Sound is a massive part of the digital technology era that we are all part of today. No longer does the vast majority of people look to printed news to discover what's happening around us. Now Sound accompanies almost everything we watch, even if we don't thoroughly think of this. We don't consider how this audio made it onto the recording; we take it for granted. Sound is such a crucial element; it's worth taking a close look at audio post-production and why every feature film or TV show has gone through the audio post-production process.
What Is Audio Post-Production?
In feature films and a television show, recording the project's audio is always separate from the visual, except for dialogue. Audio post-production covers many aspects. This process is complex, sophisticated and incorporates numerous parts to make up the whole such as voice-over, foley, sound design, mixing & mastering, and audio effects. Once the editors for the project have put together a 'Locked Cut' (the last cut of the project, no further editing occurs), audio post-production can begin. A big chunk of a project's budget is Sound in the post-production stage. No-one wants to be spending time and money to re-record or re-sync sounds and dialogue.
The Locked Cut is of primary importance because it refers to producing a movie in the film industry when all the visual assets are complete and locked in place or are no longer available for off-line editing. In the past audio post was the last thing to be finalized after the filmmakers finished the movie. But with the introduction of digital non-linear editing, it's not so clear cut. Because everything is now digital, filmmakers can quickly change parts of a movie and easily create several versions of the same film. In the new digital era, projects tend to be edited right up to the point of mixing.
What Is Involved In Audio-Post Production?
Audio post is responsible for creating all the sound elements that go with the film. The creation of many of these audio post elements will occur after shooting the film. They are sometimes known as audio re-creation because the production sound elements derive from the film's events. There are several processes necessary in post sound, and projects may need some or all of them:
- Production Dialogue Editing
- ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement)
- Sound Effects Editing
- Sound design
- Audio Restoration
- Foley Recording (see below)
- Music Composition
- Music Editing
- Mixing & Mastering
Audio Post-Production roles and stages
Here's a rundown on the different roles and stages:
Production Dialogue Editing
This part of the process involves preparing and editing audio recordings from the film set and listening to all the audio recordings on camera. Sometimes there will be extra audio from the film's sound editor. These may become integral and must be taken note of and formulated in a precise manner. Of course, determining how much of this audio is useful is a crucial step. Production audio comes from several sources such as the boom microphone, wireless microphones, and camera audio.
This type of audio is the recording of Sound using the camera's microphone. This type of recording is often the voice recordings of film interviews and is common in most documentary films.
This is a directional microphone that's on a boom arm. In filming, this microphone's position is always just out of the camera frame, usually above the actors' heads. It's prevalent in TV and film production.
Also known as Lavalier, Lav, or lapel mics, are attached invisibly to the actors. The mic is so close to the mouth, offers an excellent signal-to-mouth ratio, eliminating extraneous noise that other mics can pick up when recording voice dialogue.
ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement)
Once the decision regarding how much of the production audio is viable, recording automated dialogue replacement can occur. Automated dialogue replacement will replace any production audio that isn't worth salvaging. There can be several reasons why replacing dialogue is crucial. The ambient noise levels interfere with sound quality, wind, traffic, and a plane flying overhead, to mention a few. In movies and TV shows, this can be common. If you listen to the soundtrack very carefully, it's possible to hear the change in ambience. Recording outside will be quite different from a studio setting. Depending on the ADR supervisor, actors are often brought back to the studio to re-record their lines and sync with the film in a looping process. Once the actor records a line of dialogue, the ADR supervisor carefully checks the sync. The dialogue must match the film precisely. If it doesn't, then he will edit the take until it finally does.
Sound Effects Editing and Design
One major factor in today's movies and television is incredibly realistic audio effects. David Lynch once said, "films are 50 per cent visual and 50 per cent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual". Do you marvel at the Sound in movies and wonder how they made the different sounds? Sound design and audio effects editors are how. Sound designers, sound supervisors, and sound effects editors are the talented individuals who create these fantastic sound effects for movies and television shows. These sound effects can vary dramatically from everyday room tones to car crashes and vast explosions. It's usual for studios to have their own sound effects library. The film's size and budget will always determine how many sound editors will be working on the project, but you might have up to twelve people working in this department on a blockbuster film. There are now several digital sound editing systems, and more and more projects rely on this editing software because of quality and efficiency. With advanced pro tools like these, the sound mixer can create new, never heard sound effects.
