Sound Mixing

Posted by on Aug 7, 2019 in Production

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Equipment

Our approach to sound production on the film was to plan the entire pipeline, ensuring the physical gear and software played well together. The philosophy of our company is to bring all processes in-house. We’re going to produce a lot, and aren’t interested in being stuck in the hopeful rental van. 

We looked at lots of hardware. For direct sound acquisition, we wanted a shotgun microphone, as this is what the majors use. We settled on AKG, which, as a brand, is solid compromise between price and performance. We stuck it on a boom pole.

With the mic down, next we needed a preamplifier to bring the signal up, and a recorder to store that signal. Unlike a lot of traditional music recording, these functions are usually combined for film. Most of the indy magazines were pointing us toward Zoom and Tascam. We already owned a Tascam, DR40, and when we compared the signal quality to our venerable Universal Audio Apollo interface, or even a less expensive Focusrite Scarlett audio interface, the Tascam was noisy and underpowered. We dug around further and discovered that the gold standard seemed to be Sound Devices. Then we discovered that they made a single 3 channel interface with the same quality and parts as their flagship devices, and which wasn’t much more expensive than a mid tier computer audio interface. We chose the MixPre-3.

Then we searched for Lavalier microphones to use as back ups in case of trouble with the boom. Time was running out. We were shooting in a week. We ordered on line and tested some phantom powered Movo lavs. They were utterly unusable. Time was up. Boom mic and in camera sound for sync match it was.

Process

First step on set was to record background sound. Although we worked diligently to capture sound on set, we were on location for the entire film. Meaning we did not build sets on a sealed sound stage and achieve flawless audio. While recording, one fo our stars, veteran actor Mike Vaughn warned us: you always need ADR. He was right. No matter how careful you are in the field, airplanes fly over, dogs bark, police cars speed by. Sometimes there are just no more takes to be had. Especially when the emotions were correct for the scene. This is where ADR comes in.

ADR, now known as Additional Dialog Replacement, is the act of recording the actors repeating their dialog inside of a professional sound recording studio. We had access to the freshly built Emerald Street Studios, the classic MAD Lab and the director’s own Legion of Dume. We did ADR in multiple places. 

We also had a secret weapon. Mike Vaughn, who plays lead character, Abadonato, is co-owner of a sound foley studio! He was willing to give us a special discount to get the film done. Thanks Mike! 

Software

We shot the film on the new Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera. We’ve been happy with BMDs pipeline in the past. Davinci Resolve, their non-linear editor, handles RAW footage beautifully. Blackmagic Raw had not trickled down the the Pocket yet, so we shot CinemaDNG files. We stored the main files on an 8 terrabyte hard drive, and the proxy files on SSD for editing. 

Davinci Resolve can match audio files to video files via timecode or audio sync. We matched our audio with video, cut away the in camera audio, and then exported the entire film. We imported the resulting film file into Logic Pro X. While Resolve 15’s Fairlight digital audio workstation implementation is decent, it misses some bits we need in an interface. With all of this digital recording, a little warmth is due. Universal Audio has us covered with their UAD platform. 

Another reason to export to Logic is because it is simple to connect Logic to Final Cut Pro’s extensive built-in foley library.

But Logic’s video playback engine is not robust. It seems to be single threaded, and therefore we export from Resolve down to HD and 5 megabits per second.

Logic allows swift and sample and frame accurate cuts, moves and pastes. We are also able to take advantage of the Mackie Control system to move swiftly, especially when we need to quickly mute and solo tracks to check sounds.

The final step in this process is to save the film (which replaces the existing audio track with the new one from Logic. We do this to have a sound reference film file. Then we export separate dialog, sound effects, foley, sound track and score tracks for re-import to resolve. 

Having a pipeline with known software allows us to work more swiftly than if we were studying and implementing new processes.  Next step is to send the film out to the foley studio for touch ups.