Audio Post-Production, Mixing & Mastering for Video Services

“Your soundtrack stood up extrememly well in comparison to the other French film shorts that were made with some serious government arts funding.”
-- Liam Creighton (Director)
“Mark has an intuitive instinct for sound, is communicative and great to work with.”
-- Paul Cello (Director)

What is Audio Post-Production?

  Audio Post-Production is the process of creating the soundtrack for film or video after principal shooting has ended and an image edit has been completed (locked). As soon as filmmakers realized there was a way to control and enhance the sound of their creations, audio post was born. Nowadays a necessity, it would be difficult to find any feature film or television show that hasn’t been through audio post. A digital animation team can design dazzling characters and expansive virtual worlds, but it will always be the audio details - the ruffle of the character’s clothes, the wind through the digital leaves and the subtle hints of the musical score, that make the world come alive.

  Audio conveys almost all of the emotional impact in the visual medium. It’s a fact. If you watch your favorite scene from any film or TV show with the sound off, you soon discover that moving images on their own are typically not very emotionally involving. Of course, silent films could be scary, sad, happy, dramatic or interesting, only and precisely because they were conceived without sound from the beginning. In fact, to help overcome this handicap, most silent films were viewed with either live or pre-recorded music accompaniment. Obviously, most filmmakers want to produce works that will emotionally involve their audience. For most of us, video has become the single most common collective vocabulary in our lives. If done well, the combination of picture and effective sound is excellent for communicating almost any message to almost any audience.

What exactly is done in Audio Post?

  Depending on budget and complexity, any given project may need some or all of these processes in order to be complete:
  • Production Dialogue Editing - In order for the production audio recorded on the set to be properly mixed, a Dialogue Editor needs to properly prepare it. This means locating the proper take from the recorded production audio, checking sync (so it actually works with the picture properly), and eliminate extraneous noise so the Mixer has clean dialogue to use during the Mix.
  • ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) - In cases where the production audio is too noisy, or otherwise unusable (bad line reading, airplane fly-by, etc.) the Dialogue Editor will “cue” the line for ADR. This means replacing that line or lines of dialogue using the Automated process of Dialogue Replacement. This process takes place on the ADR Stage, a specialized recording studio where the actor can record lines in sync with the picture. Once a replacement line of dialogue has been recorded, the Dialogue or ADR Editor will check the sync carefully, editing the take if necessary to precisely match it to the picture, and prepare it for the Mixing Stage. This process is also known as “Looping”.
  • Sound Design & Sound Effects Editing - Ever wonder how they made the sound of Darth Vader’s helmet breath, or the Empire's Tie Fighters, or that great train wreck sequence from “The Fugitive”? - Sound Effects Editors and Sound Designers are how. The process of adding sound effects (backgrounds like: air, rivers, birds, traffic, and hard effects like: gunshots, door slams, body falls, etc.) has been the domain of sound effects editors for years. Although originally edited using 35mm magnetic film, recent years have seen the development of many different Digital Sound Editing systems. More and more projects are using digital technology because of the efficiency and quality it can bring to sound effects. Sound Designers use digital and analogue technology to create sound effects that have never been heard before, or to artistically create specific “mood” sounds to complement the director's vision of the visuals.
  • Foley - This term is derived from one Jack Foley, a Hollywood sound effects person generally regarded as the “father” of this process. Foley effects are sounds that are created by recording a person manipulating objects, to simulate specific sounds in sync with the picture. Different from the environmental backgrounds and hard effects that comprise edited sound effects, Foley effects are sounds like footsteps, prop movement, cloth rustling, etc. The players involved in this process are the Foley Mixer, who records the sounds, and the Foley Walkers who create those sounds. After the Foley Effects are recorded, the Foley Editor will make any slight timing adjustments necessary to ensure that they are exactly in sync with the final picture.
  • Music Composition & Music Editing - Music for film and video falls into three general categories: Scoring, Sourcing and Songs. The Composer is the individual hired with the responsibility to prepare the dramatic underscore. Source music is that music we hear coming from an on screen or off screen device of some kind; some examples are radio source music, phonograph records, TV show themes, when seen on a TV set in the shot, and many other similar variations. Source music may be original, or licensed from a number of libraries that specialize in the creation of “generic” music. Songs may occupy either function, depending on the dramatic intent of the director. Most contemporary films use a combination of score and source music.

