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July 2014
Issue: June 1, 2005

FOLEY

By: By David John Farinella

At press time, Wilshire Stages' ADR mixer Eric Thompson was working on Shark Boy and Lava Girl for Robert Rodriguez. He puts his tracks on a Pro Tools 6.4.1 system and uses a recordist for his sessions.
In the audio post production world, where transparency is the goal, those working in the markets of Foley and ADR know that a job well done is when their work is practically invisible. "Our job is to make you think you're hearing what you're seeing," says Universal Studios Foley artist Dean Minnerly. "If you think you are hearing what you are seeing, then we've snowed you and we win." The same can be said for those working in the ADR world, where the goal is making viewers believe that actors always speak clearly and there's no such thing as set noise.

Depending on the format - features or television - the demands for both Foley and ADR are high thanks to the highly attuned ears of consumers. The quality of sound systems at theaters is well documented, and with the continuing surge of surround sound systems in the home, each and every sound is carefully scrutinized. In fact, more and more advertisements are finding their way beyond canned sound effects to dates on a Foley stage to make sure audio quality doesn't suffer during those expensive two minutes.

Certainly technology helps when it comes to sliding a dialogue track into synch, getting just the right pitch on a sound, or generally "fixing it in post," but that does not give these pros permission to provide shoddy sounds to editors. Rather, those working in these fields are finding that careful preparation is saving time on the mixing stages, and that gives them greater freedom (within reason) to get the sounds correct at the outset. At the same time, as with any other post production service, schedules depend upon whether the tracks will end up on a feature or a television show.

This month Post checks in on a half dozen audio post pros providing ADR and Foley to find out what they are working on and what new techniques they are using.




READY-TO-GO ADR
There will always be a certain amount of ADR required to get any kind of feature film or television program ready to air, especially as more and more productions are moving overseas. That's the recent experience of Wilshire Stages' ADR mixer Eric Thompson, C.A.S. "It's hard to say if there's more or less ADR these days," he reports. "Basically a lot of shows are being shot in Romania and the Czech Republic and places like that, so we are having to do a lot of dialogue replacement on a lot of those films because they usually use people that are a little less experienced than Americans."

In addition to overseas productions, Los Angeles-based Wilshire Stages (www.wilshirestages.com/) has seen its share of features come through the door that require ADR for other reasons. "I'm working on Aeon Flux with Charlize Theron; it takes place in the future. They needed all the dialogue replaced on that show because of greenscreens and generators and various things like that," he says. "I'm also working on The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3D for Robert Rodriguez, and we also did his Sin City."

Because there is less time on the mix stages, Thompson is seeing that mixers want the tracks set up by the time they arrive on the stage. This comes down to mic positioning when capturing Foley performances. "A lot of times they're going in for just one line in the middle of the scene, so if the guy is walking across the hallway and it's off-mic to on-mic and back and forth, we need to match that," he says. "So, sometimes we are actually trying to shoot it so it does sound on-mic or off-mic or on-axis or off-axis. We try to make it fit so that when the mixer gets it he just pushes the fader up and it's pretty close."

From Thompson's perspective a lot of that is done via mic choice and placement. "I try to find out from the production mixer what kind of mic he used, because in a lot of cases you can use a generic mic like a Neumann KMR 81 or a Schoeps, but they sound so different," he says. "For example, on Jersey Girl they used a Sennheiser MKH 50 and that has a completely different sound than a KMR 81 or a Schoeps - even with EQ it doesn't have that tonal quality." If he can't get that information he'll turn to a Schoeps, a KMR 81 or a Sanken CLS 11 lavalier microphone.


Danetracks' supervising sound editor Richard Adrian worked on the Warner Bros. film House of Wax. Foley artists walking on 10-pound boxes of wax created the dry wax sounds.
Thompson, who puts his tracks on a Digidesign Pro Tools 6.4.1 system, uses a recordist for his sessions. "I feel that's really important," he says. "A lot of people these days aren't using recordists and the mixer is doing everything himself, but I find to allow me to work with the actor and pay attention to the producer's requests - and all the things going on with the sound and previewing the scene - it's an optimal way to work. My recordist is recording and labeling and putting the select track in that the editor wanted," he says. "It really helps things move along with two people."

