Sound Design: Step Three- The Edit

The third step to sound designing a film is creating the edit.  Up to this point, you have met with the director and established the theme, collected your sound effects and are now ready to make some sonic magic.  Here are three things to consider while editing:

1. Sound Basics

Before you begin editing it helps to have a general idea of what “sound” is:

  • Sound wave-  “Sound” is comprised of a series of pressure waves, or soundwaves,that react in the same manner as water.  If you a drop a rock into a pond, ripples will radiate from the center of impact.  The size and frequency of the waves depends on the force behind the rock. The same is true with sound. One complete sound wave cycle, or wavelength, stretches from peak to peak.
  • Frequency- The frequency is the number of  complete wave cycles that occur each second, measured in Hertz (Hz).  Higher frequencies are generally perceived as louder and can travel longer distances but are easily refracted (or soaked up).  Lower frequencies are thicker and can transmit through walls.
  • Amplitude– The amplitude is the overall volume, or amount of energy present in a sound signal.  More energy produces a taller wave-length and a louder sound.
  • Sample Rate- Your audio interface or field recorder coverts acoustic audio into a digital format.  Digital audio serves as a snapshot of the acoustic signal.  The sample rate is the number of snapshots, or samples, taken per second.  A higher sample rate produces a better sound.
  • Bit Depth- This works with the sample rate and measures the amplitude, or distance between the peak and the trough of the sound wave.  The bit depth and sample rate translate the complexion of the sound wave to your editor.

These are important concepts to grasp as many of your editing plug-ins, like equalization and pitch shift, function off of the manipulation of these elements.

2. Equipment

For the underground sound designer you can get by with using any non-linear editing system (Avid, Final Cut Pro 7 or Adobe Premiere) to create your mix.

If you want to get serious, I recommend upgrading to a sound-editing program like Pro Tools or Logic Studio.  This will streamline your workflow and give you more room to edit, not to mention a vast array of audio plug-ins. Rounik Sethi compares Avid Pro Tools 9 (which has since upgraded to v.10) to Sony Logic Studio 9.

Invest in a good set of speakers.  I find it best to mix on external speakers as opposed to using headphones.  Headphones can enhance subtle details in your mix that may be lost in a larger environment (like a movie theatre).

3. The Edit

The edit is where all of your hard work and planning pays off.  Working with a sound-editing program is very similar to the workflow of a standard video editing system.  Keith Freund’s reviews the basics to setting up a Pro Tools session in perpetration for recording a voice over.

As you begin the edit process, start off by evaluating the production sound elements from the original edit.  If you are working with an editor, have them provide their project as an open media framework file or .omf file.  This enables you to manipulate all of the original audio tracks on your edit timeline.

In addition, make sure you are provided with all of the production audio from the set.  You can use elements from alternate takes to cover up mistakes on the edit track.  Mistakes to look for are background noise, audio clips and mic bumps.  Listen for anything that distracts from the action on-screen.

In most cases, the production audio will only serve as a foundation for the mix.  You will need to flesh-out the timeline with your recorded sound effects.  As you import your sound effects think again about breaking down the sound.  Your overall goal is to create a sound space; an interactive environment that carries the audience’s attention.

Below is a clip from Dead Man’s Hand where I had to replace all of the production audio with recreated effects.  The advantage with using your own sounds is that you have complete control over their dynamics, but they require more modification to fit the scene.

Take into consideration which sounds you want to layer.  This will produce a more believable, dramatic element and is a common practice when mixing.  Mark Lampert discusses layering effects based on their frequencies in his edit for the video game The Elder Skrolls V.

For followup commentary on approaching your edit, take a look at these sites:

Don’t forget to check back here for more tips on how to keep your sound design affordable.

-Sound Underground

6 thoughts on “Sound Design: Step Three- The Edit

  1. Pingback: Reverse Reverb Explained | Sound Underground

  2. Wonderful website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed here?
    I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get opinions from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Bless you!

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