    The Music Editor assists the Composer in the preparation of the dramatic underscore. Frequently working also with the Music Supervisor, the Music Editor will take timings for the Composer, (usually during a spotting session) in order to notate the specific locations in the film where underscore or source music will punctuate the narrative. Once the underscore is recorded, and the source music gathered, the Music Editor will usually be the person who edits or supervises the final synchronization of all music elements prior to the mix.
  • Mixing (Dubbing) - The Mixers have the responsibility of balancing the various sound elements (the dialogue, music, sound effects and foley effects) in the final mix. On large features, the Dialogue Mixer, (also called the Lead Mixer or Gaffing Mixer), commands the mixing stage along with his partners in the mix, the Effects Mixer, the Music Mixer and sometimes, even an additional Foley Mixer.

Where does Audio Post begin?

  It begins before you shoot your movie by realistically budgeting for the finest Production Sound Mixer you can find. The little bit extra paid to a great production sound mixer can save you tenfold later in audio post (To see my Production Sound Mixer page) [click here].

What is a locked cut?

  In order to audio post a film or video project, the visual cut must be completed. When this is finished to the director’s satisfaction, the work is now locked and the film can be spotted for the placement of sound effects and music. The Sound Editor, Director and possibly the Film Editor and Composer, will gather at one or more spotting sessions to determine the projects’s audio post needs. “Spotting for music” is the process of viewing the locked cut and deciding where the music score will be, and where the source music will be needed. “Spotting for sound” is the process of determining if and where any dialogue problems may exist, (for ADR), where sound and foley effects will be needed and if any sound design (the creation of special sound elements) will be required.

My cut is locked... now what?

  Once locked, the cut can now be delivered to me for audio posting and I can begin. In the next days, weeks or months (more on this later), I will locate and synchronize all of the sound needed for your project. If necessary, I will create field recordings of new sound effects and will begin preparing the production audio for final mixing, as a 2-track stereo or 5.1 surround soundtrack.

How long will it take to complete my project?

  The actual length of time required can vary immensely based on the total run time of the project, complexity of requirements, music score requirements, final track formats, etc., etc... you get the picture! To give you an idea, a recent “one-reeler” (20 minute) film project where I had to do extensive dialogue manipulation, sound effects additions, a bit of sound design, a bit of foley, and mix for both 2-track and 5.1 surround formats, took me 12 days to complete. As you can see, you don't want to wait till a deadline is pending to deliver a project. Take a deep breadth... if you have followed my suggestions you have a realistic sound budget. Call me and we can work something out.

How do I deliver my project to you?

  I work in many different applications to accomplish my work. For video projects I primarily use Final Cut Studio. For audio mastering, sound design, processing and restoration, I primarily use the superior sounding SonicStudio soundBlade, and to a much lesser extent, BIAS' Peak Pro and Steinberg's Nuendo multitrack DAWs, depending on what I am trying to accomplish. Standalone audio and music files can be accepted and delivered in any audio format you choose. Note: While ProTools seems to be the latest DAW fad for sound work, I find the sound quality of SonicStudio's soundBlade DAW to be substantially superior in every respect, when compared to how ProTools changes the sound quality of the files it processes.

  If you also work in Final Cut Studio, the easiest way to deliver your project is to make a complete copy of your FCP project, on an external FireWire (IEEE 1394) hard drive and ship it to me. By complete, I mean all referenced audio, video, fonts and other imported files already in your project. Of course the video can be sent as an encoded MPEG-4 or equivalent video file. A huge time (hence cost) saver is to place score markers in your timeline where you want sound elements or foley added along with a printed list detailing your wishes with corresponding timecode references. Also, a bit more time can be saved by ensuring that all audio in your project be recorded and delivered at the standard sample rate of 48kHz, unless of course you want your audio to be processed at the higher quality sampling rates of 96kHz or even 192kHz for eventual release on Blu-ray Disc for instance. If you are not working in Final Cut Studio, call me and we can discuss alternate delivery formats.

   Following are some examples of audio post projects I have completed and have permission to show here. The files have been kept large in order to preserve the soundtrack’s audio quality and nuance in order to provide a useful audible reference. These clips, therefore, should be auditioned through full range speakers (or a good set of headphones.) You will need a fast internet connection in order for them to load in a reasonable time so be patient.

(Click the play button to view or listen to any audio/video clip)

“Julie, Julie” Audio Post Excerpt 1

“Julie, Julie” Audio Post Excerpt 2

“Living Death Valley” Audio Post Excerpts

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