Category Archives: Me Me Me

An Adventure in Animation Foley

I recently returned to the choppy waters of freelancing; this has proved to be both exciting and stressful. On the plus side, I’m writing this from a pretty bar in Yorkshire bang in the middle of the afternoon – the downside is that I’ve developed an unhealthy attraction and yet a simultaneous aversion to emails.

Another joyous positive for the life of a freelancer is the freedom to take on work away from the norm. I was recently invited to join Dave Darch and his team working with young people with the BFI and THAMES film music project for a Foley workshop, complimenting their 10-week music for film course. I turned up armed with a back-breaking array of props, shoes, cloths and vegetables with the full intention of wiggling them all in front of the students.

A high percentage of these items were indeed wiggled. The young people also got a chance to wiggle them to their own films that they’re working on. I think they enjoyed their day; it’s not often folks get a chance to step into someone else’s shoes or transform a hand drill into a pistol. At the request of Dave, I brought with me some examples of my Foley to picture, including a section of Moshi Monsters: The Movie. It hadn’t occurred to me that not many folk get to watch moves without the finished mix; they all seemed to be transfixed.

I didn’t write up anything about Moshi when we were busy working on it. This is due to the fact I was bloody knackered at the time.

Moshi Monsters

The film was the first by Shoreditch’s award winning digital company Mind Candy and was released straight after their win at the Children’s BAFTAs. Mind Candy’s Lead Audio Designer, Daan Hendricks, got in touch with us when I was at Creativity Media and we joined his team on the sound design, Foley and effects mixing. This would be my first theatrical animated film and I was bricking it.

I wasn’t overly familiar with Moshi Monsters and the idea of creating their movements for the first time in a film was a little daunting. Thankfully, I had Alex giving me a whole bunch of advice and we were soon strolling around Soho poking heads into various shops and market stalls looking for interesting food stuffs, toys and materials that would bring these characters to life.

The workflow of the film in terms of the Foley was a little different to that which I’m used to. Spider Eye, the animation studio, would send us sections of the film once they were fully rendered and green-lit. Therefore, we worked in a very non-linear fashion, recording and fitting Foley in a very stop-start manner until we received picture lock. We took a couple of days recording with Gwilym Perry (now of Doppler and Dubbs) in Twickenham’s theatre 3 then finished the rest of the film with Simon Trundle at Universal Sound. These two studios have their own unique characteristics and the two mixers their own separate approaches, both of whom contributed such wonderful creative ideas and experience, I really valued working with them both.

The five Moshi Monsters who lead us through the film are the same monsters that children ‘adopt’ in the online game. Katsuma (a cat with an inflated sense of self), Poppet (the level headed character), Zommer (think of Scooby Doo’s Shaggy but more of a zombie), Furri (lovable hairy oaf), Diavlo (fiery) and Luvli (sultry). They are also joined by Poppet’s favourite Moshling, Mr Snoodle (a little horse which looks like an elephant puppy).

These are characters that kids will know and love so it was pretty essential to make their movements reach expectations. In terms of cloth tracks, I pretty much followed their animal type or resorted to simple cotton cloth. The supporting characters, however, offered more creative opportunities. Shelby, a turtle character, needed an interesting material for his moves. Alex suggested using PVC which was duly adopted and had a nice sound to it. Buster Bumblechops (a Jurassic Park Richard Attenborough type in an adventurous mood) was performed with canvas and rougher cloth. The character Furry was… furry. I performed his moves with fur. Imagination was required elsewhere.

Footsteps provided the other major preparation challenge. I couldn’t decide whether to follow what was on screen or to go with the nature of the characters instead (soft, wet, rocky, bristly etc). We experimented with different materials but- for the most part- went with less abstract choices… if you can call udon noodles less abstract for a footstep. In fairness, the leads were walked lightly with fairly standard shoes. One character was barefoot but heavy set; I walked him with my hands but made them very ‘slappy’. Daan wanted a kinda plastic/rubberish footstep for Mr Snoodle. After much rummaging around, Universal’s Paul Hanks came up with using finger tips upon a wellington boot. This project induced a very collaborative environment and the Foley benefitted from this.

A section of the film that we spent quite a bit of time on was set on a snowy mountain; the footsteps involved the usual cornstarch and rock salt. The scene involved an avalanche that was a bit of fun to create. This is one of those moments where the Foley stage is used by the sound designers and fx editors to obtain something for themselves. Both Alex and Daan were keen to collate a bank of recordings that they could later affect for their own design and fx tracklays. Acquiring the help of another soundie, Ryan Lee Twyman, we flumped and bellowed pillowcases full of flour onto the floor all in full view of the Neumann and contact mic. The recordings accumulated but a distinct sound of falling snow was missing. As I brushed the ground ready for another load to drop, Alex was still monitoring the mics. Turns out a little hand brush on the concrete with cornstarch to scatter makes quite a lovely avalanche sound when you’ve got a contact mic there doing its thing.

As enjoyable as our more experimental recording sessions were, I maintain that some of the best work comes from having no time to think. The 5 days I had at Universal Sound with their handsome mixer Simon was hard work. Good grief, we had so much to get through whilst my dreamy old colleague Stelios and intern Daniel were editing the fruits of our work. As I wasn’t as familiar with the props at Universal, Simon came up trumps in suggesting props to use. We flew through scene by scene and in all honesty I can’t remember a lot of the things I used because we worked so quickly everything relied upon instinct rather than considered thought.

Something particularly enjoyable about working on this film was the expeditions to source prop material. I spent an absolute age looking in different toy shops across London; trying to find items that would pop, whistle, squish, squeak, rattle and hum. These toys proved very useful for both Foley and the sound design. Mr Snoodle’s flappy ears were made with a whoopie cushion, flies were made with buzz magnets and tuning forks, large drinking straw-like pipes were made with a whirly tube slid inside a washing machine tube and the Moshi’s arch enemy’s army of glumps were complimented in the Foley stage with a rubbery toy cheese filled with slime. It was beautifully disgusting and fun.

Here’s some pics of the recordings.

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Here’s the trailer for the film.

Our Girl

Last night Our Girl was broadcast on BBC 1 here in the UK. I was pretty excited about this as it was my first Foley job for broadcast drama and I had friends and family members sat around the country in front of their televisions sending various messages of support and intrigue. The programme is set around a young woman, played by Lacey Turner, stuck in a rut and low on self esteem. At her lowest point, she comes across an advert for the army and decides to enlist. The subsequent training and new encounters forges her character and alters her outlook on life.

3545125-high_res-our-girl.jpg

I was approached by the programme’s sound editor and dubbing mixer, Steve Chase who, alongside post production supervisor Elaine Jaxon, were after a Foley artist to compliment the sound and fill in any production sound gaps.

Soon followed a trip to the BBC’s studios in Elstree for two days of boots, anoraks and sandbags. At one and a half hours, the programme is easily the length of a feature film, however with two days to record all the material, I was relieved to see Steve’s comprehensive sheet of cues. We sped through the programme applying footsteps to scenes where the feet weren’t prominent in the production sound or for those that were crying out for a little attention (soldier’s boots in the training camp’s corridors or stiletto heels walking down the high street at night). We took the same approach for the effects, paying attention to anything that was missing or needed an extra touch.

There were plenty of moments to be creative in terms of problem solving. When a background character is seen wheeling around a wheelbarrow, we needed to find an alternative due to a serious lack of wheelbarrows in the studio. Elaine located a postal trolley and was soon encouraged to join in as we pushed it, rattled it and moved the wheel against the concrete. It all sounded rather nice in the end.

There were also opportunities to be inventive. When the lead character stands up on a toilet seat to peer over the cubicle wall, we found that a canteen tray made a good substitute for a cheap club toilet seat. This also offered another opportunity to use sound to reinforce the crummy, cheap life and environment that she was living in. Steve encouraged me to pipe up with any of my own ideas which was great and very much appreciated.

The programme is currently on the iPlayer (UK viewers only) and will stay there until Sunday evening. It reached 5.3m viewers on Sunday evening which was pretty rad.

Meeting Randy Thom

Wow. So yesterday I was planning on writing a post about watermelons, then I got a call from Alex to see if I would be free for lunch in the restaurant of The Hospital Club where Creativity Media’s grading suite is based (not in the restaurant itself, obviously).

