Category Archives: Sound

One More in the Can

I completed another scene tonight. I started it on Saturday, so the total time was five days. Actually, yesterday I only worked on it for five or ten minutes, so I probably could have finished it yesterday if I had had the time. But sometimes you have to take some time to have a nice evening with a friend. Life isn’t all about work, after all.

Something I didn’t mention is that a couple weeks ago I did, in fact, record my voice actress Tara. I just had to get some extra lines, alternate takes, alternate wordings, and non-verbal vocalizations. Some of the takes were pretty interesting as she repeatedly grunted or whimpered in interesting ways. We were laughing pretty hard at times because of how much it sounded like the audio track from a pornographic movie. I’ll probably only end up using about 1% of what we recorded that day, but that’s exactly according to plan. I just wanted to get lots and lots of takes so I would have lots and lots of options when assembling the soundtrack.

Tara’s great to work with. She’s got a perfect voice for the characters and she responds well to directions. Not only that, but we also get along really well. After the recording session we went out to dinner along with the two friends that were with her. I had a really good time with them, with good conversation and so on.

I still haven’t even listened to the recordings we made. If I had been a Responsible Student I would have listened to them the same evening, while the session was still fresh in my mind. Well, I guess I’m not a Responsible Student. I’ll survive.

Acting! Genius!

This post was actually supposed to go out last night but I had some technical difficulties.  I guess Myspace doesn’t figure Firefox is a good enough browser for them to fully support on their Blog entry form — I had to resort to Internet Explorer in the end.

Anyway, imagine the date of this entry is June 14th.

I got back in contact with Tara Ricasa tonight. She’s the actress who did the voices for the two main characters in Don’t Fear the Sitter. I was afraid that her contact info would be out of date, since the last time I had any contact with her was more than a year ago. It turns out she’s still in San Diego (she was a student at UCLA when she recorded for me but went home to San Diego after graduating). It’s a good thing that she’s still nearby.

You see, soon after my big recording session last year I realized that I would need another session with her. I guess it’s pretty common in animation. After assemblng my animatic with all the freshly-recorded voice parts I realized that it was missing all the little bits — the grunts, yelps, whimpers, screams, and other vocalizations that aren’t explicitly called for in the script. Like, when Jenny gets knocked over by the cops, if she makes a little yelp then that’ll help emphasize the impact.

There are also some lines that I’d like to re-record that just didn’t come out right for one reason or another. Mostly it’s that the inflection isn’t quite right or that I wasn’t able to get the levels right in the recording studio.

For the cases where the inflection wasn’t right, I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to micro-manage a little more. I hate to say that — I want to let the actors do what their jobs without me telling them every little detail of how they should perform a line. In the end, though, they don’t understand the story and the situation like I do. Or maybe I need to get better at explaining what’s going on? I don’t know. I imagine it’s different for live-action actors or voice actors who record simultaneously with the other actors in the scene. They have more to go on — being able to see the set, being able to play off the other actors, and so on. I recorded all my actors one at a time, mostly because of logistical reasons. In my ideal world I would have had them all there in the same room, feeding off each other’s energy.

In the cases where the levels weren’t right it’s mostly because we were recording something loud. I couldn’t seem to figure out the settings on all the equipment to get a good loud scream or yell or whatever. No matter what I tried, the recording always clipped, causing distortion and a useless sample. There has to be a combination of settings and microphone that will allow for loud recording. Actually, the possibility that the microphone was the problem just occurred to me recently. Maybe the one I was using was one that’s good for quiet stuff but not loud? Wel, I happen to have a vocal microphone for live performances that can probably handle loud sound just fine. After all, it’s designed to have a singer belting it out at the top of her lungs straight into it, isn’t it? That’s my theory, anyway. I hope it plays out that way in reality….

I’ve got the animatic hovering at about 5:07. I’ve got it down pretty compact now. I even had to increase some of the timing because I had reduced it too much. In a way it’s nice to have that happen, since that way I really know it can’t go any faster. I’m not sure what more I can do apart from some outright cutting of scenes. I haven’t totally ruled out that possibility but first I think I want to show it to a few people and get some feedback.

Reminders and Actors

On top of my monitor I’ve taped up the following text: “What’s she thinking? What’s she feeling?” I put it there as a reminder for me when animating the characters in my film. It’s important to keep in mind what’s going on in the character’s head because that’s what should drive the action. Or, as Ed Hooks says in his book Acting for Animators: thinking tends to lead to conclusions, and emotion tends to lead to action.

It’s easy to forget stuff like this. There’s actually a whole set of principles to follow when animating, some of which are almost second nature to me at this point, but some of which slip my mind from time to time.

I guess I’ll talk about recording and actors and stuff.

While I was working on my animatic I put up posters around the film school and the theater school at UCLA. The theater school was what really did it for me. Holy crap, there are tons of actors over there who want to do stuff like this. There’s this seemingly endless lack of communication between the various schools on campus, despite the fact that they have mutually compatible stuff like this. What I mean is that there are lots of actors who want to do films and voiceovers and there are tons of composers who want to do film work. To not take advantage of that would be a real shame.

Anyway, getting back to it. I got like 18 responses to the posters I put up in the theater school – all girls except one. That’s okay, since I was only advertising for girls. I had decided that I would try and do the two male lines in the story myself. The one guy who responded assured me he could do female voices. I’m an open-minded kind of guy; I was skeptical but certainly willing to give him a chance.

I scheduled auditions with all the people who responded to my posters. The basic drill was that we would read through the script three times – once for Sarah (the little girl), once for Jenny (the babysitter), and once for the mom. (We would leave out any sections that didn’t include those characters.) Most of the actresses were ready to jump right in after I described the characters for them, but some of them asked for a few minutes to prepare.

When we did the read-through I first asked them to say their name into my tape recorder and then we went through the parts. I recorded the whole thing, which let me review their performances later and compare them closely. I even ended up loading them into an audio editing program I have and comparing the various voices in response to each other (switching out who was on what part, and so on). This way I was able to figure out who sounded best in context.

In the end I decided on two actresses – one for Jenny and Sarah and the other for Mom. I reserved a recording studio in the film school and we had a big session where we recorded everything.

The thing about that recording studio is that it’s complex. Like, really complex. There are wires everywhere. There are several different boards, each with a million knobs, buttons, and sliders, most of which I have no idea what they do. I’m only able to use this studio because there’s a set of instructions there on how to use the equipment in the most common configuration. Even then, though I wasn’t able to figure everything out perfectly. For instance, on some of the lines where a character yells I just couldn’t get it to stop distorting (when the signal goes louder than the dynamic range of the equipment), so I ended up having the actress stand back from the mic. It was a less than perfect solution, because then it sounds like someone yelling from across the room 🙁 I’m still thinking about trying to do another session at some point to fix those takes as well as do pickups (mostly nonverbal vocalizations like grunts and stuff like that).

Oh, and about that guy who auditioned for my female roles: He sounded terrible. He sounded like a man trying to sound like a woman. I can’t comment on his acting ability because I was too distracted by how wrong he sounded for the parts.

By the way: is anyone reading this?  Is this stuff interesting?  Is there anything else you’d like to hear about in this blog?  Leave a comment here or email me with your thoughts.