Foley artists take their name from Jack Foley, the Hollywood sound effects guy. Throughout any film or TV show, there are numerous natural human sound effects. It's very unusual for production audio to pick up the footsteps' Sound, so it falls on the foley artists to recreate the audio in the studio. Some familiar footstep audio might be crunching on a gravel pathway, stiletto heels rhythmically clicking on a wooden floor, the audio of running with heavy footsteps on the sidewalk. They don't get there by accident; the Foley sound designers are on hand to produce them.
It's amazing how simple, everyday audio can bring a movie to life and make it seem so realistic. The rustling of clothing, for instance. Zippers, velcro, room tone, coats put on and taken off, and background noise all necessary subtle audio.
Music Composition And Music Editing
Music for a film or a TV show is in three categories: Source, Score and Songs. There will be a composer in the movie whose job is to create the music that weighs the drama in various scenes. Source music is what we hear through the different sets of a film. This music can come from numerous devices such as the radio, or a well-known TV theme if the actor happens to be watching the TV in a scene, or an old-fashioned record player, whatever source of music the film demands. Sometimes this music is original specifically for the movie or show, and at other times the music will be licensed. Songs can be one or the other or both in the same film; this depends on what the director is trying to achieve. Composing music for a specific movie or TV show, unlike sound effects or sound design, is undertaken by just one person. Depending on what the director sees creatively, he will guide the composer by either specific instructions or choose to leave it to the composer. Sometimes it can be challenging to be inside the director's head when assessing such an abstract subject.
While the film composer creates the film's musical score and is responsible for the film's original music, the Orchestrator focuses on making the composition playable by a live orchestra to create the best possible Sound. The Orchestrator may also help compose any other music the movie may require.
A score mixer's job is to mix and record the orchestra after the score has been completed. He will deliver the final mix of the orchestral score.
Supervising Sound Editor or Sound Designer
This is a recent but prevalent position on a movie set. A supervising sound editor will liaise and consult with both the directors and producers of the movie. Their primary function would be to select and license preexisting songs or recordings for films, TV, and video games. A sound designer might be responsible for choosing the best piece of music for the exact moment it's needed in a movie, or he might find himself having to find an alternative to a hard-to-license recording. He will often work alongside the musical editor to ensure the music chosen matches his movie's directors' vision. Music supervisors need to have immense musical knowledge, music synchronization, and strong verbal communication abilities.
The music editor will work closely with the composer to prepare the film's dramatic underscore. The music supervisor will also work with an editor in placing the source music. The editor will ensure the correct synchronization of the music with the film. He will notate the film's exact locations where the underscore or source music will dramatize the narrative. The music editor might double as a recording mixer and also mix parts of the score.
The movie or TV show sound team mixers work with each other and are responsible for post-production audio mixing of the many elements that will eventually come together. For example, the dialogue, ADR, Foley effects, sound effects, and music are all in the final mix. The lead mixer (the dialogue editor) is in charge of this process. There will also be an effects mixer and a music mixer. If this is a giant budget movie, there might be an extra recording mixer responsible for the Foley effects. If it happens to be a Hollywood blockbuster, there would be many teams working in several stages all at the same time. All elements of a mix combine while the movie is playing. They put together the mix in an audio post-production studio or dubbing stage. The dubbing stage imitates a movie theatre to get a much more realistic appraisal of the finished movie. With all of the various elements, there may well be dozens of audio tracks. This amount of audio tracks is a staggering number to keep tabs on, so sub-mixes are used to create stems. Each stem represents a different section of the mix. The music editor may also deliver and mix parts of the score as well as the musical section. The music editor should be present during all mixes. Creating different audio formats is expected during the mix, such as:
- Surround Sound, sometimes known as Dolby surround, requires specific licensing.
- Stereo and THX. THX is a system that guarantees a certain quality. Thx movie theatres provide a high-quality environment to ensure the film's audio sounds as the mixing engineer intended.
The process of Audio Post-Production is undoubtedly not just a quick and easy task. Many parameters need to be fulfilled to make sure the final result is perfect.