While the right microphone and people in the session is important, Thompson believes that setting the right mood for the actor is crucial. "When they come into the ADR stage, a lot of actors will shut themselves down and have this mental attitude that it's not going to work. I find that the actors that don't do that, the ones that come in and say that it's a part of their job, are better. I try to tell them that at worst we can use the production audio, but this is a chance to improve on what they've done," he says. "There are some lines we have to get, but there are some that are shot just in case and are used if they are better."

THE FOLEY WAREHOUSE

From day one, the team of Ron Bochar and Philip Stockton at C5 (www.C5sound.com/) were looking to provide both ADR and Foley services. The New York City studio boasted a Foley stage that was used extensively, but in 2001 the company's creative options expanded when they opened a 3,700-square-foot facility in Northvale, NJ. "Having the control and being able to do whatever we wanted and having it right there with us was key in what we were trying to do at the time, which was to have more input into the overall soundtrack of the job," Stockton explains.


Widget's main Foley stage. They use a variety of mics, but the Sennheiser 416 tends to be their workhorse.
The facility, which has been used on a number of C5 projects, was carefully thought out. "We got a huge warehouse space that we completely sound proofed," Stockton reports. "We put in a small booth that we could do close-up stuff and rustle that's very protected and doesn't have the airy sound of the room. But with the room the size that we have it's very easy to simulate outdoors. We've built sets inside the studio in order to record. Gangs of New York had a huge scene within the brewery in the city that had hundreds of people milling about and walking around on beams and old wood, and we built structures for that. We have a dock and we can bring a car or a boat in and record it. I would say it's probably the largest Foley studio on the planet. I don't know that for sure, but certainly that's true on the east coast."

On the ADR side of things, Stockton finds himself in an editorial role, working on tracks that have been recorded at New York's Soundtrack studio or on the small mixing stage that C5 has in Manhattan. "We don't have an ADR, per se, that's set up with the beeps and all that," he explains. "For a Bob Dylan documentary we are working on, we had to record some crowd reactions and stuff, so we went into our little mixing studio that's very quiet and recorded there. We've found that it's easier for people to get to midtown, anyway, and Soundtrack is walking distance from our place."

Stockton, who has worked with filmmaker Martin Scorsese for over over 20 years, is currently at work on the famous director's No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, a documentary that will air on PBS in late September. Last year the two worked on The Aviator. "That film had its challenges, but not so much Foley and ADR challenges. It was more recording of sound effects," he explains. "The Foley was reasonably straight forward. There were no airplanes recorded for that movie. I'm serious, most of 'em weren't real airplanes. We literally went out to the desert and found people with the planes that had the right engines and recorded 'em."

 


Marshall Grupp, working with C5 on their Foley stages, created the sound of this floor coming to life and breaking apart for a recent Adidas spot. "It's kind of like a monster without monster sounds," he says.
FOLEY FOR SPOTS
Sound designer Marshall Grupp, co-owner of NYC's Sound Lounge (www.soundlounge.com/), has taken full advantage of the C5 Foley warehouse in New Jersey while working on spots for Adidas, Dasani and Diet Pepsi. "It just seems like all of my recent spots can't be done with a library," he explains. "I did that Adidas spot where we had to bring a wood floor alive. A great deal of that was Foley, because we needed to simulate what it would sound like if a floor started to come apart - kind of like a monster without monster sounds. So, we spent a lot of time, hours, using different kind of floor samples and created connected wood pieces on a rod so that we could have easy access to hitting them in different ways. We did something with really thick pieces of wood and ran rope through them, just to come up with different kinds of sounds. Then by editing them I was able to come up with the sound of the floor that was well liked by everyone.

"Then I did this Diet Pepsi spot where the cans in the refrigerator are dancing to the Ramones' 'Blitzkrieg Bop,'" he continues. "There were different kinds of cans, a whole lot of cans and bottles, and it was done on certain kinds of surfaces. There were shots where they were throwing a can from one place to another and it would land on the floor. It is a craft and an art in itself. Those guys [at C5] are really talented, and I respect their craft big time. We tried to keep it as realistic as possible to what the cans would sound like. I did these three spots for Dasani that was basically these people dressed up like animals: a bear in the woods, a mouse in a training box and a dog walking through the kitchen that was all Foley in terms of footsteps."

