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Posted by on Dec 31, 2009 | 0 comments

Andrew Lackey Special: Q&A From the Readers


Here are the answers to the questions that some of you made to Andrew Lackey.

Designing Sound Reader: I have technical question regarding monitor placement and stereo imaging. In most studios (like my own) the monitors are some distance to the left and right of my two computer monitors, where most of the time on the right one the movie is displayed.

Andrew Lackey: When I have a scene of somebody walking from left to right, I tend to pan the footsteps from hard left to hard right. But too my ears, somebody is walking from the left of my studio to the right, outside the screen borders.

How do you deal with this problem? If it’s for television, do you mix as if the speakers are right next to the screen? And do I need additional speakers right next to one computer screen to check the stereo image?

It is definitely important to have a screen in the center dedicated to video. Most studios have two monitors for the DAW and one in the center for a video. I usually elevate my video display by hanging it on the wall and placing the center channel underneath it…but above my computer monitors. As far as left and right…most people have the speakers set up on the outside of their tv. I actually like this because it means as a designer I have a little more room in the stereo field (off the side of the screen). So, I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see “panning off the screen” as a big problem. If something is actually going off the screen in the video….seems reasonable to go the extra distance you have with the panner to reflect that. So, first off get your speakers set up in the optimum place…then get a feel for how the panner spread reflects the actual width of the screen and where off the screen starts. Then check your mix on another system that seems like a good non-studio target system. I use my home theater for that.

DSR: Hey Andrew… What could be the best way to study sound design online?

AL: As with anything you have to balance theory with practice. No site or class or book is going to teach you everything, but there are tons of great resources. Designing Sound is a great one. You’re path is unique and these bits of information only help you in so far as you are practicing. Find a project, research good techniques, have fun with it and repeat.

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Posted by on Dec 30, 2009 | 3 comments

Andrew Lackey Special: 11 Field Recording Tips


Sound recordists are a special breed. On a recent trip to Zambia, the safari guides were very interested in the sound I recorded of the animals and villager’s ceremonial drumming. Apparently no one ever records sounds there. Here are 11 general tips from my experience field recording for film, games, music and fun.

1) Put together a really great rig.

Building your rig is an ongoing process, and includes a whole lot more than just a recorder and a mic. If you do enough recording you’ll eventually need stuff like walkie talkies, a high quality battery charger, tools, wind protection, mic mounts, tape, zip ties and cases to carry it all. I have 5 plastic bins and 2 hard shell waterproof cases that I can load up pretty quickly. I usually don’t need everything, but on really involved sessions like cars and guns I do. Its nice knowing I’ve got everything I’m likely to need in the ‘rig’.

2) Buy a cheap handy recorder.

You can get terrific results with cheap handheld recorders like the Zoom H2. No, they are not going to knock your socks off with fidelity, but tuck this little thing in your bag and grab all those great door creaks, printer paper jams, and car alarms happening in your world. I use stuff I’ve recorded on mine all the time in my sound design. Have you ever heard an airplane toilet flush…awesome!

3) Stay Lean and Mean

Field recording is all about thinking on your feet. When recording, I like to work with as little gear as possible. I even use really short mic cables because I don’t like carrying around the extra bulk. Also, by simplifying as much as possible you are reducing the likelihood of things going wrong and focuses your attention on what matters.

4) Keep the process in perspective.

It is helpful to keep in mind the relative importance of factors to good sound recording.

Sound Source > Environment > Mic Placement > Mic type > Mic Quality > Mic Preamps > Recording Resolution

So in other words, you wouldn’t get the full benefit of your 24bit / 192khz recording if you are recording in a noisy environment. My point is that you can optimize your recordings by paying attention to the things that matter the most. Recording sessions can get pretty hectic, and its easy to get caught up in changing mic position and not realize that the wind is picking up.

5) Give midrange microphones a try.

I love my Neumanns, but they’re not the best mics for every situation. I have a number of mid range mics from Audio Technica and Shure that sound great and have useful features. Overall, mid grade mics tend to be more rugged and able to withstand tough environments. Also, you won’t cry as much if it ends up in the water or run over by a car.

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Posted by on Dec 30, 2009 | 2 comments

The Sound of "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen"

New and great profile at SoundWorks Collection, this time for “Tranformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

Director Michael Bay returns for a second serving of robot mayhem in “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen”. Also returning for another call of duty with Bay include the talents of his sound team including Sound Re-Recording Mixer Greg Russell, Supervising Sound Editor Erik Aadahl, and Supervising Sound Editor Ethan Van der Ryn.

SoundWorks Collection

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Posted by on Dec 29, 2009 | 3 comments

The Use of Silence in Sound Design

George Spanos has published a new article at GameSoundDesign, this time talking about the use and approach of silence in sound design.

Silence is a very powerful sound.

Sound? Silence is not a sound… right?

