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December 6, 2004

Cuesheets: The Way It Should Be

Today I had to print out 4 reels of FX and BG cuesheets from Nuendo and it really couldn't have been easier. The editor had one session per reel with everything in it. Predubs A through D were backgrounds---E, F and G were hard effects. Initially I tried printing the whole session in one pass in Nuendo 2.2 in Mac OS X, but it kept crashing on the the last page. I switched to printing a couple predubs at a time and from that point on everything went very smooth.

Nuendo has group tracks. Click on plus sign in the group track labeled "AFX" and it will open revealing all the AFX tracks. By clicking the solo button on the AFX group track, all AFX tracks are soloed. If you solo tracks, only those tracks will be printed on the cuesheet.

I soloed predubs A through D---the BGs. Under the "Project" menu I selected "Track Sheets". A new windowed opened and I saw my cuesheet. I clicked on the "More" button to show all the options. By default the cuesheet is a vertical US letter (8.5" x 11") page. I selected "Page Setup" from the "File" menu to change that to a horizontal Tabloid (11" x 17").

Back in the cuesheets (track sheet) window, I turned off the timecode column from the pulldown menu, filled in the blanks for the name of the cuesheet and editor, and dragged the track width until everything fit on two pages across. Then I selected "Print" from the "File" menu.

So amazingly easy.

The cuesheets look pretty good. If I had my way, I'd make a few minor tweaks to the layout. I think there should be a space between the track header and the first cue. Likewise there should be a space between the cue in-point and the description. Plus there are a couple of line-wrapping issues that need to be resolved, but considering I was able to print out those four reels in three separate passes each in less than 10 minutes, I didn't care.

This was such a huge difference from my usual struggle with Tape. Plus with OS X 10.3's built-in "Print to PDF" option, I was able to save great looking digital files of all my cuesheets that I could email to the dub stage for safety.

If I have some time tomorrow, I might investigate and see how hard it is to open a Pro Tools 5.1/5.3/6.x session in Nuendo and print the cuesheets from there. It might be possible to Pro Tools 6.4.1's DigiTranslator to save an OMF file with no media. Open that in Nuendo and print.

November 1, 2004

Dealing With -37 Errors In Pro Tools

Pro Tools 6.4.1 is the pinnacle of achievement on the Mix|24 hardware and you've just finished cutting the most amazing piece of sound effects work in your life. Now it's time to layback your session to another drive for dubbing. So you select "Save Session Copy In" from the File menu, choose the other hard drive, check the box to copy audio files and your cranking away. The only problem is that part way through, the copy craps out with a -37 error. WTF?

A -37 error usually happens when you try to copy two or more pieces of media with the exact same name into one folder. You've got duplicated audio. Two files have the exact same name sitting in two different places on your master cutting drive(s). They are both referenced in your editing tracks in the Pro Tools session. When you try to combine everything under one Audio Files folder with a "Save Session Copy In" the copy quits when it tries to copy the duplicate file and returns the -37 error. Those two files might be identical in every that counts for Pro Tools---name, Unique ID, length---but they don't have to be. They could be completely different sounds but have the same name. Look back over all the shows you've cut. How many "Applause 1" or "Footstep 27" do you have in you library?

Thankfully there's a pretty quick fix.

