Top 3 audio tips for a greater sounding production


Top 3 audio tips for a greater sounding production

It is a known secret that audio almost always get's overlooked in the filmmaking hierarchy. Film critics zero in on the visuals before the audio. Good audio or sound mixing doesn't get acknowledged, but as soon as the audio is bad, it gets pin pointed. Fingers point in one direction, the audio recordist, when earlier on in production, all his audio concerns get ignored on-set. Audio gets ignored so that it doesn't compromise the visuals. Good luck.

Filmmakers complain about the audio quality at an unsalvageable stage like when they come into post production with bad sound. Try as they might, it will still sound crappy. Editing will only make a beautifully recorded audio, better, but if the principle audio is bad to start with, no amount of tweaking can save it. 

I know, I know. You've all heard this before but the mistakes, sadly carry on from generation to generation. Indie filmmakers, I'm talking about you. And yes, I know it's lack of budget that keeps you from getting good audio, so here's my solution:

I scoured around for good audio advice for people on budget. From professional audio recordists on the field to the world wide web and to the small group of indie filmmakers that actually do care about sound. Without further ado, let's get on to point 1;

1:. Filmmakers need to adopt a new mentality

What I've been hearing from the audio guys is that filmmakers need to turn filmmaking on it's head and put audio as priority before visual. Let's face it, crappy audio does tend to make the WHOLE film look low-budget. (Noticed I mention look not sound?). The whole filmmaking philosophy needs to be rethink.

Instead of focusing on the intricate details in the visuals, like (example) "...lighting the stairs at the back of the subject to the far left of frame" or "...using an external recorder so that the footage can bypass the camera's in-built compression", why not also consider this for audio; "...placing a mic at specific areas of the set so that it can capture ambient noise, subject A dialogue, subject B dialogue etc" or "...Limiting, as far as possible, the compression of the audio being captured".

A good practice would be to;

  • Be aware of the surroundings of the scene,in audio sense. Plan and spend more time on recording ambient sound, dialogue and other miscellaneous sounds that contribute to the story moving forward. Know what can be done in a foley in post and what needs to be captured on-set. Record the different elements separately.


  • Acknowledge what your device limitations are. Chances are, your onboard mic records more room noise than actual dialogue and the auto gain control on-board the camera includes unwanted noise in the dialogue. Most cameras don't allow full manual control over audio.


  • Record audio in it's most pristine state. Means you should beware of compression. Must record in a tonal range that leaves you a lot of space to tweak in post. Most audio compresses signal frequencies to 44kHz/16 bit when the ideal is 96kHz/24 bit. For tonal range, be wary that your signal provides depth in mid tones etc. The human high range is 6kHz, midrange is around 2.5kHz and remember, you'd want a good signal to noise ratio with the dialogue so if you apply gain to the audio, the noise won't be brought in if you "ramp up" the audio.


  • Rehearse and prepare. Most times, the audio signal ranges, especially for emotional scenes. Make sure the audio recorded doesn't peak. Actors tend to raise their voices higher than rehearsals when it comes to the real recording. Do take note. Go through the flow of the scene and be aware of any part of the dialogue you think will peak. If there are, either you manually control the levels or you communicate to the actor about keeping their dialogue within peak limits. A good parameter would be to set your 0dB to -6dB. This will prevent accidental clipping of audio as well as lessen the noise recorded.
2:. Be creative and experiment with things you have

The second small step forward would be to improvise and explore what available material you have. Personally, as long as I have my Zoom h4N portable recorder, I'm well equipped to try out different possibilities. When I was during my film student days, I'd use my home kareoke microphones plugged into my Zoom h4N to record sound. It's not cardioid I know, but in tight shots, I can just barely sneak it off camera. Or in other instances, i'd attach it to the props, like for example;

INT. HOUSE. NIGHT
Jack enters his house, he is fuming angry at Jill's reluctance to reveal her divorce plans. He hasn't found out up until now. When Jack comes in, Jill immediately shys away from him and heads to the direction of her potted plants in the balcony.