Well I think that silence should be considered a “sound”, a “sound effect”, and “music”. But that’s crazy isn’t it… how can the lack of sound be considered the same as the presence of sound? After all, sound is created by sending electrical energy to an amplifier which is then sent to a transducer that converts the electrical signals into sound waves that we hear. But the lack of sound in a game can often have a profound impact to the gaming audience.

Read the article here

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Posted by on Dec 28, 2009 | 3 comments

The Sound Design of "Avatar"


Avatar is one of the most impressive films I’ve seen. Amazing use of technology and a great story. Fantastic combination. The 3D experience there is totally amazing. The sound is really great… A good challenge with animals, sci-fi stuff and of course: create a new world.

The January’s Issue of Mix Magazine contain a fantastic article featuring Chris Boyes talking about the sound of “Avatar”. Let’s read:

If you’ve seen James Cameron’s epic 3-D fi lm, Avatar, or even just the trailers and commercials, you know that the director has gone to incredible lengths to create a visually and aurally sumptuous adventure set in a fantasy world unlike any that we have ever seen before. There are bizarre creatures, fi erce and friendly, that walk the planet Pandora or soar its skies.

There are futuristic machines and aircraft straight out of Cameron’s vivid imagination. And then there is the Na’vi, a peaceful race of tall, blue-skinned, long-tailed, humanoid tree dwellers who have their own customs and language and are now being threatened by an incursion to Pandora by people from Earth bent on exploiting the planet’s valuable natural resources. It’s a rich and very complex story I won’t recount here, but suffi ce it to say, it involved incredible feats of technical wizardry to bring it realistically to the screen, including improved motion-capture technology, next-gen visual FX supplied by the best digital artists, and newly designed 3-D cameras that allowed Cameron to see approximations of the story’s virtual world in the camera as the fi lm was shot. No wonder it took three years to make.

Not surprisingly, Avatar also required tremendous imagination and dedication from Cameron’s sound crew, which was spearheaded by supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer Christopher Boyes (pictured on this month’s cover), who earned his first sound Oscar for Cameron’s Titanic in 1998, and subsequent trophies for Pearl Harbor (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) and King Kong (2005). He’s also had fi ve other nominations, the latest last year for Iron Man. In fact, when I caught up with Boyes in early December, he’d just started work on the sequel to Iron Man down at Fox in L.A.—this after a mere one-day break following the nearly 80-day fifi nal mix on Avatar (also at Fox).

Avatar was not your typical film where the “post” crew gets heavily involved once principal photography has been completed. Rather, Cameron brought in Boyes, who in turn called on sound editor Addison Teague to start working on sound design from the beginning of the shoot. “When Jim and I sat down in the summer of ’06,” Boyes recounts,” he said, ‘This is what I want to do: I’m going to shoot, then I’m going to go in and edit, and while I edit I want to be cutting sound eff ects that you’ve made, and then I’m going to go back to shooting’; and back and forth like that. And true to form, that’s exactly what he did. What we didn’t expect him to do was keep shooting as long as he did, but then all these big fi lms tend to do that so it wasn’t exactly surprising.”

Teague, who shares a supervising sound editor credit on the film with Boyes and dialog specialist Gwen Whittle, says, “Jim wanted to have a sound editor working in the picture department during editing, and I had done that before for Chris on the fi rst Pirates of the Caribbean fi lm. Avatar was going to be a multi-year commitment and involve relocating from Skywlker Sound to L.A. to work alongside Jim. It was quite a commitment for a sound editor, but seemed like an amazing challenge and experience so I jumped at it.

“In a way, working like that is a dream job for a sound editor,” he continues. “You want to be involved as early as possible because oftentimes as sound editors, we’re fi ghting what a director and a picture editor have been listening to for months, and in some cases, years as crude temp FX, and you want to get your own fingerprint on it. So for us, this was perfect. There were so many creative sound possibilities, and we were able to get in right from the beginning and work with Jim and try to get our ideas in there right away. But it also provided some interesting challenges, because since we were doing it as we went, the turnaround on these sound eff ects requests was actually much faster than it would be in a traditional sound schedule because we would need to provide something almost immediately for some scene he was shooting.

“Jim wanted the sound and picture editing always moving forward together so he could make creative choices that traditionally might be left for post-production at any point in the process. There was never a clear production and post phase on this movie; one was always informing the other. So his goal was to never have to start over building what he’d already worked out, but rather do it for real as he went—so a decision that he might make in 2007 was done and in place for the final mix two years later. Obviously there were changes along the way, but he really did keep some things that long.”Boyes recalls that the first design work he did on the film— based on memory of the script at that point—was on two of the flying creatures that inhabit Pandora: Banshees are similar to pterodactyls (and have a special function in the story because Na’vi warriors can psychically bond with the creatures and then ride them through the air), and the Leonoptryx is a bird-like sub-species of the Banshees.

Continue reading…

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