Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Project Movie: Part 3 - The Prep Work

I've been pretty sure that I wanted to mix this year's movie in 5.1 surround, but needed to do a lot of research first. It turns out that the DAW I use, Reaper, supports multichannel mixes and has a pretty good panning plugin. I'm also starting out pretty small. I'll just be using the surrounds for atmospherics and backgrounds. If something comes up that needs to fly around the room then I'll look at doing that as well but the goal is just to increase immersion. I'm also looking forward to having a center channel just for dialogue.

Last year we simply mixed down to stereo. We also sat down with the goal of keeping the viewer's remote where it belonged, on the arm of the couch. Even with level management engaged I find myself running the volume up and down when watching a commercially produced DVD and I just hate it. I'm not normally one to argue for less dynamic range but it's just ridiculous to have to crank it to hear dialogue over the cat purring in my lap, only to get my hat blown off the next minute when a car chase starts.

I'm not worried about the implementation. I'll be picking up an eight by eight USB interface for the MacBook so I'll be able to get plenty of production audio, not just a pair of lav mics like last year. We've got a shotgun that I'll be making a boom for, and hopefully finding lots of volunteer operators. Then I'll be looking to different techniques for getting the ambient sounds. I'll likely use a couple omni condensers during the scenes, but I'll also be trying some M/S and other techniques to just get clean atmospherics and room tones.

The mix down shouldn't be such a problem this year either. Last year we did it all in Adobe Premiere at the video guy's desk on a pair of tiny M-Audio monitors, in a corner no less!  This year I'll be taking over the upstage bay in our big room, behind the curtain. I'll be setting up three matched powered speakers on poles (Yes, I'll be mixing a movie on QSC K10s, don't bother with the hate mail), a pair of powered studio monitors for surrounds, and a powered sub as yet to be determined for the LFE channel (the .1 in 5.1 surround).

The thing that worries me though is not getting 5.1 on to the DVD. Even without getting the expensive "help" from the good folks at Dolby, a DTS mix sounds like it should work just fine. What I'm worried about is how things will behave when the DVD player or computer or whatever is taking that mix down to just a pair of speakers. It's a complex world and I've already spent an entire day and read literally hundreds of forum posts on the subject. I'm a little on the fence about actually doing a separate stereo mix and including it as alternate audio so people at least have the option to select something that was intentionally done, rather than just downmixed by an algorithm in a set top box.

If you've got any experience or pointers I'd love to hear them. Hit the comments section below or look us up on Facebook or Twitter. I'll throw you in the credits as an audio mixdown consultant!

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