JACK:
Why haven't you told me about your intentions for a divorce?!

JILL AVOIDING EYE CONTACT( HIDDEN IN HER PLANTS, A MICROPHONE, SHE TALKS INTO IT)

JILL:
I didn't feel it was necessary...

Nowadays though, I do have, at my disposal, the Sennheiser evolution wireless g3 and a Rode NTG1. Which makes me a happy shooter. These items though, are not mine, but I know a few great friends who do. Off course, favors they do for me, don't go unreturned by me. We keep swapping equipments between each other. Kind souls they are.

Next, If so happens that your budget wouldn't allow portable sound recorders the likes of the Zoom h4N, JuicedLink or Tascam series, then here's what I used to do. Either record in the on-board mic(with a Magic Lantern on it) or through Apple's very own garageband. 

If your budget doesn't allow it, maybe you can try hooking up your iPhone with the iTalk app by Griffin, to your subject. Or if you're like me, perhaps you can hook up one actor with the sennheiser lav and another actor with the iPhone app recorder. Try not to hook up audio straight from the mic unless you really, really need to. Anything's better than the audio capability of your camera.

This video by the F-stoppers, highlights how indie filmmakers can exploit this very great sound recording 'equipment', and they even state the post production side of using this great app. Gee, no one would have guessed an iPhone is capable of this.

"Use an iPhone to Record High Quality Audio For Your Videos"
Video gotten off youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tFcUghQ3TI


And off course...other videos about make-shift audio recording...here's another phone recording solution.

"Cheap wireless mic solution!"
Video gotten off youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzSuTPKG57Q


Oh and..don't forget to get a good headphone that;

1. Isolates you from outside noise

2. Covers your ears completely

3. Is neutral in it's sound reproduction. (Some headphones tend to amplify the bass so that consumers can have a jolly good time listening music)

4. And has good tonal range.


 3:. Post production; Creating an audio universe

Now that most of the technical stuff is out of the way. Let's focus on the audio like how a critic would focus on the visuals in the movie. After everyone's done with the piece-ing together of the whole visual puzzle and creating a beautiful story, they usually just run through the audio. The very best indiefilmmakers though, spend just as much time in post creating the sound and noise, music and dialogue as they do with the beautiful moving pictures. 

In the silver screen audio world, there are only two variants of sounds;

a) Subjective sounds
These are sounds that are perceived by the sound designer in a way that aids in the film world's emotional content. In simple terms, it is sound in emotional terms. Like for example, a phone ring could swell up from a tiny ring to a loud screaming ring to show the character's perceived dislike for that particular phone or perhaps the time at which the call was made.

b) Objective sounds
These are sounds that are coming directly from the source found in the film world. Objective sounds are heard exactly as how it's supposed to be in real life. An example would be that if a phone rings,it sounds exactly how it is. There wouldn't be any manipulation into the sound effect.

In the silver screen world, there's also two types of audio elements present;

Definition of diegetic audio in the narrative film world:
It is a piece of sound or dialogue or music that is implied by the action on the screen. An example would be the dialogue of characters, symphony playing music or sounds coming from the elements in the movie that make sense with the visual.

Definition of non-diegetic audio in the narrative film world:
It is a piece of sound or dialogue or music that doesn't exist in the visual world of the film in subject. An example would be the voice overs, music that aids emotion but doesn't come from any visual source or sound effects. 


With all that in mind, you'd now have a clearer view as to how you'd want to construct the audio space of your film. You'd want to keep your sounds lively and complement the mood of the scene. Emotional content holds 60% while the importance of informational content falls at 40%. Prioritize.

Also, you'd want to create an ecosystem or an environment, so that your sounds and music are not static. Remember that, diegetic and non-diegetic elements aid in your audio storytelling. Try this. Closing your eyes and let your ears see the movie instead.

Once you find that your audio doesn't quite sound "there yet?", there might only be a two explanations I can think of:

1) Check to see if the audio editing has been pieced together seamlessly(e.g L-cut, J-cut etc). Sometimes sound designers insert a lot of audio tracks in their sound editing software 'timeline' and as a result they may get 'phantom' dialogue or silence where an ambient room tone should be.

