Thoughts On PluralEyes

Almost everyone has seen the image of a film set when the cameras start rolling and someone steps into the shot with a slate, calls out the scene, and then slams the sticks to get things going. “Action!”

It’s an indelible image of filmmaking, but does it still have a place in the world of digital filmmaking?

The short answer is, YES!

This is especially true if you are working any kind of dual audio system, where you are recording audio using a dedicated audio recorder not connected to your primary camera.

The clapper/loader (the traditional name for the set position that runs the clap-board and also would load film into the camera) announces the scene and take number so that the editor can match up the audio file with the correct camera shots.

But this can be extremely tedious work – I know, I’ve done it by hand. Enter PluralEyes…

PluralEyes

Thoughts On PluralEyes

PluralEyes is a program by the extremely talented folks over at Red Giant that is designed to make the process of synching multiple videos and audio sources easy. The software operates simply – you import your audio and video files, and then hit the synch button.

PluralEyes then goes to work examining the audio waveforms on both your video and audio files, then rearranges the clips so that the waveforms match up correctly. Once the synch is complete it exports an XML file for your editing program of choice which easily imports and becomes a synched timeline.

PluralEyes is designed to make your editor’s life easier, which is something any editor will appreciate.

There are a couple of options and features that must be highlighted.

If you have problems getting PluralEyes to synch your clips, there is an option called, “Try Really Hard” (yes, that’s what it’s called) that takes awhile to compute, but will use more detailed algorithm to ensure you get more complete audio matching.

Another outstanding feature is called, “Correct Audio Drift.” In previous articles, I have mentioned how some cameras experience audio drift – Which is to say, when a camera records images at 23.97 frames per second and then the audio records at actual 24 frames per second. When this happens, your audio and video will begin to fall out of synch.

PluralEyes adjusts the audio source to ensure a correct match with the video.

The Good on PluralEyes:
– Helps make synching audio and video (or multiple cameras) in post easier.
– Options to increase the speed or be more accurate in matching clips.
– Options for correcting audio drift.
– Comes individually or with the Shooter Suite.
– Exports XML in a variety of formats.

The Not So Good on PluralEyes:
– Relies on audio waveforms, so if your audio is recorded to low or accidentally missed, then you’re in trouble (although this is more of an on-set workflow issue then an software issue.)

Final Thoughts on PluralEyes:

My experience with PluralEyes has been slightly mixed. While I think the software is great, there have been times when video and audio clips don’t always get lined up properly or even at all. The good news is, these hiccups tend to be the exception rather then the rule. And any of these oversights are pretty easily adjusted by editors after the fact.

How To Utilize Dual System Audio (On Your Next Shoot)

How To Utilize Dual System Audio (On Your Next Shoot) by Michael Head

While cinematography is the art of painting with light, an equally important (if not more important) aspect of video production is capturing quality audio. This is because  audiences will forgive poor visuals before they will forgive bad audio.

My first dual system audio includes both a Rode Videomic Pro and the Zoom H2n. Together, they make a great audio system that is flexible and an awesome replacement for a camera’s on-camera microphone.

Dual System Audio with Rode Videomic Pro

How To Utilize Dual System Audio

To get set up, you simply run the 3.5mm line from the Rode into the Line In input on the Zoom. Bad-da-bing – excellent stereo sound. You can even get a 3.5mm extension line and separate the H2n from the Rode by almost any distance.

If you add in a Rode Micro Boom Pole, you will have a complete system for booming audio on set.

Check out the video for a quick overview of the dual system audio, including a few points of caution.

The Good:
– Inexpensive Dual System Audio.
– Quality audio from the microphone and recorder.
– Very small system (I’ve put the microphone in the front seat of a car to capture sounds of the person in the driver’s seat while the camera was outside of the car).
– Allows for audio monitoring through headphones out of the H2n.

The Not-So-Good:
– 3.5mm line is unshielded: i.e., it is susceptible to interference from powerlines, the cell phone in the camera man’s pocket, et al…
– Audio needs to be synced in post production.

Final Thougts:
This is a a great, flexible system for capturing dual system audio, especially for beginning filmmakers.

Whoever you choose to run your audio, be sure that they understand the need to have the microphone close to the subject (but out of sight of the camera) and still monitor the sound being recorded. But make sure your audio pro is watching audio levels as well. For example, avoid accidentally lowering your audio input if the headphones sound too loud.

Quality visuals are important, but capturing quality audio is vital to making your videos and films stand out from more amateur work. Setting up dual system audio is one way to add extra value to your project.

How The Rode Videomic Pro Produces Inexpensive Audio

Overview of the Rode Videomic Pro by Filmmaker Michael Head

One of the most often overlooked aspects of video for beginning filmmakers is audio.

To a point, it’s easy to see why many filmmakers often overlook audio – After all, video is a visual art form, isn’t it? Yes, but I will never forget this saying I heard: audio without video is radio; video without audio is nothing.

Even in the era of “silent” films, there was music that conveyed mood, intensity, and other aspects of storytelling in this “visual art form.”

So what is a good way to capture quality audio?

Enter the Rode Videomic Pro. Shotgun microphones are great for collecting focused audio from the direction the microphone is pointed, and the Videomic Pro is an excellent upgrade to the built in microphone found on many cameras.

Rode_Videomic_Pro

Rode Videomic Pro

The Rode Videomic Pro is powered by a 9 volt battery which has a very long lifespan – as much as 70 hours of recording time from a single battery.

The microphone has a variety of settings to help record in many situations – on top of the native recording level there is a high-pass filter that helps reduce low-frequency noises like electrical hums in rooms, traffic, and some airplane sounds (but always monitor and re-record, if you need).

There is also selectable level settings such as a -10dB setting for loud environments and a +20dB that especially helps when recording to DSLRs (which tend to have poor audio circuits, even with an external microphone).

The Rode Videomic Pro microphone outputs it’s signal through a 3.5mm jack, which is perfect for most small cameras and can be adapted for XLR inputs.

The Rode Videomic Pro has a standard shoe mount for attaching to a camera, but it also has a 3/8″ thread which allows it to mounted to various items such as boom poles and stands with matching threads.

It is always a good idea to get the microphone as close as possible to the subject, and while having the mic on camera is already a vast improvement over most in-camera mics, it is great to be able to boom the microphone close to the subject (and Rode has a Boom Pole for the Rode Videomic Pro – how convenient!)

The Good:
– High Quality, low cost condenser shotgun Microphone
– Runs on 9 volt batteries (with a long life)
– Adaptable mount (shoe mount and 3/8″ thread)
-Selectable settings (high-pass, +20dB, -10dB)
– Great sound recording!

The Not So Good:
– 3.5mm only, no XLR output (but it is adaptable)
– Very short output line – you’ll need an extender

Final Thoughts:

I have utilized Rode Videomics for years, and the improvement they offer over on-camera mics is absolutely undeniable. Don’t let poor audio ruin a good story – Always capture audio that will enhance, not distract, from your film.

Next time, we’ll look at how to use the Rode Videomic Pro and the Zoom H2n (reviewed last week) to capture great dual-system sound (and a few pitfalls to watch out for). Until then – keep shooting!

Overview of the Zoom H2n

Overview of the Zoom H2n by filmmaker Michael Head

There is much more that goes into making a successful then and an awesome camera and good lighting (although don’t forget the importance of good lighting). Audiences are more likely to forgive weak visuals then poor audio. As a consequence, filmmakers need to be sure to capture quality audio in their films.

In other words, it’s really expensive to fix bad audio in post.

Matt Feury posted a picture on Twitter of the editing timeline for Star Trek: Into Darkness, and do you know what stood out to me at first sight? The number of audio tracks compared ot the number of video tracks (hint: the audio tracks are in purple – there are 15 audio tracks in the pic, with more below that).

In the weeks to come, we are going to share additional tips on audio capturing for filmmaking, including several levels of microphones and audio recorders. To get us started, let’s look at my first audio recorder, the Zoom H2n.

Zoom makes a wide range of microphones and recorders for filmmakers, ranging from the iQ5 microphone for the iPhone to the H6, the newest (and most expensive) recorder in their lineup. But the Zoom H2n is a great starting point for filmmakers and is a great investment.

What makes the Zoom H2n so effective?

Zoom_H2n

Overview of the Zoom H2n

The Zoom H2n runs on standard Double A batteries, and it has a very long active recording time of approximately 20 hours from a single set of batteries. It records to standard SD/SDHC memory cards, and even smaller cards will net you very long record times.

I personally keep an 8 GB card in my Zoom H2n, and the time remaining indicator lists well over 10 hours of recording time!

