Audio Post Production Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide For Filmmakers (Part 2)
Updated: May 25
Welcome to part 2 of Audio Post Production Demystified. Our goal with this series is to help educate Filmmakers and like minded creatives about the mysteries of Audio Post Production. Last week we covered Job Roles and Technology. In this week’s post we will take you through the Workflow journey from Pre Production to Deliverables.
In today's fast paced media world, workflow is everything. The following is an ideal scenario, spending the time and budget to make your film both creatively and artistically brilliant with sound.
The Supervising Sound Editor/Sound Supervisor and Sound Team should be involved with the project during pre-production, to assist with the following tasks:
Reading and annotating the script to form a basis of ideas that the Director can critique and build upon.
Building a Sound Team
The Sound Supervisor may get involved with building the team for both Location Sound and Post Production. It is also important to build relationships between the team here.
Sound Supervisors and/or Location Sound Recordists will want to be present during location visits to troubleshoot sound issues and to look for opportunities for recording sound effects.
The Sound Supervisor/Supervising Sound Editor will have a meeting with the Director, to perform a thorough creative analysis of the film and it's required sound assets.
Custom Sound Effects Recording
The Sound Effects Recordist will capture sounds that add authenticity and character to the film. These recordings can be taken from a variety of places, both at the location of the production, and during specific field recording trips.
Pre Production Sound Design
Some sounds may need to be created before production begins, to be played on set for actor's cues or to meet the Director's approval in time for Post Production to start.
The Post Production Sound Team will take a step back at this stage, allowing the Location Sound Team to take care of the sound recording on set.
The Post Production Sound Team will be heavily involved in the film here, from both a technical and artistic standpoint. They will complete the following tasks:
1. Session Preparation
The Supervising Sound Editor and Re-recording Mixer will start by building a DAW master template that is suitable for the given project. This will likely house more than enough audio tracks to cover the whole films dialogue, sound effects and foley ready for mixing. They will then begin importing the necessary files: Video File with guidance audio track (used for checking synchronisation between sound and picture and OMF/AAF files (used for delivery of the production tracks synced by the Picture Editor). *Further guidance on how to deliver files to your Sound Team can be requested via email at: email@example.com*
2. Dialogue Editing
The Dialogue Editor will either take sections from the master template above or use his own smaller DAW template to edit the dialogues. They will be using the OMF/AAF files delivered by the Picture Editor which contain the raw Dialogue and Location Sound recordings correctly synced to the picture. Dialogue Editing involves trimming and extending clips, adding fades, copy and pasting, swapping out takes and rendering audio repair effects onto clips. Removing any inconsistent and uncomfortable sounds allows the Re-recording Mixer to perform the mix with smooth and clean dialogue tracks. The Dialogue Edit can make or break a mix, so it is crucial to ensure that this sounds great before the Producer and Director make final approvals.
3. Sound Effects Editing/Sound Design
The Sound Effects/Design team is often the largest sub-department and has the most extensive workload on some projects. They will use a part of the larger master template, dragging, dropping, syncing, fading and checking audio files against the picture. They build layers of sound effects taken from personal or commercial libraries to create an immersive soundscape in line with the Directors notes. These sounds come in multiple categories:
Spot Effects aka Cut Effects, Hard Effects
Spot Effects are intended to cover obvious sounds on screen such as doors, vehicles, fist punches etc. They may also be used to replace or enhance sounds captured on the production tracks that aren't suitable for the Final Mix. Spot Effects can be quite complex, a combination of intensive sound editing sessions and communicating with the Foley team are needed to get the best results. Action films tend to be heavier on Spot Effects, as they include more vehicles, gunshots and punches; all of which must be covered.
Background Effects aka Atmos, Ambiences
Background Effects are used to widen the stereo image of your film, and surround the viewer in the mix. They are often long, consistent and looping sounds that can give the audience a different perception of what is on screen. For example, if a scene has howling resonant wind it may feel empty or scary, but if it has tweeting birds it may feel more peaceful. Background Effects can also hide issues in the production track, and tend to sell the continuity between shots in your scenes and transitions. They can also be a way to hide issues in your production tracks. For example, if you have a generator rumble under your dialogue, you may be able to hide it with a refrigerator noise if the scene is within a house. They can be quite extensive on some projects. It is not uncommon to see 8 or more layers of ambient sound covering a scene simultaneously.
Design Effects aka Sound Design, Design
These elements cover unnatural/otherworldly sounds, musical sound design or audio that must be manipulated and heavily layered to get the desired result. Examples include monster growls, earthquakes, spaceships, trailer sound effects and drones.
Foley is intended to cover human (and sometimes non human) interactions with objects. It is created by a Foley Artist watching the picture and performing relevant actions with various objects. The main aim of Foley is to cover footsteps, clothes movement and additional sounds aka props. These include details such as gun handling, kissing and coins in pockets. More advanced Foley covers content such as weather and environmental effects.
Due to the nature of how most DAW systems work, any changes to the Picture Edit that take place after the Post Production Sound Team have started working, will cause synchronisation issues. Anything from a single frame change to multiple scene cuts must be logged by the editor and delivered to the Sound Supervisor in the form of an Edit Decision List (EDL) and a new video file. It is best to avoid this as additional costs will be incurred, expensive software solutions will be needed, and the Sound Team may need to re-edit their tracklay (combination of dialogue, sound effects, foley and music) manually.
