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Thread: Advice for Improving Movie Sound?

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    Advice for Improving Movie Sound?

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    I have a low budget PC-based home studio set up that I use for recording music, but I've been assisting a friend of mine with recording audio for a movie that he's directing. I was wondering if anyone here could give me some advice on how I can get better sound without buying a whole lot of new equipment.

    Currently, I'm using a AT815b short shotgun mic into a cheap Samson Mixpad (which I'm only using because it's the only battery-powered mic pre I have and we do a lot of shooting on location without AC power) into a Mini Disk recorder. The MD recorder is just a simple consumer stereo model, not a 4-track or anything. When we're done shooting, I record the MD on my PC as a .wav so that we can add it to the video.

    The sound I get is barely usable because there's an incredible amount of background noise and hiss. I realize that none of my equipment is state of the art, but what's my weakest link here? I don't know if it's the crappy mixer or the fact that I have to go convert from analog to digital to analog in the MD recorder.

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    Jay Rose is a fount of knowledge on this subject.
    http://www.dplay.com

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    First, that mic seems to be pretty cool - but is it the best for this situation? Condensor mics usually pic up a lot more than what you want, and if you use one in a place where it's, say, windy or a lot of things going on at the same time, it could be bad news.

    Second, since you have a mic preamp which is better than the one on your MINIDISC recorder, I'd make sur that you are not plugging the mixpad's outs into the MIC IN on the MD recorder. Be sure it is in the LINE IN, if that is even an option. Otherwise, you will still be using the MD's preamp - which you don't want to use because you have a better one instead.


    another thing to try is to use that mic with a batter for it's extra phantom power it needs (that is pretty convienient), and then drop the mixpad, and try just right into the mic in on the MD player - it could be better, you never know.

    lastly, is it hissy BEFORE you send it to your computer, as well as after? or is it ONLY hissy AFTER. If it is only AFTER, you know the fault is while you send the contents of the MD to your comp as wavs.
    Scott Solo

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    Another tip, I'm sure your friend knows about this, but remember to record some location background noise (30-60 sec.) to put in the bed. I helped my friend when he was in school (comm. arts) and we just used an old dynamic mic duck taped to the end of some window washing poles, worked fine for us.

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    I've recorded sound for about a dozen films and that mic is probably fine for the job. The main thing you have to understand is that garbage in is garbage out. Your main goal should be getting clean, usable audio out on location. Get the best possible mic placement and if you have to wait for a truck or airplane to go by then do it.

    Your second issue is maintaining good sound quality once you get it. Running the audio into a soundblaster is not a good way to maintain audio quality but if you can't get a better card than that is what you are stuck with.

    Do you hear the hiss on the headphones of the MD or is it just after transferring to the computer? Try to find where the hiss starts or if it's just accumulating it through all the components. Make sure you are using proper gain staging as you go from the Mixer-MD and MD-Computer.

    You can somewhat get rid of constant noises like hums and buzzes by using Noise Reduction plugins in programs like Cool Edit Pro or Soundforge. They will usually leave you with some artifacts if used too heavily but I have used them to reduce constant traffic and camera noise with limited success.

    If you guys really want a kick ass sounding dialog track you will probably have to dub the dialog in post. One trick that can work is immediately after doing a scene have the actors to redo the scene just for you with the mic closer to their mouths so you can get some nice clean lines. If you do it while the scene is fresh in their minds it can often match up on wide and med shots pretty nicely. It doesn't work so well on close ups but it's easy to get nice audio on the close ups anyway.

    And like DS21 says always record some 'wild sounds' on every location. That way if you have to dub a few lines in post you have the same background noise to mix in behind them so the audio for the entire scene is consistent. It's common after shooting the last scene at a location for the audio recorder to tell everyone to shut up for a minute while he records the wild sounds. Just put the mic up where you were recording before and record the environment. Don't move the mic around while doing this. Do this indoors and out.

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    ADR is the key (additional dialogue recording)-dub any vocals in a quiet studio environment. when you throw those dubs over the ambiant surrounding noises it will sound and look really natural from a distance. like tex said it doesn't work well for close ups, but for distance shots, or medium distances it's probably the best you can do.
    "if you need a helping hand the best place to look is at the end of you arm." - audrey hepburn

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    Thanks for the replies. We actually did ADR to fix what we got during the video shooting, but I was hoping to get something usable when micing during the shoot, at least as a backup. Maybe that's not a reasonable expectation.

    Fortunately, I'm not using a Soundblaster. I have an Echo Gina, but the rest of the stuff is pretty lame, mostly because I'm depending on batteries so much of the time.

    I think I should probably read up on gain staging a little more and see if I can figure out if I can apply it to what I'm trying to do. I have a general idea of what I'm doing when I'm in my studio, but I don't have any meters on the mixer I'm using and I'm not sure exactly what the little meterish thing on the MD Recorder is telling me. I was pretty much trying to use the channel and master fader equivalents at 0, setting the trim fairly high, then adjusting the level on the MD so that the loudest stuff wouldn't send it into clipping. Maybe it was the technique more than the equipment that let me down?

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    That sounds like a reasonable way of setting the levels without having meters. You should definately be able to get usable audio on location but it just depends on the location and proper mic placement.

    If you want to do this for real then the standard is a portable Nagra deck with built in preamps. They have been used successfully for decades. Having a mic with a tight pattern and better off axis rejection is also important.

    It's also common to use Lavalier mics for wider shots where a boom won't work or the actors are too far apart for one boom operator.

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