The Zoom H2n records to high quality 16 or 24-bit PCM (Pulse-code modulation) WAV files and MP3 audio files up to 320 kbps. It will record sampling frequencies between 44.1 and 96 kHz, but of course higher sample rates increase memory consumption.

The arrangement of the built in microphones is very unique – the Zoom H2n uses five built in microphones to record either X/Y stereo to two channel tracks or two and four channel surround audio with a two channels recording directly in front of the microphone and a channel each for the left and the right side of the recorder.

This surround capability is uncommon in such a low price recorder, but is somewhat limited when you want the recorder to be as close as possible to the speaking talent.

There is a single 3.5mm input port that allows for an external microphone input, and I will discuss external microphones in coming weeks. However, in my experience the input only allows works when recording X/Y stereo sounds, not multi-channel surround. Natrually, there is a built in speaker for playback and a 3.5mm output line for monitoring.

Zoom H2n – The Good Stuff
– Inexpensive and small, convenient size
– Stereo and Surround recording modes
– Multiple formats (MP3 and PCM/WAV) with multiple sample rates
– 3.5mm input for external microphones
– 3.5mm output for monitoring
– Easy to read audio meters
– Records to common SD/SDHC Cards

Zoom H2n – The Not So Good
– No XLR inputs
– Line in only (to my knowledge) records stereo, not surround

Final Thoughts on the Zoom H2n
The Zoom H2n was my first audio recorder, and while I admit that I have a soft spot for it, it is simply a quality audio recorder that has held up for years and I still use it frequently. It is a great investment for budding filmmakers looking to improve their audio quality for their films. Stay tuned next week for some info about how to use that 3.5mm input.

How To Record Surround Sound

Record Surround SoundIn filmmaking, it is often said that the eye forgives and the ear does not.

This means that even if your image isn’t perfect – If the sound is off even a little bit, it will pull your audience out of the movie.

You don’t want that!

Two frequent questions we receive revolve around how to record surround sound and how to edit in surround sound.

Here to help us answer these audio questions is Richard Ragon. He is a production sound mixer based in Los Angeles and he really knows his stuff.

How To Record Surround Sound

If you are looking on how to record surround sound – Specifically, the actors voices for a film, movie, or show of some sort, I have good news.

Surround sound, specifically 5.1 audio is NOT actually recorded in the field.

“Believe it or not, the human voice does not speak in 5.1, nor stereo either.”

The human voice is actually a mono instrument, and because of this, we are able to place a mono microphone near someone’s voice to pick that recording up.

In fact, each voice recorded on set has it’s own individual track.

There is a way to record multi-track audio, but it is used to record mostly SFX type work. One common example would be a train going by outside. For this you would just use 2-4 matched mics, in close proximity to each other.

It is important to note that 5.1 is a delivery system only. It is created in the post process.

Specifically this type of Surround Sound offers  a way to create a spacial environment using 6 speakers in order to trick the listener into thinking they are in a 360 degree environment of immersion. In this scenario, 5.1 (or 6 speaker or tracks) has been set as the minimal speaker set, used in attempt to re-create a full sound environment.

With advances in sound technology, 5.1 has become somewhat of a standard playback. Additionally, we have seen an emergence in 7.1 audio, and now Dolby Atmos which I believe is near 128 individual tracks or playback.

The multi-track use is for creation of an environment. The .5 is not necessarily it’s own track, but more of a way to separate out the lows to be played on a large low range speaker. This gives you the ‘booms’ of explosions in a room, while the other 5 speakers carry the higher frequencies.

Higher frequencies are directional, so these other 5 speakers are placed around the listener to give the effect of 3d space.

The ‘voice’ of actors, because they are on the screen right in front of the audience, is pushed to the front speaker(s) in post.

Planes flying overhead are made to sound like they go from one speaker to the next, like a real life fly by… And then music can come from all the speakers so your audience is emerged in the music.

Final Thoughts On How To Record Surround Sound

The bottom line is the sound designers on a film, organize all the tracks (voices, SFX, ambiance, et al…) In fact, depending on the movie, this can be as many as a hundred tracks! From there each recorded sound is pushed towards the front, side, back, or below, to a final output of six tracks (5.1).

Protools Software can be used to make 5.1 playback, as well as Logic and Garage Band. However, you will need some very large computers set up in a studio to do this kind of work in post.

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Richard Ragon is a production sound mixer (sometimes referred to as a location sound recordist) working in the Los Angeles area. For more information, check out his website.