Archive for August, 2010


So, a while back I announced an article I was writing about boom operation. I’ve had the manuscript done for quite some time now, but was waiting on pictures. I haven’t been able to get them yet, and since I don’t see them coming any time soon, I figured I’d post the article sans media and just update it later.

Enjoy!


Principles of Boom Operation

The Boom Operator: one of the most crucial parts of a sound team, if not the most crucial. Also, one of the most misunderstood positions. He is a ninja. No, seriously, he is.

Let’s talk cinema style audio for a bit. On a film set, the boom operator is the “voice” of the sound team. He’s the one that communicates most set-related concerns to the proper crew. If he’s having trouble with placement, he’ll talk to the cam op or DP. If body pack or Comtek batteries are low, he’s the one that changes them. If talent is having trouble with their wire, the boom op is generally the one to fix it. The mixer usually stays off to the side. Because of this, the boom op needs to be a very personable character. He needs to know how to get what he needs without pissing people off. He needs to be able to get along with whomever is thrown his way.

Once we start talking ENG, the mixer not only mixes, but does everything the boom op does. He’s a one man band. He needs to be able to move very quickly, anticipating every need before it happens, staying one step ahead of the crew, lest he hear the dreaded phrase “Waiting on sound!”

Now, you could be the most personable person in the world, not stepping on anyone’s toes and getting all the work you need to get done finished without negatively altering anyone’s mood, and still be a terrible boom op. Let’s talk technical.

A boom op needs to realize how incredibly sensitive his gear is. It’s a game of inches. You need to be able to think one step ahead of the talent. You need to be quick, light on your toes, and stealthy. You need to be everywhere and nowhere, all at the same time. You need to be moving faster than the talent, staying dangerously close to the frame line, so much so that people are breaking into a nervous sweat. You need to perform near stunt moves, moving over and around obstacles on set during moving shots, being aware of your surroundings while sticking your mic on a spot the size of a quarter. You need to do all of this without making a single noise. This is why the boom op is a ninja.

As a boom operator, you have to be willing to do crazy things to get that perfect sound. You will, at times, find yourself in strange positions, in harms way, or in otherwise less-than-comfortable situations. You have to be on point at all times, knowing that if you mess up, you’ve compromised the entire shot.

Ok, if I haven’t scared you away yet, lets go over some basics of boom operation.


1. Understand the reason you are using a boom mic. This will help you understand what sound you are listening for and why.

Wireless technology has come a long ways. If you have money for the high end systems, and have your wiring technique down, you can pretty much wire everyone and have fairly decent confidence that you’ll get well isolated, low noise audio from each of the talent. So, why wouldn’t you do this? When you wire talent, you lose the room. It doesn’t sound natural, rather it sounds sterile, and post production has to fix it. Post is perfectly capable of doing so, but wouldn’t you rather the natural feel of a room versus the artificial recreation of a room that might sound kind of similar to your room but isn’t quite the same?

The boom operator has control over what you are hearing in the mic. You can get closer to the talent, further from the talent, you can rotate the mic, so on and so forth, to shape the sound that you are getting. If you have talent that’s supposed to be in a very echoic room, or if you are trying to show distance, you can pull the mic a bit further away from the talent to bring less of the talent and more of the room into the mic. If you want very little room and a very direct voice, such as you might hear in a close-up, bring the mic as close to the talent as the frame line will allow.

With a good boom mic, even rotating it an inch can change the sound. Listen to the sound you’re getting to make sure you’re getting mostly dialogue, and little room noise. If you’re getting reflection from a wall, articulate the mic so that the wall is at the side of the mic instead of in front of it.

Now, of course there will be epic wide shots and very noisy environments that won’t allow you to boom and will force the use of wires, but your goal should be to use the boom as much as possible.


2. Aim the microphone at the solarplexis.

Not in the general direction of the talent, not at the talent’s head, mouth, face, etc…

(The solarplexis is basically the sternum area.)

The human voice has many components and emanates from different parts of the body. The deep part of the voice comes from the chest and throat. The mids and some highs come from the mouth and nose, and the high highs come from the skull. Aiming at the solarplexis grabs all of these.

