My first project for the trimester was to replace all the audio in a trailer for the movie Arctic, while also fitting the style and emotional purpose of the trailer. The audio not only needed to match what was happening on screen, but also needed to convey a sense of fear and build tension throughout the trailer. In this blog I will detail my process for achieving this brief and also touch on what I would do differently next time.
For starters, here is my finished product;
Alongside the brief, we were also supplied with clips of the dialogue, some snow footsteps and a number of music tracks to work with, this meant that without having to book studio time and record any foley I could start laying out the bones of the project.
Out of all the audio elements I had available, the most important was the dialogue, so I got to work putting this together in my timeline before anything else. The music and other elements should generally fit around the dialogue so it sits nicely above everything else, so having this already together in the project was the best first step for me. Aside from cutting and timing the clips of dialogue to fit the movement of the actors lips, I did a small amount of processing for each of the different parts of dialogue, depending on the environment in which the dialogue was heard, or any cleaning up I needed to do.
The first bit of dialogue heard is the sigh at the beginning of the trailer, which is undoubtedly the easiest to place and edit as you can't see the actors mouth, and a simple low pass filter effecting frequencies above 1khz places the voice behind the cloth covering his mouth.
The next bit of dialogue is when we are introduced to the second main actor of the film, as Mads comforts and tends to her. While he is fairly close up in this shot, he is still somewhat a part of his environment and I wanted to make sure that is reflected in the way his voice sounds. To achieve this, I followed my usual process of rolling of low end frequencies (around 30-40hz, sometimes even 100hz) and then started fiddling around with a convolution reverb that would place the dialogue within the space on screen. I tried to imagine what your voice might sound like inside of a crashed plane hull and decided that while there would be some short reflections from the small space, it wouldn't be overly noticeable and within the context of the trailer, somewhat irrelevant. A short reverb that replicates the inside of a car placed the dialogue inside the environment well enough.
I followed a similar process with the next piece of dialogue, but without any reverb. This scene almost feels as though Mads is speaking directly towards the audience, so I chose to make his voice very front and centre to reflect this. I also panned his voice slightly to the left to match where the actor sat on screen.
The last two pieces of dialogue are when Mads is chasing after the helicopter, and when he is struggling to find his breathe after unexpectedly falling down a hole. For the helicopter scene, I took a similar approach to muffling his voice as I did with the very first piece of dialogue to place his voice in the ragging blizzard around him. This scene is the climax of the trailer and cuts to black right on the last bits of dialogue, so to emphasise this I automated a delay to activate just as the cut occurs. I think this adds a nice effect of finality and acts as a transition into the sparse soundscape of the next scene. The very last bit of dialogue is after Mads has falling into a large cave, just as the trailer comes to an end. I had to fix this piece of dialogue up quite a bit as the recording contained a lot of breathy distortion. Because the dialogue is spoken in a very out of breathe, almost whispery manner (and presumably without a pop-filter), I had to cut down certain parts of the frequency spectrum to take out some of the "wind-distortion" present in the clip. However, doing this took away a lot of the mid-range and even some of the higher-mid range (add specific frequencies), so I found that adding a convolution reverb that fits the environment and then shaping the frequency spectrum of that reverb to sort of "fill in" the frequencies I removed worked well. I think I'm happy with the end result, as it fits what we're seeing on screen very well, and it doesn't seem as though I have taken away from any of the fundamental frequencies of the dialogue.
Over all I'm very happy with the dialogue, but if I were to nit pick and make adjustments in the editing or mixing, I would have to say that the timing of some of the dialogue would be something I'd like to improve, and also just the placement of the voice in the room with the use of reverb and EQ.
Once all the dialogue was where it needed to be, the next step was adding music. This made the most sense to complete next because it would allow me to layout the way I wanted the emotion and tension of the track to build, and because my dialogue was already in place I had a good sense of where the music should sit in balance. A majority of the music I went for was fairly ambient and experimental, and I found that some of the music even contained noise that sounded like a blizzard of some kind, and I could definitely use that to my advantage. After laying all of the ambience tracks together I started EQing out parts of the different tracks that I didn't need, for example, if one track had a desirable low end to it then I would take that out of another that might have too much low end, and some of the tracks I really only needed a top end for so I would do the opposite, etc.
To supply the emotional drive behind the first few scenes, I utilised a piano track that I felt was appropriate. Being that there was a few options, I wanted to narrow down my selection by ensuring my choice matched the conveyed emotion I was trying to achieve. I remember when I first watched the trailer without any sound, I found myself thinking that it would be hard to tell what kind of movie this is just judging by the video alone. This meant that I could really twist the emotional intent of the first few scenes any way I wished, and I wanted to make the viewer feel as though they felt a connection with Mads while he is fulfilling his daily tasks in the beginning, but not really have any idea why until the pivotal scene where he is caring for the young girl. I was lucky enough to have chosen a piece of music that perfectly transitioned into a different chord progression just as this scene occurred, and for me it set the tone perfectly. Beyond this, the music was mostly filled with just ambient experimental music, until right at the end where Mad's is in the cave. In this scene I used the start of the piano track in the beginning as a kind of reprise, along side some ambient tracks that I thought fit the atmosphere.