Grupp gets the Pro Tools sessions via FTP from C5 and then edits them on a Pro Tools system. He's not sure why spots are so Foley heavy these days. "It might just be the spots that I'm getting. There might be a lot of guys who work at editorial companies who don't know what Foley means, but because I've been in the business a long time and I'm a sound editor, I know when I can fake something and when I can't. It's something you learn through experience, and I try to incorporate all different kinds of sound assets in a sound job and Foley is just one. Also, for those pictures there is no production sound so I'm trying to simulate those scenes as best I can."


And in this corner... Foley
ADR OPTIONS
"The challenge these days isn't much different than what it was many years ago, the only difference is now we're offered more possibilities," explains Brian Slack VP/director of technology at Los Angeles-based Widget Post (www.widgetpost.com/). "So the challenge now comes on the mixing stage. One of the drawbacks of recording ADR in the past was the recording medium. Obviously if you only had 24 tracks to deal with and you were doing a fairly large scene, you were only able to do a few takes. Now the director is trying to get a performance for something very specific, especially from an actor who isn't very comfortable or is not familiar with the process. It's not uncommon to do 10 or 15 or 20 takes of a particular line, depending on what's happening. Doing that for three or four characters at a time just wasn't possible 10 years ago, whereas now it's very possible and we're given the ability to do multiple recordings of each take."

One of the common practices at Widget, says Slack, is recording a boom mic, a close mic and a lavalier all at the same time. "With production recording technologies as they are now, it is not uncommon to have four, six, eight channels on set, so every character might have their own lavalier as well as their own boom, and there might be a room mic as well. There might be a mix down of the whole thing all on the set and depending on how the editor decided to cut the scene, he may have used the lavalier for a whole scene or just the boom for the whole scene. A lot of times you're not sure how those decisions were made when you're in the middle of the ADR process, so the only way to go about it properly is to record them all."

The team at Widget has recorded ADR dates for a number of features and television shows, including four films that debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival. "One of the films we did for Sundance was Dear Wendy, and all the post production took place in Denmark," Slack says. "While doing the ADR for that, we did video conferencing using iChat [on the Mac]. That worked out nicely."

They are also working on Head to Toe, a show that will premiere in September on Nickelodeon; they are handling the ADR right on set. "We built a portable ADR rig with a 12-inch Apple PowerBook and Pro Tools Mbox. The show is being shot at Universal Studios, and just given the time constraints of the post schedule it's very difficult to get the actors off the set. What happens is Robert Getty, who is our post supervisor on the show, goes out to the set and when he does his spotting sessions for the next show he'll bring his portable ADR rig with him and do the ADR for the previous show. They'll go out there and if they shot it in a particular set they'll go into that room and record the ADR in that room. The nice thing about that is the crew is not there, there's nothing happening, it's just the girls by themselves. Doing ADR on location like that is preferable, because the room is the room it was recorded in originally and you're recording it exactly like it was but you're missing all the technical problems you might run into during and actual shoot."

Widget's ADR dates are recorded right to Pro Tools|HD. "Very rarely do we do anything higher than 48k," he says. "It's not so necessary for ADR, and frankly most everything we get comes off of mediums that are 48k, 24-bit or if it comes in off a DAT it's 16-bit, so having the ADR at a much higher sample rate doesn't gain us a lot other than eating up disc space." There are times when the Widget crew is able to avoid shooting any ADR by using the Cedar Cambridge and Cedar DMS 2000 restoration tools. For ADR, Widget typically uses the Sennheiser 416 and a lavalier, but they have all types of mics available.

FOOLING WITH FOLEY

Law & Order: Criminal Intent or Desperate Housewives? Which show do you think would need more Foley work? If you picked the detective drama over the popular comedy about women in suburbia, you'd be wrong. According to Universal Studios (www.filmmakersdestination.com/) Foley artist Dean Minnerly, "The heaviest of the bunch is Desperate Housewives," he says. Why? "Because you have so many principal characters who are frantic all the time. Everyone is touching things and falling off things, there are fights and people falling in pools, little kids running around the house or playing hockey. It's quite involved."

