Audio Post Production Workflows Using Pro Tools - Part 10

09-01-2014 10:08 PM

Last week in part 9 of this series on Audio Post Production Workflows Using Pro Tools, we finished our look at foley with Barnaby Symth. This week we move onto sound effects with Bernard O’Reilly….
Walter Much once said ‘the visuals knock on the front door and the audio creeps in the windows behind you’. Sound is the emotional way of telling the story, it can manipulate your perception of what you see. Your job as a sound editor/designer is to support the dramatic context of the scene, the emotional aspect of the story.
How I Start The Tracklay

My priorities depend on the characters, action, directors ideas and the story.

  1. I usually start with the most difficult sounds, they benefit the most from evolving and reviewing.
  2. Then add the atmos/ambience tracks - the bed on which all the other sounds are built.Backgrounds are more of a feel thing than a hear thing, they shouldn’t be too distracting.
  3. Next I move to spot effects - on screen sounds like, door closes, car passes, punches etc.
  4. Only then do I move onto the sound design. All the time reviewing, revising and updating as I go.

I usually find the last review pass before the pre mix is the most useful and creative. At that stage I’m not worrying about the small details, it’s more about tone and how it feels (and getting rid of sounds).
What Is In My Basic Sound Effects Template

My basic Ambience and background template is made up of 6 groups, each with a stereo track going to front, mono track for centre and another stereo track for the surrounds. It can all be expanded, but that’s where I start. I prefer to use mono and stereo tracks to build up the 5.1 rather than 5.1 recordings, it’s more flexible, and nearly always sounds better.
FX tracks are usually in groups of 8 monos and 2 stereos feeding into a 5.1 output. Each group output is routed through a 5.1 FX bus and controlled with group VCA.
Be Consistent

I try to keep the tracklay on the same groups of tracks. For example, group 1 winds, 2 birds, 3 traffic 4 crowd etc. The same with FX, close spots (doors, punches) on one group, cars on another, etc. It doesn’t matter how you set out your tracks as long as it’s consistent for that project.
For design I mostly render sounds using AudioSuite and if I need automation and to combine sounds, I use an insert and print it within the master tracklay session. I hardly use compression, I try to use Clip Gain to handle dynamics.
For Serious Sound Design work Use A Separate Session

For sound manipulation/design I use a separate 96k session with lots of plug-ins and virtual instruments like Kontakt and Reaktor. I then export 48k files to the main edit session.
Soundminer For Sound Effects

I use Soundminer Pro V4.5 almost as much as I use Pro Tools. I love it. It’s pretty much become the industry standard for cataloguing and organising SFX libraries. The customer support from the guys at Soundminer is second to none.
Searching in SM is very fast, the VST rack allows lots of plug-in manipulation, pitch change, reverse recording and spots directly on to the Pro Tools timeline. Lots of sound design can be don’t before the sound arrives in Pro Tools. VST rack presets can be saved for a particular sound, it’s a good way to keep track of processing. It’s very easy to add metadata in Soundminer - very useful if you record your own sound effects. I’m forever updating and adding metadata. A sound you can’t find is a sound you can’t use.
My basic SM VST Rack setup has DMG Audio Equality at the top and ends with Waves S1 Stereo Shuffler and Flux Stereo Tool (great free plugin everyone should have). S1 Shuffler is good for switching phase and M/S decoding and Stereo Tool is a useful way to see the sound.
My Sound Effects Recording Rig

I have a Schoeps stereo with a Sennheiser 416 + Sound Devices recording kit as well as a Sony D50. I record everything at 96/24 and try to get a photo of whatever I’m recording. The photo gets added as metadata to the wav. file in Soundminer. iZotope RX3 in standalone mode is good for cleaning up sound recordings if they are a bit rough around the edges.
Sound Effects Libraries

There are an unbelievable amount of independent sound effects libraries out there, with lots of cool stuff. The Boom Library, The Recordist, Hiss and a Roar, Coll Anderson, Rabbit Ears, Echo Collective, and Tonstrum are all great libraries, very interesting and well recorded.
Speaker Calibration

My edit room speakers (Dynaudios) are calibrated to 79 SPL. Mix theatres are calibrated to 85 db but I find it too loud for my editing room. I use Chronosync for back ups and have it scheduled to backup twice a day and have a second backup updated once a day.
Video File Conversion

MPEG Streamclip (free) is the software for converting movie formats. H.264 codec uses interframe compression and can be problematic in Pro Tools, causing sync issues and slowing PT down. Converting in MPEG Streamclip to a format with discrete frames like Photo JPEG or DV works better in Pro Tools for me.
Handling Onto The Re-Recording Mixer

I take a Save Session Copy (without my work tracks, AAF and plug-ins) to the premix. Re-recording mixers usually prefer designed sounds (subjective and unnatural FX that don’t exist in reality) to be mixed, EQed, reverbed and panned. Mixers don’t have the time to start messing around with sound design in the theatre. Normal sounds (non design) should be panned and levelled for the mixer.
As they say, The Better the Sound the Better the Image.
Coming Up…

In part 11 we will move onto the final mix with Howard Bargroff.
Previous Parts Of The Audio Post Production Workflows Series

Part 1 - Assistant Editor, preping sessions
Part 2 - Assistant Editor, preping sessions
Part 3 - Dialog Editor, setting up dialog sessions
Part 4 - Dialog Editor, preping for ADR and finishing the dialog edit
Part 5 - Dialog Editor, marking up for ADR and handing on to the re-recording mixer
Part 6 - ADR on location - part 1
Part 7 - ADR on location - part 2
Part 8 - Foley - part 1
Part 9 - Foley - part 2