Category Archives: SFX

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.

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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.

Heroes of Ruin Teaser Trailer

Hello dear subscribers, have been a bit busy of late and will have exciting news to brag about in the near future. In the meantime I’ve got some recent work to show and tell.

Creative agency Beautiful asked me to create the sound and music of a teaser trailer that they designed and animated for its unveiling at June’s E3 game expo in Los Angeles. The trailer is for Heroes of Ruin, a new game developed by n-Space and produced by London-based Square Enix for the Nintendo 3DS and is a four-player drop in/out role playing game.

 

I largely raided my sound library for this piece. Wind is apparent, it’s hard no to notice that, I went for mountainous winds to give it a chilly start and finish. The melding together of the game’s titles involved an array of rocks falling down cliffs and being reversed, they were joined by various combat sounds and a few air and metal hits reversed for good measure. Cinematic low frequency hits were slathered with reverb for the culmination of that meld. Library recordings of fire, cellophane crinkles and a recent recording of an open air fire for Outside Bet were included for the ruining of the word… ‘ruin’. I got involved with Logic for some atmospheric pads quietly introduced at the beginning and well, that was it.

It was fun to work with as quite a few things were happening on screen and all of them were large, the mix involved finding out which elements needed to retain their mid-low end and those that needed to breathe above the rumble and impact.

The lovely agency Beautiful are using both Twitter and Facebook, Square Enix have Facebook and Twitter. n-Space are also social with their Twitter and Facebook here and there. Marvellous.

8-Bit Arcade ADR

Last week I took the two hour train ride back and forth to Twickenham Film Studios whilst the sound is currently being mixed for Outside Bet. I’ve generally spent these few days watching the process and making myself useful with occasional tasks here and there, one of which ended being rather fun.

The film is set in mid-1980s London and follows a group of friends caught up in the Thatcherite-era of privatisation and rising unemployment, who invest their savings in a racehorse with a few fingers and toes crossed on its sucess. One scene in the film involves a character playing an old fruit machine, similar to that seen below, his success with the machine mirroring his success in life. It’s not exactly a major plot piece in the film, however the fact he’s losing money in the game helps to further the idea of the friends being down on their luck.

1970s Fruit Machine

Alex had already fitted some arcade sounds to demonstrate the loss, however he asked me to record some vocal lines which really drove the point home and mocked the character at the same time. We recorded myself, Richard and Alex voicing ‘you lose, ‘loser’ etc., for further processing to place it in the machine, however many of the third party and native effects within Pro Tools weren’t treating the vocal snippets appropriately. We needed the lines to be audible, however they also needed to be degraded and stripped of life and humanisation.

Back in the days of university and employment just after graduating, I would use Logic Pro as my DAW and remembered the effective way its host plug-ins would dramatically alter sound. A pleasant pay off for being utterly irritating to use as an an audio editor. I brought it in the next day and opened up Bitcrusher, EVOC Filterbank, Ringshifter and the Fuzz-Wah plug-ins and had a bit of a play.

My own vocals were thrown into Vocal Transformer for pitching down to a deeper, male presence. It then fell pray to a little bitcrushing and filtering. Here’s a little before and after.

Richard bellowed “you fail” in my general direction, I bitcrushed it and filtered the remains, here are the dry and wet versions.

Alex gave me a mighty fine “loser” to deal with, this was bitcrushed, filtered and treated with the ringshifter. Here’s the before and after.

Here’s some exceptionally interesting screen grabs. The Fuzz-Wah I kept the preset, think I had a fiddle around with the EVOC Filterbank and Ringshifter. Definitely had a fiddle with the bitcrusher, kept the distortion low but downsampled the heck out of the sound. A little different to the Foley editing for sure.

I ended up submitting 21 versions, as we had all vocalised different ways of pronouncing and delivering the lines, however the effect upon Richard’s line above appeared most effective in maintaining some clarity whilst aggressively attacking the sound. It was a small part to play in the final mix stage but was a pleasure to work on.

Outside Bet is due for release within the UK at the later part of the year, director Sacha Bennett is a joy to be around, you can find him on Twitter here. The film has a Facebook page here.

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.

Seasonal Sounds for the Festive Foley Folk

Arrived back in London from a family visit over the Christmas period which was both relaxing and indulgent. This brief stay at my sister’s home confirmed my dislike of dog hairs in dinner, if it ever needed to be confirmed in the first place. The dog was lovely, the hairs were not.

Just to clarify, the dog is the family pet, not dinner itself. I’m vegetarian you see.

