The many layers of audio post production pt.1

Post production is something I’ve always been fascinated with, how the music and sounds in movies all work together to draw emotional responses, I’ve always been amazed at how much the sounds add to movies and T.V. When I think of post production I think of background music, voice dubbing, foley, sound fx and environment sounds and while this is all true each component has layers of principles to understand. I was recently told in a post production ‘intensive’ workshop that post production is a stand alone art and craft apart from music production. To treat it as such I want to learn the basic foundations and work my way up to mastery.

Photo from Dan Dugan’ sound design studio

Build the atmosphere

The atmosphere sounds or ‘atmos’ as it’s abbreviated to in the industry is one of the subjects that we delved deeper into during the lecture. The atmosphere is a make up of all the layers of environment sounds, for example, the sounds making up the atmos of my house (a suburban West Footscray place next to the train line) are the sound of the radio coming from the kitchen, a conversation coming from the back patio, birds singing and flying, distant traffic sounds and the occasional train passing. It’s also important to consider how a scene sounds different depending on the time of day, at night in a suburban area it becomes quieter but there may be more subtle noises such as a distant party; If we were doing a place near bars it would actually become louder at night with a very different atmosphere.

After deciding on the desired atmos we want to build it comes to recording. This can be done by location recording places that have the sounds that we want to fill our scene with; If our scene is in a bar strip at night then taking a microphone and recording a similar area is a good start, but one take of sounds may not be as full as you want, in this case either chopping the take up or compiling multiple takes into layers of sounds can turn a quiet sounding night into a full on rager. Creating the mood of the scene can also be achieved by embellishing certain sounds by either gaining them up or close recording them to make them sound closer as well as hiding sounds that don’t fit the scene by masking them with other sounds and gaining them down, in any case it comes down post production and editing to make a film sound and feel the way that best compliments the scene.

We also got a helpful tip for tying together disconnected dialogue recordings using atmos. In the scene we were shown two people were having a conversation and the background noise between each actors microphones sounded out of place, to solve this they edited the sound between dialogue all the way down and added a constant take of atmos over the dialogue which tied the two recording together.

Below are some sound design and foley videos to give a taste of the post production blogs to come.

In conclusion it’s very interesting how many layers can be used to create the soundscape that works best for a scene and how ambience can be utilized to add to this. Some points I’ll be keeping in mind are to always consider the time of day and intended mood of the scene, also that the specific sounds heard are in the hands of the audio engineer (if the scene wants a busy crowd that can be arranged in the editing studio) and finally the ultimate goal is to make a scene of many elements and sounds come together and sound like one united piece of art.