[Written by Ric Viers for Designing Sound]
Recording sound effects on a stage is much like eating at a fine restaurant. You know the fancy kind with fresh baked bread and a different piece of silverware for each course. Recording sound effects in the field is more like hunting for food with a rock and then eating your kill in the middle of the woods raw with your bare hands. One method is obviously preferred. However, not everyone can afford fine dining.
For Christmas this year, we gave away a free copy of the Sound Effects Bible Hard Drive to the winner of a video contest we held. Michael Chobot’s video “Sound Hunter Promo” perfectly demonstrated what field recording is all about. In the sound effects world, sounds are not handed to you on a silver platter. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty and go primal with your microphone. Let’s discuss some hunting techniques.
Hunters head out into the woods wearing camouflage to blend into their environment and not be seen by their prey. Recording is the opposite. When recording, you want to camouflage the background noise or acoustic environment so that it can not be seen (heard) by your microphone. In my experience, the single biggest challenge in field recording is isolating the sounds.
Here are a few examples and tips to help you bring home the bacon.
Turn the lights off!
Recently we were recording net swishes in a basketball court. The sound itself is fairly quiet, so we needed to make sure that room was quiet. The problem we encountered was the buzzing light ballasts overhead. So, we recorded in the dark – a little tricky when trying to make a basket, but very effective for isolating the sound. It’s a good idea to bring a work light and a flashlight to locations where you anticipate turning off the lights.
Turn everything else off!
Last month, my team and I headed out to “Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum” to record an insane amount of arcade games, including some rare antiques from the turn of the century. This place was a gold mine! They had ski ball, vending machines, change machines, candy machines, antique bells, phones, even an ATM machine. The problem was there were too many machines making noise all at once. So, we cut the power to the building and worked in the dark. But, we needed to run power to each machine we were recording. To do this, we kept one breaker on and used a hundred foot extension cord to supply power to the machines.
The March issue of Audio Media magazine is available now and, along other interesting stuff, it features an article on voice/dialog recording, ADR, voice acting, etc; and also an insight on the production sound of “127 Hours”.
Audio Media Magazine – March 2011
“Sometimes in the creativity area like sound, my instincts tell me to do one thing, but I do exactly the opposite and see what happens. For example, if you’re designing a scary weird creature, try putting in a high-pitched, low-level sound. Who knows, maybe that will be scarier.”
- Gary Rydstrom
Now, you have the opportunity to do your own questions our special guest Ric Viers. Please read the exclusive interview first. Maybe you can find your answer there.
[Written by Ric Viers for Designing Sound]
Recording in the field is like camping: you only have the supplies you take with you! When you go camping, you are separating yourself from your daily amenities. For me, I think camping is a little funny. Most people want to ‘get away from it all’, but when they go camping, they bring it all with them. Why? They need their creature comforts!
Nothing can spoil a camping trip like forgetting the right supplies. For example, you can spend all day searching for the perfect campsite, but that trip can quickly turn into a nightmare if you forgot your tent! So, it’s important to plan ahead and pack accordingly.
Smart campers will air-out their camping gear. When they get ready to pack, they’ll line everything up outside of their storage bins and work a checklist to make sure that everything is accounted for. Experienced campers will even return from a camping trip and make a list of things they forgot to bring or didn’t even think about bringing until they went into the woods.
Here’s a list of ten things that I recommend you take into the field when you head out to record.
1. Mic Stand
A microphone stand is a very useful tool when recording in the field. If you are recording alone, you can use the stand to hold your microphone for you while you perform with the item you want to record. It can also be helpful when recording long ambience tracks. During long takes, your arm will get tired, especially if the bulk of your day is dedicated to ambience recording. A mic stand will give your arm a break and will also make sure the mic doesn’t move or pick up any handling noise. Don’t forget mic thread adaptors if you plan on mounting a pistol grip or blimp on your mic stand. These items have special threads for a boom pole that will not fit standard mic threads.
