Here are the answers to the questions you did to Tim Nielsen during the last month. And if you liked his special, I have some great news to share: Tim will keep contributing to Designing Sound as part of our editorial team! stay tuned.
DSR: In light of this Q&A, I have finally seen “The Prince of Persia” today with my wife and daughters – it’s so much more intense to watch childrens’ movies with actual children ;) I lost my critical listening after about 10 minutes and fell for the drama; hoped and weeped, and waited for that first kiss :)
Being a very demanding movie with a lot of action, CGI, unfamiliar places and magical devices, crowds, crashing boulders, and sand in all of its incarnations, it is beyond my grasp to assess the magnitude of work that needs to be done on such a project. I see a lot of names on IMDB, but that, of course, doesn’t tell much – some of the people might have took part for only a day, while some may have invested their heart and soul. Could you please, as close as you can, estimate how many man-hours was spent on The Prince of Persia (from dialog editing to printmastering), or, if that would be in violation of your NDA, then, how much man-hours do you think it would take to do a movie that is almost the same ;)
Tim Nielsen: Hi. It’s hard now to remember exactly how many man-hours went into something like Persia. But I’ll try to give you a ballpark. I think I myself was on Prince of Persia about 26 weeks, including my time from the beginning of the project until the end of the final mix. We had four main effects editors, and each of them was probably on about an average of 16 to 20 weeks. We had two or three Foley editors on slightly less than that. That would cover the effects side of Persia. But every project differs. Some have a huge amount of editors on for a short amount of time. On the first Lord of the Rings movie, we had a relatively small crew, only four effects editors and David Farmer, the sound designer, but we were on the project for almost a year. So unfortunately there just is not ‘normal’ amount of time. But for a large effects heavy film, I would say our post schedules usually run around 26 weeks total at the long end.
DSR: Crowds – considering the film dialog is in English, did you record or use English or Persian language crowds and group loops? I’m asking because I must admit I don’t remember really hearing any specific words, although there definitely was this ‘middle-eastern’ sound to them…. I’m a real crowd-fan and I’m always in fear, uncertainty and doubt about my films until I get good crows in there. Since this film is full of crowds, crowd reactions, different armies from all perspectives and what not, I wonder how you felt about the crowd sounds – and were they high on the priority list of Mr Mike Newell, the director of the film?
TN: Hmm, I can’t recall now exactly what we did. Certainly we did have some Arabic crowds in the effects side of things. I honestly can’t remember how we did our loop group, but in the crowds side of things, we mixed both English and Arabic. And actually, as you’re building out beds of crowds, it’s good that you can’t understand any particular words, that’s our goal. So we might even use other languages too, if the character of the voices is correct. On Persia, we had a recordist who happened to be in Africa, and was able to record some various markets, that although the language was French, was nondescript enough that we were fine using it. The key with crowds is that if you can understand any of the words, it has to be replaced in the foreign versions, so we try quite hard to make the crowds have the right size, the right perspective, but to layer and edit them in such a way that you can’t pick out any single words.
DSR: Ostriches – when the princess sets them free and they start running – is that what they sound like in reality??? Or is that a bunch of stoned foley artists on a late night session ;)
TN: Hah, I have no idea what a real group of Ostriches running would sound like, sorry! It was indeed our brilliant Foley artists, a company in Los Angeles called One Step Up. They do brilliant work, and they covered the individual Ostriches. I also added various layers of stampeding animals, rumbles, etc, particularly to help the perspectives. Oh, and I can’t speak to the state of the Foley artists when performing, but I hope they were sober!
DSR: Pet sounds – do you have some pet sounds in this movie? Ones that may not have obvious exposure (like hits, explosions and arrow bys) but that you always feel great about hearing when you stumble upon them? Like an odd footstep, or some sand sparkle?