  1. Open the master session. This will set things like timecode and I/O's to the settings you're looking for. It's also your chance to double-check that all your fades are created and that you're not missing any audio files.
  2. Save and close the session.
  3. Create a new session on the layback drive using whatever settings you need---16 bit or 24 bit, 44.1KHz or 48KHz, etc. Make sure that "Last Used" is selected for the I/O.
  4. Select "Import Session Data" from the File menu.
  5. Choose your master session from the other hard drive.
  6. Make sure to choose "Copy media" from the audio pull-down menu.
  7. Highlight all tracks for import (or at least all tracks that you want to layback---you might have more in your master session). Make sure that you're importing "All" data and that it's from the master playlist.
  8. Click the "Import" button.
  9. Wait while all your tracks and media are copied to the new drive. You can watch the process in your Task Window. Any duplicates will show up as -37 errors at the bottom of the Task Window. The regions will still show up in your tracks but they will be blue because there is no online media associated with them. Everything else will be copied to the new drive.
  10. Save and close the layback Pro Tools session.
  11. In the Finder, open the layback hard drive and open the folder of the layback session you just closed.
  12. Rename the "Audio Files" folder to something else like "Audio Files 2".
  13. Reopen your layback session in Pro Tools.
  14. Pro Tools will warn you that there is missing audio. These are just the files that are now in the "Audio Files 2" folder. Select "Manually Find" and check "Rebuild Fades" if necessary.
  15. The duplicated media that didn't copy the first time will be found on your master drive. A new "Audio Files" folder will be created and the duplicates will be copied into it.
  16. In the Relink Window, only check your layback drive. Even better, only check the layback session folder in the layback drive. Highlight all missing audio files and click the "Fink Links" button. Click "Commit Links" when all files are found.
  17. When all the copying and relinking is done in your Task Window, save and close your session.
  18. Reopen it to make sure that everything was copied. Be sure to choose "Select -> Offline Regions" from the Audio menu above the Region List to make sure that you're not missing any files.
  19. You might have to repeat at step 10 if there are 3 or more files with the same name in the session. Go ahead and repeat as many times as it takes to get all files copied to your layback drive.
  20. Your "Audio Files" folder will probably only have a few files in it while "Audio Files 2" might have hundreds. This doesn't really matter, but for the look of things, you might want to rename "Audio Files" to "Audio Files dupes" and "Audio Files 2" to "Audio Files". It's all up to you. If you rename any folders, you should probably reopen the session one last time and "Manually Find" any files that are now "lost".

Yes, it's a lot of steps to describe, but I think you'll agree that it's not very hard. This definitely works with Pro Tools 6.4.1. I would imagine that it's the same under 6.4 with HD hardware but since I don't have that, I'm not 100% positive. If I remember correctly 6.2.x and lower always asked you where to save audio and fade files on import. In that case you could just create a new folder in the Save Window and save things there.

October 18, 2004

Possible Pro Tools OMF Bug?

Today I received several OMF 2.0 files from the picture department with embedded audio. Under certain circumstances, the timecode of the Pro Tools session generated from the OMF was incorrect so all the material was out of sync.

I'm not sure what version of software is being used on the Avid, but the movie was shot with 3-perf film. Since this throws off all the footage counters, we are cutting in timecode. OMF 2.0 files were generated for me but with all the media, they were going to be larger than 2 GB. To remedy this, the assistant split each reel in half, usually around the 10 minute mark, and sent me OMFs for each reel.

I opened each OMF in Pro Tools 6.4.1 with the built-in DigiTranslator. After conversion, I immediately changed the timecode from 24 frame to 29.97 pulldown. This is what I always to with OMFs. However, I found that the second OMF, the one that would start somewhere around 10 minutes into the reel, would always be out of sync. Sometimes only 1 frame early but in a few instances, up to 6 frames early. The first OMF for each reel, the one that started evenly on the hour, was always in sync.

After much trial and error, I found that if I left both OMFs in 24 frame timecode. Combined them, and then changed to the combined session to 29.97 pulldown, everything stayed in sync. For some reason, if an OMF doesn't start at an evenly on the hour of timecode like 01:00:00:00 or 02:00:00:00 and you attempt to change the timecode in Pro Tools without first resetting the start time of the session to an even hour and maintaining timecode, then the session will fall out of sync. It's possible that the version of Avid software and the fact that it was a 3-perf film might also have something to do with this. I haven't had a chance to experiment more.

September 24, 2004

Dealing With SCSI Devices Without A SCSI Card

My recent experiences with doing almost all of my sound assisting on my laptop with an Mbox got me thinking about other things I could do to expand on that model. One big sticking point was SCSI. Firewire is awesome, but in the post-production sound world, SCSI is still king---if for no other reason than the Tascam MMR-8 and MMP-16 still deal exclusively with Kingston-style removable SCSI drives.

You can cut all you want on firewire hard drives or even on your internal---those SATA drives in the G5s are screaming fast---but you will still often need to layback you finished sessions to a SCSI drive for dubbing. Or you might get some SCSI drives with stems from the stage.