2. Boom Pole
A boom pole is basically a handheld mic stand that can put your mic closer to the sound. This can be useful for miking birds up in a tree, extending your mic towards a basketball net or following someone on ice skates as they pass by. There are two types of boom poles to choose from: cabled and uncabled. A cabled boom pole provides the convenience of having a coiled mic cable mounted through the inside of the pole. This allows the pole to be extended and retracted with the cable. The catch is, if the pole moves too abruptly, the mic cable bounces against the sides of the pole introducing handling noise into the mic. An uncabled pole reduces this problem because you wrap the cable on the outside of the pole. You loose the convenience of simply extending the pole at will because you have to wrap the cable each time. Wearing gloves can help reduce handling noise when working with a boom pole. Newer boom poles eliminate this problem by providing foam handles on the end of the pole.
3. Gaffer’s Tape
This heavy duty, non-stick adhesive is the Porsche version of duct tape. It’s found on every film set, theatrical stage and television studio the world over. Gaffer’s tape (a.k.a. movie tape or g-tape) can help quiet objects, mark out action areas (e.g. drop that television set right… here), and of course, hold things together. I always carry a roll with me and I even leave little strips on gear so that if I forget the roll, I still have something to work with. It comes in many colors, but trust me black is the best!
The following is an exclusive interview with Supervising sound editor Mark A. Mangini and Sound Designer Dave Whitehead about their work on “The Rite”.
Designing Sound: What ideas did Director Mikael Hafstrom have about the sound design for the film? Did he reference any past exorcism movies for inspiration or homage?
Mark A. Mangini: Mikael did not come to the film with any preconceived notions about the sound of the film. He was open to hearing new ideas and felt that our work would be an exploration; constantly evolving as we discovered together what worked.. We knew we didn’t want to sound like any other films so it was understood that a great deal of experimentation was in our future.
All of us wanted to avoid exorcism movie cliches like overzealous pitch shifting or devilish sounding voice replacements. It was clear from the beginning that the performances, especially Anthony Hopkins’, were quite remarkable and needed little if any work, as they played quite convincingly on their own.
The charge from Mikael was to heighten tension and create dread with sound, where-ever possible, while never allowing it to challenge Father Michael’s skepticism. i.e. if the audience sees or hears something that Fr. Michael didn’t or didn’t acknowledge, what could he be so skeptical about? If he saw a “spinning head” or heard demonic sounds, what was keeping him from believing? As such, up until the final exorcism, everything done in VFX and sound is fairly understated allowing the audience to maintain the same doubt as our protagonist. Everything you see and hear could have a real world explanation. This made our job particularly difficult as we were always having to play “devilish” or “eerie” sounds with just enough believability so as not to beg the audiences credibility and investment in Fr. Michael’s quest for the truth.
Dave Whitehead: As I was working from New Zealand I was only able to talk with Mikael once. Mark is such a great communicator, the notes from Mikael were clear and concise. The most important challenge was the arc in which the demonic experience was delivered. It had to be slowly drip fed and not shoved in your face from word go.
Perhaps many of you have wondered sometime if there’s any kind of online school for learning how to create audio for video games. Well, the wait is over and the first online game audio school will be launched in the next summer. It’s called “The School of Video Game Audio”. Here are the official details:
- The games industry is changing and expanding every month as a 60+ billion dollar industry
- The games industry needs new employees that are experienced enough to start immediately
- There are few options for audio professionals and students to acquire current practical knowledge of advanced game audio concepts in an easy to access and affordable manner
- Real world practical, leading edge training in the areas of speech, music, sfx, and presentation for games both technically and creatively
- Program materials and course streams from beginners to seasoned audio pros wanting to get into game and interactive media
- Students choose from pre-planned curricula as well as one-off specific courses
- An easy payment structure that combines a monthly subscription with clear costs for exactly the courses the student desires
- The program is created and run by leading industry experts and educators
- Course material presented via video, real-time game engines, e-books, tutorials and tele-seminars
- Courses can be started at any time and are online 24/7
- Utilizes leading industry middleware solutions such as Wwise, FMOD and Unity
- Courses are constantly refreshed to deal with the ever-evolving creative and technical needs of the game industry
- This course strives to be the most advanced comprehensive and affordable program available
The School of Video Game Audio was created by industry veterans Gordon Durity and Leonard J. Paul who have a combined history of over 30 years in the industry and over 20 years teaching audio for games. Their combined experience and dedication to the art and science of game audio has given their students the competitive edge in the industry. Their goal in creating the school is to raise the level of game audio on a world-wide scale by making it accessible and affordable to everyone who strives for excellence in this exciting field of development.
