Recording

What did the voice actors think?

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From the five voice actors who participated in this project, one answered the question “what method do you feel brought out your best performance” with ‘studio’ whilst the other four answered ‘location’.

Actor 4, who favoured the studio recording method, commented that, “recording on location can pave the way for some great interactive performances, but it can also cause distractions and unwanted interruptions. I prefer working in a studio environment because it gives me the ability to focus 100% on the script and delivery, without worrying about the scene being cut midway due to wind noise, a car horn, or an ice cream van driving past.”

But Actor 1 did not share this view, with the opinion that, “being on location allows you to breathe in the atmosphere, the surroundings, and the environment.” And that, “Whether you’re talking loudly to compete with the outdoor ambience, or you’re getting up off a chair to shake someone’s hand and lead them off down a corridor, you aren’t pretending anymore, you’re actually doing it. That’s why location recording sounds so real. It is real.”

Actor 3 shared this preference for the location method, referring to the studio as a “sterile environment” and claiming,“there’s no need to visualise a particular scene or location in your head when there’s actually a real one around you. Okay so it might not always be identical to the one you’re portraying in the story, but regardless, it’s a real life environment, and that makes for a more real life, honest, and genuine performance between the characters.”

ACT

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Case Study: Intensive Care

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“One of the things I really enjoy about field recording, is you can put two actors right next to each other, and they can completely act out the scene. It really incorporates that sense of two actors interacting.” says Matthew Boudreau of Aural Stage Studios in an interview on the Audio Drama Production Podcast.

“While we were recording Intensive Care, we got permission to use the space at Biddeford Mills, and just as we’re recording this major scene that’s taking place in this like, really intense, quiet operating room, people started moving in across the hall from us.

They’re carrying couches, and leather chairs, and it’s like a psychology office that they’re setting up so there’s all kinds of equipment and shelves and books and materials and stuff that they’re lugging through. And I’m just trying to get Nat Angstrom (the lead actor) to give us a really quiet line.

And that’s actually my biggest complaint. There’s no way to isolate the external noise, and if you’re in a quiet place like Fred (Greenhalgh of FinalRune Productions) then that’s okay cos he’s kinda in the woods, and pretty secluded. There’s going to be some background noise, there’s always some background noise, but it’s a little bit easier.

But I went to gather sound effects, I live in down town Buffalo, and The Cleansed takes place in this post-apocalyptic future in which there’s no machinery, there’s no gasoline. And you open up a mic outside my door anywhere and all you’re going to hear is like turbines and motor engines and it’s really hard to capture that post-apocalyptic flavour when you’re surrounded in sounds.

And for me a studio is a great way to isolate that, but… you lose some of the intimacy. So what happens is I get great sound, I get great people with great voices and great characters behind the mic, but I lose a little bit of that interaction that’s going on.

You’ve kinda got two kinds of scenes. You’ve got scenes where dialogue prevails, and you’ve got scenes where action prevails. And in scene’s where dialogue prevails you really want that voice to come through, and you really want those words to be rich.

Maybe you record that in the studio where everyone’s sitting around the mic and you can hear their articulations very clearly and everything’s coming through very cleanly and very importantly.

And then when you’re talking about scenes where there’s action, where they’re more active, and there’s two people fighting and yelling back and forth and maybe you’d do that in a field recorded kind of situation.”

Final location recording session

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Monday the 2nd March was the final location recording session to create part two of Time is Money.

We faced a few challenges here for 2 main reasons.

1. I needed to get my 3 actors together at a time that suited everyone.

2. I then needed optimal recording conditions in and around my house.

Arranging a suitable day and time with the actors worked out fine though, and I set up all the equipment in advance. I planned out each scene in terms of logistics, character placing, and microphone placing. The kit was as simple and basic as two Zoom H2 recorders, two microphone stands, and two small table stands. Both recorders were used as individual actor microphones in most scenes, aside from one where a Zoom was sat on the table whilst the scene was acted around it, and another in the car, where the Zoom was positioned between the driver and passenger seats.

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Zoom H2 on mic stand indoors

Two things that I was conscious of, having read Ric Viers Location Sound Bible, have a brand new packet of batteries (don’t rely on old batteries, even if they’ve just been used briefly before), and clear the memory cards on the recorders previous to starting the session. You can actually plug the Zooms in to the mains but I find this increases the hiss level in them.

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Zoom H2 on homemade boom pole with windjammer for outdoor use

In terms of outdoor interference, we had experienced problems with an ice cream van during the test recordings, but as this was a Monday afternoon, that didn’t repeat itself. A lot of work has been taking place in a house nearby, much of which is done outside (hammering, drilling etc) but fortunately it seemed to be completed a few days before our recording date. During the car scene another car arrived in the street and idled for a period, but fortunately the driver was kind enough (though confused) to switch it off when I asked.

