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Introduction to Sound for Cinema and TV

An audience can tolerate a bad image, but a poor sound is something that easily spoils the experience. An audiovisual project has as sound an equally relevant role compared to image. In this short article we'll look at some concepts and give tips on how to improve your sound design, whether for TV, animation, movies, documentaries or digital content.



HISTORY AND FUNDAMENTALS


Instruments began to be played by live musicians accompanying theaters in China and India 3000 years B.C. In the beginning of the 20th century, with the popularization of the phonograph, we finally heard some sound in movie theaters. In the 1950s, the roll of film on the big screen was synced to another roll of magnetic tape that contained some kind of audio, but still quite simple. It took a while for the movies to finally have dialogue and the TV's to have speakers. It wasn't until 1970 with Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" that the sound designer concept was credited. We went from mono to stereo and finally to the immersive surround we experience today.

The sound of an audiovisual project is composed of: Sound effects, ambiences (backgrounds), music and dialogue. They recurrently have a hyper-realist character to "convince" the audience, and they are the narrative support or contrast of the presented story. It can often be so integrated into the image that it will go unnoticed by the vast majority of the public.

Another widely used concept is the terms "Diegetic" and "Non-Diegetic". Diegetic sounds are present in the universe of action. Those that the characters in the film can hear. It can be on-screen or off-screen. Non-diegetic sounds only exist in a narrative instance, known only to the audience, as soundtracks that are not justified by any object in the scene.


EQUIPMENTS AND RECORDING


Let's start by elucidating the recording system. Sound can be captured directly on-camera (which is often used in non-controllable scenarios such as documentaries), or on an external recorder, which will usually provide you with better audio quality than camera inputs. Some famous brands of recorders for this purpose are Tascam and Zoom.

Regarding the environment, pay attention to sounds. There are controllable sounds (refrigerators, fans and mobile devices), and non-controllable sounds (wind, sea etc...). For these, research your location in advance and plan ahead. However, there are techniques and improvisations to avoid a lot of noise and pops during the process.


Microphones: There are two widely used types. Shotguns and lapels. Shotgun mics are ultra-directional, usually attached to boom poles and enclosed in "fluffy" anti-wind attachments. These types of microphone pick up directional audio without much interference from ambient noise, and the boom pole serves to facilitate handling without appearing in the image. There are also lapel microphones, used secondarily and also often seen in interviews. They are those little ones attached to clothes or hair (sometimes hidden). Well-known brands of microphones for audiovisual are Rode and Senheiser.


In addition there are a variety of accessories, preamps, cables, connectors and headphones that will be on the scene. Make sure you test everything before "action", or "sound rolling", and don't be afraid to interrupt if there's an audio problem!


FOLEY AND ADR Briefly we're going to take into account these two important aspects of post production, which usually come before or during the mixing process.

Foley is a simple and ancient art, where different (and sometimes unrelated) objects are used to record sounds introduced into the image. In the past there were foley artists who would perform in real time an entire film with their objects in recording studios. Today this is facilitated by editing technologies and the infinity of samples found on the internet.


ADR stands for Additional Dialogue Replacement. Similar to dubbing, it is necessary for those dialogues that don't have good recording quality in an outdoor location or that need another intonation. It's a technique hidden from the public but used a lot by big studios.



MIXING AND SURROUND


Let's get down to the thing that causes the most curiosity: editing software. Unlike the music industry today, where a series of programs compete with each other, in the audiovisual field, Pro Tools still remains the majority option among sound designers. Perhaps in the composition and synthesis of sounds you will see other software being used, but in the final process of mixing a movie, because of its editing capabilities with timecode and surround functionality, it is really a standard today. However, it is worth saying that other platforms have advanced a lot in this regard and can also be used professionally.

Today's DAW's have intelligent methods of synchronizing with video editing tools through OMF and AAF format files (ask the video editor), which transfer all the info from one program to another automatically, including effects, fades, etc. ..

In terms of project management, compared to music, the main difference is that you won't be mixing 4 minutes with 20 tracks. And yes, something around 30 mins-2 hours, with hundreds of samples, sfx, voice overs etc... Organization with files and tracks inside the DAW is essential to not get lost and keep productivity.

In addition to the project's bit depth and sample rate (consult the director and the settings used in recording), the format of the channels will have to be decided. Stereo is the standard for digital content, documentaries and casual TV shows. However, today we can go a step further with Surround, multiple speakers distributed throughout the room that give the feeling of immersion and sound space. They can be from 5.1 channels: Center, Right, Left, Rear Right, Rear Left + Subwoofer, up to 9 or 12 channels, including speakers in the ceiling. There are production studios licensed by Dolby that look more like movie theaters, prepared for this. Many technologies have gained strength in this regard such as Dolby Atmos, surround headphones and algorithms for VR and AR.


When mixing, have the tracks organized into sound groups. It is very common to have to level out speech dialogs, restore sounds (iZotope RX Plugin), remove noise and pops from the recording. And obviously working on fades, EQs and evening out the music sounds with effects, ambiences, etc...


Finally, make sure you meet the standards in terms of Loudness (or RMS) levels for the desired broadcast and distribution media. Do your research and have a good Level Metering plugin at hand.

10 FINAL TIPS (CREATIVE AND PRACTICES)


1- Use high impact hits to score big moments.

2- Use silence and ambiences to create contrast density and dynamics.

3- Build little by little to feel the immersion. You can experiment with increasing volume and speed as the movie progresses.

4- As in pop music, use repetition. Musical themes stay in memory. They may have small variations, but they always start from the same composition or pattern.

5- Mix foley and sound synthesis. Nothing replaces an original sound idea and vision!

6- For immersion of ambiences and grandeur, try modifying with reverbs.

7- Layering. Add sounds on top of each other for that distinctive and distinctive SFX.

8- Music first, effects later. Getting a sense of how the music will be built into the project in advance helps in knowing when to add sound effects and when to make room.

9- Pitch shift and reverse sounds. Try using these effects to quickly and easily create totally different sensations.

10- Finally, trust your gut and your ear. No preconceived rules or techniques are superior to feeling that something doesn't work.



Film audio is an extremely vast field to study and explore, and it also depends on media form and film genre. Horror movies, for example, are a full plate for creative sound design, while war movies require a lot of technique and veracity. Share your experiences with us! What approaches or techniques do you use? In which program do you post production? Do you have an iconic movie on your list of best sound designs? Leave any questions here for us to talk and good luck with your project!


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