2) Maybe you should refine your creative audio world further. Perhaps you've built a garden with your existing 'sound world' instead of building an ecosystem of sound, music and noise. Criticize your choice of music and sound. Be mindful of placement, duration, effects(e.g. echoey, bassy etc),purpose and texture


© 2012 Fadly.M.H.Wychowvski

My take on the Black Magic Design's Digital Cinema Camera

My take on the Black Magic Design's Digital Cinema Camera

Screengrab of the Black Magic Digital Cinema Camera to be shipped in July
Taken of from their website itself: http://www.blackmagic-design.com/products/blackmagiccinemacamera/


Lately, there has been news about the whereabouts of the new Black Magic Design Camera. The whole world is abuzz about this new camera that is conjured by a company that has been dominant in the field of post-production, not production. Everyone's excited. Why? Because this new camera has the capability of beating the dslr in it's own game. Imagine a camera with 2.5k resolution image at 12 bit RAW uncompressed. With a price tag that is sub-3000 dollars. If that's not a bargain, get a load of  this, buyers will be getting the camera body along with the hood, BMD's full ultrascope software and it's Davinci Resolve. gee. Convinced now?

Before we go on, Have a look at the videos done up by John Brawley( The Perfect Host,2010)

John Brawley's 'Dusk' (low light test)

John Brawley's 'Leah' (dynamic range test)

John Brawley's 'Bondi' video montage

John Brawley's 'Beach Dusk' video montage

Oh and here's the spec sheet:
Screengrab of the BMD Cinema Camera Specsheet: http://www.blackmagic-design.com/products/blackmagiccinemacamera/techspecs/

Screengrab of the BMD Cinema Camera Specsheet: http://www.blackmagic-design.com/products/blackmagiccinemacamera/techspecs/
Here's the introduction video:

Here's an introduction video to the camera in case any of you is lost on what this camera looks like:
The video is taken off off youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdgCs16IGAk

I've decided to give my take on the camera through three perspectives:
1. The Consumer
2. Pro-shooters from the DSLR background
3. Elite filmmaking community

The Consumer

For consumers, this camera opens a whole new world of opportunities. All you need to do is have the money and eagerness to make it big. The whole BMD package gives them a headstart to video-making.  Besides, pre-production budget and planning, the basic production and post-production workflow is pretty much covered with the 2,XXX dollars that you paid for. Consumers can just hit the ground running with the full Ultrascope and Resolve software accompanying the camera. What is that? Audio you say? Neh. Surely, a montage with underlying music is all that's needed to make the perfect holiday video. But, the consumers will have to consider this:.

1. There will be an awkwardness when it comes to the format. Consumers will have to do abit of research if they are to harness the cameras' 2.5k resolution/ 12bit RAW. Alternatively, they can also work with Pro Res/CinemaDNG or DNxHD. I doubt this will deter consumers. Y'all can always find time to figure things out. Google will always be a friend.

2. "What XLR? we'll use the 1/4" jacks for audio!.". This just makes it a whole lot easier don't it? One can always attach their regular home karaoke microphones if say, there's a need to do an interview for a home video, wedding, holiday, documentary(Indie DSLR shooters can also rejoice!). Oh and, the connections are standard connections, if you so happen to lack a cable or two mid-shoot, you can always run to the nearest electronic store. There's one thing to note though, this means cables can be easily yanked out of the camera mid-shoot.

Screengrab of an interesting section off the BMD website itself: http://www.blackmagic-design.com/products/blackmagiccinemacamera/design/


3.  Ease of use. Check out the touchscreen menu. I mean how wrong can one go with a dedicated REC, fast rewind, stop, play, fast forward, menu and power button? Nuff' said.

Here's a video of the interface: Credits to Adorama Rental Co.
Video gotten off youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyAtZU2YZJA

4. EF and ZF lenses. "I'm sure I have some canon lenses lying around here somewhere". Even if there's none, you can borrow from a friend or rent it. I mean, EF lenses are available everywhere. If so it happens that you wanna ditch your day job and become a serious enthusiast, there's always the more sexier Zeiss lenses, don't let me get started on those.