TN: Interesting, I’m sure that I do, but of the top of my mind, I can’t recall. If I watched the movie however, I’m sure they would come back to me. Since I know my library quite well, I have a handful of sounds that I tend to find fairly quickly. Certainly in some of the ‘sting’ type sounds, I have some favorites that I’ve made that tend to find their way into many movies I’m working on.
DSR: Good evening Tim. I’m an up and coming post-production professional in the industry for film and animation. I really dig sound and have broken away from my video editing to explore the endless possibilities the career has to offer.
I would like to inquire about your MS recording post and wanted to learn more on how to process LCR sound files.
I’d really appreciate a resource to learn from, possibly the protools video capture session to setup up the template.
TN: Hi, I’ll try and make and post a video explaining some of the LCR workflow a bit more in detail. Sorry I’m behind in doing so, I was on vacation, and just returned.
DSR: Could you comment on your preference of mic technique for sounds in motion (ie fly-bys, drive-bys, whooshes etc)
TN: I tend to try and record these types of sounds twice, one where the microphone remains stationary, and one where I’m panning with the sound. Usually for the ones where I’m panning, I’m using a shotgun microphone because of it’s directionality. For the stationary, usually I use an MS Rig. I find that both of these techniques are useful. Things like cars driving by, you’ll sometimes have camera shots that are stationary and some that are panning, so having both types of sounds will be useful.
DSR: desert island mic kit – 1 shotgun, 2 small diaphragm condensers, 2 omnis. which and why? thx!
TN: The shotgun would be the Sennheiser MKH416, it’s the best all around shotgun I know of. Great sound, sturdy, impervious to humidity. Omnis would be the Sennheiser MKH8020s, they’re tiny, have wide frequency response, and very low self noise. And two small diaphragm micas would be a pair of Schoeps, one with an MK8 capsule and the other an MK41, and I’d arrange them in MS. With those micas you could record just about anything you could imagine. Great question.
DSR: Ok Tim I’m gonna buckle and ask the most asked question in this industry….
What can a sound designer / audio mixer do to stand out from the crowd in terms of employment? I am and have been struggling for a while now to break anywhere near any type of employment in the sound design field. Is it a case of ‘It’s who you know”? because I don’t know anybody ha ha.. Is there greater of chance of employment in the USA due to the vast amounts of companies? (I’m in London by the way). Any advice would be greatly appreciated, a job would be much more appreciated though ha ha. (sorry for asking the question, just wanted to get an idea from a true professional)
TN: It is very much a case of who you know. I wish it wasn’t. I wish it was all based purely on quality of work. Probably your best chances are in Los Angeles, between the film and television work there, most of the jobs are there. I have to admit here that because my path was relatively lucky, I didn’t have the same path that I’d probably have to recommend. I know there London can be quite busy from time to time as well. The first step is to try and make contact with as many sound people in your are as possible. Make sure they know who you are. Offer to help them out for free if they’ll teach you a bit. This might seem below your skills, but the truth is, what you need to do is get face time with working professionals so that when a job or opportunity comes up, you’ll pop into their mind, and hopefully get a call. This tends to be how it works. So your initial goal should be for people to get to know you. A move to LA might be smart eventually, but if you don’t’ know anyone in LA, you might find yourself increasingly frustrated there. I wish I had some brilliant advice here. Stick with it. It somehow tends to always work out. Also don’t assume that to be happy you need to be working on large Hollywood special effects movies to be happy. Do your best to do creative work in whatever medium you can find work. Work on student films and freebies. It’s painful sometimes, but one of those students or independent filmmakers might go on to do well. Also go to film festivals, and introduce yourself to directors and producers there. I went to Sundance for the first time last year, and was impressed at how people tend to find each other there, people meet people who go on to collaborate on projects.