The idea of moving away from SCSI is even more tempting when you consider that PowerMac G5s only have 3 PCI slots. The old G4s had 4. This was perfect for 2 Pro Tools cards, a digital picture card and a SCSI card. What do you do with 3 slots? Go back to an expansion chassis? That's a possibility. Run only a core Pro Tools system with 1 card? Also a possibility. But how about dumping your SCSI card? That's a much cooler idea. Especially since RATOC makes a couple of cool SCSI without a SCSI card solutions.

I picked up both the FR1SX Firewire to SCSI adapter and the U2SCX USB2 to SCSI cable. So far I'm loving what I'm seeing. I've used the FR1SX quite a bit. It works perfectly with removable hard drives. You get speeds comparable to regular Firewire 400---about a gigabyte copied per minute. I've also used it with a DLT4000 tape drive and had slightly faster rates than I did directly through SCSI. It's an old SCSI-1 device so it's not particularly fast, around 85 to 87 MB per minute in Retrospect 5 under OS X. With the FR1SX, I was getting between 90 and 95 MB per minute. Different types of audio backup of different speeds so I wouldn't count on it always being faster but I think I can easily say that it's the same speed as SCSI. You're not losing anything.

Under OS X, it's perfect. You turn on your device. Attach the FR1SX. Plug in the Firewire cable and it's available. A SCSI hard drive will mount up just like as if it were Firewire. You can even hot swap by unplugging and replugging the Firewire cable. The only problem I've seen it that it only supports one SCSI ID. So even though the carrier that I have it attached to has 2 bays, only the top one (the first in the chain) works. The FR1SX doesn't support SCSI chaining. But if you're just using it for laybacks or to copy off a SCSI drive, you probably don't need more than one at a time.

I haven't tested the U2SCX. I can't see that it would be any different. The Pro Tools system I'm working on only has USB1 ports so it would be much slower (1.5 MB per second maximum through-put at USB1 versus 60 MB per second at USB2). But Aluminum PowerBooks and G5s come with USB2 so it could be very viable there. The webpage for the U2SCX says that it support SCSI chaining of 7 devices but it mentions that you have to be running the RATOC driver in Windows. I don't know if they have a Mac driver and frankly I like the fact that I don't have to install any new drivers in OS X.

If you are going to get one or both of these devices, it would probably be a good idea to kick in for the power adapter. They don't need to be powered if your SCSI device has Termination Power, but it's probably better to be safe. Another thing you'll need is a SCSI adapter or two. Both devices have an HD50 Male SCSI-2 connector. You'll want to pick up an HD50 Female SCSI-2 to HD68 Male SCSI-3 adapter for Wide SCSI drives and an HD50 Female SCSI-2 to Centronics 50 Male SCSI-1 adapter for any old devices that you might have.

September 23, 2004

Running Tape In OS X

You know how much I dislike Tape, the only program to print cuesheets for Pro Tools sessions, right? Well, I still don't like it but I did get it running in Classic in OS X. (And finally getting it running really did prove what a piece of shit software it really is.) Here's how:

  1. Download the latest version of Tape. (1.5.2b47 as of this post)
  2. Download a copy of Pro Tools Free if you don't have a version of Pro Tools 5.x installed.
  3. Run the Pro Tools Free installer. If you already have Pro Tools 5.x installed you can skip to step 5.
  4. A folder called "Digidesign" will be created in the root level of your hard drive. You can put this where ever you like. Your OS 9 Applications folder would probably be a good choice.
  5. Run the Tape installer.
  6. Select "Cue Sheet (USB)" and click "Install".
  7. Choose a good place to install Tape like /Applications (Mac OS 9) and let it do its thing.
  8. Run the installer again but select "OSX Support" this time.
  9. Choose the same install place you did last time.
  10. Open the newly-installed "Tape Folder" and run "Install OMS 2.3.8". If you already have OMS installed and configured because you have a working Pro Tools 5.x on your computer, you can skip to step 19.
  11. This will put a folder called "Opcode" in the root level of your hard drive.
  12. In /Opcode/OMS Applications run OMS Setup.
  13. Go through the standard setup options for OMS, scanning the ports and whatnot. You will probably just end up with three items: IAC Driver, Studio Patches pgm chg, and QuickTime Music.
  14. Save this setup in an appropriate place like in the same folder as OMS Setup.
  15. In OMS Setup, select "Prefereces" from the "Edit" menu.
  16. Uncheck "When AppleTalk is on, ask about turning it off" and click "OK".
  17. Quit OMS Setup.
  18. You can move the "Opcode" folder to your OS 9 Applications folder if you like.
  19. Go back into your "Tape Folder". Open the "Utilities" folder and run "OSX Activator".
  20. This will install HASP drivers for OS 9 and OS X.
  21. Drag "OSX Activator" to your Dock or put an alias to it on your desktop. You'll be using it a lot.
  22. In /System Folder/Preferences/Tape Preferences Folder/Tape Translators, take out the Listener application and put it in the Tape Preferences Folder. (This is part of the full Post Utilities spotting program and not necessary for cuesheets. If you're using the full Post Utilities, don't do this step.)
  23. Restart your computer.

