Here are the answers to the questions you made to Tim Walston during january. And stay tuned because there’s one more article coming from Tim about his work on Star Trek.
Designing Sound Reader: Hey Tim. Thanks for the inspiring articles! I can see you often work as editor and designer, but I’m curious about how much mixer are you? Do you think is important for an editor to learn how to mix?
Tim Walston: Please read Tim Prebble’s article on this subject – it’s brilliantly written. That said, I usually “half-mix” my own material into predubbed sub groups for delivery to the stage. This way my sounds are presented the way I intended, but with enough separation for the mixer to have control on the stage. I don’t dip for music necessarily because I rarely have the final music. My goal is to preserve my intentions and reduce the track count for the mixer – be it by bouncing down my material into multichannel mixes or delivering a session with “virtual predubs” (many tracks of units funneling into busses). I’ve been called upon to mix assembled sequences for presentation purposes, but I would not call myself a mixer.
I absolutely DO, however, think that sound designers should learn as much as they can ABOUT mixing. If you understand how the mixer does his/her work, then you can better prepare your material for the stage, and spend your time as efficiently as possible.
DSR: How do you analyze the video material before you start to designing sound to it?
TW: Well, first I watch it! Then usually there is some direction from the client or my supervisor: suggestions about style, vibe, what elements are important to focus on, etc. Next, I usually search for some material that is interesting and applicable to the project. Then it’s time to cut: put it in sync and see what works.
DSR: What are your go to microphones for on location?
TW: Just to be clear, I’m not a “location recordist” (i.e. production recordist capturing dialog & effects during filming). My recordings are field or studio recordings intended to gather sound effects or sound design material. My first rig was a X-Y stereo Audio Technica 825 and an HHB portable DAT recorder. A few years ago I bought a Sony D50 for even more ease of use and spontaneity. Both have been sufficient for my needs, although I do have access to better equipment if the need arises.
DSR: Do you prefer to record in mono or stereo?
TW: I almost always record in stereo – I’m sure that would change if I bought a really great mono mic!
DSR: Do you have any experience with tools such as FMod for encoding audio for games?
TW: No, I don’t. At the risk of alienating many readers, I have to admit that I’m personally not very focused on audio implementation.
DSR: What video editing software is most commonly used in your line of work?
TW: I’m a feature film sound designer/editor. My main audio workstation is Pro Tools. I’m not called upon to do any video editing. Although it is rudimentary, I do regularly chop the video track along with my audio tracks when conforming my work to a new version of picture. It’s very helpful to reference the cut up audio to the old picture, to keep track of how it used to work, and then repair or repurpose the sound to the new picture.
As far as I know, most video editors for film and TV use either the AVID system or Final Cut Pro. For more information on video editing (and post production job classifications) check out this article from the Editor’s Guild website:
DSR: What´s the procedure, or process you do to the sound files recorded in the field, to store them in a library?
TW: It all depends on time! In a perfect world, I would record my sound effects, then import them to a computer and clean them up, and remaster them. Then I’d scan them into Soundminer and enter in lots of wonderful descriptions and notes about the recording and what the sounds might be used for, what project (if any) they were intended for, etc.
If I’m in a hurry (most of the time) I’ll record it, give it a name and start using it right away! Maybe later I’ll have time to tag it properly. Ha!
DSR: Thanks for spending the month with us. My question is only this if you wish to share it with us: What is the biggest, most costly or embarrassing mistake you have made in the field of sound design?
TW: Hmmm… most embarrassing was probably the ruined jet recording I already shared with you all. I haven’t killed a mic in the line of duty yet, thank goodness, so luckily I can’t think of any costly mistakes I’ve made.
In a creative field, it’s hard to define “mistakes”. As Randy Thom once wrote: “ A Craftsman knows how to avoid accidents — an Artist knows how to use them.” – from “On Being Creative” at filmsound.org
DSR: You mentioned in your interview that you’ve been using NI’s Kontakt as your go to sampler because it allows you to have the feeling of touching the sounds with your fingers in the same way the synclavier allowed in your early years of sound design. Do you use any hardware controllers to help with this function, such as NI’s Kore or a pen tablet similar to the Wacom Intuos (used for manipulating sound in a Kyma system)? Is there any other device you’ve come across or use that helps to efficiently manipulate sound structures?
