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Old August 15th, 2011, 01:05 PM   #1
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what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

Hey everyone,

I am just getting into audio and i just purchased a Rode NTG-3 shotgun microphone along with a boompole with it. anyway i was wondering what movies do to make there movies sound so cinematic? is it something they do in post production? or are there mics just a heck of a lot better then your average mic? i hope you guys understand what i am trying to say, as it is i am just learning and dont know the proper terms..

Thanks in advance!
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Old August 15th, 2011, 01:45 PM   #2
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

I'm pretty sure that's it's compression and EQ-ing...
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Old August 15th, 2011, 02:10 PM   #3
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

And atmospheric sound design. Every little background noise, foot steps, that bird over there, that horn honking in the distance. You'd be surprised how lame a movie without the sound atmosphere sounds.
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Old August 15th, 2011, 03:06 PM   #4
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

and of course much of what you hear was re-recorded in the studio with ideal acoustics, excellent microphones and the benefit of plenty of time. My view is that almost everything recorded outside with a shotgun, or stereo microphone sounds weaker than studio recordings!
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Old August 15th, 2011, 03:55 PM   #5
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

A bit like asking "what do doctors do to heal people?"

Everything here and a lot more.

Field recording is a little like ordering a bunch of wood to build a house.

That's what you use for the basic structure. But you still have to do plumbing, painting, landscaping, etc.

Sweetening (adding or subtracting audio elements to make a pleasing soundscape) is part and parcel to constructing an audio final mix that makes sure the dialog pops, the closing doors sound like closing doors and everything sounds as "right" as it can.

Oh, and they give Oscars for sound design - so you can expect that it's NEVER going to be as simple as you think the first time you try it.

Hope that helps.
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Old August 15th, 2011, 10:15 PM   #6
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

As previously mentioned, there are a lot of different factors that come into play when producing audio tracks, and you can get greater results with keeping the following in mind...

-What are you plugging your Rode NTG-3 into? If only using 1 mic, get yourself a good field recorder. I personally get great results from my Marantz PMD661. If you are recording a few sources you will want to get a good mixer as well. Cameras tend to have terrible pre-amp noise, so getting a good field recorder is a great way to eliminate that extra noise.

-There is not 1 mic that can do every job. Shotgun's are great for outdoors, but not so much in smaller rooms inside...that is where hypercardioids come into play (sennheiser mkh50). If the budget allows, find a few mics that will work well for the different situations you will face.

-Blimps... for the results you get, these things are a bargain...Rode makes one, around $250.

-Make sure you have quiet sets...eliminate the dog barking, the lawn mower mowing, etc. etc.

-Don't be fooled by cheap XLR cables...only go for name brand good quality cables. ie. look for Neutek connectors on the cable.

-Get your mics as close to the talent as you can.

-Record the cleanest possible signal that you can from the start. Fixing in post is not always possible and sometimes is a pain.

Following these tips will get you a lot closer to Hollywood sounding audio than anything else.
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Old August 15th, 2011, 10:46 PM   #7
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

Hi Brent,

I plug my mic into my Sony NX5U, it can record lossless audio with the Linear PCM audio codec. along with that i am using an Audio-Technica xlr cable. i also have a rycote softie for my windscreen. which for me works fantastic!
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Old August 15th, 2011, 11:10 PM   #8
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

As Bill said it's a LOT of little things. What makes the "movies" sound so cinematic is a lot attention to details. It's like what makes their set design look so good. It's the sum of all of the details that are planned in pre-production and added in post production. As an example, I'm working on a small short with a tight budget but even at that our sound designer is focusing on a lot of details about the characters and the location backgrounds. One of the character's nickname is Twitchy, and as you can imagine, he's somewhat of a nervous type. So were going to have the shots from his point of view have certain frequencies and sounds heightened. Not enough to make you notice it consciously, just enough to make it so you're subconscious is aware of it. We're going to also shoot his scenes using a look and feel to accentuate certain things he is noticing so it's important to have the audio match that. If it didn't the scenes wouldn't make sense..

As far as getting good sound it's more about the technique than the equipment. Great equipment handled poorly will yield bad audio. Decent equipment in the right hands can give you great sound. And, really good equipment used by a true artist will blow your ears off. Location sound done correctly and given the write environmental controls can give you an authenticity that you won't get doing ADR. The important thing is to make sure your sound department is paying attention and does their homework to maximize the possibility of getting good sound on location.

-Garrett
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Old August 15th, 2011, 11:53 PM   #9
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

In terms of high budget Hollywood movies almost every audio related aspect of a movie is done after filming including everything from speech, foley sound effects, custom sound design, so on and so forth. The reason that everything sounds so dang good is because it is all done separately after the fact and it is mixed by a dedicated sound engineer.

There are a few things, however, that you can do that will help you achieve similar results on a budget. This is really a blog all on its own, but I will share just a few things that can help.

The fun thing about audio for film is that the reality is really what you make it. As long as you make it something believable, most people will not know the difference.

