The creation of BBB background ambience part 1

As described in my previous Location Recording post, I collected a variety of sounds from Macclesfield Forest, including natural ambience to use as a backdrop for action on screen. There are two environments used for the duration of the film: an idyllic open grassy field, and a wooded forest.

After completing the recording session described in the previous post I decided to revisit the forest with the aim of re-recording the ambience. It wasn’t that my initial recordings were not adequate, they are actually good quality, it was just I felt it would be ideal to collect binaural recordings of the ambience simultaneously with stereo recordings as this would prove extremely useful when it came to subjective testing. Having recordings of exactly the same moments in time in the two different formats would help to make tests as fair as possible.

On my second visit to the forest I again took the Edirol R44 digital recorder as well as two Rode NT2’s, and Soundman in-ear binaural microphones. The NT2s were set up in a coincident (X-Y) configuration for the convenience this offers as well as the convincing stereo imagery which can be achieved. The angle between the capsules (mutual angle) was set at 90°. This is also the configuration of the Rode NT4 stereo microphone which unfortunately was unavailable to book from the university this time around, and so was chosen to allow for coherence should the first recordings be used at the mixing stage.

Challenges

With close to 2 hours worth of soundrecorded I decided to call it a day. Although this may sound like an excessive amount much of the audio will need editing and indeed some will be unusable due to the plethora of irritating unwanted noises one has to contend with when recording ambience, some of which I had never realised would be so disruptive, including:

  • Plane noise – With so many planes flying around, departing or arriving at Manchester airport, you are left with windows of only a few minutes of plane-less ambience.
  • Road noise – Thankfully not really an issue in Macc forest but you still get the odd car or forest warden’s van making an appearance.
  • Farm animal sounds – The sound of cows and sheep, although possibly usable, had to be kept to a minimum as in the film there is no evidence of farm animals.
  • People and dogs – Either in close vicinity or far away, people and their pets proved a problem. The absorption and reflection provided by trees creates an acoustic environment which can allow sound to travel through the forest for some distance. The relative quietness of the area meant that distant voices, footsteps and barking were loud and clear enough to sneak on to recordings from time to time.
  • Flying insects – An incredible nuisance during the summertime. The sound of the odd buzzing insect is not so much of an issue, nor even a few in the distance, but when they get too close to the mic they more often than not ruin recordings in the case of BBB as there is only one shot where a flying insect is visible in the video.
  • Wind noise
  • Bangs and bumps against microphones and stands

Sifting and Sorting in the studio

On listening back to the recordings one thing that stood out was the presence of hiss. The gain on each channel of the R44 was set higher than if close mic’ing and although this increased the overall recording level allowing for more noises to be captured, it also raised the noise floor. On the stereo recordings the the level of desired signal to the level of noise (hiss) was not detrimental to the recording quality. On the binaural recordings however the hiss was more noticeable. Reducing the level of the hiss within Adobe Audition (process explained in more detail here) unfortunately did not reap enough benefit and so the decision was made to not use the binaural recordings at all. Although disappointing I do believe that this will not prove to be a major issue as these recordings are not to be a focal point. Additionally with the binaural panning plug-in I have in mind to use to create the binaural mix I will be able to place the final stereo ambience track anywhere within the soundfield should it be necessary in a particular scene e,g, bird noises coming from above the head of a main character.

Removing the binaural recordings also meant that the first batch of location recordings made with the NT4 were now “back in play”so to speak. Initally effectively discarded as the had now binaural equivalents, these recordings were of good quality and offered slightly different character to the second batch. The main differences were:

  • A more spacious acoustic character
  • Larger amount of activity – more birds, more frequent calls

Because of this I found the first batch of ambient recordings suited the scenes set in the large open field location, where as the more intimate quality of the second batch nicely complimented the relatively “closer” feel of forest.

The next post (part 2) will go into more detail on how the final ambience track was created.

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Big Buck Bunny – List of sounds and explanation of Foley

As mentioned in the previous post, Foley recording was the most relied upon and therefore important method of Post Production utilised in the realisation of the soundtrack for Big Buck Bunny.

All sounds were recorded at home in my home studio (bedroom) due to the convenience of having so many potential sound sources to hand, allowing for experimentation which could not have been possible in the studio at University. Also living nearly 30 miles away from University makes working there quite tricky, therefore recording at home allowed me to gain time which would have otherwise been lost to commuting. Most of the time I repeated myself performing actions to create sounds numerous to times to provide variations of the same sound to allow for great flexibility at the mixing stage.

My home recording set up consists of a Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 Audio Interface,  HP dv6-2020sa laptop running Pro Tools 10. Two cardiod capacitor microphones were used: a ADK A-51 and an original Studio Projects B1. The ADK A-51 provided a well balanced warm overall sound whereas the Studio Projects B1 appeared to capture more high frequency detail which was suitable for certain tasks.