Sign Up here
I bet many of you have seen Ric Viers featured in this blog several times. But do you know how he get started? What are thier influences? Philosophy?Here’s an interview I had with him, where we discussed all those things and more!
Designing Sound: How did you get started and how has been the evolution of your career?
Ric Viers: That’s a funny story. I started off as a location sound mixer for television. This was not my intended career path. I graduated from Full Sail University with the intention of being a writer / director. I moved back to Detroit, but couldn’t seem to find any work. So, I looked for ‘back doors’ into the business. Despite the fact that sound was not my main focus at Full Sail, I felt that I could get a job as a sound engineer because their film curriculum had a strong concentration of sound courses.
I knocked on a few doors. Actually, I knocked on a lot of doors. No one was hiring. I quickly found out that freelance work was in abundance at the time, so I looked for companies that were willing to let a newbie on their shoots. Fortunately, a great company called KDN was willing to take the risk on me. This led to several years of location sound work for me.
I was constantly trying to better my craft and would often borrow equipment from KDN on the evenings and weekends to really understand the gear and thus, make me a better recordist. In the mean time, I was producing my own film shorts on Mini DV cameras and cutting them on my home computer. This is very common today, but back then this was a brand new concept. Digital video and audio was just starting to empower the little guys and began to level the playing field.
The one thing that I realized was missing from my productions was sound effects. For Christmas one year, my wife bought me several sound effects CDs. These were consumer-level CDs and weren’t very good, but it gave me something to start experimenting with for my films. I received a sample CD from a ‘professional’ sound effects company and was very disappointed in the quality. These sounds didn’t meet my expectations for what I thought should be professional and I certainly wasn’t going to spend any money on buying them. What to do?
I remember saying to myself “If this is what is considered to be professional, I would be better off recording my own sound effects.” So, that’s what I did. I borrowed a shotgun mic (Sennheiser MKH-416) along with a DAT recorder (Sony TCD-D10) from KDN and headed out into the field. I had no idea how significant that decision would be. It was an impulsive decision that led to a lifelong career.
I absolutely loved recording! It was sonic photography! I recorded for about a year, until one day my hard drive became full (which was hard to believe, since I had a whopping 2Gb hard drive.) I was cleaning out my hard drive when I discovered that I had over a thousand sound effects that I had recorded. I figured someone out there would probably be interested in buying this stuff.
I jumped on Yahoo (Google wasn’t around back then) and searched for “Sound Effects Companies”. The first company that came up was a sound effects company located in Canada. So, without even thinking about it, I sent them a demo. I received a call the next week from the owner. He was very impressed with my work and told me that the stuff I sent was “cleaner and better produced than the work he gets from guys in Hollywood”. I was shocked. I was using a spare bedroom in my apartment to create material that would impress a mega sound effects company! He commissioned me right on the spot to record a library of impact sound effects.
And so I did. Keep in mind, I was still trying to pursue a career as a filmmaker. I figured I could create sound effects libraries on the side until the right opportunity came along. But, something happened the day I received the final product: a professionally manufactured CD that had my name in the credits! I felt empowered. I thought to myself “Maybe I can do this?” “Maybe I could become a sound designer?”
To date, I’ve worked on over six hundred different sound effects products for companies around the world including Blastwave FX, a sound effects label that I started back in 2007.
Game Informer has published a great video interview with audio director Stefan Strandberg talking about the sound of Battlefield 3. Among several things, he explains the approach on the sound design in Battlefield 3, talks about the new challenges on this title and also shares some footage from a very unique recording session the audio team had.
The award-winning team behind Battlefield: Bad Company 2′s terrific sound design is back. Lead by audio director Stefan Strandberg, DICE got up close and personal with the sounds of battle during a live military exercise. Their recordings and subsequent lessons learned could make Battlefield 3 the most realistic sounding war experience in gaming.
Video on Game Informer | Also on Designing Sound TV
During this month, our special guest Ric Viers has created an special promotion exclusively for Designing Sound readers, called The Sound Effects Bible Starter Kit, a package that includes three great products at an affordable price. Below are the details: