Category Archives: Old Work

Shorts in the Spotlight

Some work I did last year got some recent attention. Operator, directed by Caroline Bartleet, won best British short at the Baftas this February. This was quite a nice surprise as I’d completely forgotten I’d worked on it; Alex Joseph and I recorded all the Foley at the end of a session for another film. Hats off too to the film’s sound designer Lisa-Marie McStay who picked up the award for best sound design at London’s Underwire festival.

Another pleasant surprise was The Drum magazine’s pick for their ad of the week back in October. Film is Fragile was a collaboration between The Mill and BFI to promote the restoration and digitisation of the UK’s historic film collection.

Once again, Alex asked me to look after the footsteps in the film. We were both volunteering our time on this and I soon realised it consisted of clips of characters running in classic films. It didn’t take too long  to complete in the end; I’ve gotten pretty used to grabbing old recordings. In fact I’ve managed to create a library in my brain that can go straight to the appropriate reel in a film edited 5 years ago; picking the right shoes, surface and pace. Well, that’s the intention anyway, results can be mixed.

So is this still Foley? No, not really… not if considering the definition of recording bespoke sound effects for linear picture. However that in itself can be contested; the line between sound effects and classic Foley is frequently blurred, especially when taking game sound into consideration. Nonetheless, nicking old recordings and cutting them to picture is pretty common with low/no budget shorts and worked well in this case. Many Foley editors will also supplement recordings with old favourites. These supplements may be used to add weight to tracks or sell the texture of a surface.

In the case of this film, the copied footsteps were quite simple. The snow feet and the wet beach feet were both layered up, however the rest (all of which were concrete) sat there quite nicely on their own.

So two quickly made Foley soundtracks that caught a bit of attention; if only the long-slog projects did the same!

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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.

Rubber Soles, Plastic Foley

Plastic Movie Poster

Today sees the UK theatrical release of heist thriller Plastic. Directed by Julian Gilbey and produced by Terry Stone, the film is based on a true story of a group of university students supplementing their loans with credit card fraud, suddenly finding themselves in need of £5m to get a gangster and the threat of violence off their backs.

Got to say, I’m pretty darn proud to have been in the sound team on this film, coming out of the re-recording theatre, we were all pretty chuffed with the final mix. It’s loud (where needs be) and proud. The Foley sat in nicely, some spot-on recordings by Universal Sound, and got featured nicely in the mix. Mmmm.

Last year I started to be more active in assisting Alex in the hard FX side of our films. Mostly helping out with doors and cars. The doors I love, the cars less so. There’s so much faffing around trying to get the right sound out of a multitude of different library tracks and complimentary elements (animals, tyre squeals, gravel crunch, machinery and miscellaneous sounds in the library named ‘track 01’). Nonetheless, Plastic proved a really thrill to assist on the FX because everything needed a bit of beef and creative attention. It felt good to step up and assist on the more literal parts leaving Alex to get on with his design and the scenes requiring a lot of attention. Of which there were many.

The other challenge on this film was my first venture in looking after the VFX, more to the point, looking after the master sound PT session and trying to maintain its structural integrity once the VFX updates have come in. Alex warned me I’d have a task on my hands, turns out he was right. There was lots of liaising with our picture department and the VFX supervisor, then there were spreadsheets. Oh joyous spreadsheets. There’s quite a lot of organisational considerations looking after these VFX. You’ve got to determine which VFX shots will have to be checked out for sync purposes or needing some more effects laying down. Muzzle flashes need double checking in the session in case the gunshot sync has changed, blood spurts need new sound effects adding to compliment the new visuals, iPhones and laptops need new fx laying down if the visuals have changed and the Foley often needs revisiting in case on-screen typing has changed the keyboard tapping sync.

So here’s the trailer for Plastic. It’s our first Paramount release. Not only was the Foley and effects a pleasure to work on, the mix was damn good fun. Julian has such enthusiasm and awareness of sound post and its impact upon the film’s excitement and emotion. This made me extraordinarily happy.

Plastic is released in UK cinemas today.

Seriously Rubbish Foley

A feature-length documentary I worked on, Trashed,  is going to be up for best documentary award at next week’s Raindance Film Festival in London. This film was refreshing to work on, I was brought in to help sound designer Jack Gillies and dialogue editor Richard Fordham on the project, tracklaying atmospheres and hard effects where necessary. Naturally I waved my hand high in the air and requested, nay demanded any Foley be sent my way.

The documentary produced by Blenheim Films is an investigation into man-made waste and its environmental effect upon the world’s inhabitants. There’s a nice review on Ecocentric for your intrigue. Anyway, the section of the film I was looking after involved a heck of a lot of boats, waves and beaches. Not to mention a good collection of plastic bottles.

I scrambled along with some nice Foley here and there, be it faffing around with items on a trawler deck, scraping a petri dish in a laboratory or the flap of a plastic bag causing a nuisance to an otherwise beautiful landscape. Some items were a little more difficult, I had a pile of langoustine to move around and interact with. With a total absence of anything shell-like to hand, I had to resort to using stones, odd pieces of glass, porcelain and a parsnip.

Other more creative endeavours involved the sound of a sea worm burrowing in sand on the seashore. Can’t quite remember what I used but my hands were definitely covered in a ton of moisturiser in that pass. My hands were pretty soft by the end of it all. I remember having a lot of wet vegetable items for the sound of sea weed. Possibly spring onions, it all smelt a bit unpleasant by the end of the day.

Amongst all this enjoyable mess, Richard contacted me in need of the sound of a man balling a melon in a restaurant scene he was working on. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not but having scrolled forward, there it was, a close up shot of a man balling a melon with no production sound present. How unusual, for those readers who aren’t sound orientated, watermelons are often or at least historically used to create ‘gore’ sounds by using both the flesh and the juice providing disgusting and effective results.

This surely had to be the first and only time I’d ever needed to do the opposite. Especially when my fridge was completely melon-less. Well it would be wouldn’t it? I sacrificed my pre-planned bolognese meal then grabbed a courgette and tomato with unhealthy intentions.

On his way to the kitchen wandered an intrigued Patch, my flatmate and old Radium colleague who is used to such activities and I kindly volunteered him to perform the deed. Armed with a serrated knife, he scratched at the hard flesh of the courgette for an audible, resistant scrape. We then recorded a few passes of tomato squishes which, without the context of the video, are utterly vile in a whole manner of ways.

Not a Watermelon

So have any other sound editors found themselves in a complete inverse situation from the norm? I remember going on a Foley workshop at London’s SoundFjord where we experimented using a starter pistol to simulate a sliding mechanism/lever. I guess thats a bit opposite of using mechanisms for gun handling (I don’t have any deactivated firearms to use due to the fact I would have absolutely no idea where to get them from).

For the environmentally enthused out there, Trashed has a Twitter and Facebook presence. It’s a documentary that’s had an effect on me since working on it, to the point where I’m freaking out about the sheer amount of unnecessary plastic littered about our daily lives. Our whole bathroom is absolutely full of it! Let me know if you get to see it at all in forthcoming screenings at festivals. It also has Vangelis as the composer. Vangelis! Absolutely brilliant.

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.

Spotting Old Triumphs

Reel one of Tash Force came through this weekend, feels good to finally get on with the work instead of milling around thrift stores trying to second guess the props. Unfortunately this means spotting, possibly the most tedious exercise in the world with exception to packing fibreglass repair kits (yep, done that) and slicing up tomatoes at 3am in Subway (also done that). It’s finally done, I just need to construct a car seat out of a fold-out bed and sofa cushions. This is what Saturday nights are made of.

Anyway, in order to celebrate the passing of adding a billion markers into my ProTools session, I’ve spent a silly amount of time playing around on the Interblags and stumbled upon the updated website of the most excellent Taylor James. It’s well worth taking a look at their work, you can see why so many graduates are scrambling to gain work experience there.

What caught my eye was the Bermuda Tourism television adverts they produced for Globalhue last year. I completed the tracklay for both of these whilst working at Radium Audio, the two ads were a pleasure to work on so it’s nice to see them up on YouTube now.

Well I’m clearly avoiding getting on with work. Must be time for a cup of coffee, planning on working through the night so expect some nonsense Tweets around 3am.