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How much mixing goes into vocals for dramatic films

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Steve Topper
How much mixing goes into vocals for dramatic films
on Apr 25, 2011 at 7:11:01 pm

Okay, so I understand that a lot of post production goes into creating the whole 3 dimensional soundscape in a film. But I am curious how much mixing is usually involved in the voices.

If you are only recording with one boom mic, is there a lot to do beyond adjusting levels, to give the actors' voices a professional feel?

I guess what I'm getting at is that, if you were mixing vocals for a song, there is a whole lot of stuff to do to get it polished (depending on the sound you're going for). Adding compression, reverb, chorus effect, delay, fine tuning the stero mix, you name it. Rarely do you simply plop what comes out of the microphone into the song and call it a day.

Is there a similar process in film and video, or is it more what you hear is what you get?

And I'm not talking about sound effects, ambient noise, music, noise reduction etc. I'm specifically curious about the vocal perfomances.


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Ty Ford
Re: How much mixing goes into vocals for dramatic films
on Apr 25, 2011 at 7:38:52 pm

Hello Steve and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum.

There can be quite a bit or not so much. A lot depends on how well the dialog has been captured. The better the production tracks the less you have to do in post.

Having said that, production tracks are frequently a compromise of some sort and the more elements you have in a mix, the more you need to allow room for them. As you mention, this can become somewhat like music mixing.

You may need a little EQ and compression on a track or you may do just fine with EQ and compression/limiting on the voice stem, or maybe just on the main stereo or surround mix. This may change from scene to scene. For example, bringing in music or sound effects is a good way to "eat up" echo and reverb due to bad mic placement or shooting in a really live space.

I haven't done this yet, but automating the EQ would be possible if there was something really wonky with one person's voice, but you'd have to be careful about crossover dialog.

Larger than life dialog audio is usually the result of a little EQ then compression followed by limiting somewhere in the chain.

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide





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Steve Topper
Re: How much mixing goes into vocals for dramatic films
on Apr 25, 2011 at 7:51:17 pm

Cool, interesting stuff Ty.

On the music side, years ago, the first time I bought a high quality large diaphragm mic, I was immediately surprised that everything didn't suddenly sound like a song on the radio. I slowly learned that there is an art and a process in the mixing room to acheive that sound.

As I am now starting to invest in pro audio gear for film, I want to be ready for what that will set me up for. In the past, all editing I did was with sound that was so bad to begin with, it wasn't worth the effort of tweaking it past some point.

But to your point, it does seem like EQ and compression will be my friends


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Ty Ford
Re: How much mixing goes into vocals for dramatic films
on Apr 25, 2011 at 8:06:43 pm

Steve,

It's not a global solution, and doesn't work every time on everything, but for voice, in the studio, it's not at all unusual to roll off some lows, maybe pull up some mids or highs with parametric EQ first, then a little compression then a little limiting. Squeeze gently until done.

The first time I had to perform an ADR session (long story -- I was a cab driver in John Water's "A Dirty Shame") I remember thinking that when we were on location what I was looking at sure didn't look like a movie. In the post suite, they had the picture up on a monitor. The color saturation was up and the gamma was different, among other things. Now it looked like a movie!

With voiceovers for commercials, I sometimes add just enough reverb so you don't really hear it when you click it in, but do hear it when you take it out.

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide





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Jean-Christophe Boulay
Re: How much mixing goes into vocals for dramatic films
on Apr 25, 2011 at 8:47:30 pm

Hi Steve,

There is no one answer to your question. The main variable is the quality of the recordings. Sometimes you get great audio from a good recordist on a set run by a director who knows his sound (as in he keeps people's mouthes and cellphones shut). Then you get the audio from the recordist who couldn't tell a sound check from a hunting accident, where you hear people filling their coffee on the set and talking about their weekend. If you're editing and mixing the dialogs, it's your job to make it work, no matter what. If you're lucky, you can have a say in what lines are to be redone in ADR, but that is often a separate process you have no say in. You get a heap of sound and have to make it work. That's both the chaos and beauty of the work.

A part of the work is hunting around for better sound takes, as they'll keep the best picture takes at the video edit regardless of their audio. That often includes retracing takes through EDL's, transfer lists and sound logs. Once in the mix, you'll of course need lots of EQs and dynamics processors as well as some sturdy noise reduction. You could also need pretty much every other audio effect known to man to cover all your bases, as well. The dialog you mix could be happening in any type of room, behind windows, out of speakers... though that is often left for the final mix if you're only acting as dialog editor. If not, you need the tools to create it all.

But the most useful tool for editing and mixing dialog is the one most people neglect: a hardware VU meter. There is no better way to easily gauge and keep your perceived levels constant, especially on long-form projects. Software meters are usually PPM and you have to open a window to see them. Hardware VU meters can be just in your peripheral vision so you don't even have to really look at them. It's the tool I rely on most when working on dialog.

IHTH

JC Boulay
Technical Director
Audio Z
Montreal, Canada
http://www.audioz.com


PS: or were you talking about voice over recording? I could also write a novel on that subject.


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Bill Davis
Re: How much mixing goes into vocals for dramatic films
on Apr 25, 2011 at 9:53:53 pm

And on the more "philosophical" side...

If you narrow your view down to ONLY the dialog track, it's pretty easy to see flaws that you feel the need to correct. And in many cases this is a good and proper process.

However, never lose sight of the fact that the actual presentation to the audience is pretty likely to have MUCH more "communicative information" than just the sound itself.

Scene context, body language, the ability to see the LIPS of the characters as they speak - all these can do a LOT to help the audience understand what's actually being said.

Think if it this way. If the shot is of a couple staring into each others eyes - and the guy mumbles "I love you" but mumbles it such that he completely drops the "I" and it just comes out as ...'love you" the audience will likely have absolutely NO problem with the flub. That's because, in context" we understand EXACTLY what's happening and precision dialog recording's importance is submerged in the overall flow and context of the scene.

This happens ALL THE TIME in videos. So pay attention to the details, but also learn when "enough is enough" when it comes to seeking perfection.

For what it's worth.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Conner


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Alain Koffi Sessi
Re: How much mixing goes into vocals for dramatic films
on May 2, 2011 at 6:29:43 pm

Hi there,

Just to add a bit to what has already been said, attention to details is crucial. As you EQ, compress, and process your way to a clean audio track, minor imperfections become very obvious. This is where having a good pair of ears helps. The one mistake to avoid is to add additional room tone when trying to create a consistent dialogue track from one scene to another.

Alain Koffi Sessi
Sound Designer


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