The key to getting it right, he adds, is to recreate every sound live to picture. "So, any live character on screen, human or animal, whatever they are wearing from jewelry, clothing, whatever types of shoes, whatever ground or surface they are on, anything they handle or manipulate, pick up, put down, fall over, fall into, bite, swallow, throw-up, all of it is us."

The Foley team at Universal, which also includes Foley artist Gary Marullo and Foley mixer Albert Romero, has seen an up-tick in Foley detail in television thanks to both HD broadcasting and 5.1 surround systems in viewers' homes. "It's become more critical," says Minnerly. "The detail has to be there and it has to be that much more exacting. It requires considerably more time, but realistically, if you're going to have that clear a picture you're going to have a clear determination of what you're seeing in the picture, which means the sound has to be that exacting."

"If they see something that's in the background, they'll want to hear that now," adds Romero. "In the old days when you had little four-inch speakers you wouldn't even consider hearing anything like that."

Much of the Foley recorded on their stage goes through a Neumann KMR 81 and Romero records it directly to a TASCAM MMR 8. "Pretty much all our stuff is going to be raw," Minnerly reports. "We do very little to our tracks; maybe we use a compressor, but that's just to keep from clipping the signal before it goes to the dub stage."

According to Romero, the biggest challenge the team faces during a session is not synching up sounds. "I think the main problem that we have is trying to read the mind of the producers, the directors and the sound effects editors," he says, "to come up with sounds that don't really exist, and we have to create something that we think is going to be what they want.

"We had one project with a caterpillar on a leaf at about 100 yards and the director wanted to hear the feet of it. They don't even have feet, but they were real specific with what they wanted and we really had to work at it. It was really hard because we had to find something that they actually wanted to use and something that was in their brain that they couldn't describe." They got the sound, Marullo explains, by rubbing various fabrics against different surfaces.

THE SOUND OF WAX

Danetracks' (www.danetracks.com/) supervising sound editor Richard Adrian knows all about creating sounds for things that are beyond comprehension. Take, for instance, his recent work on the feature film House of Wax, where he had to come up with what it sounds like to walk on dry wax and then what it sounds like to run through a burning, melting house of wax. "It was pretty intensive Foley work," he says. "We basically tried as many things as we possibly could. Some of it is actually wax. I bought about 80 pounds of different types of wax for the movie."

Foley artists, walking on 10-pound boxes of wax, created the dry wax sounds, and to get the melting wax house sounds, Adrian says, "pretty much everything was fair game as long as it didn't sound like water. There are lots of tricks I used on the Foley stage, and then I combined that with stuff that I had created in-house of people pulling their way through the wax. It was interesting that on the final stage they didn't want the wax to sound too wet. Fortunately we had enough different sounding material that that wasn't a problem at all."

The material came from the Foley stage as well as some tracks that were recorded directly at Los Angeles-based Danetracks. "We recorded every kind of sound we could think of that wax could make and used it for everything from the sizzling and boiling sounds to the scrapes and creaks of waxed doors to waxed limbs falling and wax plates crashing," he says.

"A lot of that was done using [Sennheiser] MKH 800s, a [Neumann] U87 and Schoeps XT, and a True Precision 8 pre-amp onto Pro Tools|HD."

On the Foley stage, he explains, the tracks were recorded by John Roesch with a Neumann KMR 81 and a U67 into a 24-channel Pro Tools|HD system. "One of the things we've been doing a lot of lately is 192k recording, which allows me to have a lot more resolution in the sample rates so when I pitch it down it still sounds clean. It also gives me a couple extra octaves of ability to pitch it down without aliasing and it still keeps a lot of the good high frequencies. We're on a Pro Tools|HD system that can record at 192k, and if you play that back at 48k you don't even have to convert it, you can just play it back," he says. "It plays at two octaves down if you play it at a 48k session, so you get a lot of good clean detail and that allowed us to do a lot of different things with the wax itself."