Aiming at the solarplexis also gives you a bigger target. If you aim at the mouth, you have to move the boom with every head movement in order to keep the same frequency response. If you aim at the solarplexis, you have a much larger target, allowing the talent a much larger range of motion without having to follow without having to move the boom as much, all while maintaining a consistent frequency response and overall sound


3. Booming from below opens you up to a world of problems. Literally

Think about it. If you point the mic down, you deal with a few things on the ground such as footsteps, props, and whatever faint reflections that might be there. All things you can control. You can use foot foam to quiet steps, you can use blankets and carpet on the floor to quiet reflections. You can use fake keys and jewelry to quiet prop noises.

Now, think about aiming your mic up. If you’re outside, you have airplanes, wind, birds, traffic bouncing around, etc… None of which you can control. If you’re inside, you have reverb bouncing around in the ceiling, A/C if you didn’t manage to turn it off, light noises (especially if you’re using HMIs), and whatever else might be up there. Much of this you can’t control.

Let’s revisit aiming at the solarplexis. When we mic from above, we’re intersecting all of those nice frequencies. When we mic from below, you get a low end bias. You’re closer to the diaphragm and chest, where the low end comes from. Remember the mic is very directional, especially at higher frequencies. Therefore, if you’re aiming at the solarplexis from right near the solarplexis, you’re going to only get the solarplexis, and not the frequencies that come from higher in the body. As a result, the voice sounds “tubbier” – the low end frequencies really stand out. Something you want to try to avoid if possible.


4. The frame line is your friend. Give it a nice big hug.

In most circumstances, you are going to want to ride the frame line as close as possible. I know, I just talked about pulling back for more reverb, etc… All that is good to know, but you also have to realize that microphones pick up more reverb than your ears do. So, in most cases, you’re going to want to be as close to the frame line allows, often riding it dangerously closely. An experienced boom operator can ride that line so close he’ll make people sweat, but he’ll never break the frame.


5. I’m being followed by a boom shadow, booooom shadow, boom shadow.

Lame Cat Stevens references aside, boom shadows aren’t fun to deal with. A boom op should be present for blocking and all rehearsals. He will be able to find where the lighting will fall during blocking, and can request flags from the DP if needed (politely please! You want to remain friends with the DP!) Also, the boom op will work with the cam op during blocking and rehearsal to find out where the frame lines and shadows fall. The cam op is the boom op’s best friend on set.

Please, don’t be that guy who doesn’t show up for rehearsal, and then proceeds to ask what’s going on. Do your homework. Know what’s happening before it’s happening.


6. Fancy Footwork.

One of the biggest mistakes that novice boom ops is not moving enough. I’ve seen some boom ops who I though had their feet cemented to the floor. Not good. A boom op needs to be agile – quick and fluid. In order to stay on axis, you need to move a lot. You need to move your arms, your body, your feet – anything it takes to get that perfect audio. When you watch a pro boom op do his thing, he is often moving so fast that it looks nearly violent!

The trick to all of this is to be able to do it all silently. When you walk, walk heel to toe. Wear shoes that don’t squeak. Wear a shirt and pants that don’t rustle. If you have trouble with foot noise, try some foot foam on yourself!

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So as you can see, being a boom operator is no joking matter. It’s serious stuff. I guarantee if you follow these steps, you will be well on your way to some quality boomage. Of course, no article can make you an expert. That comes with experience. So get out there and make some movies!

Yesterday I announced my first sound library release, “Workshop”, under “HartFX.net”. I am currently still working on building the library, and it has been a blast! I’m sitting at 9gb of sounds right now, and I’m expecting to be at 20gb once I’m finished recording.

Gear List:

2x Sennheiser MKH800s (M/S)
2x Sanken Cub (Usually spaced pair, sometimes spot mono)
2x Sennheiser MKH60 (mono, one close up, one room)
Sanken CSS-5 (Usually in wide mode)
Schoeps CMXY 4V
Countryman B6 Binaural Setup

Everything recorded into a Deva V and a Sound Devices 744T at 24b 192k.

