Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Hush - surround sound

For those who have followed my progress with The Hush, you know or can see that I have pretty much tackled everything post production related with this film myself (in the comfort of my home Mitchell Street Pictures studio).

From the majority of my VFX needs to ADR and Foley in our home built soundbooth, I have been capable and driven enough to follow through with everything.

One thing I have been slowly working towards (even though the film was completed the beginning of this year) was doing a surround sound pass on the film itself, which would give some nice viewing/listening options.


With the accessibility of great image making tools (and tons of great images) the one thing that really sets indie movies apart now is the sound. Some people record with lavs and boom mics and call it a day when they are done; they gather dialog and various on set sounds in traditionally stereo or mono formats. Not this filmmaker; I treat my sound with as much thought and care as I approach my images.

Even when I boom my actors I know that certain sounds are best created or recreated in post. If you want to emphasize a certain effect or add something more engaging you will need to do lot's of recording, mixing and re-mixing in post.

My experience:

I spent loads of time doing research and I've realized that above all other things (you can find tons of info on casting, funding, cameras, FX programs, etc.), surround sound is one of the few "best kept secrets" that major powers still guard really well. I have not seen any real "free" in depth looks, articles and videos about 5.1 surround sound mixing.

The main thing I walked away from in my quest for knowledge was noting that most "pro" audio mixers say it's 30% technical and 70% creative. Hopefully this is true.

Soon, I decided that my strategy for this 5.1 mix would be to take the individual tracks (dialog, foley, ambient and music) into Soundtrack Pro to utilize their surround sound panners. Staying organized pays off once again, as does going the extra mile with all of my audio work in terms of original recording. So far things are going well.

initial tests in Soundtrack Pro using my 5.1 setup - image © Vincent Cortez

And rather than paying tons of money to a studio/technician, I have decided to build my own 5.1 real-time audio monitoring setup for less than $210 and wear a new hat: 5.1 engineer.

The ingredients are:
Image from: www.123macmini.com
Griffin FireWave
(a discontinued product that decodes and encodes Dolby Digital and Dolby Prologic)
price: used $25 - $100 (I found mine on eBay)

* The FireWave can be used on different Mac computers (including my wife's laptop). It is an older product but there is no longer anything like this on the market, or at least something that is bus powered and affordable.
Image from: www.revolutionpc.net/store
Logitech X540
(a very inexpensive but fairly 'decent' system)
price: new $70 - $110

*There are more expensive Logitech options, but none of them will ever be totally 'true' in terms of sound replication. Read ahead to find out more on how I dealt with this.


The Logitech system is a PC and Gaming setup that has a decent response range for the price and it also does not get incredibly loud (though it's loud enough for my editing room). As for accuracy (one major note) I have already mixed sounds on a better system months before .

My logic has been: if I can't yet afford to buy a Blue Sky Media Desk (5.1 or 7.1 system) I won't spend to much money on the system because it will never be 100% bullet proof and true.

This Logitech X540 5.1 system will 'color' my sound slightly but I am only using it to monitor placement and general affect.

I spent months mixing on a really solid and accurate 2.1 Blue Sky system (which again was the best bang for my buck). When I screened The Hush for Cast/Crew/Friends back in December of '09 I had already worked hard to get an accurate mix. And I was not disappointed when I heard it played back through the Dolby system they had in the theater: even though it was in 2.1 the volume, highs and lows on my mix where identical in the theater and at my desktop.

In order for my film to be taken as seriously as possible I must offer a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix along with my 2.1 mix. It's just the nature of the business side of what we do. Movies with shoot outs and creepy things are just begging for the immersive experience that 5.1 offers: and The Hush has those things to offer.

For a fairly low amount (when compared to rates of expensive audio houses/mixers and really expensive monitors and breakout boxes), I have developed a very nice 5.1 monitoring station.

I now have the ability to experiment with my 5.1 mix. I will be testing them on different sized systems to figure out which 'experience' I like best.

Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Hush - Videography Magazine article

The Hush is being featured in an article by Videography Magazine. The article (in print) is a summary with a bigger link to an online article I wrote. The article itself is based on the Blackmagic Design write up that was done for the film which studied the usage of an inexpensive capture card to get "priceless" results. However, with this article, I was able to incorporate a little more methodology and back-story while still touching on the technology.

Check out the article here: