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Posted by on Jun 30, 2010 | 5 comments

Charles Maynes Special: Reader Questions

So, this is the end of the amazing special of Charles Maynes. We hope you enjoyed it as we did. Here are the answers to the reader questions:

Designing Sound Reader: Hi Charles, I see you have done loads of weapons recording, I dont have any experience of that but I would love to try it. Do you ever use analogue tape to record gun/explosion sounds?

CM: I have not I must confess- I have used analog tape to process digital source, but not in the field. John Paul Fasal takes a Nagra out on many of his shoots, including ones we diid together for Flags Of Our Fathers and Starship Troopers. The Nagra can have a nice sound to it, but frankly in my opinion what is gained in warmth tends to be at a cost of signal to noise ratio- Since I do almost all of my recording a 96k, the clarity of higher sample rates, at least for me is much more desirable.

DSR: When cutting gun fx (shots,bullet whizz-bys,impacts,etc…) to picture do you end up using a lot of sweetening or do you get most done with raw recordings? How about processing such as Dopler,filtering,etc…

CM: Good question- It ultimately comes down to the creative direction that the team requires- sometimes using more stylisitic processing is right, and sometimes it might be less right- but the ultimate goal is presenting a sound that excites the folks you are working for- whether it is a film or a game.

DSR: Hi Charles. What’s your trick to staying creative & keeping your ideas fresh – especially during schedules that never seem to have enough time? Cheers

CM: Wow- a challenging question- I guess the best thing to do is to never be satisfied with what you have already done- As to the schedules, That is a rock which simple is, we always have to do the best we can, and ultimately you should be able to count your library as a helper to turn around sounds that work, instead of fighting by having to deal with unmastered or inefficiently organized sounds. Your mastering and library organization skills are very, very, very important to your success as an editor or sound designer.

DSR: Hi Charles, What stereo techniques do you use to cover a gunshot? I guess it must be different for the setup next to the gun than the one covering the bullet trayectory or the impact. Do you use 5.1 recording? Do you use dynamic microphones and when? Thanks and best regards,

CM: When I am in the field, I am typically working with mono and stereo miking strategies. Unless a project has a very specific requirement for something like a true 5.0 sort of recording, I find having unique stereo and mono sounds to be more flexible for making nice gun sounds. As to miking impacts and bys, I do try to get those when recording the principal weapons, but it often requires good preplanning and knowledge of the recording venue to make it pay-off. As to Dynamic mics- I always have some attached to the recorders- most often, Shure SM57’s, but I am also very partial to the Sennheiser MD441.

DSR: A question for Charles: could you explain me how is the mastering you give to the sound effects you record? what are your tools for that? Cheers.

CM: I master everything in ProTools- basically the work flow consists of-

1 – Syncing all channels of the recording

2 – Removing unwanted silences and in between sounds

3 – Doing remedial gain adjustment to any sounds which might be under modulated

4 – Striking new masters in interleaved (Multi-Channel, Stereo or Mono track format)

The masters are all at the original sample rate, unless lower res versions have been up-converted. I prefer to not use any EQ or dynamics on the “Master” recordings, and will reserve that for the stage the masters might be use in sound design. The main reason I prefer using interleaved file formats is that it dramatically reduce the number of files being mastered, and it is impossible to add a multi- channel file into a ProTools session without it being copied and converted.

DSR: Hi Charles. What a terrific special! I’ve enjoyed it so much. My question is abut your work at home as freelancer… Do you take the reels of the shows/films and design the sounds in your home? when do you go to a professional studio and when you work just on your home studio?

CM: Thanks! Chuck Russom said a month of specials was a beast to take on, and he was certainly right! (He can be like that) But it was great fun and It is always nice to see your thoughts on paper for the purpose of re-evaluation. As far as working at home- it has its benefits, but if any facilities are interested in inviting me to work at their place I am totally interested! As to taking things home, It really depends on the criteria of the work arrangement, sometimes it is possible, others times it is not. As far as the differences in working at home vs outside the home, the biggest downside is that I dont have the 100 plus plugins handy that I have at home, and also I dont have my sound library. Thats not to imply it is any better than others, but I know very, very intimately what sounds are in mine- so in that regard, it can be a downside, but if the re is time, it is always great to use sounds you arent used to for design work. Actually, reading that again- For editorial work, in a general sense, there is no difference- but I would never try to mix in my space, because it is just to far from a reasonable theatrical venue.

DSR: Hey Charles, thanks for this amazing special. I enjoyed all of your articles a lot!!! i have one question regarding limiters when recording… Do you use them in every session you have? when is recommendable the use of limiters?