Turns out lunch would happen to involve meeting Randy Thom and his wife whilst they are over in the UK on a European visit.

🙂

I managed to pick myself up off the floor and spent two wonderful hours alongside my colleagues in their company. Such a humbling experience and entirely inspiring.

There’s not many sound editors and aspiring sound professionals that haven’t seen a behind-the-scenes video of Randy discussing his approach to sound design. The first time I came across his name was at university, pouring through the pages of Filmsound.org looking for a masterclass and when I was feeling a bit down on my luck, desperate to find a way into the joyous world of Foley, his advice to an aspiring music editor and Foley artist on the site was a reference point which I followed to the absolute t.

1) Move to LA. There are more jobs there which will “lead somewhere.” So even though there are also more people looking for jobs there, it’s still the place to be. 

2) Read everything you can find about film sound in books, magazines, and on the Internet. 

3) Find people who are doing the kind of work you want to do, and figure a way to make contact with them. You’ll have to be resourceful. It’s great training for the resourcefulness you’ll need AFTER you “break in.” Be persistent, but not SO persistent that you appear to be unstable, weird, or psychopathic. 

Edited excerpts from the message thread “soundtracks and foley”  at CAS webboard Nov 1999  

Well, I didn’t move to LA. It’s a bit far from London and they’d ask me to go home after three months. Nonetheless, it’s spot-on advice and just what I needed to hear at the time. The advice was taken and I managed to land myself at Alex’s door.

There’s something very heartening when you finally meet someone who you admire professionally, to discover that they’re just as admirable and personable when you meet them in real life, chatting about Chinese food and the delights of southern France.

Whenever Randy mentioned Skywalker, my heart would skip a beat, however the real joy was hearing about how enthused Randy and his colleagues are in developing young talent at the ranch. So much of his outlook and approach felt familiar in what I have experienced in being mentored by Alex, who himself received mentoring by Randy.

I didn’t get the chance to hear Randy’s recent talk at the BFI, however his discussion on the importance of sound post production in film and the necessity for sound supervisors/designers’ early involvement on a project is something that needs to echo around the industry as a whole.

So yes, watermelons are imminent. Today, I’m just basking in a rare opportunity and will be so for the forthcoming week, at least. There is a cool interview with him the other week when he was talking in Nottingham. It’s well worth a read.

Tappity Tap, Don’t Talk Back

Late as ever to the party, but surely it’s never too late to wish one another a wonderful new year full of experiences and adventures; be they work related or in those fleeting hours we call our spare time.

This forthcoming year is filling me with trembly anticipation towards a plethora of new projects to be undertaken both in the (sound) edit and the pits. The thought of treading floorboards makes me so happy I could vomit, however this nausea may also be as a result of some trepidation in developing flat feet and the dreaded rumble tum/bum.

So I’ve decided to wind back the clock to childhood days and take up tap dancing classes.

On the left. I hated that dress.

It makes sense to devote time and energy to footsteps, the more difficult aspect of Foley to master. I remember drilling this into my head when reading Vanessa Theme Ament’s The Foley Grail back in my Radium days, she mentioned how many Foley artists entered the industry with a background in dancing and stage performing, however it was an aversion to hairspray-filled dressing rooms littered with ribbons and eye shadow that kept me away from the dance studio.

I’ve read almost every book by writer and martial arts expert Geoff Thompson. Near the end of last year I re-read an article entitled Armstrong’s Hills where he described pushing himself away from his comfort zone into writing screenplays for film and the stage. His observations into Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong’s training approach gave me an essential kick up the arse. To quote:

I got the idea after reading about Lance Armstrong, the serial Tour de France winner. What inspired me about this great man was not just that he managed to fight cancer against horrendous odds, but also that he went on to win The Tour De France an unprecedented six times. He won it so many times that the organisers of the race actually changed the route (I believe four times) to give the other riders a better chance of winning. What intrigued me was not so much that Lance Armstrong won the race so many times, rather it was the way in which he went about it. He looked at the Tour route and realised that the hardest part of the course, the part that every rider struggled with, was the hills. He realised that if he could master the hills, he could dominate the whole course. So that is what he did. Whilst the other riders concentrated on their flat riding Armstrong was on the hills, up and down again and again and again until he mastered them, until he was comfortable with them, in fact until he loved the hills.

I don’t particularly expect to win the Tour DeFrance, or become a master at footstepping, but the idea of concentrating efforts on the most difficult areas of one’s field, in this case Foley, by getting more acquianted with rhythm and utilising all areas of the feet whilst avoiding the temptation to perfect less challenging and, dare I say, more ‘exciting’ aspects of the art, may offer some relief to the butterflies forming in my stomach region at present.

Aside from finding an excuse to don a tutu and avoid jogging in the evening rain, it will feel good to try and tip my hat towards the legacy of Foley artists who began their careers as professional dancers. Near the close of last year, Alex linked to me a wonderful article by Lionel Selwyn about the UK’s Foley heritage. The photo of the late Beryl ‘The Boot’ Mortimer hard at work in the pits is mesmerising and it’s most humbling to read about how many artists worldwide came into the Foley theatres from… theatres.

And now onto something completely different.

It seems uncouth to maintain all attention on the forthcoming months without taking the time to appreciate the twelve just passed and those that have made 2011 so incredible.

May I offer my sincere gratitude and love towards Alex Joseph, Richard Kondal and Patrick Fischer at Creativity Media. Many thanks also to Beth Lovell, Charlotte Radford, Rachel Chapman, Syriah Bailey, Renee Vaughan Sutherland, Sophie Mallett, Carlos Wisteria, Patch Morrison, Anne Marie Kennedy, Spencer Lowe, Mark Watts, Emily Kidson, James Walters, Christopher Jones, Dean Covill, Nigel Heath, Ayush Ahuja, Matt and Aleah at Zelig, Kate and David at Hub TV, Nic, Tom and Shaun at Beautiful, Neil and Louisa at Silent Deer, Alex Amelines and the delightful Olivia Comberti. You’re amazing.

Wasting Business Cards

Last year I was creating some sound effects for Tootles, an kids cartoon by my good friend Alex Amelines. As a sweet gesture, Alex created a lovely business card design so I could refrain from thrusting my iPhone in the direction of people I’d meet, bleating excuses of a terrible default Vistaprint purchase and pleading for their Twitter username instead.

I finally took 15 minutes out of an admin day to get the designs printed with Moo and joined the professional pool of freelance creatives who can manage the simplest tasks of passing on contact details and understanding the concept of branding.

The week that they arrived fresh, crisp and stacked ready for distribution, I was offered a full time job by Creativity Media. I now have 150 fresh, crisp and wonderfully designed business cards that I’m probably never going to use.

It was in my favourite colour and everything!

So the silver lining I guess is that I will now be working full time for Creativity Media as a Foley editor, receiving training in effects editing, dialogue editing and all sorts of sound post activities. This is no means a sign off from the Foley Diaries though, if I don’t pour my babbles about props n’ cloths on here, I’ll inflict it upon friends and family which will result in eye rolls and social shuns.

So on that note, look at some sexy new props acquired in China. The bells, they are delightful.

The scary tweezer looking thing is an old, weird razor, or so the vendor claimed

Ropes, ratchets and more ropes? That’ll be nautical Foley then.

Everything has been used except the dog ball/rope toy

In all seriousness, I’m absolutely delighted to be doing this full time and getting to push myself both in terms of improving my Foley editing and in learning new sound post skills, becoming more useful to the company and generally discovering how it feels to REALLY appreciate the weekends. Wish me luck, yo.

Creativity Media are on both Twitter and Facebook. I’ll be updating the accounts here and there so do say hello.

BIMA Award Win – Mum is Proud

Back in snowy December I received a Tweet from my chum Patch Morrison excitedly telling the news of Publicis Modem’s LG Behind the Picture campaign winning the Best Sound category of the 2010 BIMA awards.

Patch and I both worked on the campaign during our time at Radium Audio. I had the pleasure of tracklaying the effects alongside fellow sound editor Peter Malmqvist with a perfect music track composed by Ben Laver and Magnus Arwenhed, supervised under the creative direction of Andrew Diey. Patch mixed the track perfectly and it was a classic example of a team coming together contributing their skillset and helping the brand and creative agency give life and personality to the characters and their world animated in the videos.

