When making a movie, whether it’s a big budget picture or a small independent film, audio production is to a film like ambience is to a room. A sound track is one of the most important aspects to making a great movie. The post production phase is often thought of in terms of video editing and computer graphics alone. Shaping the audio to match what is happening on the screen is critical to making the full experience work. Post production of audio (or audio post as it is referred to in the film industry) includes ADR (automatic dialogue replacement) or “dubbing”, sound effects, mixing and mastering, and music. The film’s sound track must be genuine and carefully crafted to support the film and to enhance the overall experience.
Automatic dialogue replacement (ADR) is the process of replacing dialogue that was recorded while filming each scene. During the filming, it is often difficult to get clean, balanced dialogue recorded due to movement and background noises. Recording new dialogue in a studio gives the sound engineers higher quality audio and more control on how the dialogue will sound in the final product. Studios will have a special vocal recording room set up with both a screen to play back scenes from the movie, headphones for the actor or actress to hear what dialogue was recorded, and a high-quality microphone to record the new and better quality dialogue.
The actor or actress will typically watch and listen to the scene a few times to get a sense of pacing and tone for the dialogue. They will then recite the dialogue with the scene as it visually plays back, trying to closely match their original performance. Multiple takes are often done so the sound engineer has more to pick from in the final stages. Studios also often have plugins that can warp the audio to more closely match the original so that the new dialogue matches what we see on screen. In many movies, almost all the dialogue is replaced during the post production phase to make sure that every line is clean and clear. Though it takes time, it ensures that the final audio is free of any extraneous noise and other sound issues.
Sound effects, also referred to as ‘Foley’, are added to match events and actions on screen as well as enhance the overall experience. Explosions, lasers, gun shots, and cars are often the first things we think about when it comes to sound effects because they are loud and present in the movie. But a good sound engineer also pays attention to the subtle sounds too. Because ADR is often implemented, the original audio from the filming set with all the background sound is scrapped. Sounds like doors shutting, keys jingling, and even footsteps must be added during the post production phase to make a scene more genuine and authentic. While these seem like small details that go unnoticed, they can be glaringly apparent when missing from a movie.
The process of adding these sounds can often be one of the most creative parts of audio post-production. Some sounds are recorded out in the field and then shaped in the studio to match the scene. Others are done in the studio in a process similar to recording ADR. The in-studio recording is done in a room where the engineers can watch the scenes of the movie that need Foley (sound effects) added. The engineers will have various objects in the room to make the sounds and will ‘play’ the objects along with the scene. Some sounds can be made by recreating the same action, while some creative methods can be used to create others.
One famous sound often thought of when discussing Foley is the Star Wars blaster, which was created by striking a high-tension wire with a hammer. Many of the sounds created in audio post production then go through a lot of effects processing so they more closely match the action on screen.
Once all the necessary dialogue and Foley has been recorded, the sound engineers must mix everything together so it sounds balanced and crisp. Dialogue is often compressed and equalized so it sounds natural and consistent. Reverb will often be added so that the voice matches the location in the movie. Though these may seem like subtle changes, they can drastically affect the viewing experience. If the setting and sound do not match, viewers can immediately tell that something is off. If the scene takes place in a small room, but we hear reverb consistent with a large cathedral hall, the sound will feel disconnected from the picture. Foley is often mixed at lower volume levels than the dialogue so it sounds organic and doesn’t overpower the rest of the sound.
The audio must also match current standards set in the film industry. 5.1 surround sound mixes are done differently than stereo, with the dialogue typically being the only sound on the center channel. Both mixes are often prepared for large releases. Standards for the level of film sound have also been set by various organizations, with the International Telecommunications Union having one of the more global standards set. Loudness meters have to be employed during the final mixing phase to make sure the movie meets these standards.
Primeau Productions has experience with audio post production in the film and television commercial arena. We understand that sound effects may need to be created and are experienced with the process.
Budgets for audio post production should be set in advance and strictly followed because too much time can be spent on this aspect of the post production process. Give our studios a call to discuss how we can help you design an award winning audio track.