27 November 2007

On the Level

In the current installment of Trew Audio's tech column Audio Flow, Skylor Morgan covers the myriad forms of line level encountered in pro audio. Snip:

What is the difference in line level, mic level, tape level, consumer level, +4, and -10? Some are the same, some are louder. Clear it up for you? I didn’t think so.

Audio levels are measured in decibels. Tons of logarithmic math can explain this, and many others have explained the topic extremely well. Google “decibel” and you’ll find a wealth of information on the topic. So in this session there are few things I’ll just ask you to accept.

Link to column.

P.S. I'm using downtime on my current gig for a certain athletic shoe company to blog while waiting for the next interview. Ain't technology grand? :)

21 November 2007

The Rendering Times, They Are a-Changin'

Seems like a bit of change is in the air.

First up, Mike Curtis of hdforindies.com has a new additional blogging gig over at boxoffice.com. In a recent post, he waxes philosophic about the digital transition in the printing world, and how it portends to emerging trends in media post-production. Snip:
So I think that the the post house industry is heading the same way that service bureaus did in the nineties. To me, this means:

-as bread and butter tasks are stripped away because they can be done by the clients themselves due to falling costs and simplified technology, there will be a smaller revenue base available.

As software comes out that enables more to be done in-house, that will hasten this process. Statistically, virtually nobody can do serious color correction on their own outside of a post house right now. But look at how Photoshop has become an economy of its own. The same way their were Photoshop kids doing great work for $50/hr 10 years ago, there will be Apple Color whizzes doing quality stuff for $100/hr within a year or two I'll bet.

Video post houses will shrink and/or consolidate and/or go out of business - it'll be a tough time for them. But with fewer places where they can justify their existence, how can it be any other way?

The remaining post houses will have three areas to stay competitive in - knowledge, service, and high end capabilities.

Also, check out this press release from Avid, concerning a shift in their 2008 strategy. Snip:

Based on extensive market research, Avid plans to announce a series of customer-focused initiatives in 2008 – all of which will be designed to make it easier for customers, prospects and the media to interact with the company...The company also announced that it will not have an exhibition booth at the 2008 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention, but plans to be in Las Vegas next April to meet with customers.

So, no big booth at NAB, but a more customer-focused presence. Facing the onslaught of Apple's marketeers (really, the Apple booth I remember from NAB 2004 was almost like a Disney ride), it makes sense to spend that money elsewhere, but exactly where will be interesting to see, especially in light of this thread over at avid.com's boards:

A bunch of us were invited to a conference call with Graham Sharp (he's the V.P of the Video Division) this morning and he outlined Avid's strategy for the next year. I have to tell you that he talked big. Real big. He said that Avid had gone quiet for the last year in order to do one thing; get its collective act together. He said that they have spent time and effort to get their products back to the relative stability that the company once offered with Meridian.

Now that they are on the road to achieving THAT goal, Graham said that 2008 will be the year that they take the fight to the competition.

As well as this quote from Sharp himself, via creativecow.net:
"We found much better results by going directly to our customers,” he told us. “We took the money we would have spent on a tradeshow stand and visited many times more customers, with a much more personal experience."

So why am I yammering about video editing software in an audio blog? Two reasons: First, post is converging upon itself. Eventually, there will only be one post program, rather than separate applications for picture, sound, VFX, etc. You will ingest your raw material, open the post app, and select the picture cutting mode (or pane, or whatever). The app will only show you picture editing-related menu items and functionality.

Once you've gotten close to a picture lock, you switch to audio mode; video controls and filters switch to sound manipulation tools, and you go to work on your mix.

And so on, through VFX compositing, color grading, and finally compression/ media authoring, all different functions of the same app.

We're taking the first steps already, with tighter integration between applications in the three major post bundles from Apple, Adobe and Avid. Closer still is Sony's Vegas, which features 5.1 surround mixing and editing right in the main video timeline.

Which brings me to reason 2: The only reason any of us involved with production ever get out of bed and stumble onto set is to create raw material for post, full stop.

Films and documentaries and shorts and television are not made in the field, they are made in the edit suite. Production is merely one-albeit crucial (and expensive)-stage in the entire process, and not an end in itself.

Field production folks need to pay attention to these sea changes. Post is becoming more of an IT animal, which is already affecting the way that we shoot (witness edit-ready solid state media in the form of Panasonic's P2 cards, and the plethora of CF and hard-drive recorders for field audio). The same market forces that make computers a commodity will continue to influence post in both cost and accessibility.