5. Above all else, it looks like a horizontal mini iPad. Don't it? It doesn't look intimidating at all. It is sleek and compact. I can keep it in a bag. "Rig? Nah don't need it". The BMD cinema camera handles come in at a price of US$195 and that alone is enough rig for this camera for basic but decent work.

Screengrab of the BMD cinema camera handles,solid aluminum:http://www.blackmagic-design.com/products/blackmagiccinemacamera/models/


Although, it is not widely commercial to the masses(consumers), it is only a matter of time before they get to know. This camera is much hyped. I've seen and heard stories of bankers, teachers, doctors owning a 5D mark III with simple rigs adding up to an amount that will make any pro-dslr shooter envious. Yet, the cameras and equipment isn't harnessed to it's full capability. On a lighter note, at least,  a hobbyist can now become a serious enthusiast in an instant with this camera right? All it takes is more research and eagerness. The dream of a better home video is at hand.

Pro-shooters from the Dslr background.

Now you've gotta do some serious re-thinking if you're stuck with considering to get a 5d Mark III or the D800. I've got a lot to write on this section of my article.

1. It looks very promising if you are showing it to audiences with no-prior knowledge to filmmaking, Besides, it hasn't debuted on the big screen has it? it has problems in low-light and a few dead pixels, so what? You are comparing a sub 3k camera against digital cinema camera heavyweights. I know I don't sound neutral here, but ultimately, if you're from the DSLR/ indie filmmaker background, there's not much difference to a DSLR being shown on the big screen. The main point is that the story is the focus.  This camera fills in the three essential benefits: It's good, cheap and fast. Off course, provided, you pit it against other cameras in it's range.

2. It blurs the lines of production and post-production. One can connect the camera with a portable computer through the thunderbolt port(sorry pc users). No more slow transfers and sub-par quality. That's just one aspect. There's also the formats in which the camera produces; 12 bit RAW(2432 x 1366), Apple ProRes(1920x 1080) and Avid DNxHD(1920 x 1080). Not only do you have a choice for compressed or uncompressed formats, all these formats are edit-friendly and open file formats, no more transcoding, no more time-wasting. Like in the words of BMD:


"Blackmagic Cinema Camera uses standard file formats, so you don’t need to wait years for your video software to support the media!"

If that's not enough, metadata entry can be keyed in in production so you don't need to waste time searching high and low for the shot that you have but just can't seem to find amidst the other files. Organizing is optimized...if you take the extra time to do it in production that is.


3. Versatility. The camera can function with Canon's EF lens range as well as Zeiss ZF range. Oh and it records on SSDs' so you can have a lot of options with the storage device of your choice.

4. Maintenance.

5. Cons. The camera doesn't have slow-mo functions. Only 23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p and 30p (twixtor anyone?). Ergonomics is also a thing to consider. I mean, how do you grip comfortably with this thing? It looks more like a toy camera and there are no physical buttons for controls like ISO, shutter etc. Which makes me wonder whether it will be a problem to adjust controls mid-shooting. To add to that, the camera would require a rig to function to the standard that we all want. The 1/4" audio jacks would make it easily vulnerable to being yanked out accidentally. It doesn't have that added functionality of taking photos like how we are used to with the DSLR. There's no hdmi output. And mostly, the crop factor will definitely be an issue with this thing. 2.4x crop factor.

Filmmaking elites will have to consider this

1. The camera is too simple. Off course, when something new comes out, the community always shouts out " Where's this function?" or "..it could've been better with this function" I'd foresee the pro community asking questions like " The camera doesn't have a grip, I'll need to buy a rig for it.It's not ergonomic.." or "The camera doesn't have slow-mo capability.." or "HDMI output would've been better rather than the HD-SDI output" or " It would've been better if there are dedicated controls like iso, shutter etc..." or "The camera is like the bolex...equivalent to a S16, not 35mm..." or "No in-built ND filters".