Here I hope to provide some insightful details about the raw sounds which were recorded and synced with the actions and objects within the animation:

STAPLE SOUNDS – Sounds which proved adequate for many different applications

“Throwing Sounds”

Initially I experimented with a number of objects to find sounds which would best enhance the movement of fruits and nuts flying through the air on the way to hitting BBB on the head after being thrown by the gang of deranged ‘critters’. By waiving these objects fast in front of the microphone ‘whoosh’ sounds were created. Objects used included:

  • 1m Ruler
  • Guitar Cables of varying lengths
  • Drumstick
  • Belt

Each object produced ‘whooshes’ of differing tone and also pitch. The speed at which the objects were wafted also effected perceived pitch. When arranging these sounds I applied higher pitched whooshes to objects on screen which appeared to move at faster speed.

As mentioned these sounds worked well for when BBB is pelted with pears and acorns amongst other things, but it turned out that they fitted during other sequences. On analysing the final soundtrack ‘whoosh’ noises when characters and other objects move at ultra-speed to eccentuate their quickness, for example:

  • As an arrow flies through the air ()
  • When Frank, Rinky and Gimera appear from behind a rock ()
  • When wooden spikes spring out from the ground

Impact noises

The are many instances of characters receiving quite nasty blows to the head or body and so I experimented with different items to create sounds which would portray the force at which characters were being hit. The cartoon-style of the animation allowed to me to veer away from attempting to achieve realistic impact sounds and instead be more creative and flamboyant in my approach. The following sounds were recorded for the creation of impact noises:

  • Doors slamming
  • Wooden bed frame being punched
  • Apples being punched, slapped and hit with a short didgeridoo
  • Wooden wardrobe being punched
  • Wicker desk being punched
  • Wooden draws being shut
  • Hard guitar case being punched

Some of these noises would also help to strengthen the sounds used for ‘Falling noises’.

Falling noises

Flying objects ultimately have to come to ground and some point and so noises had to be created for each instance an object fell and hit the floor. Methods to generate these included:

  • Dropping and apple on a leaf (this was for specific moment at 00:00:00:00)
  • Dropping apples, clementines and juggling balls on carpeted floor
  • Dropping clementines on cardboard placed on carpeted floor to achieve rolling and skidding effect ()

Footsteps

In BBB there were around 3 different terrains to recreate: Grass, Dry-mudded ground and tree trunks/branches. For the grass I placed leaves collected from my garden on the floor of my room which I then pressed  with my hands to mimic the action on screen. With BBB being much larger than the other animals I actually formed a fist and hit the leaves with increased force. This was the same for the ground in the forest floor for which I found the carpet already in place in my room worked well. I also used the sound made from tapping a tea towel overlayed on the carpet.

For the sound of Frank and Rinky scuttling up and down trees I tapped a piece of cardboard with my fingers, and also sellotaped pens to my finger for a more ‘scratchy’ effect.

‘Grass’ sounds were also used in instances where objects fell from height on to the grass on screen. Louder, more forceful ‘forest floor’ foot noises also doubled up as extra ‘falling noises’ which were layered to reinforce the huge impact of larger objects such as the massive rock at 00:00:00:00, the tree trunk at 00:00:00:00 and the slow motion falling apple at 00:00:00:00.

SPECIFIC SOUNDS- One-off instances and moments which required more intricate design.

Butterfly wings

1. Real-time wings = Rapidly folding and unfolding a paper receipt.

2. Slow motion wings = Wafting boxer shorts

Frank murdering the butterfly

  • Rock ‘bang’= Garden pebbles knocked together
  • Squashed butterfly = Squashing penne pasta on hardback book for crunch effect
  • Movement of Frank’s arm/leg = ‘Throw’ noise (see above)
  • Extra thud = ‘Footstep on forest floor’ noise (see above)

Bow and Arrow Sounds

  • Arrow hitting tree = Twanged ruler + Potato stabbed with pencil
  • Arrow scraping against bow = Rubbing drumsticks together
  • Bow string creaks = Sitting down slowly on leather sofa
  • Letting go of bow = Stretching and plucking elastic designed for clothes making + noise of wafting a drum stick fast in front of microphone
  • Arrow flying past camera = Small guitar cable wafted fast
  • Arrow breaking vines = Snapping bambo branches and leaves

Extra Gimera Sounds

  • Eating nuts = Eating BBQ flavoured coated peanuts loudly
  • Picking up nut = Clasping apple with hand

Bird Sounds

  • Folding out wings = Opening Chinese-style fan
  • Flapping wings = Wafting boxer shorts
  • Pooing on Frank’s head = Squeezing shower gel packaging to capture hole opening noise + Excessive amounts of soap squirted on hands, then squeezing hands together to create squelch noise + Mouth noises to infer bird passing wind.

Extra Frank Sounds

  • Opening flying membrane = Opening tea-towel
  • Flying/ gliding = wafting tea towel incessantly
  • Apple breaking off branch once Frank lands on it = Snapping twig from garden

Extra Bunny Sounds

  • Neck creak = breaking a bunch of spaghetti in half
  • Picking up apple = Clasping apple with hand
  • Eating apple = Eating apple
  • Touching tree = Touching and stroking wicker desk

Extra Rinky Sounds

Rinky hit by giant slow moving swing sequence

  • Spinning acorn = short guitar cable span around + manipulation in Adobe Audition ( see .. for details)

Emergence of Wooden Spikes Sequence

  • Movement of spikes = Layering of different ‘throwing noises’ (see above)
  • Leaves flying = Sound of leaves being dropped + Grass footstep noises (see above)
  • Apple getting spiked = Potato stabbed with pencil

Bunny ‘Rocky’ Montage

  • Bunny breaking branch = Gripping garden brush + Rustling and breaking bamboo shootsBreaking branch off fallen tree (on location in Macclesfield Forest- see …)
  • Bunny putting cream under eyes = Excessive amounts of soap squirted on hands which was stroked with single finger to mimic on screen technique
  • Bunny scraping carving arrows = Knife scraped on chopping board
  • Pulling rope/ vine = Running fabric braided tweed covered cable through hands + Pulling and clasping bamboo branches
  • Touch arrow leaf = Grasping leaf from garden
  • Touch point of arrow = Touching the side of Diet Coke can
  • Placing arrow against stone = Tap drum stick against wooden bed frame

Apple Falling in slow motion

  • Falling motion = EQ’d and pitch-shifted white noise + EQ’d breath noise + Pitch-shifted orchestral cymbals  ( see … for details of manipulation)
  • Impact = *Pitch-shifted Timpani drum hit (see ….)
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Completion of Recording Phase + Character voice details

After a good few months of hard slog I can finally say that the bulk of the recording stage for my MSc Audio Production main project is complete.

In the next few posts I will give you insight into how each sound was recreated start. Due to the countryside location in which the story is set I found that the main technique I used was Foley to produce organic, real world sounds which would support and enhance the action. The cartoon-like nature of the film however provided opportunities to be creative using other sound synthesis techniques as well as to pay homage to sound design techniques used in the realisation of classic 1950’s examples of the genre such as Road Runner and Tom and Jerry.

Character Voices

Although no dialogue as such, the noises of each of the main characters were created using ADR techniques. Within Pro Tools I set the record function to loop-mode so that through repetition I could perfect character noises during particular segments. Each take was then automatically recorded on separate ‘playlists’. Comping different takes also helped ensure an optimum performance was captured as well as synchronicity with the pictures.

For convenience I decided to perform the parts of each character, altering my acting style to suit the personality of each animal:

500px-Creative_Commons_BBB

‘Big Buck Bunny’

Big Buck Bunny is a large Rabbit and so there fore compared to the other animals his voice is lower pitched. Rabbits in the real world are relatively quiet creatures, and so I thought I would apply this trait to Big Buck, giving him an air of mystique.

Evil Flying Squirrel (Frank)

Frank is the leader of the antagonist group of small rodents. He is the most evil, getting his kicks from tormenting other creatures and killing insects in cold blood. I gave Frank a harsh raspy high pitched voice to match his mean, slightly menacing exterior and unhinged personality.

Goofy Rodent thing (Rinky)

Rinky is an idiot who messes around constantly with eyes that wander in different directions. He definitely has a screw loose and although perhaps not as evil as Frank he is easily lead. For Rinky I put on a goofy/eccentric voice, slightly higher pitched than Frank’s as this seemed to suit him.

Chubby Grey Chinchilla (Gimera)

Gimera is an overweight greedy little fellow. He takes part in the gangs atrocities but mostly as a spectator whilst enjoying his first love: food. There is nothing Gimera cares more about than his nuts. I gave Gimera a muffled lower pitched voice which I then pitch shifted higher to match his size.

 

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Recording so far

Recording for BBB is now well and truly on the way. So far lots of sounds have been achieved using objects around the house. Recording at home seemed necessary as it would be unfeasible to carry items for the studios in Salford every time I need to record, plus with so many more potentially usable sounds available there is much more scope for experimentation. Also I always try to make sure recording quality is not hindered by using good quality condenser microphones and also treating rooms with dampening materials (duvets and cushions) so that room tone is not an issue.

Sounds which have been achieved from experimenting with household items so far include:

Apple bite: Eating a real apple
Chestnut munching: Eating BBQ coated
Neck creak: biting raw spaghetti

Flying apples: wafting a ruler in front of the microphone

As wells as this, some of the noises which the animals make have been recreated using ADR style techniques. Most of these I have performed myself, Big Buck Bunny’s snore however I could not muster and so I sort the expertise of my dad, he’s an expert snorer if ever there was one.

More progress updates to follow

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Location Recording – Macclesfield Forest

I was able to collect some great sounds from Macclesfield Forest the other day. These include:

  • The stream
  • Breaking of wood during the montage scenes in the forest
  • Footsteps
  • Sound of object falling which can be used for depict a variety of on-screen objects which fall to the ground.
  • Natural forest ambiance which includes the sounds of birds singing and trees swaying in the breeze. I think this will work well during scenes set in the forest.

The equipment used for this recording session was an Edirol R44 digital recorder, a Rode NT4 microphone and an ADK condenser microphone. Foam shields were left on the mics to guard against wind noise.

DSCF6226 DSCF6227

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Spotting Complete

Spot pic

I have now been through the entire of Big Buck Bunny to identify every sound effect that will need to be created. These have been divided in to 4 categories: Location, Foley, Synthesis, and background Ambience.

Ambience sounds are background sounds which will provide information about the surroundings in which the action is taking place. In BBB there is two main settings: the open field and the forested area.

Location sounds are those which will be recorded on location, i.e. outside of the studio, using portable recording equipment.

Foley sounds will be recorded in the studio to recreate noises which result from actions on screen such as footsteps, impact noises, and the various animal squeaks which occur in BBB. No ADR is needed for this film as all characters are non-talking mammals or birds.

For some sounds electronic synthesis will be utilised. I plan to manipulate software synthesisers such as Native Instruments’ Absynth, as well as hardware that I own such as a MicroKorg to achieve the sounds I need.

This combination of methods should allow me to create an effective soundtrack. The cartoon-like nature of the visuals allows me some scope to be creative rather than purely concentrating on achieving something as realistic as possible.

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MSc Project – What film?

Over the past few weeks I have been ‘splitting hairs’ somewhat trying to choose a film to produce sound for. After meeting with my project supervisor Ben Shirley, it was decided that the film should be between 10 and 20 minutes in length, with ‘close to 10’ being preferred due to the large workload that will be involved when including work for subjective testing.

What I believe would be the ideal scenario, when considering this as an opportunity to build my portfolio, is if I could find a film maker with a film nearing completion that requires a hefty amount of audio post production. That way, when complete, the film could be released and showcased as a completely new work. Collaborating with other people within the industry would also allow me to form connections from which additional work opportunities may arise. Unfortunately finding a suitable film with a duration of 10 minutes which is at the specific development stage described above has proven very tough.

In order to showcase my production skills to the maximum the film needs to provide plenty of opportunity for me to create sounds via different methods including foley, mono/stereo/surround microphone techniques, and electronic sound synthesis. Many of the films I have considered unfortunately do not  supply enough action or variation on-screen, and this no doubt is due to the fact that due to copyright laws I am only able to work with films which have had their copyright terms relaxed from “All Rights Reserved” through the allocation of a Creative Commons Licence.

After trying a variety sources such as local independent film companies, amateur production groups and film student work, I have decided to opt for a film which has already been released: sacrificing the chance to work on something new for the opportunity to get started straight away on a quality film. Big Buck Bunny is a 10 minute animation produced by the Blender Foundation to validate and improve the 3D open source content creation pipeline with Blender. It is a cartoon-style movie which tells the story of a giant rabbit who finds his happy sunny morning walk being ruined by three small rapscallion rodents. Doing sound design for an animation arguably has some advantages over sound design for film when it comes to scope for creativity as these films have been made in the knowledge that all sound has to be created post-production (apart from when the film is made to the soundtrack). This is particularly true for sci-fi/abstract animations which features scenery, objects and characters far removed from reality. Big Buck Bunny is not abstract, but does feature some hyper-real scenery and cartoon-like action which will prove fun and challenging to design audio for. The wide open field, and leafy forest environments provide lots of scope for surround atmos. My one reservation is that there is not very much variation in terms of environment. Having scenes which contrast, for example tranquil scenes and  busy, action packed scenes, might prove helpful for subjective testing. Comparing the immersive capabilities of stereo and binaural audio for very busy scenes and more tranquil scenes could provide interesting results to see if there is any difference.

Overall I am happy with the film I have chosen, although it remains to be seen if I will stay this way… I am awful when it comes to decisions such as this! For now I will try not to worry too much and begin the ‘Spotting’ process. You can see Big Buck Bunny for yourself below, it’s well worth a watch!

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