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Zoom H2 on table stand for indoor scene

Wind was always going to be the most daunting obstacle. As good as the Zoom recorders are, and even with a windjammer over them, they are very sensitive to wind. The outdoors scene was a very short one, recorded in a sheltered area of my garden. Even though it was not extremely windy it still took about seven takes to get a fully clean recording, free of distortion.

I wanted a clean take from start to finish here because I’m hesitant to edit outdoor scenes, where sounds of traffic and outdoor ambience can make it impossible to clip dialogue and unwanted takes.

We did four or five takes of every scene so I knew I had everything I needed and more going into the post-production phase. Retakes wouldn’t really be an option so this was vital. Overall I was very happy with the session and got to work that evening to finish the piece and upload it.

Finding a middle ground between the studio and the field

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I’ve been working in collaboration with the excellent Campfire Radio Theater to help record acting lines for their next production. I discussed the project with producer John and asked what his preference was in terms of how the dialogue would be recorded.

There were some considerations to make. 

1. The story was set on a remote location, so any recording in the ‘field’ shouldn’t have background noise that would contradict this environment (traffic, planes, etc)

2. The two characters were alone together in a story of rising tensions, so acting out the dialogue together was advisable to maximise performance.

3. The soundproofed studio only has room for a maximum of two people.

The decisions were

1. A ‘table read’ style recording would take place with 3 actors gathered around two zoom H2 recorders (this allowed for 2 copies of the performance to be recorded, and ensured that nobody was ‘off-mic’)

2. As there would be some reverb from the table recording, this would only be used for interior scenes (the building in the story would have a natural reverb anyway).

3. During these recordings, light movements of the head and body were used when necessary. These recording were done in stereo, so in a sense, they were closer to field recordings than studio recordings.

4. All exterior dialogue from the outdoors scenes were recorded in mono, in the soundproof vocal booth. There were only ever two characters outside at any one time, so this worked out well.

5. Whilst a more naturally-paced conversation would take place at the table, with actors overlapping each other and responding sharply, the studio recorded lines would need to be spaced out with no overlaps to allow for more freedom in post-production.

After recording

The studio tracks were recorded in stereo, with one actor/mic on either side. These were split to individual mono tracks in Adobe Audition. They were edited to remove any mistakes, page turns etc, by lining them up in the multitrack one under the other. The split tool was then used to delete unwanted material and, keeping both tracks in sync, They were individually mixed down after isolating the individual channels.

Both stereo tracks from the two zooms were edited in the same way, though there was no need to split stereo tracks into two mono tracks.

Conclusion

In a sense, this was almost a hybrid approach between studio and field recording. It was very practical, easy to record and edit, and favourable from an acting and performance point of view. I’d certainly use these techniques again in future if we are working with a script that allows for it.

Field Recording Session

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Not so much in a “field”, but in my house (kitchen, living room), garden, and car. The aim was really to get used to recording this way. To see what worked best, and what didn’t work so well. Looking at different mic techniques and positioning, and looking at what sort of obstacles we’d face, and how best to deal with them.

Aims

  • To identify good micing techniques an positions
  • To see if actors working ‘on set’ together will increase performance
  • To find out what obstacles we’ll face, and how we’ll overcome them
  • To see if scripts flow naturally and authentically
  • To test sounds of different locations, indoors, outdoors, in car
  • To find out how much quicker and easier putting together location recorded audio in post production will be

Outcomes

  • Actors responded well to each other, both said they enjoyed it
  • Indoors, you can still be interrupted by external sounds (an ice cream van was doing the rounds, multiple takes needed)
  • Retakes from indoor recorded sessions were easily edited.
  • Retakes from outdoors was a different matter, passing cars, planes etc mean that flawless edits can often be impossible
  • This has implications, not just on retakes, but on page turns too, which need to be edited out
  • Homemade ‘boom pole’ must be handled with extreme care, the slightest movement is picked up in the audio
  • Recorded was mounted on a stand or tripod whenever possible
  • Even with the windjammer and low wind, sheltered conditions were essential
  • We recorded in stationary car. Retakes needed when dog was barking nearby

Going forward

  • Recording outdoors will be extremely weather sensitive, calm days are essential
  • Electronic versions of the scripts (on kindle or ipad) may prove more practical than paper
  • Audio should ‘roll on’ for 20-30 seconds after the final line of the scene, to give me room to fade the scene out naturally
  • Two H2 recorders may give better all round vocal audio, though this may require two sound people

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