Friday, August 24, 2012

Field Recording

I'm tucking this in with the Project Movie stuff because it was finishing up a little bit of prep work. As we've been gearing up to make this year's Christmas film I've been purchasing a few things, like a fancy USB audio interface that will eventually get its own post, down to little things like mic clips and such.

The need arose this week to shoot a short clip of a couple guys getting on motorcycles and taking off for a promo video. There would be music covering the whole thing but we wanted motorcycle sounds at the appropriate places. I put together this small rig to make things quick and easy.

It looks a little ungainly but I was able to run around the parking lot and get what I needed while we were shooting and didn't have to extend the shoot any longer than it already was. It's a little difficult to see but I've got a stereo mount with two clips screwed on to a drum claw with the part that would usually clamp on to the drum holding on to our Zoom recorder. (They come with a screw in handle.) With a couple short mic cables, my cheap headphones and the appropriate wind screens I was off and running, literally.

For the setup I ran the Zoom in four channel mode. The two stereo mics on the recorder itself do a great job of picking up reflections and ambient sounds that a close mic will miss. Then out on the boom I had an SM57 to get close up sounds without overloading and Azden shotgun mic to pick up the far away stuff when the Shure left off. With one of the bikes idling I got a base level, then had the rider rev up a couple times and reduced my gain a little more to prevent overload. When all was said and done I had three good takes on my SD card and I headed back to the office to start editing.

I threw the tracks in Reaper which is my favorite DAW. I got things lined up and started to take a listen, one track at a time. Because I had been careful about setting the gain I had no clips. The shotgun mic, being a condenser came close, but the built in limiter on the Zoom kept it in check and it sounded clean from start to finish. The level on the 57 was very low, especially as the bike pulled away. That was expected though and being in the digital realm I was able to raise it up quite a bit before any noise started to creep in. The built in mics were somewhere in the middle, but having a wider pattern than the shotgun they did just what I thought they would and got a nice ambient sound of the motor coming back off some nearby brick buildings. 

Once everything was adjusted gain wise, I took the internal mics and panned them to the outside. Then I put up the 57 right at unity because I felt like it had gave the best representation of the bike close up. As it pulled away I started to fade in the shotgun and it picked up where the 57 left off like a champ. I was able to keep it pointed right at the bike until it was out of range. When I had that balanced nicely I added in a touch of the internal mics so things weren't so sterile and that was that. Here's a low bit rate example (no freebies, sorry). 

                                                     Jon's Motorcycle Sample

When all was said and done I had a nice piece to add to the sound of the promo video and three more ques to stick in my private library of self made sound effects. As I've written before, you can go out on the net and find just about anything you may want. But in a lot of cases you're either going to get a really awful MP3 or have to shell out some bucks for a good recording. It can also be murder trying to find something that really fits your production, be it video or theatre. If you have the time and a little bit of equipment on hand you can go out and get just what you need. 

More and more it's becoming common practice on big movies to try and capture better audio during the filming for the exact reasons I mentioned above. There's no need to license sounds you make yourself, and trying to get canned stuff to match up to your action can take a lot of time. I walked out the door with less than $1000 worth of stuff and got great results. If you're starting from zero but have a laptop, grabbing a $50 USB interface and a 57 on eBay you can get pretty far. So keep it in mind next time you need a sound cue. Plan ahead and you can save yourself some serious time and wind up with a better product.

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