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Concept to Creation: Audio Recording and Editing

Mark Simon continues his series of 12 excerpts from his new book Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film.

All images are from Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Reprinted with permission.

All images are from Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Reprinted with permission.

This is the fifth in a series of 12 excerpts from Mark Simons book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film. This book is a full-color, concept-to-pitch guide that teaches animators, students and small studios the art and business of producing short, cel animated films. Animation producer Mark Simon has detailed the process in an accessible how-to manner using his award-winning series, Timmys Lessons In Nature, as a guide. This 432-page book contains more than 600 full-color images, interviews and a CD-ROM containing sample animation, animatics and sample software described in the text.

Now the real fun begins. Youve done all of your pre-production and youre ready to start production on your animation. If you have any dialogue, you will need to record it before you start animating.

The lines of dialogue need to be numbered for reference during recording and editing. Many scripts have each line of dialogue numbered for exact referencing during production. This may be overkill on small projects, but it is a tremendous help on big shows.

Sample script page with lines of dialogue marked for reference. Script by Jeanne Pappas Simon.

Sample script page with lines of dialogue marked for reference. Script by Jeanne Pappas Simon.

Audio is always recorded before animation starts. This allows you to determine how long the scenes need to be and to plot, frame by frame, where the phonemes are so that you can sync your characters to their audio. Not all animations have dialogue, but they may still have special sounds the animation needs to be related to, or you may want to have your characters move to the beat of music. In all these instances, the audio needs to come first.

When you are working with a project that has been funded, you can hire actors, rent an audio studio, record their voices and have technicians edit the audio together for you. When you have no funding, you need to be inventive in how to produce your project with favors and cheap solutions. Lets start with the assumption that you will have to make do without funding for your project.

Working Without Funding

Finding actors willing to do voice overs for free is fairly easy. Voice overs dont take as long as acting in front of a camera. Actors dont have to memorize their lines since they can read from a script. And as long as youre flexible, you can work around their schedules. If you dont know any actors, ask around or go to the drama department of a local school. You can also try local theaters and comedy troupes. For short, independent projects, you can often get voice over actors to work for free, with the agreement that you will provide them with a tape that they can use to get future work.

Whether you have funding or not, record multiple takes of each line of dialogue. It always costs less to record more in the first place than to have another recording session. You often need to use portions of different takes. You may hear something in their acting while editing that you didnt hear while recording.

Sound-dampening in the corner of an office that is being used for recording. Notice that the actors will be facing the hanging blankets.

Sound-dampening in the corner of an office that is being used for recording. Notice that the actors will be facing the hanging blankets.

A number of smaller production studios set up their own little recording booths or even recording corners in their office. Find a quiet corner or small room and hang some sound-dampening materials in it to keep the recording from sounding tinny. You can use sound blankets, comforters, foam sheets or anything else that is soft and will absorb sound. Place the microphone so that the actors are facing toward the sound-dampeners. Be sure to have a stand for the actors to read their script from you dont want the noisy shuffling of papers on your recording. Use a stand for the actors to read their script from you dont want that noisy shuffling of papers on your recording. Use a windscreen in front of the mic to keep down the sound of breath hitting the mic. If you dont have a windscreen, have the actors speak off to the side of the mic instead of directly at it.

DAT recorder for digital audio recording on tape. It will accept both analog and digital inputs, and the recording quality is as good as you can get.

DAT recorder for digital audio recording on tape. It will accept both analog and digital inputs, and the recording quality is as good as you can get.

Once your studio is prepped for recording, you can record to any device that will accept audio. The best results will be either recording to a DAT (digital audiotape) or directly onto your computer. Once the audio is recorded and youve chosen the best takes, you should clean the audio by removing any background noise that may have been recorded. We use Sound Forge for recording and Cool Edit Pro for removing unwanted noise. Years ago, we used to record room tone, or the general sounds in the recording area that had a slight hum. We then edited that tone over any gaps in the dialogue, so that the quality of the sound wouldnt change. Now, with digital audio recording, we ordinarily remove all background noises, so room tone is seldom necessary.

simon05_noiseAudio.jpgsimon06_noiseReductionMenu.jpg

Left: the area highlighted in white is the noise in a silent portion of the recording. Selecting this sample allows you to eliminate that noise in the entire audio file. In the next image, the background noise profile shown on the left is used here to remove noise from the audio.

Different software programs work differently to remove background noise. In Cool Edit Pro, for example, you select a portion of the audio with no dialogue and sample it then load this sample as your background noise profile. Then you select the entire audio file and have the software remove all elements that match the background noise profile.

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In addition to Sound Forge, another popular audio program is ProTools. ProTools also offers a free version of its program that may be downloaded from the Web at www.digidesign.com/ptfree/. This is a fully functioning version, but it only works on a few operating systems. Since software changes so quickly, there may be other freeware or shareware audio programs than these available at any time. It is always a good idea to search the Internet for free or affordable programs to use.

The remaining chapter describes the recording process with funding, audio formats, editing, timing, animatics, file naming and more. To learn about other topics, check out Producing Independent 2D Character Animation, published by Focal Press. It can be bought at any bookstore or online.

Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2003. 432 pages. ISBN: 0-240-80513-5.

Mark Simon founded and owns A&S Animation, Inc., an award-winning cel animation house in Florida, which develops and produces character animation for commercials, TV, training videos and the Web. He also owns Animatics & Storyboards, Inc., the largest storyboard house in the southern United States, which has provided work on more than 1,200 productions. Marks accomplishments include owning an award-winning advertising firm, being a syndicated cartoonist, production designer of film, TV, and animations and writing entertainment industry books and lecturing on both animation and storyboards. Winning more than 30 animation awards for his efforts, Mark has directed Timmys Lessons In Nature (which he sold as a TV series), My Wife Is Pregnant, numerous commercials, training videos and television series special effects.

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