6. Final Mix
Mixing is the process of taking all of the elements within the soundtrack and balancing them into a cohesive tapestry of sound. The Final Mix will be performed by the Dubbing Mixer/Re-recording Mixer after all of the tracklay is completed and the Director has approved the work. The Re-recording Mixer will use a combination of software tools to sculpt the mix, ensuring that dialogue is consistent, the foley is realistic, sound effects have an interesting surround field, the music blends well and there is a pleasant tonal balance overall.
Mixing sound for picture involves a lot of artistic performance. Re-recording Mixers tend to cue the picture while moving faders, pots and touching screens on digital mixing desks, which yields a very fluid sound. Their eyes, ears and hands are used in tandem whilst working.
Another crucial element to mixing is the distance perception of sounds. Dialogue is usually situated at the centre of a mix, but will have effects added to push it further from the viewer when characters are further away visually. The remaining tracklay will fill and take advantage of whatever 'percieved space' the given speaker system and delivery specification provides. This means that the more channels you have in your mix (common setups include Stereo 2.0, Surround 5.1 or Surround 7.1), the more options you have to immerse the audience and place sounds in different areas of the listening environment.
For Theatrical Release, the Final Mix should have more dynamic range (the difference between the loudest and quietest sounds) than a mix for Television or Online Distribution. This is to allow for a more pleasant and emotional journey when listening through an ideal system (cinema) vs. a more consistent and louder mix when listening through a less than ideal system (television speakers, phone speakers).
Deliverables are provided by your Sound Team once you have made approvals on the Final Mix. Here are some common things that you may need:
Stereo Mix (2.0)
The most affordable and backwards compatible Final Mix that you can ask for. This consists of two channels (Left and Right) and is the format you are used to listening to music or watching YouTube videos in. It is usually delivered in a single Stereo WAV file at 24Bit 48kHz.
Surround Mix (5.1/7.1/Other)
A Surround Mix is usually more expensive than a Stereo Mix, due to the equipment, accuracy and time required. A Surround Mix will sound much better than a Stereo Mix if being played in a large cinema style room, but is less backwards compatible.
5.1 consists of 6 speakers (Left, Right, Centre, LFE, Left surround, Right surround), while 7.1 consists of 8 speakers (adding two additional surround speakers). The LFE (low frequency effects) speaker is used for moments in a mix that need to be enhanced with low frequencies, e.g. explosions. 5.1 surround is the format that you will be used to hearing in cinemas, or when watching DVD's on a home theatre surround system. Surround mixes are usually delivered in 6 Mono WAV files (5.1) or 8 Mono WAV files (7.1) at 24Bit 48kHz and have to be configured by the editor or DCP engineer to operate correctly in the cinema.
Music Dialogue Effects Stems (M,D,E Stems)
'Stems' is a term used by audio professionals which refers to separated sections of a completed mix. The most common is Music, Dialogue and Effects. These can be required for various reasons: film trailers, foreign language mixes etc. The Sound Team will deliver these if requested in the form of 3 separated mix tracks.
A theatrical mix usually has a wide dynamic range, and is often not required to meet any loudness specifications. It's dynamic range is based mostly on subjective artistic choices. It is worth mentioning though, that some theatrical mixes must be mixed in a Dolby Certified Studio or will not pass quality control.
Broadcast Compliant Mix
A broadcast compliant mix has less dynamic range, and has to meet the required loudness standards of any given country. It's dynamic range is based mostly on audio meter measurements. If it doesn't meet the required specifications, the mix will be rejected and will have to be corrected and replaced before it can be broadcast. Common standards include EBU R128 (Europe) and ATSC A/85 (USA).
An online mix has even less dynamic range, yet is often not required to meet any loudness specifications. It's dynamic range is based mostly on getting a loud enough mix for listening on mobile devices from video streaming websites.
Please be aware that some companies impose their own mix specifications and that these change continuously, for example Netflix have their own standard, as do some other distributors.
There are some important things to note when the sound team communicates with different members of the crew, and what you can expect to gain from these discussions.
Working with the Director
The most important collaboration in every project comes from the Director and Sound Supervisor/Supervising Sound Editor. The relationship built at the pre production stage will allow both parties to push the creative direction further and further until completion. The Sound Supervisor takes the Directors notes and converts them into practical tasks, which members of the Sound team will perform.
Working with the Producer
The Sound Team will likely be in constant liaison with the Producer to organise the business transactions needed to complete the project. Examples include purchasing sound effects libraries, specific software, foley props and recording locations.
Working with the Composer
The Sound Supervisor will stay in touch with the Composer, discussing creative ideas to help fuse sound and music. They can create contrasts by letting music lead in some moments, and sound design shine in others.
Working with the Location Sound Team
The Sound Supervisor and Team will likely need to liaise with the Location Sound Mixer to discuss delivery requirements, and talk over any recording issues and solutions.
From Pre Production Script Analysis to delivery of the Final Mix, we hope that with this knowledge you understand how crucial each step of the Audio Post process is. Take the time to build relationships with everyone involved. Don’t forget to meet us here for next week’s blog where we’ll be discussing emerging sound technologies and offering a comprehensive sound terminology glossary.
If you enjoyed this article please check out our ultimate guide to audio post- production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design