Thursday, March 01, 2007

Shake it like a polar bear ninja

Writing at the end of the day just now. This have been busy lately, last week was the family stuff which I’m not going to go into huge amounts of detail of here but there was a funeral, and a fair amount of house-clearing. Add the new puppy into all that (first time in the car for an hour, first time staying at a different house, first time in kennels whilst we were at the funeral) and it becomes even more exciting. The rest of the time, I was trying to keep afloat with work but perhaps unsurprisingly fell behind a little. So I’ve now been working lots to keep up.

I thought I might go into some detail about how this work stuff actually goes now that I almost have a routine going. The recording happens in London (generally - Return Of The Daleks was done in Manchester) with all the actors in booths. What I am sent is a disc with all the audio files on it and a marked-up script. Luckily for me the studios tend to use Pro Tools which I also use, so it’s quite easy to find my way around. The audio is often recorded out of order which can often save having some actors traipsing in and out a booth if there are multiple concurrent plot lines, and there will generally be two or three takes of each line unless the directors feels they nailed it in the first take.

First thing to do is the dialogue edit, which is about as complicated as it sounds. It can be quite repetitive, unless the edit points are quite challenging. After all the words are in the right places and the right order, I start doing the treatments for voices that need treating. This is for the likes of computer voices, alien voices and other strangeness rather than just putting the appropriate echo on for whatever room they are supposed to be in. Also around this time I’ll set up some basic EQ and compression on each voice which can be tweaked depending on the use in the scene. A good example of EQ and compression tweaking is if someone is outside, when the voice needs to sound a little thinner than it would in a room.

The new part is the sound-design (this is the bit I’m in just now). That’s where all the little sound effects go on, and is a mixture of trawling through various sound libraries and recording things. I prefer to record new things where I can, but obviously it is far quicker to import a file from a library. If I need a sound I can’t record and I don’t already have, then I often look at various online libraries where sounds can be purchased individually. That kind of thing might be used where I need the sound of a huge drill, a snow machine, or just the atmosphere sounds of a large library. A lot of my stuff tends to be a mix between library sounds, sounds I’ve recorded and things which I’ve done lots of processing to. I particularly like using Reaktor software on things because you can build up a very individual set of sound-generating and processing tools to mess around with things. I suppose a few steps up from Reaktor would be Kyma: I’m trying to work out if you get a Kyma when you are rich and famous, or you get rich and famous because you have a Kyma. But I digress…

When the sound-design is completed, the first CD goes to the director, who will send back a few pages of changes to be made. While the director is compiling that, I’m getting into the music. Sometimes I’ll have some musical ideas before I start – doing the music is getting easier but is still the area that most resembles pulling teeth for me. I think it’s because I’m not used to having to finish a piece of music and just leaving it at a certain point. Luckily I’ve done one (and may do another) where I don’t do the music. Obviously the main difference is that I don’t get paid for doing the music if I don’t do it.

There may be some sending MP3s back and forth with the director at this point for individual scenes, further CD references, and further lists of changes. This bit is completed in the fastest time possible because around now I start getting very polite e-mails asking when it’s going to be finished.

This series of Benny stuff has been different again musically, with quite a bit of collaboration on some of the key themes – so there is a specific piece to do with war, love, and some of the characters – to give consistency throughout the series. It’s all going to be jolly interesting anyway. Actually, as a newcomer to all things Bernice Summerfield this series is going to be pretty good. Lots of loose-ends which have been building should be tied up by December of this year (and I know I’m allowed to say that because other more important people have already said it in public).

So, that's the process. Now I have to get some sleep before getting on with things.

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