2. There's always a comparison. And until some digital camera can match the 35mm film standard without any side effects, that's when the elite community will finally stop complaining. How will it perform on the silver screen? When it is blown-up on the big screen, how will the camera fare?

3. Off course, there are other cameras that can beat this camera in it's own game. My take? Well, this camera does off course fits itself in the sub 3k dollar range, unlike the other cameras, which will go on average of 10-15k at least. If only I have that much money to spend. Hmmm. Sony FS700 would be a great acquisition...oh and the RED scarlet too!:)

Screengrab off from Sony's website, gorgeous ain't she? ;):http://www.sony.de/biz/product/nxcamcorders/nex-fs700ek/features


4. Elites wouldn't consider this a big leap forward in the industry. It is though, a revolution in the semi-pro community. It means that the gap between the elites...and everyone else gets narrower. It empowers just about anyone, with enough determination and creativity to get recognized. Anyways, I don't think BMD was aiming for this market, although, like the HDSLRs', producers can now have a cheaper and better option.

5. Crop factor. Ahhhhhh...This links to point 2. 2 is the keyword here. It is reported that the camera has a crop factor of 2.4 relative to the 5D(full frame) and 1.5 relative to the 7D(APS-C). That is massive.

Conclusion:
My take is this, BMD wouldn't be crazy enough to pit it's new camera-making skills with the heavyweights right? So what's their plan? Make a camera that has the potential to be THE CAMERA, sort of like how the iPhone has been a success, iPhone isn' the only camera, nor is it the best. Both items share the simplicity, ease of use and is aimed at consumers not to a specific specialized target audience. All the other DSLRs have failed to completely capitalize on the dslr revolution have they? no surely. The revolution, as we all know is an accident and the heavyweights have no intent on making a camera that bridges the divide between pro and consumer. In their minds, it's either pro OR consumer. This camera will blur further the lines between Hollywood elites and the rest of the filmmaking community, not forgetting budding amateurs. BMD has made a smart move. It exploits the niche created accidentally by HDSLRs. This will be the camera for the masses. And the masses will then depend on a BMD ecosystem, just like what Apple did. You're looking at a camera that will fit into their system. No sooner it will be the only system we all know. How sweet.

© 2012 Fadly.M.H.Wychowvski

Writing a guest article for this blog

Hello Everyone,

   Ever thought of appearing as a guest writer on my blog? =] If you are interested, do drop me an article of your choosing, perhaps, discussing the way your philosophy behind your photo composition or it could just be about the most picturesque places in Singapore etc. It could be factual or opinionated Here are a few guidelines if you choose to do so.
  1. Although, you are free to choose the theme, the overall subject that your article should feature must be to the benefit of photography and videography community.
  2. Write an article that is insightful and fresh. Reveal something new.
  3. It can be based on your opinion or factual. (e.g. Opinions on the best angles or Facts about the New Nikon D800)
  4. Include "Posted by: YOUR NAME at TIME on DATE" just below the heading of your article. 
  5. It would be much preferred if the article is at least 2000 words long or more, but flexibility is given if you have a good reason.
  6. If you happen to incorporate photos into your articles, please site the source you got it from. An example would be from my blog. No obscene photos please.
  7. The tone of your article can be formal or otherwise, it is to your discretion...but humor always helps. No profanities please.
DELIVERABLES:

  1. You can send the article in any written form with microsoft word, open office writer, notepad, text edit etc. If there are photos, make sure it can be seen on the finished article
  2. Also, the photos must be compressed or resize for the convenience of the article. If there are a few, do put it in a separate folder and send to me via sendspace.com along with your article instead of here. Title: Guest writer_blog
  3. Also include a picture of yourself.
  4. Remember to include your e-mail so I can contact you
  5. Send me an e-mail or document acknowledging that you agree to write a guest article to my blog =]

Send it to my e-mail. Do let me know. Look forward to hearing from you. Thanks ;]

Regards,
Fadly

fadlywychowvski.blogspot.com
fadjobscope@gmail.com


© 2012 Fadly.M.H.Wychowvski

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