Category Archives: Working

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here’s the trailer for the film.

Advertisements

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.

A Puzzled Foley Artist

At some point in the autumn of last year, I got a call off my friend and long time collaborator Dean Covill, giving me a heads up on a short film he was working on for Oliver Kember at some time in the then near future. I was reel deep in Foley editing to the point of alcoholism and delirium, so could only grunt a few words back such as “sure” and “of course I’ll have a good, long think about making the sound of a Rubik’s Cube.”

In all honesty, that was the last I thought of it until the morning came when I was supposed to actually get on with the recordings. That wretched, slow realisation of disorganisation dawned upon me and I was left with no option but to rummage around in the Foley boxes and hope for the best.

There’s something to be said for abandoning forward thinking and relying on instinct because I swear that all the times I’ve had oodles of time to prepare and consider forthcoming recordings, I tend to accumulate a whole lot of items that get pulled, bashed, shook and snapped, yet never really hit the mark. Over-thinking gets in the way of instinctive imagination, whereas just glancing round the room will transform an umbrella to a yacht’s sail or an old kettle into a steering wheel . In this instance, I was saved by a 50p toy car and the removable wheel from my plastic stacking drawers.

Rubik's Car

The wheel itself was quite thin so weight was gained from the car. I could place the car’s wheels in the grey wheel’s groove and mimic the rotation and slide of a Rubik’s cube. As long as I held the car’s wheels quite tight whist pushing and twisting it against the grey wheel, the rattle remained muted and clacky rather than thin and annoying.

The short film is entitled Puzzled and drifts back to the 1980s when Rubik’s Cubes were the best thing since Etch A Sketch and the ultimate goal was to be the first kid at school to solve it. As a result, there was quite a lot of fiddling with the car and wheel to do, every now and then the car would slip and it would come loose. I was worried this would all be too noisy and the whole recording would sound like a toy shop falling over, however upon playback with a little level reduction, it slotted into place and felt kinda reminiscent of gun handling Foley; utter ridiculous upon solo, however perfectly feel-good when played against the picture.

I think the whole exercise was a bit of a confidence boost. I’ve got a film coming up in a few weeks where I’ll be the only Foley artist in the recording theatre and the temptation to pre-plan and prepare each and every prop has become harder and harder to resist. In reality however, all Foley artists rely on their intuition to find the right materials to create the correct sound with the perfect performance. Easy!

Anyway, I must thank Oliver and Dean for having me in on this project. I rather enjoyed the story, will link it here if it finds its way online, it’s rather endearing. I also love how each project Dean sends my way there’s some lovely leather satchels to record. This is always appreciated mate, especially because I spent a lot of money buying them from vintage stores before discovering the magic of charity shops.

Both Oliver and Dean are on Twitter. Follow them if you fancy.

Fast Girls, Slow Feet

Oh hello.

Over six weeks ago I had the joy of joining the good folk at Universal Sound for a day of shooting Foley for the forthcoming feature film Fast Girls. The film revolves around Shania, a track athlete who finds herself in an intense rivalry with a fellow British runner Lisa. It stars many actors of cult TV and film including Noel Clarke, Lenora Crichlow, Bradley James, Rupert Graves and Lily James.

Universal Sound originally based their Foley studios at Perivale, within London’s borough of Ealing. Had I known this back in my university days (which is based in Ealing itself), I’d have been bothering them years ago. The facility is currently located in the pretty village of Amersham, Buckinghamshire and houses three studios and a swimming pool. The river of chocolate in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was aurally created in said swimming pool. I found no traces of nutrient agar when I was there.

My day with Paul and Simon involved helping out with the feet and effects in reel one. The first footsteps sequence to come my way involved a character hoisting up onto his feet, jogging, then sauntering over to another character… down a few steps. Um.. I may have taken eight attempts to get both the sync and performance correct on this before Paul had to take over.

Naturally all confidence had evaporated at this point and I was scanning the room for a black hole to disappear in and that would have been the end of that. Thankfully the chaps didn’t lose faith completely and my second attempt involved walking some straight background feet and as the day wore on, my feet loosened up and I got on with more faith in myself and revelled in each chance I was given.

Once the feet were recorded we moved onto the effects. We covered a variety of different props from car tyres slowly grinding against gravel to bunting flapping against a background fence. One pass that I’d never encountered before involved performing the patter patter of a small dog’s footsteps, then taking on it’s metal chain lead. This was rather fun and Paul shared his techniques with me on many of these props. Another highlight was performing both spot and background effects in a canteen scene. We covered baking trays, utensils and fingernails imitating chicken pieces hitting plates together in the same take. I’ve seen this teamwork before when sitting in various other sessions but to be part of that was really something.

The photo is totally staged, the stupid grin I'm wearing isn't.

It’s great not only working with the artist themselves, but also seeing how essential the relationship between the artist and the mixer is. I noticed the number of times that Simon and Paul were in tune with one another. They barely have to finish a sentence as the other knows what they’re going to say, in fact I’m sure they have their own made-up language formed over time. It’s something I need to get used to having recorded my own Foley performances, I guess it takes time.

You’d have thought I’d have been on here bleating on about my day in the pits sooner, however there has been a few hours put into the Foley editing and myself and colleagues have only just emerged from the other side. I’m going to be spending a day there again next week with the film we’re currently working on, Get Lucky. If I remember anything interesting, I’ll post it here. I won’t subject Paul to another photo, maybe I can convince Simon to pose instead.

Fast Girls hits the cinemas on June 15th. The trailer is available to view here.

ADR Quickie Required in LA

This has definitely not been copied and pasted from an ad I just posted on Gearslutz… no sir.

