Final Reflective Summary of Audio Project Two

Audio Project Two was an ambitious project, but I feel as though it has been a successful one.

This project being what it was had it’s own set of challenges other than simply completing the audio for a film. Time management and people management was key to the success of the project, as was facility management. To do this successfully we needed to stay informed of what was happening in each film and the weekly meetings that we had were the place to sort any issues out. This was where we would sift through progress on the films, shooting days (during the production period) facility usage and what needed to be done and by when and by who. These were invaluable as it gave us all goals and a schedule of sorts for the ensuing week.

There were many positives to the way in the format in which we tackled Audio Project Two. One of these was the location work. Being on location is time consuming and takes up, often anyway, an entire day. So having a whole team of people meant that we could always have at least two people at every shoot, which made the entire process easier.

The benefits of there being five of us was present in post production as well. Extra sets of ears to help identify mix issues for example, or when doing Foley, always having one or two people around to either perform or record it meant we could make quick progress which we needed to do in order to make best use of the facilities we could get our hands on as well as meet both our own deadlines as well as those set by the groups we were working for.

As the project went on, it became clear that we needed to work to make sure that the person in charge of each film didn’t get too wrapped up in their own film. This was a difficult task, but one that I ultimately feel that we achieved. Each project was too big to handle for one person, which meant that collaboration was absolutely necessary. Now, of course, each persons involvement in each film varied. For example, I was most involved in Immort – with it being the film I was in charge of, followed by Descent for which I composed the music. The clear roles I had in these two films meant there was an obvious point from which to contribute. After that Remember was the film I was third most involved in, followed by Feel Good and then Cats. This kind of involvement chart was the case for everyone, with everyone most involved with their own film, then the other in various levels. The stages where everyone was most involved with each film was in production, with location sound being an extremely collaborative process and then the early stages of post-production, namely the stage where we were recording Foley.

The film that felt most detached, or at least I worried about it being too detached was Immort. This was because I was handling the bulk of mixing, composition and editing outside of the University facilities. This was a decision made both for creative and practical reasons and one that in the end became important in allowing us to finish everything on time. The decision to handle things outside of University, came in part from my preference for Windows over Mac’s, preference for certain plugins and knowledge of how things sound on my own gear. The decision was also made because of my preference for working late into the night, which was slightly easier to do outside of the University. The benefits to this decision were that Immort took up less facility time, something which, had we kept Immort in University as well, would have been a dire situation in which we didn’t have enough time in the studios to complete the projects. It also meant that the film got tested on a variety of speakers, which enabled it to have a more balanced final mix. The downsides to this decision were that it did end up feeling more detached from the rest of the project, with me never having my main mixing session in Uni, but rather bringing in stereo mixdowns to test and gather opinions on audio decisions, music and the overall mix the group had a less hands on approach to any issues they had, having to rely on me to fix the issues. That being said, I always made sure to be keeping the rest of the team in the loop as to developments and changes within the film and trying to spread the work for the film out as much as was possible. It is safe to say that without everyone’s input the final result would have suffered and I think the same can be said of the rest of the films.

In terms of my learning outcomes I feel that I succeeded in improving my knowledge on all three counts, though most specifically on outcomes one and two. This is perhaps most evident in the way that I used R128 loudness standards as a measure by which to aim while mixing Immort, using knowledge gained in another module – R&D where I had interviewed people at Soho Square Studios, an audio post production house in London to help me. The final product for Immort comes in just a touch too quiet for R128, but time ran out to get it up to the proper standard as the only person who had any software that could tell us the weighted level of the film was Gaz and mixing was taking place away from Uni. However, the delivery requirements for the film didn’t state it had to be at that standard so therefore, while I used it as a guideline when mixing it wasn’t a priority.

The most important thing that this project taught me is how to balance working on several different projects at the same time and the amount of time you need to put in to different organisation and admin. This is an experience I think will come in handy in the future, in terms of how I handle working with an audio team, having learnt how to interact with them in a manner where you can be truthful with your thoughts on various aspects of projects without worrying about offending people if you suggest a change and also how to act when working under someone, where I would often offer an opinion, but ultimately defer to their methods and ideas. The role of a composer in all of this differs slightly as generally the composer works in conjunction with the director, not working under a general audio supervisor as such. So, it was a case of writing music that fit the directors wishes, but then also taking advice from the audio supervisor, taking careful note of their opinion while being aware that it is the director who ultimately has the final call on musical decisions.



