A couple of months ago I worked on a sound replacement project which involved recreating every sound for the opening scene of the original ‘Back to the Future’ feature film. We used sound design, foley and automated dialog replacement to achieve our objective. This was something I really enjoyed and the result received great feedback from within the campus and also from external industry professionals. You can read about my experience on this project here but I have included the short clip below for you to experience:
The primary difference with the ‘Anta’ sound replacement was that we were provided with a 30sec clip containing absolutely no audio, so rather than trying to match the sounds, environment and feel of something already created we had complete creative license to develop the audio as we thought it should be! This was going to be interesting. We were however provided a brief to guide our process:
- Vision: 2 World Champion female tennis players playing a match in outer space.
- Audio: Sound design – actuated – rhythmic – edgy – slow motion elements – high tech fast paced – competitive – erratic – spontaneous – random – imagination
When I first saw the clip I immediately had a feel for what needed to accompany the footage and was excited to see if I could recreate it accurately. Lets have a look at the clip we were provided so you can clearly understand the explanation of my vision and journey to reach the completed product:
I immediately felt that this advertisement needed epic audio bursting with excitement, action and a sense of urgency and tension. It needed to be futuristic with explosive hits, whooshes and swishes coupled with a heroic soundtrack as the environment is obviously ‘not of this world’. It would also however as a tennis rally sequence, require the traditional sounds of racquets hitting balls, the ball bouncing and the squeaking of shoes on the court. This really was an exciting challenge as it offered complete sovereignty over the audio that could be used to create the final product.
I set about my task by trying to find some royalty free music to use to support the theme and discovered a wonderful site superb for this mission called ‘Epidemic Sound‘ and decided on three very different pieces that I would choose from for the clip. One was a hard rock/metal piece, one a dubstep number and the one I settled on called the ‘Vindicator Waltz’ created by a talented composer from Sweden named Niklas Johansson. Whilst this piece was epic and offered the feelings of tension and anticipation I was seeking for the clip it was only certain parts that I would need to consolidate and blend to make it effective and believable. This would be the final step of the project.
Next I scoured the web using sites such as freesound.org to collect assets required for use such as tennis strikes, shoe squeaks, whooshes and explosive sounds that I could place in the action sequence. Thus followed hours of digging around and searching databases of royalty free sounds collecting anything I thought may be of use to me and ensuring that I renamed each file to something that would be relevant to me and easy to find later. To this end I created several folders with titles such as ‘Tennis strikes’, Explosions, Whooshes, etc. These sounds were in addition to an extensive sample library I have been developing over the past year which did already include many of the sounds I would eventually deploy. Once I thought I had enough assets, I set about creating my DAW session and began by placing the tennis strike sounds.
It immediately became apparent to me that my workflow for this session was not ideal as I was layering so many individual sounds into each event that it was getting confusing. My solution was to develop a system whereby I treated each player independently, each players actions separately and each event not related to the players eg. ball bounces individually. I achieved this by working in a linear fashion, adding markers i.e. ‘player one serve’, ‘player 2 strike 2’ etc and also using the comments section of each track in the edit window of Protools. This greatly enhanced my mobility and navigation around the session and gave me a clear path to quickly access any event which needed more attention as I worked and re-listened to the clip from beginning to end.
Once I had all the ball striking events (different sounds for each player and each particular type of strike), ball bouncing events and shoe squeaking events placed in the correct positions, I worked on the lead up and aftermath sounds of each event. These were very important elements to enhance the epic nature, tension and futuristic aesthetic the clip required. There was a lot of trial and error with this aspect of the project and I probably spent more time in this area than anywhere else. I also spent quite a bit of time routing clips to reverb auxiliaries to get the space of the location believable and worked relentlessly on the stereo field, panning clips left and right to give the viewer/listener a full-on assault when experiencing the end product. Time to have a listen to what I came up with:
I felt that I met the brief and created something that was believable. I believe that years of playing competitive tennis helped me to get each strike sounding the way it should underneath but also succeeded in adding some futuristic explosive audio to these hits that was essential to the advertisements aesthetic. What did I learn?
- Having an effective workflow is absolutely mandatory in any project but particularly with sound replacement where you don’t just have 20 tracks but over 100. I understood how important a clear and streamlined workflow would be before undertaking this project, but had to learn from my errors and my methodology evolved almost right to the point of completion. This will be very handy in future projects of this nature.
- I found new resources for collecting audio samples and royalty free music and the value of my gathering clips over the past year was realised.
- Upon reflection regarding the mixing elements, I now believe the soundtrack should have been a little more forward in this mix as it gets a little buried I think.
- My navigation and speed operating my chosen DAW was improved &
- Tab to Transient is KING!
Thanks for reading my blog and I would love to hear your feedback…