CM: For loud stuff limiters are essential in my opinion- In fact, on my Mixpre, I cannot easily disable them. I think they can be used as a matter of course with most things, since your input trims and levels can allow the m to never be called on.

DSR: A question to Charles Maynes: I study sound design by myself and I wondered what would be your advice for practicing and learning the craft by myself? Any kind of homework or technique that would be cool to work on for practice and learn sound design? Anything you can recommend me would be really appreciated. Kind regards.

CM: Probably the toughest question so far…. Really the best way to get into it is to carefully study the films you like and try to figure out how the sounds were made- the film that totally got me into wanting do sound design for film was Terminator II- I just love the work Gary Rydstrom did on that film- it just absolutely resonated with me. Beyond that, (and outside the obvious choice of being able to go to the USC School of Cinema) I would say that you have to make the move to get a modest editing setup and try you hand at putting sound to image- I remember reading that when Ben Burtt was preparing to to do the sound work on Stars Wars Episode I, in order to learn ProTools he put sound to old WW2 battlefield documentary films. That is really a great way to learn about layering sounds and experimenting- Back when I started doing sound on ProTools we had 16 tracks (and I started with 4 Tracks) so the power of the systems today is more powerful in geometrical scale.

DSR: I’m interested in see how is the charles’s home studio. what tools he use and how is the acoustic treatment of the room. If he can share some pics would be great!! Thanks for the special, sir!

CM: The studio meets my needs, which are pretty modest- As you can see I have a ProTools HD system which is an HD2Accel- it is really quite capable for the work I do- the only outboard processing I am using is the somewhat rare use of the Behringer SNR2000 Analog noize reduction unit- It is something Sam Lehmer, a Rerecording Mixer I have had the delight of working with numerous times turned me on to. The only other things that are sort of on my radar are getting (another) DBX 120 sub harmonic synthesizer, and perhaps a Lexicon 480 Reverb. I also have the Alesis AirFX too. As to treatments- I do have some auralex foam which does tame some of the reflections in the monitor sweetspot, but there is not much more that is really needed since it has few weird reflections.

DSR: Mr Charles: I’m starting with my career on sound effects recording. What would you recommend me for my first gear acquisition? (recorder, mic, etc) Many thanks!! And keep the great work, dude!

CM: Thanks! If you are doing recording, you will need a recorder- you can spend a lot or a little- to start out- I would say something like the Zoom or Sony Handhelds might be a good idea, and as you develop your skills you can either by mics and additional recorders or ewnt them as you need them.

DSR: Miguel, could you send this question to Charles? How you catalogue your sound effact library? What are the conventions you typically use? And also… what kind of storage do you use for your sound effects library? What brand of hard drive or RAID systems would you recommend for worked with sound effects?

DSR: Hey Charles, I read on the interview that you work with Soundminer. Do you use the metadata fields? How is the structure of your sfx library? THX!

CM: My Library, something that seems to evolve on a daily basis, And I do use Soundminer to access that resource, as for cataloging, I set up 4gb packages that function as modern sound roles. these are backed up to Drives and DVD’s before they are even added to the Library. For me, this is the only practical way to manage adding files really- To do so in a catagorized heirarchy would make backups and adding material a nightmare- How I will usually manage the naming of these files is something like:


Since OSX allows more that 31 characters, I am now simply naming the files in that sort of way- I did use the Metadata functions in Soundminer, but ran into instances when the metadata would get lost and corrupted, and simply grew tired of reloading sounds to fix it- I have never seen a filename get corrupted in the same manner. I can also add as much or as little information as I like, and often I will use a program like Name Mangler to add data to the names as they are prepared for the library- things such as catagories or other attributes which can be easily inserted into the filename text. The problem with metadata in general is that there is simply no really standard for it, and how it is held in the file. Soundminer encrypts theirs so it may not be compatible with standard Broadcast Wave file readers.

As to drives, I have 2 1.5TB raid drives I work from with the drives functioning as virtual 500gb volumes 0 (I have actual 500gb drives which mirror this data and are synced about once a week, or more often)-

I never, ever ever use these drives in editorial or design as anything but read only volumes.