Sound Design in Immort

With Immort being a science fiction film the sound design of the film is an important aspect of it.

This turned out to be a difficult endeavour as in order to design the sound for the VFX parts of the film, which were the parts that really needed good sound design to help sell we had to see where they were and what they would be doing. However, for the most part we didn’t receive any renders of VFX until the 2nd May.

This meant that in order to complete the sound design work in time we needed to have our approach sorted and ideas and plans in mind beforehand.

Now, with Immort the key thing to realise was that it didn’t necessarily need massive sounds in the scale of something like Star Wars or Star Trek. The drones in this for example aren’t massive and are powered by fans, therefore the sound for them didn’t require some huge sound like you would perhaps expect to hear when talking about drones in a sci-fi film.

There is an instance in the cut we handed in of Immort where the fly by of a drone is missing due to it only being on an earlier version (rendering issues meant they didn’t put everything in the cut). This can be seen here:

Another instance of a missing effect with some sound design done for it is the glitch in the food:

Another key aspect of sound design in the film was the HUD. One of the major points in the film is how annoying these are, with information being constantly shoved in your face 24/7. A major part of showing this would be through the sound design. The constant notifications and adverts that play on Sici’s HUD are designed so that by the time she turns them off in the film, you, the viewer are glad that they’ve stopped. The contrasting silence in the film after this (and also in the beginning) helping to show just how intrusive they were on her life.  This leads on to the fact that you only ever hear her HUD making any noise. This is for two reasons. The first is simply that the film is from her perspective, therefore the point of how annoying these sounds are can be better made by only showing hers, otherwise the silence in the second half of the film would not be as present, therefore failing to get that point across as effectively. The other was for reasons of practicality. As it is Sici’s HUD has a lot of sound associated with it, especially in the form of the notifications. Now, when Paul, her brother enters the apartment, imagine if he also had all of this going on – it would be audio chaos, you wouldn’t know what to focus on, therefore the decision was made to only show her sounds. This also works in line with the way the technology in the film’s world works – the nanobots being inside you would be able to feed you sound information, but they would have no way of projecting that out into the world. This is why there was no attempt to make the HUD sounds sound as if they were coming out of tiny speakers as the sounds are in her head, therefore they is no reason why they would not be full bodied.

The appearance (and disappearance of the glass) glass, food and nano pill cup were interesting to do the sound design for, the challenge being to make them all similar enough to show that the same process was creating them all, but also slightly different to reflect the different objects that were being made. This is where on two of the three occurrences more natural sounds were used, albeit in a heavily processed manner, this was done to show that despite the things being created looking exactly like real world things, they aren’t and are in fact themselves heavily processed and not ‘real’. This was in part initially influenced by the anime Psycho-Pass in which things appear in a similar kind of manner.

The sound of the nanobot’s was odd as we never actually saw any visuals for them, we knew that they were going to be in the pills that Sici takes – and that there would be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of them, thus the sound of them is a chaotic high/mid noise which denotes the swarm of them lying within. This sound then translates to a few other instances in the film, such as when the nanobot pill cup appears you hear them more clearly than you do in the other appearance sounds. They also make a showing after Sici slaps Paul, albeit incredibly subtlety (this is down to the fact that it has been mentioned before that they would work to repair any damage to Paul after being hit, but the VFX at this point don’t denote anything of that sort happening. The other time they appear is perhaps the most interesting. When Sici turns them off you hear a cacophony of sounds, mainly of the HUD messing up, but also of the nanobots wheezing and dying.

The Hologram is an odd thing, the way we handled the sound for that was to make it seem like an automated thing, where they insert various phrases as and when needed into a stock hologram video, which then helps to give the corporation who are the ‘antagonists’ of the film a quality of being automated, digital and not natural.

One of the key influences in the sound design work is the following article talking about creating emotion trough sound design:

In this it talks about how by utilising real sounds it can help to elicit an emotional response from the audience. This is the case in this film with the very messed up sounds of the bits and bobs appearing. But, flipped on it’s head, the sound design work is designed, in part, to showcase how emotionally un-empathetic the world seems to be, with the constant notification being a good example of this. They aren’t designed to do anything other than showcase how annoying they are. Also, voices like the HUD adverts and the hologram  have processing that is perhaps un-needed added to them, however slight that may be in the case of the adverts.