I have to say though, the biggest highlight of the whole project was attending the voice over recording session with the Publicis creative team in town. Readers based in the UK may recognise the commanding and uncle-like tones of actor Brian Blessed who performed the VO. If you ever need to reference a picture of a seriously delighted sound editor in the presence of a gentleman who had just bellowed a loud roar in her ear, this may be appropriate.

Amazing beard, amazing man

Mr Blessed was an absolute gent and his voice was a pleasure to work with. The three animations were a delight to work on and the award win is mere icing on the cake.

Update!

It’s probably of interest to someone as to my creative thinking when tracklaying the sound effects for this project. Hmm… well looking at the visuals, I was initially thinking servos, hydraulics (the light ones, not massive elevators and the like) and the standard robotics. Publicis expressed a shift towards more organic and softer sound sources so I moved into personalising the characters such as Glimps (as seen in the video up above), I took inspiration from the superiour physicality and productivity of the supporting robot characters found on the Axiom in Wall-e. Who’d have thunk it, a sound editor inspired by Ben Burtt? I must be the first.

I’ll embed the other video which I tracklayed sound effects on – IO. This one contains rather funky music from Magnus, I remember cutting in a rather satisfying airlock release sound as the IOs open up and revel their media cubes. These never made it into the mix, probably as it was too busy what with the VO and music, I will remain bitter until the end of days.

Tally Ho!

I find it hard to unwind

I’ve just got back from China, those of you who follow me on Twitter may be aware of this from the barrage of boasting updates.
This post isn’t a further boast (well, it obviously is) but a reflection on the aural, environmental differences between Beijing and London.

To be honest, I didn’t really find any.

Well, the quantity and quality of throaty hocking and spitting are somewhat of a Chinese speciality. The car horns are also set to an irritating ‘constant’.
I was surprised and a little disappointed to discover a recognisable soundtrack to the city. Whether this was because my Chinese is exceptionally below par, to the point of communication through pointing, smiling and barking out patronising syllables, or the fact I was finally on holiday and had shut down all neurological systems. Nonetheless, it was a surprise to find myself in such a familiar sonic environment.

With the exceptionally cool exception of their street crossings.

They sounded aggressive, rushed and alarming. Just like Blade Runner.
Blade Runner street crossings; I’ve never been so happy to cross a road.

I also had a mildly interesting awakening whilst in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia (there goes the boasting again). Sitting on the back of a lovely horse named Waffle, attempting to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. This was not the right time to notice the sound of Waffle’s footsteps but it would appear that some habits are hard to ignore.

Despite exceptional advice from the good guys at Hackenbacker regarding exaggeration and continuation of Foley prop manipulation, I’ve always considered horse steps to consist of simple attacks – the clop if you will. With the tranquil setting of Mongolian grasslands, I noticed that Waffle was not only clopping, but also raising his hoof with a significant scrape of the dirt – the clop n’ scrape.

Waffle the horse

How exciting and embarrassing. All this time I assumed horses pierced the ground with thrust and withdrawal similar to a hole punch. I imagine the scrape will get lost amongst the other ME tracks upon final mix, however I’m grateful to that lovely horse for showing me the error of my presumptuous ways.

Apologies for a lack of audio examples on both the crossings and fascinating horse shoe scrapes. It was my first holiday in eight years and I didn’t fancy explaining myself to Chinese customs as to why I was bringing in recording kit to the country. Next time I’m rolling around the rest of Europe, I’m taking Patch Morrison’s Marantz.

Preparations

Have been running around like a mad woman, getting organised for the Foley performance and editing I’m undertaking for Tash Force. Preparations include beefing up Pro Tools, the Mac and investing in some new shoes, mens shoes.

So far I have stumbled upon these

I also came across these, not quite in the category of mens shoes but damn they have a lovely clop to them.

Looking forward to this project, it’ll be my first with supervising sound editor Dean Covill. We share a real passion for the film so it’ll be an enjoyable few weeks up ahead. Might not be feeling that way at 3am editing cloth tracks but in the meantime, yes… good feelings. Especially when I get to walk in this man’s shoes throughout the next month.

Time to clean my boots, there will be updates.