Here are some of the tools included:

Mitar Saw (Articulating Saw)
Table Saw
Panel Saw
Table Sander
Router
Drill Press
Grinder
Band Saw
Hydraulic Tools
Hydraulic Compressor
Hand Saws
Drills
Shop Vac
and more!

The tentative release date for the library is September 15. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted!

FYI: HartFX.net is still under construction and won’t be up and running for a few more weeks. I’ll announce once it’s up!


Workshop Library from Colin Hart on Vimeo.

David Sonnenschein – author, scholar, sound designer, and friend of mine – is hosting a 6 week webinar series. I’ve attended a number of his seminars in the past and they are wonderful. I was able to present some of my work during one of the sessions and got live feedback from David as well as many of the other designers attending online. It’s cool being able to get feedback from other professionals in that manner.

Anyways, here are the details for the series:

SOUND DESIGN FOR PROS – Free Intro Webinar Aug. 24
presented by David Sonnenschein, author
Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema

Live and interactive on Tuesday Aug. 24, 9-10:30am PST
Recording available to view anytime after Aug. 24.
FREE Registration here: sounddesignforpros.com/webinars/

This free Intro Webinar will give you an overview of topics essential for the creative, professional sound designer that will be covered in detail in the upcoming six-week webinar series beginning Sept. 8. You will see and hear audiovisual demonstrations that will stimulate your auditory mind and sharpen your abilities to produce powerful soundtracks. We will also have an open chat for your questions related to sound design.

* Master theory and application of your audio craft to become an in-demand professional
* Discover tools and tricks to find an expressive voice and maximize your creativity
* Impact the audience effectively on intellectual, emotional and visceral levels
* Build successful communication skills with job-hiring producers and the post team

WEBINAR TOPICS
1. THE INTELLIGENT EAR – Listening Modes, Sound Qualities and Bipolarities
By deconstructing the listening experience into discrete elements, the grammar of sound design language gives you access for clear and powerful communication.
2. PLUG-IN POWER – Size, Distance, Speed and Non-Physical Reality
Understanding principles of real world acoustics and palette of subjective auditory experiences offers you enlightened use of digital processing tools.
3. RULES OF the BRAIN ROAD – Psychoacoustic Principles and Applications
When the curtain is lifted on how humans process auditory information, you master the art of sonic illusion (creating and hiding) as essential tools in sound editing.
4. SONIC TIME-SPACE CONTINUUM – Soundscapes and Sound Spheres
Creating an effective cinematic space depends on familiarity with your physical and social environment, and the knowledge of how to psychologically orient yourself through audio.
5. AUDIO BUILDING BLOCKS – Constructing Sound Events and Sound Objects
Mastering techniques of sequencing, layering and mixing will infuse sonic fragments (sound effects, words) with meaningful messages (sound phrases, sentences).
6. PEOPLE, PLOT AND PASSION – Narrative Structure and Sound Mapping
Bottom line, how can sound help tell your story? By understanding dramatic elements of character and emotion, the map can guide you to creative and impactful decision-making.

———————-

David Sonnenschein’s book is legendary, and the interactive webinar which presents and analyzes examples of the theory, truly brings the material to life. – Nathan Moody, NoiseJockey.net

David gives a lot of fantastic theory and examples about the emotional and technical side of sound design with detailed explanations, presentations and audiovisual material. If you enjoyed David’s book you will love his webinars. – Miguel Isaza, DesigningSound.org

David Sonnenschein is without a doubt an expert on sound design for film, television, and multimedia projects. His impressive knowledge and easy-going personality make his classes both informative and enjoyable. – Joel Krantz, Sound Editor/Mixer and Author, Pro Tools Post Production Techniques

———————–

If you can’t make it to the live event, you can watch the recording anytime after August 24. Registration is the same for the live and recorded webinar.

This free event is an intro to a six-week webinar series that will begin on Sept. 8. For more info go to sounddesignforpros.com.


I hope to see you there!

Recording at High Sample Rates

Ah, the age old question that is sure to spark a week long argument on any sound blog… “Does recording at 192k really sound any better than recording at 48k?” “Do high sample rates really make a difference?”.

I’ve done done a bit of research on this subject, and I’ve done my fair share of experimenting and writing about it.