What was really interesting about the sound design on Immort was the process by which we had to do things. They were a very organised team, but ended up running into issues such as render times, which pushed back the dates by which they could give us rough versions of the final VFX products by several weeks. This was made worse by the fact that not everything was ready for the first cut we received of the VFX and we ended up getting two more, which meant I spent a significant amount of time waiting to receive cuts while not being able to do any work on the film, which meant that the work me and the team did on the sound design was compressed into around three days, of which half of the time at the minimum was spent waiting for new cuts. The plus side of this did at least allow me more time to help out on other films. The speed at which we had to work was good in some regards, with articles like this showing the speed at which professionals have to work in the industry:

Sounds for Superheroes: Behind the Supersonic Sound Design for The Flash

This article states how the turn around time for a 40 minute TV show is around a week, with episodes often having between 300-500 sections where detailed sound work needs doing beyond the regular instances of dialogue. This means that the sound team in post production has to work at an extremely quick speed. This is obviously helped by the show being a running TV series, so many sounds have to re-used from previous weeks to keep continuity.

It also demonstrates the way in which the sound designer for the series has to answer to various people above him in the chain of command.


The Game of Moving Rather Loudly While On A Throne

So, last night I watching the latest Game of Thrones episode and several times during the episode I was taken out of it by loud clothing movements. Now this could easily just be me being in the frame of mind to be judging levels on everything and therefore being more aware of sounds in scenes and what they’re doing, or it could be that it was just that little bit too loud.

This has been something that I have been trying to be very aware of while mixing, as in past projects I feel that some of the Foley movements haven’t been quite subtle enough, being a bit jarring compared to other elements and therefore risking taking the audience out of the film.

As Randy Thom points out in his blog post ‘Detail Orientated ( “What really matters is the nature of the details, not the number of them”. This shows that simply putting sounds in where they technically should or could be is not actually enough to create a good finished product, to create a good finished product you need to in a sense pick and choose carefully, which sounds you use and why, accentuating a movement for example for a particular character who is doing some fantastical move jumping over a balcony would work, because the sound, hearing someone do that can bring the audience closer to the event and make it seem more plausible that could happen. However, accentuating someone moving their arm to shake someone’s hand doesn’t work to the same extent, making that way over the top would take the audience out of the film as that is already a plausible thing, one we know how it sounds when we do it already, thus it is a sound we don’t really pay attention to. That isn’t to say we don’t need any Foley for that, often we will, as it helps to just make the scene that much more realistic, bringing the audience further in to the film.

That was a considerable tangent as I was originally talking about more subtle sounds, but the concept still stands for the more subtle sounds, do we need to hear clothing every single time a character moves? No. Do we need to hear footsteps for every character under important dialogue as they walk down a busy street? No. So, while it might still be worth trying them in the mix, recording the Foley anyway, if they’re at risk of interrupting the flow of events or getting in the way of other, more important sounds, then they probably aren’t needed and risk taking people out of the film.

Musical Realisations

Over the last few days it dawned on me, that despite Blade Runner being initially ruled out as an influence for Immort, it is actually, at least musically, quite representative of what the director actually wanted for the early segments of the score. The film didn’t end up being reference material, with, as mentioned before the score for the Mass Effect series of games being an inspiration.

This had led me to thinking about the process for scoring the film. Originally I wasn’t attached as the composer, though I was in line to produce the music, with a band of the directors choosing in line to score the film in a jazz style. Around this time we had a conversation about how I would score the film (it was fairly different script wise at this point) and I was pointing to a modern feeling synth based score, possibly including a few natural instruments to add some emotional content to the score at points. At this point the director still wanted the band, but wasn’t sure.

After Christmas I was told that he wasn’t able to get the band anymore, so the job was mine if I wanted it, which of course I gladly accepted. The first reference tracks came that very night, consisting of tracks such as:

This is obviously quite different from how things turned out.

Further to this point diegetic music was originally more important than it is now, with two pieces of diegetic music in the film when Sici first enters the apartment. One of these, the cheesy pop track made it in, an old track I made three or four years ago called Monster ( The other was intended to be a rap rock style piece, which I was going to write specifically for the film with the idea that it would help explain her motivations through lyrics relating to invasion of privacy of technology. However, as this track progressed, I realised that I was getting no clear direction on how far either way to lean, with the half written product being an amalgamation of my style of electronic music, my style of rock and a bass line inspired by hip hop. After filming and then seeing a first draft of the film, I spoke to the director suggesting that this be scrapped, with the reasoning that this section of film doesn’t feel like it took place all within three minutes and that actually, non-diegetic music could portray the events much better without intruding on the isolated feeling of the character or painting her as a bit of a ‘rebel’ for lack of better phrasing. He agreed to this.

I’ve written on here about the chase scene music before, but I’ll cover that briefly again now. For the animatic I did a test piece of music, which was a piece of music heavy on threat and trying to evoke the feeling of action, while also referencing the odd jazz/electronic sound of the reference music, however, the director wasn’t keen on this style of music and asked for it to be toned down, with the start synth pad being the only surviving part. I asked for further direction, with the answer being, less real, more synth. To this end I wrote the music for the rest of the film, still keeping in mind his original jazzy wish for the music and incorporating a double bass line, inspired by The Hateful Eight’s score and while the line itself isn’t jazzy, it was a reference to his original wish, also incorporating her character into the score as mentioned in a previous post. The chase scene still proved problematic after this, though he was happy with everything after that, the issue with the chase scene boiling down to it being too threatening, which is how we ended up with the final version of the score for that scene in the film. This direction also influenced the title credit music, which now needed to seed both the more upbeat style seen in the chase scene and the style seen thereafter, something which proved quite difficult to achieve without coming across very melodramatic and cheesy.

Hobbits…and Dwaves…Elves, Goblins etc. etc.

Recently I was informed that the extended edition Blu-Ray of The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in the recent Hobbit Trilogy had a rather good feature on the music of the films. I decided to check it out and here we are.

A lot of it revolves around orchestration and how they dealt with that side of music, showcasing the large number of people involved in the process and also demonstrating the last minute changes that get made to the music even when you have huge amounts of music written for large orchestra’s, playing in large buildings.

Many of these decisions are made by the director, judging things on the fly for how they’ll work best with the film, with the conductor and orchestrator (in this case the composer was in another country) making snap decisions on how to change things up to meet with the directions from the director, such as a scene not having enough tension at the start. It talks about how Peter Jackson doesn’t have the knowledge to speak musically, so it’s up to the people who do to interpret the way in which he talks about the film in terms of what he wants the music to portray to work out how that would come across musically. This involves a quick thinking mind and in depth knowledge of instruments and their capabilities, as well as trust in the players and a patient orchestra.

That is all slightly irrelevant to me at the moment however, with these two films for the most part using electronic instruments. One thing from that section that was relevant was the  mention of the waterphone, an instrument I’ve used on Descent and the way in which I saw it being used in this has made me want to go back and see if I can improve my own use of the instrument, which ended up with me adding a single extra note of Waterphone to the score…big changes indeed.

Compositional style and the way in which how you work changes on different films was mentioned. For example, it was said that for these films Howard Shore produces themes for places, cultures and characters before seeing any picture, going off art, the script and the books. This then allows him to base the rest of the score off these themes, which help ground the films by making all the characters and places more recognisable, helping to ground them in reality in a way the audience can understand, something which is especially important to do in Fantasy films such as this. This corresponds slightly with how I seem to have slightly different ways of working with different directors and situations. During this project I’ve found that I have a less personal relationship with the directors I’m scoring for, instead using the rest of the team as a first port of call for reactions to the music. This is also different from how I’ve worked in the past, where I’ve used a music editor/arranger/orchestrator as first port of call. The work I’ve been doing in Immort has been similar to the themes in a way, in that I’ve ended up referencing things several times, planting seeds throughout the film. One example of this is the use of double bass, one of only two non-electronic instruments in the score and therefore somewhat of an oddity, but one that helps to capture a key aspect of the film, which is that of the main characters humanity/individualism either disappearing or coming back with her use of nano-bots or destruction of them and this realism helps to show that she feels that life without the nano-bots is the more natural way of things and is perhaps how things should be.