DSR: Hi Tim, I’m learning about Sound Design by Internet tutorials. My equipments now are not good enough for sound design work (because they are bought for my small music studio): AT2020, Tastar SM5b mics, TC Desktop Konnekt 6 Interface and KRK5 G2 Monitor. Could you suggest me a good starter and essential equipment? Can I get “good enough” sound with just one Mic or Zoom H4? What kind of mic should I buy to record sound, foley (condenser or dynamic or…)? I can’t afford high-end equipment. Thank you very much. Sorry for my bad english.
TN: Don’t think that you need high-end equipment to do good work! As I mentioned before, there is such a huge variety of quality gear out there today that is inexpensive. The Zoom H4 is a pretty good recorder with built in micas but also has two XLR inputs and phantom power for external micas. It costs under $400 US. I recently purchased an Audio Technica BP4025 XY microphone, around $650 US Dollars and appears to be a very high quality microphone, low noise, great sound, robust. A pairing of these two would cost around a thousand dollars, not cheap, but also not ridiculously expensive. But even just the H4 by itself would allow you to record high quality sounds. I used to own a $100 minidisc recorder and a cheap pair of lav microphones, and recorded plenty of great sounds even with that. The key for you is just to get recording, and don’t fixate too much on the quality of the gear. Most super cheap gear today is of much higher quality than even the expensive gear from years ago. Rode makes some very good sound microphones that are very inexpensive too. As for what type of mic for what type of sound, it’s very difficult to give you specific advice. Condenser for most things. Dynamics are really most useful for really loud sounds.
DSR: Hi Tim! Thank you for your great articles! How do you think is there a chance for people to jump in film audio industry not having any specialized educational background? And do you know any examples of such stories?” Thank you again!
TN: I think this was more common in years past. These days it’s probably difficult to dive into this job without at least knowing ProTools pretty well. That doesn’t mean you need to study officially, it’s possible to learn at home. I’d say a lot of the people I work with, maybe up to half, never had any formal training in film or film sound. It’s still quite possible to learn on the job. The key is to be technically savvy, and know ProTools. The rest you can learn.
DSR: What is the most memorable sound you ever recorded.
TN: Hmm. The metal bowl sound that I mentioned before is still one of my favorites and maybe the most memorable.
DSR: Another example of happy accident happening in the field?
TN: Hmm, there’s so many I’m sure I can’t remember them all though. One recently, I was simply picking up two glasses in my kitchen, and as I did, the glasses vibrated together in the most interesting way. That yielded quite a few neat sounds. When I was in New Zealand, on a whim I took a metal rake that we had been using to clean up the foley room, and scraped it on a huge plate glass window. It made the most amazing screech that’s gotten used a few places, I think it’s still in Rango when the Hawk is trying to get at Rango. They might have replaced it, but I think that might still be my sound there.
DSR: If your personal sound library was about to die and you only could save 5 sounds, which ones would you pick?
TN: Oh man, that’s a cruel question. Let me think. I’m not sure I can give you five, but let me try. 1) the metal bowl and razor effect. 2) the massive farm pigs that David Farmer and I recorded. 3) canyon echoes I recorded in Moab Utah by popping balloons at 192k and pitching them down. I love the sound of echoes like that. 4) the waves on rocky shore on Lake Superior, because it’s one of my favorite sounds, one of my earliest recordings. And 5) I’d say the huge horse whip I recorded for Persia, some of the most amazing swishes I’ve ever recorded, and very useful!
Hmm, I can’t recall now exactly what we did. Certainly we did have some Arabic crowds in the effects side of things. I honestly can’t remember how we did our loop group, but in the crowds side of things, we mixed both English and Arabic. And actually, as you’re building out beds of crowds, it’s good that you can’t understand any particular words, that’s our goal. So we might even use other languages too, if the character of the voices is correct. On Persia, we had a recordist who happened to be in Africa, and was able to record some various markets, that although the language was French, was nondescript enough that we were fine using it. The key with crowds is that if you can understand any of the words, it has to be replaced in the foreign versions, so we try quite hard to make the crowds have the right size, the right perspective, but to layer and edit them in such a way that you can’t pick out any single words.