take the following forms:

1. Foley work. I'm essentially going to be the unquiet mime of the movie. It's going to equally be the obvious sounds (the bartender cleaning glasses, footsteps, etc.) and the subtle (clothing that rubs together while the bartender cleans glasses, for instance).

I only have the ability to use two microphones simultaneously, but that still gives us some good opportunities. Two microphones can either create true stereo on the spot (the difference between panning a mono track in a digital audio workstation [DAW] versus having the sound actually travel in stereo), or variety of mic placement (one mic close to the sound and one far away to incorporate the sound of the room). Alternatively, one mic can be placed close to the main sound (a towel cleaning a glass, for instance) and another can be placed on the secondary sound (clothes rubbing due to bodily movement), and the appropriate proportion of the two can be mixed within the DAW.

Of course, I'm not recording at the most ideal of Foley stages, and it is a hot summer during the daytime. Needless to say, most of the microphone recording currently takes place during cooler, vampiric hours. If it didn't occur to you already, innovation is a definite requirement in the creation of independent cinema.

2. Heavily-processed effects library samples. Of course, this will be a last resort for the un-Foley-able sounds. If and when I have to incorporate previously made sounds, as a rule of thumb, the sounds will never be left as-is. You need to tweak them with whatever DAW you're using. In my case, I'm thankfully using Pro Tools. If all goes well, it'll be like photoshopping for the ears (since Pro Tools does share a similar infamy as Photoshop).

3. Harmonic (and dissonant) ambience (or ambiance, as both spellings seem to be correct). Generally it's not the most ideal situation when the sound designer is also the music composer, for obvious reasons. However, one advantage to have the two-in-one is that the music and the the music-like effects will seemlessly come together without much argument. (That is, if said sound designer/musician doesn't suffer from a mental disorder.) Anyway, I'm creating some of the ambience using both organic and virtual instruments (just like the soundtrack).

As far as virtual instruments go, there are several free VSTi plugins on the web, which will require a lot of work searching and researching. If you're using Pro Tools, you'll need a VST to RTAS wrapper to use those plugins. FXpansion is the only company that I know of that creates such a product. There are also several commercial VST and RTAS plugins (and other types), but they can be extremely expensive and cost prohibitive, especially when you are your own film investor. Digidesign (the company behind Pro Tools) offers a free RTAS instrument plugin called Xpand!, which I'm excited to use for Elan Vital. Not only does Xpand! have simulated traditional instruments (which sound really great, I might add), there's a library of ethereal-ness that may work for this movie.

Here's the VST-RTAS wrapper I'm talking about:

And here are several levels of Pro Tools you can choose from (depending on your budget):

Also be aware that you'll need a qualified M-Audio interface to run Pro Tools M-Powered. Pro Tools LE comes with the Mbox and Digi interfaces, and if you're going to use Pro Tools HD, I salute you.

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