TW: Well, you are already ahead of me! No, I simply use a MIDI keyboard with programmable MIDI sliders. As a musician, simply performing a sound effect on the keyboard, or performing the pitch changes I want, are more satisfying than trying to draw automation with a mouse. I’m sure those hardware controllers you mention are useful too, though I haven’t tried them.
DSR: It seems like with Wall-E and other animated shorts, the sound designers are brought in much earlier out of necessity, but I’m curious as to whether or not this is done very often in your experiences. How often do you get to really work with directors? How often are sound designers consulted for their creative input in the direction of a movie? How do you know your work is fulfilling their expectations, and when creative liberty of a sound designer is taken, how do you present these ideas to the director?
Personally, I have not had that kind of influence at early stages of production very often. Usually, by the time our team is brought on, there is a working cut of the film. Sound work is presented to the director and editor as early and often as possible, to get feedback and specific direction. Sometimes early on, we can provide sounds to the cutting room that can help shape the audio expectations. At the very least, we will have one or more Temp Mixes, to an early version of the film, where we get to present our sounds and creative ideas. Picture and sound develop in parallel until the final mix. Access to the director is dictated by their schedule – sometimes more, sometimes less.
On some occasions, my colleagues have been asked to provide sound effects for the actors to hear and react to during shooting.
Having said all that, I’ve just started a project where the director would like the sound design to be provided to the digital animators for sync and performance inspiration. Every project is different!
DSR: Do you have any insight into digital asset management? I think sound library programs are great, but when it comes to naming your files from recording to working with the assets, do you have any tricks, tips or insight you could give?
I used to spend a good amount of time after every show organizing the sounds I pulled from libraries into categories and folders (Explos, Fire, Whooshes, etc.) Then I would go through the sounds I’d made and make sure the names were good, enter descriptions and such into my database, and put them into folder categories as well. This special attention to my library stopped around 2003, because there was simply no time!
In those early days, I loved David Farmer’s brilliant library solution called Sound Log Pro, because it had a workflow that rewarded diligence: When you created/recorded a new sound, you switched to the database and entered a description immediately. Then a button press created a unique name based on that description and switched you back to Pro Tools. You then pasted the name on the sound and you were done – a unique and descriptive name AND a database record were all created at once. This application is no longer available, and I have moved on to Soundminer.
The most important thing for me about adding a sound to my library is: will I ever be able to find it again when I need to? Sometimes, when creating new material, I will enter my database information right at the moment the sound is made. If I’m in the heat of the creative process, however, I might not. At that point, the best I can do is name it with the most descriptive words – using the keywords that I like.
Another of David’s innovations was to have a common set of four letter abbreviations for the category of sound, and start each sound with that prefix. This keeps similar sounds grouped together (alphabetically) in the region bin. For example you might have “WIND stormy howl” and “WIND cold whistle” instead of “Stormy howling wind” or “Cold whistle wind”. He came up with ANML, EXPL, MNST, WHSH, etc., and I often use these today for Animals, Explosions, Monsters & Whooshes. Thanks, David!
I also try to organize sounds I pull into my session at the moment of transfer. I import sounds into categorized folders, inside a library folder – instead of sending them directly to my session folder. This serves two purposes. First, the sounds are organized in folders upon import and stay there – so I don’t have to do it later. Second, it means that only the new sounds I process or create are in my “Audio Files” folder, making it easier to differentiate the new stuff from existing library material.
At the end of the day, you have to find a system that works for you, and be as diligent as possible – always thinking of the future.
Thank you all for reading my ramblings this month, and for the warm and gracious responses I’ve received. It’s been fun to share some of my old stories with you. I am really gratified to think that I’ve entertained or inspired anyone. Thank you, DesigningSound readers.