I’m looking for someone in Los Angeles that’s available on the 23rd and 24th of March to shimmy on down to a hotel and record three lines of ADR.

These recordings are wildtrack lines, not to sync. Any type of recording medium is fine, however a boom mic is required to pick up the lines. These lines will be recorded from the perspective of the actor talking through the hotel room door.

This is a paid gig of $100.00
Confirmation of the date (it will be either the 23rd or the 24th) nearer the time.

Send me an email (please don’t phone as I’m elbow deep in footsteps regions at the moment, oh Lord how elbow deep I am) if you’re available.

Seeing as this isn’t really about anything other than needing to get a few lines of ADR recorded, here’s a photo which precedes the next post which I’ll write as soon as the film is complete.

Squeeeeeeeeee!

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.

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.

Screwed Sound Post; An Awkward ADR Recording

Last month the Creativity Media team were sat in Goldcrest’s Dean Street Theatre for the mix of Reg Traviss’ Screwed staring James D’Arcy and Noel Clarke. This was my first experience in seeing everyone’s contributions melded into a final product ready for picture, the process was fascinating to watch and offered an insight into the decisions that are made at the final stage and how to pre-empt them in the editing process.

The mix involved Richard and Alex jumping in and making occasional alterations to the soundtrack, either replacing or enhancing the sound with new elements recorded from scratch or alternative material in the session.

One scene that required this intervention was a sex scene between the lead character Sam and his on-screen wife Danielle, played by Kate Magowan. The scene needed a little more skin slapping presence and was missing a vocal acknowledgement at the start of proceedings by Danielle.

Being the only woman in the studio that evening, the task of performing a little physicality and moaning fell to yours truly. I’d never encountered a sex scene before unless you count an awkward make out session with my good friend Patch Morrison in an ill-thought out student film I made whilst at university (I will never link to that mess, ever).

Picking up the skin Foley was an easy enough task. Upon returning home I promptly dropped my trousers, splashed my thighs with water for a sweaty, slippy surface and slapped the skin with as much romance as one can do with their socks and shoes still on.

The area where I came a little unstuck was vocalising that first moan. I had a few attempts with the best of efforts despite my flatmates’ audible giggles in the room next door, the only problem is that despite being born in the age of punk and disco, I still have a voice like a teenage boy. This was not suitable for the scene at all. One of the giggling flatmates would have to be brought in front of the mic.

This is where I must thank my lovely friend Emily Kidson for coming up with the goods where I had failed. Normally when I bring a friend in for recording they forget how to perform basic body tasks such as laughing, walking or standing remotely close to the microphone. Thankfully Emily was immune from red light syndrome and took to the task with much gusto and enjoyment, and as always, the first take was the winner.

Here’s the trailer for the film, it’s out in UK cinemas on Friday June 3rd. Other than cultivating awkwardness with my flatmates and wet slapping my inner thighs, I was given the role of assistant Foley editor on the film. It was a real joy to work on; cutting feet in prison cells, the satisfying jingle of keys and a fight scene crafted by Alex and the Foley team at Universal Sound who made me never want to go near a razor blade ever again.

Screwed has a Facebook page, as do Creativity Media here.

Anuvahood – Foley and Fruittellas

This Friday sees the UK theatrical of Anuvahood, written and directed by Adam Deacon. The film is the spoof of UK street movies such as Kidulthood and Adulthood, it tells the story of Kay, a young MC failing at music, women and life, set in the council estates of Notting Hill. It’s also bloody funny.

I’m going to be drinking an inordinate amount of whisky this weekend in celebration of the film, it’s the first cinematic release that I’ve worked on as an assistant Foley editor and I loved every single cut, nudge and volume adjustment throughout each reel. Working under the instruction and guidance of Supervising Sound Editor, Re-recording Mixer and Associate Producer Alex Joseph, I noticed an unfolding improvement in my sync, noise reduction and levels awareness as the timecode ticked away.

Working on this project offered a rare opportunity to discover more effective means of fitting character movements, feet and props, blending naturally into the production sound and still cutting through when sitting amongst the soundtrack’s punchy hard effects, sound design elements and busy music tracks.

I soon found an affection towards experimenting with fades. Yes, this paragraph is indeed talking about the thrilling subject of fades… sorry about that. Previous to this project, I’d only used the standard slow fade in/out in order to prevent pop and clicks after leaving sizeable handles of room tone to prevent audible swells of noise floor. Having gained an insight into the relationship of cutting Foley amongst the dialogue and it’s own moves tracks, I began to use fades in a more aggressive and corrective manner; using the variety of different shapes to cut into regions or leaving long fade outs between footsteps, reducing noise without chopping in and out of the feet in a sudden and noticeable manner.

This is probably most obvious to other soundies, however it gave me real confidence in tacking the recordings without hesitance or meekness and consequently has affected my approach to sound editing in general, be it a feet track or a jet ski pass by in a corporate film. I normally have no reservations in tacking a physical object with gusto and intrigue, hitting it about, setting fire to it, biting it in half… so it’s thoroughly relaxing to now have a more daring approach to the sound once it’s lying ready and waiting to be fitted amongst its counterparts.

Is this interesting? Possibly not. I wanted to share.

So sod it, the film is out this weekend, I’ll be up in Scotland on a trip away from the city, enjoying fine whisky at an awesome club night dressed as a cowboy and come Saturday night will be at the cinema with a hangover, eager ears and a large bag of gratitude to Alex and a hell of a lot of people who have advised and encouraged me up until this point. If you happen to see it (UK only at this point), let me know your thoughts on the film and the sound.