Tim Prebble has released a blog on his recent experiences with high sample rates, and what happens to sounds that aren’t as fortunate.

This is a question I see often: if the final form of the project is 44.1kHz or 48khz, why bother recording at high sample rates? There isn’t any one answer to that question, there are lots of answers. But I thought it might be useful to illustrate a reason by using a real world example…. And if you cannot be bothered reading all of this, then just remember this: Plugins LOVE dense data!

Continue reading here!

Fireworks!

Tim Prebble has released a new sound library through Hiss and a Roar! His 4th Library, Fireworks, is amazing! Recorded over 2 days, with 4 recordists, $600au of specially selected fireworks, a few weeks of tender love and editing, and voila! A new library is born! And it took a bit of dedication too. Here’s an excerpt from Tim’s blog on the experience:

FIREWORKS is a library I have been planning for well over a year. Here in New Zealand fireworks are only sold for one week each year (Guy Fawkes is November 5th) and most years I would buy a bunch of fireworks & record them for my library, and I noticed how often those sounds were handy for all sorts of purposes…. So in November 2009 I contacted a number of fireworks importers and asked them to hand select an arsenal for me based on sound. Six hundred dollars later I had a serious fireworks selection but summer was starting & I knew I would have to wait for winter & the fire risk to not be an issue. So I stored my potential library away & waited…

Lots of Fireworks!

Not only am I very excited about the quality of this library (24b 192k!), but I am very jealous that Tim got to shoot off that many fireworks!

Tim didn’t only record raw fireworks, but he did a lot of perspective and “prop” recording too!  Here’s a bit of what he had to say about it:

Apart from 3 big plastic bins of fireworks one of my goals with capturing the fireworks library was about context: these sounds are very useful when designing weapons and I was very interested in reinforcing this aspect by releasing fireworks in metal pipes of various sizes. Earlier in the week I visited a great junkyard and bought a number of different size pipes, from a 2m long metal drain pipe to short narrow pipes to a larger air conditioning vent; all great sources of resonance!


Go check out Tim’s blog on the experience and download a copy! There are 5 versions, ranging from $9 to $99, and a free one too! The $99 version is pretty sweet: 210 sounds, multichannel, 24bit, 192k. Great deal!


Credits:
Tim Prebble – Sound Devices 722 with two Sanken CUB mics
Dave Whitehead – Sound Devices 722 with Sennhesier 8050 and DPA4006
Matt Lambourn – Sound Devices 722 with MKH816 and my MKH70
Ray Beentjes – Sound Devices 744 with quad rig: Sennheiser MKH50+30 LR and MKH816 x 2 LsRs

Check out Tim’s blog on the library here.


You can purchase and download the library here!

So, as many of you know, one of my favorite shows on Television is “Fringe” on Fox. It is an absolutely terrific show.

As you probably know, the Emmy nominations came out a few weeks ago, and I was thrilled to hear that Bruce Tanis was nominated in the area of Sound Design on “Fringe”, as well as for an HBO film he worked on. I’ve been getting to know Bruce over the past few months (amazingly nice guy). You can read an interview I did with him a while back on the sound design of “Fringe” here. Anyways, Bruce just finished up writing for Miguel for a month over at Designing Sound, so I figured while his fingers were still warm I would ask him to write up a blog about what his nominations meant to him and to write a bit about each of the pieces that were nominated.


So here’s what he had to say:

Hi Colin. As you know, I was lucky enough to be nominated recently for a Sound Editing Emmy Award for this past television season. Actually, I was even luckier and received TWO nominations! One was for sound effects editing on “Fringe” and the other was for the HBO movie, “Temple Grandin”. That was a terrific project and I was really happy to be a part of it although it couldn’t have been much more different in terms of material than “Fringe”. “Temple Grandin” is a biographical film about a real person named Temple Grandin and who has autism but still managed to go through her professional life becoming a highly respected professor and researcher in animal husbandry. The film is very straight forward and takes place mostly in the sixties and seventies with a few whimsical montages that illustrate how her mind sees things that the rest of us take for granted. It’s a terrific story about a very inspirational person.