Despite my lack of seasonal cheer, I was more than chipper to be involved in online Christmas greetings by both Beautiful and Hub TV. These two projects were a delight to work on, bells, chimes, glass clinkles (that’s a word, roll with it) and yuletide’s traditional DIY parts.

Yuletide DIY parts

The first piece was Beautiful’s digital Christmas card, a lovely animation consisting of baubles bouncing, crashing and stumbling over one another with a wavy swell culminating in a weighty cone passing the camera at speed, baubles in tow.

This was a delightful project to work on, I was back home in the hometown recording Foley guerilla-style for Tash Force so took the opportunity to raid my mother’s home for unusual items to strike and wobble. This was complimented by a visit to the local thrift store where I managed to bring in the slushy contents of the street off my shoes and take away their collection of porcelain bells and a wonderful candle holder with an infinitely sustained resonance which is probably still decaying at this very moment, so very perfect. It’s the copper/golden chalice looking item in the following picture, near the top, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Raiders of the Lost Ark.* Consequently, I didn’t drink from it.

The golf balls were unnecessary

* Edit – I meant The Last Crusade… they’re all good, you know what I meant.

The use of porcelain, glass, copper, steel and tin managed to combine itself together and ensure all elements were covered… however there was a significant absence of scatter and spread. I managed to bother the lovely gentlemen in Clerkenwell’s premium Foley/DIY supply store for a variety of nuts, washers and miscellaneous clinkley items that only dads know the true purpose of. Naturally I had a wonderful time throwing these bits and pieces around on the bathroom tiles for scatter, ring and voluminous presence. My flatmate also got involved by donating a German thumb ring, fun for all the family.

Hub TV’s video required reinforcement of the personality and narrative of its two characters. I bundled the video’s director Carl Thompson into the booth for chuckles, wheee’s and grumbles… all within embarrassing earshot of his colleagues. As a result, a third and final recording session provided the necessary characterisations of the lonely and somewhat amorous Father Christmas bauble.

Throw in a good mixture of low, mid, high frequency whooshes, an obligatory jet engine, bells, bauble smashes, squeaks, creaks, foliage and tree shakes smothered with with an unhealthy dollop of reverb and delay and bingo! The story was complimented with a soundtrack of chortling determination and shattering tragedy.

It’s probably, if not totally unnecessary to go into so much detail over a couple of videos, however I’m on a long train back to London and there’s nothing else to do other than avoid eye contact/tedious conversation with other passengers. Hope you’ve all had a lovely festive break and here’s to a prosperous and happy new year to you all.

* Sentimental moment*

I’ve been ridiculously fortunate over the past twelve months in terms of experiences, mentoring and supportive friendships. If it’s not too self-indulgent, I’d love to thank Alex Joseph, Nigel and Keith at Hackenbacker, Paul, Simon, Phill, Ian and Neil at Universal Sound, Ed and Glen at Shepperton, Hugo and Glenn at Sound 24, Sandy, Robin and Alison at Pinewood, Adam at Anvil, Simon, Jason and Hannah at Molinaire, Andrea King, Jack Stew, Pete Burgis, Andi Derrick, Barney Smith, Alex at One Huge Eye, Neil and Louisa at Silent Deer, Tom and Nic at Beautiful, Dean Covill and all the team at Hub TV. I’m indebted to Chris Jones at New Life Purpose for getting me on that plane to China as well as Patch, Rachel, Beth, Renee and Syriah for the essential and gratefully received love and support. Here’s a little shout out too to all the delightfully creative and conversational folk I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on Twitter. You make bus journeys feel less lonesome and at least 13% more interesting. Thank you.

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.

Polystyrene Spheres and Roll Ons

I’ve recently been working on an animated children’s TV pilot with Alex Amelines. Both these props have been invaluable in performing roller pen Foley. Learning experience; using deodorant to perform extensive rolling, movement will result in extensive gloop on my surfaces. Polystyrene also gets really hot when dragged around on linoleum for a sustained period of time, wonder if an unimpressive smoulder could occur with enough efforts…

Do realise it's a bit meat n' veg

The Foley is already complete, tracklay will be arranged in Logic 8. It’ll feel a bit odd going back top that programme after working in Pro Tools so much, however it’s all about using the Delay Designer tap delay plug-in. Could play with it for hours, definitely have done so in the past.

Similar to Tash Force, I’ll be updating progress of the Tootles Foley and FX on here, will upload sound files that may be of interest although Foley really doesn’t work well for cuting. Anyone need the sound of a plastic kite being hammered? It’s unlikely.