And when a company like Avid, with its legacy of being a fore-runner in non-linear editing and being firmly entrenched in both broadcast and feature worlds says that it's got major changes in mind for the next year, we should all pay attention.

Link to Mike's post at boxoffice.com.
Link to Mike's post about Avid.
Link to Avid's press release.
Link to avid.com's forum.
Link to Studio Daily Blog's post.
Link to Creative Cow post.

14 November 2007

Field Sounds

In my second New Zealand-related post today, I'd like to introduce you to Field Sounds: A Portal for Film and TV Recording. Mixer Ande Schurr has amassed a considerable link list of tutorials and advice for novices and veterans alike. (Disclosure: I found out about it after he linked to my post about working with the Coast Guard).


Q: What do I need to know?

Attitude for Beginners : Sit down last - Stand up first; Listen first - Talk last; Laugh at jokes - Don't tell them; Arrive First - Leave last; As a new person no one will need your education but they will appreciate a humble, WORKer. Don't dress to impress or distract (You get this or you don't...); Don't smoke near non-smokers or gear or food or at all if possible; Learn everyone's name (this is big); Be especially nice to support services, security etc - it will pay off when you need a favour or info in a hurry; "Please, Thank You, Excuse Me" - always; When your are bored out of your skull, don't read a book, talk on cell phone etc. (Learn to hide like the rest of us); When you are given boring /miserable tasks, just do it and come back for more; ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for details if you don't understand a task; Don't rely on someone else to finish an assigned task - YOU will look stupid when they don't; If you are unsafe, you are fired. If you speed, you are fired. If you are drunk/stoned etc..... DO go for a beer if invited - DO NOT get drunk and try to out talk the old timers. Avoid set politics - let everyone slag people/departments while you remain neutral. When you move up the ladder, be especially nice to people below you.

This kind of aggregated information is invaluable to newer folks and those of us who live outside of the Major Markets (ie LA and NY), and thus can't necessarily network face-to-face with more established mixers. If you don't have the opportunity to apprentice under someone (as I did not), you end up learning a lot the hard way, unless you can benefit from resources like this, along with forums like jwsound.net and R.A.M.P.S., to name a couple.

Visit early and often, kids. If I'd known about this when I'd first started out, I'd have saved my self a small fortune in Tums.


Vibrating Air Molecules

Blog buddy Emon forwarded this to me:

The Music of Sound is an audio blog by Kiwi mixer Tim Prebble. Snip:

Tim Prebble is a film sound designer & supervising sound editor
based in Miramar, Wellington, New Zealand.

While most of his waking hours are spent working on film soundtracks
other interests include making ambient/alaetorical music, collecting
records, playing double bass, making electronic dub infused beats,
planting sunflowers & wishing he was on holiday in Japan.

Be sure to check out this post and his amazing field recordings captured with a $200 (!) recorder. The price may seem amateur, but the sound quality says otherwise. As he says in the post: "Trust your ears, only." Sage advice.

Link, via emonome.com.

13 November 2007

Audio Gangster

Filmsound Daily! has just posted an interview with William Sarokin, talking about his experience mixing production sound for American Gangster. Snip:

FSD: We all know that getting in early is important for any film craft. In sound, if you're lucky you get hired before location scouting commences. How often have you been involved in that process? Why doesn't this happen more often?

WS: I'm never hired before the location scouting begins. I usually have 4-5 days prep on most films while the location manager starts months before production begins. My prep consists of 2-3 days of tech scouting, a day for the production meeting and a day for the equipment load in so often the best I can do is damage control. Often the UPM will call me weeks in advance if there is a question about a location they want to use but are concerned about sound issues, but that is pretty rare.

And why is this so rare? I mean, yes, I know it's all about the budget, but it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish, since having your mixer on the location scout can save you time (ie money) up front by offering solutions to sound issues before you even get to set (I've ranted about this previously).

But I have to say, as a relative newbie, I feel a bit better hearing that even seasoned pro's still run into problems with things like limited wireless range and multi-camera scene coverage. This lets me know that I'm at least on the right track, and not to give myself an ulcer about it.

In theory. :)


09 November 2007

In Another Shocking Development...

A bit OT, via gizmodo et al: A short video clip of the theme from Super Mario Brothers being reproduced by two Tesla coils, as part of the Lightning on the Lawn Telsathon 2007. Snip:

The music that you hear is coming from the sparks that these two identical high power solid state Tesla coils are generating. There are no speakers involved...The coils are controlled over a fiber optic link by a single laptop computer. Each coil is assigned to a midi channel which it responds to by playing notes that are programed into the computer software.

Please to enjoy:

Link to making-of pix.