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Sound Advice For Sound Design Goes On Tour

LOS ANGELES, CA—The Sound Advice Tour with Frank Serafine rolled into Los Angeles at the end of May, halfway through a 32-date nationwide schedule.

OS ANGELES, CA—The Sound Advice Tour with Frank Serafine rolled into Los Angeles at the end of May, halfway through a 32-date nationwide schedule. The day-long interactive educational workshop is designed to reveal some of the secrets behind the sound designer’s award-winning audio production and post production techniques for film-making, broadcast and the web.

Mark Edward Lewis, host of the Sound Advice Tour, demonstrates sound effects capture during the daylong event’s stop in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Serafine, whose extensive resume includes work on television shows, video games and major motion pictures such as Poltergeist, The Hunt for Red October, which won the Oscar for sound editing, and a couple of Star Trek films, had to bow out of the tour in its first week due to health issues. But Mark Edward Lewis, the tour’s technical director and co-presenter, more than ably filled in, also bringing his own considerable experience to bear on the day’s presentations.

“Frank and I created a curriculum that basically takes his 40 years of experience and dumps it on you,” said Lewis in his introduction. “You get the benefit of everything we designed for Frank, and my 25 years as an award-winning filmmaker, an editor, a post production supervisor and a composer. So you’re getting 65 years for the price of 40.”

Using a clip from Iron Man, Lewis demonstrated the ability of sound effects to immerse an audience in a film, in partnership with dialog, which tells the story, and music, which telegraphs and emphasizes the emotion of a scene. Content creators can use dialog, effects and music, as well as other elements, to manipulate the audience, he explained.

“Scientists tell us that our brain can process 7,000 things a second, and can focus on any three, or four. None of you are aware of the pressure of the chair on the back of your legs—but you are now, because I directed your focus.

“What we do as filmmakers and mediamakers is direct our audience’s focus to one of those three or four things. If we can give them enough input for the brain to tune out up to 7,000 things, the subconscious of our audience will go to sleep, and that is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. When that happens, we can easily and facilely move their attention to anything we want, through suggestion, visuals, audio, dialog, music.”

Mounting a traveling roadshow such as this, which features a 5.1 playback system, greenscreen set, camera and lights, multiple projectors and screens, a forest of microphones and other gear, necessitates accommodations from equipment manufacturers to be economically viable. And while the presentations obviously emphasized that equipment—from software and hardware companies such as Adobe, Apple, Arturia, Avid, Holophone, iZotope, Mytek, Røde, Roland, Samson, sE Electronics, Sony, Triad-Orbit, Zynaptiq and others—Lewis discovered a regional anomaly in Los Angeles when he asked “Who are my Pro Tools people?” and 75 percent of the attendees raised their hands.

Attendees of the Sound Advice Tour record a scripted scene to be used for other demonstrations during the day. Mark Edward Lewis, event host, looks on (back right). “Everywhere we go in the nation, I ask, who are my Pro Tools people? One hand. Who are my Audition people? Eighty hands. It’s pretty interesting,” he observed.

Throughout the day, Lewis called on audience members to participate in practical exercises, including a two-man scripted scene that generated sound and visuals that he later incorporated into discussion of post-production workflows and techniques. Six attendees walked slowly around an omnidirectional mic while talking about their morning to demonstrate an effective loop group, also known as walla. Lewis also showed how a lavalier mic could be effective in any number of positions on a person’s body. In summary, he suggested, “Put it where the noise is.”

These days, a lot of content is finding a home on the web, sometimes exclusively. “Listeners like louder content better,” argued Lewis, proving his point by playing an identical clip twice and asking which clip attendees preferred. The preferred clip was just 1 dB louder. “Does that matter? It’s everything,” he commented.

Hammering home his point, Lewis played a web promo for a film on which he worked that had been mixed by a hip-hop producer and mastered to just 3 dB of dynamic range. “We have to make our internet mixes so loud that it’s louder than our competition. This is the tool that we use, a limiter or a maximizer, to crush the volume and make it incredibly loud. If you don’t do it, you can’t compete.”

Another way to gain a competitive edge on the web is by mixing in an immersive format. “You’re all going to be delivering in 11.1 within the next five years. Why? It’s not the future, because right now, for $300, you can deliver completely discrete 22.2 on headphones, on YouTube, if you want,” Lewis explained, as he remixed the stereo dialog, effects and music stems from Iron Man through the Spatial Audio Designer plug-in while attendees listened on headphones. “It’s going to be a standard deliverable if you want to compete,” he said.

The Sound Advice Tour finishes in Boston, MA on July 2 after stops in Nashville, TN (June 22), Washington, DC (June 24), Toronto, Canada (June 26) and New York City (June 28 and 30).

Sound Advice Tour with Frank Serafine