DSR: Hey Charles, I’m getting ready for final mix of an indie feature I’m working on and was hoping you could touch on your process to prepare for re-recording. How much do you mix down your tracks? Balancing clarity for the mixer while maintaining separation of individual elements. Also, how do you deal with real-time plugins? Re-record all of your verbs/delays/EQ’s before hand? Thanks,

CM: Since I am not a formal re-recording mixer, though I have done both smaller scale finals and predubbed for some of the films I have worked on, I must confess my experience is generally more on the FX side of the console and Foley- If I am working in that capacity it will usually be due to time or budget constraints- and I will ALWAYS ask how the mixing team will want the material to be presented, because if they need to unravel the mix I provide, I want that to be as easy as possible for them- For effects, you will typically have BG’s, Multiple hard fx, foley props and feet and perhaps design predubs to work with- As far as HOW these are added to the stew, that is truly dictated by both the Director and Editor and the Visual images themselves- most of your priorities will be quite intuitive. As a general rule of thumb you can count on the rank order as- #1 Dialog, #2 Music and number #97 Effects. There are of course notable exceptions to that rank order, but in most cases it does indeed rule.

As to plugins- again it is very dependent on the workflow- in the films I have predubbed, typically I will record the channel outputs into multiple stems with EQ, Dynamics and Reverb being flattened into the new audio- This traditionally is the way we worked in film, with thte virtual dub being a relatively new thing. Keeping everything in a virtual sort of flux IS great for changes, but sometimes can have its own sets of problems if the workstation becomes recalcitrant in playing all the automation- in most cases, there will be so many track elements running, that there is no way even know if something didnt play unless it is blatantly missing or at an irrational level. I am still un-nerved by the potential of this. One thing I did do on both the Great Raid and The Alamo, since I did do predubbing on them was to have my final predub session incorporate the stem tracks (Instead of off-line bouncing) so as I refined the mix, Iwas able to always update the stem so it could be copied off at any point it was needed. This I thought was great- and If I am doing a final, I will simply import those stem tracks into my final session- and mix- If I need to update something I can quickly jump to the predub, do the the update and it will be immediately available in the final session.

DSR: Charles, how is your process for sound effects mastering? Do you normalize everything? What is your favorite tool for noise reduction?

CM: This always changes for me- in general, I will try to record with final levels in mind but in some cases you might choose to record at an elevated level knowing that the master will have its gain reduced- Having come from a pre-digital recording background, I always try to get as much and as clean of a signal to the media as is possible- I cannot see the value in wasting headroom in most cases and a clean sound can always be made quieter. As far as peaks for masters, I will usually allow a signal to peak a -.5dbFS. For Background Masters, I will try to make sure they are running at least a about -20db. Any lower or higher will usually require correctove action to get them into a reasonable level with a fresh mix. I will use Noise Reduction sometimes, or EQ (which is usually corrective) The Noise Reduction I tend to use is either or a combination of SONIC NoNoise, Sonnox Restore or Izotope RX- I will sometimes of course use the SNR2000 hardware as well.

One tool I adore for noise reduction is the McDSP ML4000 which can be used as a multi-band expander like Waves’ C4. I do find those actually more useful than Broadband Noise Reduction in most cases.

DSR: Are you pretty much an ITB guy now or do you still break out the outboard gear these days?

CM: I do much of my design in the box, but I still do use outboard whan I need to- some stuff, though available in a digital form- like Analog tape modelling or subharmonic synthesis I still think sounds better in hardware.

DSR: Do you heavily master your weapons recordings to give them more punch? i.e. L2, c4, inflator, or is that something you leave to the design suite or mixing stage?

CM: All the weapons I gave as examples were raw recordings- with no processing- If I do choose to add processing I will make the files a part of the projects design sounds library- As to what the stage requires, there are so many variables in that, that I try to give them a good sound which is rounded in frequency content and not distorted (unless done so for creative effect).

DSR: And lastly, in the same way various sound people have said that they get taken out of a movie by a clichéd door or scream, do you find yourself wincing at the cutting of incorrect guns in movies?

CM: Oh yes- the one that will take me out of a movie or game EVERY TIME is an M60 Machine gun. It is very distinctive,- I guess it just says “Machine Gun” but unless it is either an M60 or some sort of fantasy gun – like in Starship Troopers- I find it very distracting. But I could rigght a volume on gun things that drive me crazy!


  1. Charles, great special!!! Awesome articles and tons of very helpful information!

    Thank You!

  2. Thanks Jim, you made for a high level of expectation in the series you did as well, and I hope I was able to continue that- Miguel has made this a great site for all of us….

  3. Thanks for sharing all this Charles, its been really interesting

  4. This was an awesome interview, I learned a ton. Gonna be on this site alot from now on.

  5. Great answers Charles!

    Your quote “#1 Dialog, #2 Music and number #97 Effects” made me laugh, and cry.

    Thanks, Gabe

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