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This article can only begin to suggest how digital technologies are affecting post-production sound. For one thing, there is wide variation in types of systems; for another, digital sound techniques are evolving faster than alien creatures in a science fiction movie.

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Even the sound recorded live during principal photography is not wedded physically to the image and has to be precisely relinked during postproduction. It is usually recorded on 1/4" magnetic tape (though there are alternatives) and marked so that it can be ultimately rejoined with the picture in perfect synchronization.

On the set the location recordist (listed as production mixer) tries to record dialog as cleanly and crisply as possible, with little background noise (a high signal-to-noise ratio). A boom operator, usually suspending the microphone above and in front of the person speaking, tries to get it as close as possible without letting the microphone or its shadow enter the frame.

An alternative to a mike suspended from an overhead boom is a hidden lavalier mike on the actor's chest, which is either connected to the tape recorder via cables or wired to a small radio transmitter also hidden on the actor. But dialog recorded from below the mouth must be adjusted later to match the better sound quality of the boom mike. And radio mikes can pick up stray sounds like gypsy cabs.

While on the set, the sound recordist may also ask for a moment of silence to pick up some "room tone" (the sound of the location when no one is talking), which must be combined with any dialog that is added during postproduction (with reconstructed room reverberation) so that it matches what is shot on the set. (We don't usually notice the sound of the breeze or a motor hum, but their absence in a Hollywood product would be quite conspicuous.) The set recordist may also capture sounds distinctive to a particular location to give the postproduction crew some sense of local

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POSTPRODUCTION Theoretically, the first stage of sound editing is "spotting," where the editor(s) and possibly the director go through each second of the film with the supervising sound editor in order to generate a list of every sound that needs to be added, augmented, or replaced. This practice has fallen prey to demands for early previews, which have wreaked havoc on postproduction schedules.

6/24/04 7:55 PM

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