“Fringe”, on the other hand, is all about alternate Universes, monsters, and things that go bump under your bed. Things like two foot long hookworms and horribly destructive viruses and mind control. I think the part that interests me about these two shows, taken together, is that they represent two very different points along the sound spectrum. One is a very literal film where sound helps tell the story of what actually took place in a particular location and time and the other uses sound to create things that don’t exist anywhere. Both projects use sound effects to tell their story but in completely different ways. I have to admit, I was surprised to be nominated for “Fringe” since there are so many other worthy shows out there but I’m really glad and excited that we made the list!

The episode that got nominated is called “White Tulip” and it features Peter Weller (“Robocop” and “Buckaroo Banzai”), as a time traveling scientist named Alistair Peck. He’s come up with a type of Faraday Cage wiring system that has grown into his body and arms and he uses this mechanism to propel himself through time in an attempt to go back and save his wife from a fatal car crash. He earns Walter’s respect because his design, as disgusting as it is visually, is actually a success. The picture editor wanted some sounds to cut in for the time travel sequences as they developed the episode and their temp opticals were fast-cut fluttery images of Peck as he built up in intensity to the moment of making the “jump” and then winding down on the b-side. I knew his device was electrically based so I came up with some sparking and zapping sounds that I pitch bent up to the moment of jumping and then brought them back down as he arrived at his destination time. These sort of made a wave that crested as he disappeared from out time and washed away as he re-appeared as he re-entered the time stream somewhere else. Since the nature of time jumping is that the jumper moves along the timeline but doesn’t usually move anywhere else geographically, I wanted to try and sell the effect by using vocals that made it seem like he was jumping over other people who occupied the same physical space as him but simply at a different time. I took some pieces of the production dialog and, again, pitch bent them to wind up and down and also treated them to have a delayed chorusing so that they vibrated a bit in the same was as the picture. There were also the regular whooshes and echoes to heighten the moment of transference even further. At various points during the episode, Peck “jumps” to a time moment that we’ve already seen but each time it’s just a little bit different because Walter has begun to piece together what Peck must be doing and, as he understands more and more, he begins to affect the time jumps as he gets closer and closer to catching Peck in the act. This was handled by using the exact same elements each time but adding something slightly different so that we know that, very subtly, even though we’ve seen this exact set of events before, this time the sequence is unfolding just a little bit differently . . . .

This was a really fun episode to be nominated for because time travel is such a staple of science fiction programs. Certainly, each “Fringe” episode had something interesting in it but I like this one because it goes so far back through a lot of terrific films and TV programs as one of the Grandfather story devices. I love the irony that this show got nominated for a time travel machine that was first used so long ago and has now looped back on itself!

Thanks so much Bruce for sharing!


You can download this episode of “Fringe” here. (iTunes link)


NOTE: I do not get any procedes for click-thru’s or purchases. I support “Fringe” because I’m a loving fan!)

P.S. I have not forgotten about my boom operation post! It is almost finished and is coming soon!!!

So it’s summer here in Florida. Crazy hot. One of the cool things (heh…get it?) about summer is the sound that comes with it. Every evening, after the daily rain storm, there emerges this chorus of cicadas, crickets, frogs, and other loud sound making insects (yes, I know frogs are not insects…). It’s impressively loud. I can hear it inside my house while the fans, A/C and TV are all on.


Every time I hear this chorus, I think to myself, “Wow, self, I really need to record this to share the experience. This is epic!” And then I never get around to it or don’t have my recorder with me, or whatever other excuse there is. However, yesterday I overcame all the odds and actually made a decent recording! Mind you, this is a recording in a suburban environment at 7pm, so you can hear some distant traffic, a very strange car horn at the beginning, a distant train (It was in my mic for 30 minutes!!! So I just rolled on it before I lost the bug sounds), and some random other sounds. I also took out my SPL meter and clocked the outside level at 74db. Fairly loud for a bunch of bugs!


Anyways, here’s the recording. Sanken CSS-5 –> SD 744T. (Trying to make a binaural one soon too!) At some point I’m going to make one sans noise pollution as well.

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P.S. Expect my boom operation blog to be up sometime this week!