Ric Viers Special: Reader Questions

Here are the answers to the questions that several readers made to Ric Viers during this month.

Designing Sound Reader: Hey Ric, i have to say I really admire what you do, not only for the quality of your work but also for the fact that you show a lot of what you do through videos which really helps to find inspiration.

Speaking of inspiration, my question is : You seem to always find something to record, no matter where you are, is there ever a day where you are just like ”Man today I have no clue what to record” and if so is there anything particular that helps to get you inspired? Thanks. Erick.

Ric Viers: Hi Erick,

I think everyone has those days! The problem I have is that I’ve recorded so many sounds that it gets harder and harder to find stuff I haven’t recorded yet. That said, there’s tons of vehicles, weapons, planes, machines and other devices that I still need to hunt down. If I’m completely out of ideas, I don’t force it. I’ve found that forcing it just leads to poor quality. If I’m not smiling while I’m recording, then it becomes a job and not a hobby. I like to watch movies for inspiration. I sit and make lists of cool ideas as I watch TV or play video games. But, there are still days when I come up empty handed.

DSR: Dear Ric: Thank you for spending time with us this month. Your articles and wisdom has greatly inspired me to continue to raise the bar in my own sound design and sound effect recordings. Here are a few questions I have: Your studio is burning down and you can only carry 2 mics out of it to safety. Which 2 mics would those be?

RV: Easy! I’d grab a stereo mic and a shotgun mic (both would already be loaded in blimps of course!).

DSR: Do you use acoustics to your advantage while recording? For example, if you were recording a loud animal roar, would you look to see where you could position it and the mics to best capture the sound?

RV: I try to record everything clean without any environmental influence. However, there are certain things that sound cool and more realistic when you record on location. Other things, like staircases, have to be recorded on location because they’re impossible to bring to the stage – unless you build stairs from scratch, but even then you don’t really get the lived-in sound from stairs that have been around for decades. Mic position is everything. I always experiment with placement to find the sweet spot.

A trick I picked up from Ben Burtt is to always have my headphones on and listen through the mic as I walk around. I’ve discovered some really cool stuff by accident.

DSR: What software do you use to create beeps/streamers and manage ADR recording in your studio?

RV: We don’t have any special software for that. We just do it manually with our software. I’m old school that way.

DSR: Do you favor one microphone cable type over others?

RV: Not at all. I’ve bought really expensive cables and really cheap cables. We ran a bunch of tests, but the only difference I can tell is that the cheap cables don’t last as long. Some guys swear by expensive cables, but then again, guitarist Eric Johnson claims that he can hear a difference in which batteries he puts in his guitar pedals… I’d rather save my money for something that I think will really affect my sound.

DSR: What’s the worst microphone disaster story of yours?

RV: Mics are on the frontline during recording. They get knocked over, the blimp hair catches on fire, mics get dropped into water – everything goes. I’m really carefully with my gear, but I still make mistakes. The only real disaster was when an intern dropped one in a creek, but was too scared to tell me. I didn’t find out until days later when one of the editors stumbled across the take where the mic falls into the water. The intern was let go, not because of the mistake, but because he lied when confronted about it. I don’t mind mistakes, but I refuse to tolerate lying.

DSR: I can never get my lapel mics to sound right. Do you have any tips from your experience on how to make a lapel mic mixable?

RV: Again, mic placement is everything. The catch is, you usually need to hide the lav. So, you have to experiment with placement until you find a good sound. Try to stay within twelve inches or less from the mouth. Beyond that, you’ll loose the direct sound of the mic. It helps to choose lav mics that have a bump in the higher frequencies to compensate for the highs that get cut off when you bury a mic under clothes.

DSR: Do you have a trick on how to stay outside the frame-line of a shot with your boom mic?

RV: Ask for a frame-line from the cameraman. Then, pick a spot on the wall or background that matches the top of the frame and try to stay above that mark. If you can, ask for a monitor during tricky set ups. Placing a piece of white gaffer’s tape on the end of the boom helps make it more noticeable when you dip into frame. You’ll get barked at, but at least they notice it before they go to post.

DSR: Is it important for new sound designers to be educated in music theory?

RV: Music theory isn’t critical for sound design, but it does help. Music is basically organized groups of frequencies that play nice together. When you travel outside of those groups, you get dissonance. Understanding things like that can help you produce better soundtracks. Music theory really helped me in getting a grasp on equalization because notes are basically set frequencies.

DSR: When you find something interesting to record in the field like a prop or a door or something that has human interaction with and you don’t have a specific project you need the sound for, how do you record it?

RV: I try to record everything with variations. For example: Velocity (Fast, Slow), Intensity (Hard, Soft), Frequency (Once, Twice), Duration (Long, Short), etc. This way, when I get back to the studio I don’t kick myself for not covering all of my bases. Some of these variations can be simulated in post, but nothing beats recording the real thing. Plus, it saves time.

DSR: Do you record it in every possible emotion you can think of or exhaust all ideas of how it could be manipulated? I ask because I have had recordings I’ve done of doors and things in the field that I later go to use and I realize “wow, if I shook that door handle a little more frantically when I recorded it, it would be perfect for this horror film scene where the actor is trying to escape from the bad guy… It just doesn’t work the way I recorded it and I wish I recorded it differently.” Do you record in anticipation of that type of scenario?

RV: I think a lot of emotions can be covered in the variations I gave. Keep in mind, sound can be subjective to the audience. Sometimes, they will interpret the ‘mood’ of the sound in connection with the actor’s performance on screen.

DSR: How do you know when you are finished with a project? How do you know it’s good and will pass with flying colors?

RV: Usually, you’re finished when the clock runs out. I listen to work I did years ago and still critique decisions I made. Be careful not to over-tweak a track or a sound. My wife has no experience in this side of the business, so if I’m really second guessing a mix, I’ll let her listen. If she notices something’s off, I take that very seriously and usually will make tweaks based on her comments. This is especially true if she can’t understand dialogue. When you work on a mix, you know the dialogue because you’ve heard it over and over again, but that doesn’t mean the audience will understand the words. It helps have fresh, untrained ears on your work.

DSR: I’ve searched for literally years for a solution to this and I have not found one yet after hundreds maybe thousands of hours of recording close-miked narration and that is: MOUTH NOISE. Do you know of any tricks or methods of reducing mouth noise during a recording session? A magic pill? An easy fix? Anything? I’ve almost given up on my search for a workable solution – Obi Wan Viers, you’re my only hope!

RV: We keep crackers and bottled water in the VO booth to help mouth noises and growling stomachs, but we still get those clicks from time to time. If the sound is intimate or in front of the rest of the mix I’ll go in and cut each click out. It can be a pain, but the track sounds better.

DSR: Can you please create more sound design competitions? Pweeez?

RV: Keep your shirt on! We’ve got one coming up for Sonopedia 2.0. I do have to say, I’m super impressed with the submissions that we get. I think it’s so cool to watch “beginners” deliver professional quality work. You guys rock!

DSR: What are the qualities you look for when picking interns?

Attitude first, personality second, education third.

It’s funny, we’ve received hundreds and hundreds of resumes and they all look the same. What makes you different to me? Attitude and personality. Here’s a couple of rules I have when interviewing prospective interns:

  1. If you wear a tie, I will make you take it off during the interview. Period.
  2. If you’re late for an interview at the Chop Shop, don’t even bother coming in. You didn’t get the gig.
  3. If you don’t attempt to laugh at my corny jokes, I will probably put your name at the bottom of the pile. Why? Because, I want to have fun at work! I want to be surrounded by people who inspire me and I can laugh with. If you don’t have a sense of humor, then the Chop Shop is probably not a good fit for you. Trust me, I’ll just get on your nerves.
  4. If you try to B.S. your way into the gig, it won’t work. I am the king of B.S. and can smell it a mile away. Don’t come in and act like you’re God’s gift to sound and that you know it all. I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you and I even wrote a book, but I still don’t know it all. Keep it humble and realistic. I don’t mind showing you the ropes and teaching you, but I can’t teach someone who already thinks they know it all.

In the past, I’ve picked interns based on resumes. But, I’ve learned my lesson. This past year, I’ve been super-picky about who I work with. I choose guys (and gals) that I know I can have fun with and can collaborate together on projects. It seems to have paid off. This last batch of interns has been, by far, the best crew I’ve worked with! We’ve been under intense pressure to wrap up Sonopedia 2.0, but we did it while laughing our heads off. That’s what I’m looking for.

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