This was all I did before I started working on foley, but later in the project I added a synth drop that I made using Serum and a building string arrangement that I wrote using Kontact's String's Sessions. The synth drop comes in just as Mad's starts preparing for his journey by loading up his sled; I thought this scene was a turning point for the trailer and needed to come with some impact. The synthesis was fairly simple, I just set up some basic waveforms, then an LFO that operated a low pass filter that also was being effected by an envelope function that slowly moved the effect of the LFO down into lower frequencies. After I had this set up, as it was the basis of the sound, I messed around with the waveforms until I had a sound that was reminiscent of an 80s sort of bass sound. (I would upload some pictures of this synth patch but I have since lost the session that i used.) The strings were just a simple two note staccato pattern that I recorded while I slowly increased the tempo of my FL Studio session. I took note of how long the build needed to be by watching the trailer and then kept an eye on my recording time while I increased the tempo to get an even, gradual build.
I had a great time doing the foley for this project; Mike, Diwan and I had a basic idea of what sounds we needed to create for the project, but didn't have a definitive plan during the studio session for achieving those sounds. We mostly relied on our previous experience in the foley recording room, and what materials we knew were available. We watched through the trailer and stopped every time we saw a sound we needed and then worked on finding a way to create it. A majority of the snow impact sounds you hear in the beginning of my trailer are a mix of the snow foot steps we were supplied with, and also some recordings we created using pebbles, a piece of thick plastic and some metal objects. We half buried the plastic in a bunch of pebbles and then stabbed it with the various metal objects we had; we also utilised a cymbal to create the scraping sounds in the beginning by holding a piece of cloth around it to deaden the sound it created and then scrapped it through the plastic and pebbles.
I think a majority of the interesting sounds we created are in the first half of the trailer, before Mad's sets off on his journey with the sled. The sound of the crank that he turns in the beginning of the trailer was made by scraping a piece of metal along the binder of a book, the creek of the door was made using a creeky chair that we had in the studio, and the wind was made by dragging a bag along the carpet in the studio, which is a trick that's tried and true in the world of foley. We decided to use this trick for a later scene where the sled is being pulled along in the blizzard and then later slides down a hill. We put the same plastic we had earlier underneath the bag and then dragged it around slowly to get the sound of it being dragged through snow, then for the sliding sound, I pushed the bag quickly away from the microphone with the plastic under it.
There were a number of other sounds I was able to pull from the recordings we created; for example, while we were recording the sounds of the fish splashing around in the water using a half filled water bottle, I noticed that I could hear the buckle on my bag clinking around in the background in some sections of the recording. So I took those small cuts of sounds and used them to add sound to the mechanism Mad's is using to fish with. The helicopter sound is made by speeding up the sound of shaking a piece of cloth next to the mic, and although you can only slightly hear it over the sounds of the blizzard in the trailer, I think it works nicely to fill that bit of real estate in the scene.
I'm really happy with what we achieved during this session, we even did a few takes of just clothes ruffling by watching the entire trailer through and scraping and shaking a piece of fabric to match the actions seen on screen, giving us a lot of material to cut and paste into place. The few elements we didn't record during this session, due to basically not having the appropriate tools available in the live room, were the polar bear's roar as he breaks into the cave Mad's and the girl are taking shelter in, and the sound of the soup boiling away earlier in the trailer. I was able to recreate these at home however. For the soup, I got my microphone and sat in front of my computer making a couple of, admittedly, pretty disgusting mouth sounds that I could then layer and create the sound of the water boiling. It worked pretty well in my opinion, even though it doesn't sound exactly like boiling water, it fits well enough at a low level in the mix. As for the polar bear, a couple of my classmates had mentioned they created this sound by scraping a chair along the wooden floor in the studio. I set out to find a space in my own home in which I could create this sound for myself. I found that the chairs out on my balcony sounded great scraping along the stone tiles, but the traffic and constant trains travelling past made it near impossible to get a solid recording out there. Luckily, the same stone tiles on my balcony are also in my bathrooms, so I was able to take a chair in there and get the sound I wanted. I then took this sound and pitched it down in Pro Tools until it sounded like the roar I was looking for, even though it didn't sound exactly as I had wanted it to. I think I could have given myself more time to work on this sound, instead of putting it off because I knew it wouldn't be easy., but nevertheless I'm still somewhat happy with the result.
I'm really content with the quality of my trailer and the effort I made towards making sure I could focus on the things I thought were important; the work I put in at the beginning made it really easy for me to base all my other sounds around the most important parts of the trailer. There are of course a lot of things I would like to fix, change or add to make the trailer better, but regardless I am happy with my first effort. The smaller, more delicate in the trailer are kind of missing all together; I could have easily added a panting ADR for when Mad's is dragging the sleigh through the snow, I could have also paid more attention to the finer details of the cloth rustling sounds, and again, I could have definitely improved the dialogue time and placement in the environment. In terms of the mixing, I think I made appropriate steps towards making sure I was monitoring my mix at the same level every time by taking notice of where I was setting my audio interface level to before I started mixing; this meant that if I did happen to turn my monitoring up so that I can hear a subtle piece of audio better, I was moving it back down to where it needed to be to ensure I wasn't turning things down or up unnecessarily. Even though I had played my project for the class and found it to be way too quiet, because of the levelling and mixing I did prior, bringing it up to industry standard level was easy and painless. While there are definitely things I could improve on, I think I've learned enough from this endeavour to improve my skills for future projects.