Tag Archives: Sound Design

Sound of Cinema, Sound of Panic

Oh hello. It’s been a while since I wrote some words on here. I’ve been setting aside free time to learn Chinese and watch Breaking Bad (still haven’t seen season 5, please don’t spoil anything please, please, please). Anyway, by the time I’ve gotten through all of that, I’m a bit reluctant to look at the computer any longer.

Well, this is a shame as there’s been so many cool things happening over the past year. One of which, I thought I’d share tonight.

At the close of 2013’s beautiful summer (it was bucketing down outside), Alex and I appeared on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune live broadcast at Southbank’s BFI theatre 1, launching the broadcaster’s Sound of Cinema season. The producer asked Alex to discuss sound design and he invited me along to talk about Foley. It was around this time that the first nerves wafted over.

This was rehearsal, there were a few more people there when it came to broadcast.

This was rehearsal, there were a few more people there when it came to broadcast.

On the day of the broadcast, we were in Soho with the Mind Candy sound crew mixing the Moshi Monsters movie (ah man, that’s a whole different post, so much fun) and so had the capacity to accumulate some interesting items to audition on stage. We sourced some rhubarb, a melon, some knives and forks and Alex’s toy plastic tennis racquet. My good friend and fellow sound editor Patch also came up trumps and donated his (empty) wallet and a builder’s trowel.

So here’s the actual broadcast. Patch was good enough to record this for me and it’s not on the iPlayer anymore so I figured it’s cool to share.

So a few things happened…

1. I forgot how to form sentences

2. I forgot how to say words without sounding like a 1950s newsreader

3. I declared that we use leather for creaky floorboards (wat?)

4. I forgot that wet leather does not creak

5. Alex smashed it

Despite points 1-4, it was still a whole bunch of fun. Once I’d gotten over the intensity of my heart beating at around 80 decibels, the sight of a room full of people hearing about sound design and Foley, possibly for the first time, was brilliant. They were either really interested in our craft or had mastered the art of looking really interested in two people bash things around on a stage whilst waiting for the classical music to return.

The fruity aftermath

The fruity aftermath

So yeah. That happened. I think the best thing was my mum and dad were listening at home and I think they finally understood what us noisemakers do every day. Thanks to Alex (and the radio show producers) for inviting me along and Patch for the mute wallet.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.