One thing a lot of sound designers do to create a unique experience is to layer backgrounds and effects. Most people don't think to do this. For example...they think ok its raining in the scene so this rain sample from a random sound library will work just fine. Thing is that on its own most people will see it for what it is...just a recording. The key to making the experience feel real is to layer several different things together creating an experience that feels real. So maybe you take three different rain samples and layer them on top of each other at varying levels, then layer a couple of different thunder samples on top of each other, then add some wind sounds, and all of the sudden you have a lot of different elements that have been mixed together to create something new, unique, and believable. You can really have a lot of fun with this and create something very interesting at the same time.

In regards to dialogue it really just depends on your taste. Things aren't like they used to be and by and large dialogue recorded on set can be used if it is done well and properly recorded. Otherwise if you have the time and a decent mic you can re-record dialogue afterwords.

There a lot of different aspects to good production audio that I don't have time or space to get into in this post, but I will leave you with one last tip. A mistake that I see a lot is where folks use sound effects or dialogue that is completely dry and sounds so obvious and out of place. Don't be afraid to use some effects such as reverb or a little bit of eq, and compression to make your dialogue and effects sound as if they fit the environment you see on screen. For instance if the scene is taking place in a parking garage it makes sense that there would be a good deal of reverberation on dialogue or sound effects. Don't overdue it, just use enough to make it seem real.

While the microphone you use to record is important in production audio for films, it is not as important as it is in say the music industry, because chances are we are going to process the signal a decent bit in post to make it believable. My advice would be to make sure that you record good audio, but really place you emphasis on attention to detail in the post production phase. That is where you will be able to rise above the rest if you really put the work in.

As Vincent Laforet recently said..."What differentiates an Indie film from a major Hollywood Blockbuster? (Besides the fact that the Indie is probably better ?)

Itís not the special effects, the anamorphic lenses or the super technocranesÖ

Itís the quality of the sound."

Have fun!
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Old August 16th, 2011, 01:31 AM   #10
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

Great footage looks pants with bad audio. Average footage looks spectacular with great audio. Why? 'cos we are hardwired to react to "sound" more than visuals. Yes the eye dominates a large part of the brain, but our reactions lean more towards sound. We could hear the Mammoth before we saw 'em! Couldn't see the mammoth for the fir trees.

But you ARE asking the best of questions. For me it means you are aware. You can't ask more of yourself. Well done.

BTW, I agree with all of the tips and advise above.

Cheers

Grazie
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Old August 16th, 2011, 02:34 AM   #11
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

And, of course, they build their sets and shoot everything on a "sound stage" wherever possible.

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Old August 16th, 2011, 03:08 AM   #12
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

They tend to build sets on sound stages for a number of reasons, but not always possible. It really depends on the budget and many productions (even high budget ones) build sets in warehouses or other converted buildings (some of which are very much less than ideal for the sound dept.). Many productions shoot on location because it suits the style of the film and deliberately don't go into a studio.

Sound is one area that the low budget filmmaker should put a lot of effort. It can be time consuming building up the sound tracks, but it can really transform a production. As George Lucas said, it's half the movie. I know people obsess about the cameras etc, but they should also do the same with their sound track.
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Old August 16th, 2011, 05:05 AM   #13
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

The biggest sweetened sounds I can think of are gunshots and explosions. If you were to record your own gunshot, it would sound like a popgun. But when they add reverb/echo and lower the pitch of the pop, it becomes a huge "bam!"

When you see an explosion in the distance on-screen, it sounds like the earth rips as you see the huge fireball blow up. But in reality, an explosion in the distance doesn't make any noise until a few seconds later, due to the fact that light travels faster than sound. By then, the explosion sounds like a big "thump."
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Old August 16th, 2011, 05:29 AM   #14
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

Don't forget to monitor the audio at the time of recording, buy the best cans that you can afford and make sure that they isolate the sound so you only hear what is recorded.

We can all press a key on a piano and hear a note, but when an experienced pianist presses the same key you can hear the difference. Audio is also a craft that requires more skill than just pressing the On/Off button. As a starting point to any location shoot, close your eyes and hear the ambient sounds around you now decide what is important and what you need to shut down.

Have fun
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Old August 16th, 2011, 08:24 AM   #15
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Re: what is it movies do to sweeten the audio?

If you want to know how those big budget movies get such great sound that just pulls you into the whole experience take some time and watch this whole series:

Sound Design for King Kong (Post/production) 1 of 7 - YouTube

It really gives you an appreciation on how much attention is paid to every sound you hear. Part 3 is on ADR and if you've never done it, it is a long and very time consuming process. Another thing to remember is that if you are working with actors that are not use to doing ADR your dialogue has a very good chance of ending up worse than using your location dialogue. It is something that takes practice. Just getting the lips synched is only half of it. The trick is for your actors to give a great performance with just their voice. Most small productions should take the time and care to get the best dialogue recording as possible on location and use their post audio time in developing layers of sounds that will make a bigger impact than perfectly clean dialogue.

-Garrett
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