You are now setup to run Tape in Classic under OS X. Any time you want to actually run Tape, you have to follow these steps:

  1. Plug in your Tape dongle to an open USB port.
  2. Run Classic.
  3. Run the OSX Activator.
  4. Run Tape.

Rick Steele, the guy who wrote this wonderful program, told me that you had to set Classic to "Start Classic When You Login" in your System Preferences. I did a bunch of testing on my laptop and found that I didn't need to do that. If your copy of Tape is only running in Demo mode after following the steps above, I would first try restarting your computer and doing the 4 steps above. If that doesn't work, you can try setting the preference that Rick suggested and restarting.

The biggest problem that I've encountered so far is that it doesn't work with older dongles. I don't know at what point Rick changed the software on the dongle but if you follow all the steps above and my restart and "Start Classic" suggestions and it still doesn't work then I think it's the dongle. Rick told me that some dongles might have to be flashed to work. I've encountered 3 so far where this is the case. Only the one that I just bought from him 2 days ago works for me. (I know. I hate this program and I still spent money on it. Like I said, there's no other option right now.) I don't know what the process is for flashing the dongles. I don't know if it's something you can do yourself or if you have to send them to Rick. I emailed him about this yesterday and I'm still waiting to hear back.

One other point that Rick strongly suggested: make a copy of any session before opening it in Tape. As he said, "I don't want to be responsible for my program ruining your session."

I think you can see why I hate this program. The process that you have to go through to just to print out some lines and characters on some pieces of paper is utterly ridiculous. Having to not only have a full version of Pro Tools 5.x but also OMS installed on a computer that quite possibly doesn't even boot into OS 9 (like my laptop) is the most retarded software requirement ever. This is obviously because he has two levels of functionality---cuesheets only and then the full spotting, assembling, yadda yadda mess. They need to be separated. There's no reason I shouldn't be able to print cuesheets on a computer with nothing on it but OS 9 or OS X and a print driver. Open the file, give it a name and editor, change some font settings and go.

And this whole business of having to reinstall the HASP drivers every single time you want to run the program is foolish. If you go to Aladdin's website, the makers of HASP, you can see quite clearly that they fully support running Classic applications with HASP4 dongles in OS X. Soundminer and all the new Gallery software uses HASP4 dongles. The letters "HASP4" are clearly printed on them. Tape's dongle says "MacHASP". Obviously Rick is still using an old HASP development kit from 4+ years ago and is too cheap to upgrade to the latest release. Consequently there is only partial support for these dongles in HASP OS X driver and we as the tormented end-users have to rerun the installer every time.

And his warning about not wanting to be responsible? That's utter crap too. When he told me this he actually said the problem is because Digidesign has released a buggy software development kit. Now I can't speak to whether or not Digi's SDK is buggy or not. But here's a novel approach for your damn Tape code: open the file as read-only! And then if you want to give support for editing the text of the regions in the Pro Tools session, write a temp file to the drive for this. Never change the original! I've never had a single day of formal programming instruction and even I could have figured that one out.

September 12, 2004

Playing Igniter Digital Picture On A DC30+

Those of you who have dealt with Pro Tools and digital picture over the last couple of years may have already encountered this:

Digital Picture digitized on an Aurora Igniter videocard is not usable on a Pro Tools system with a DC30+ videocard running OS 9. Since the Igniter uses non-square pixels (720x486 or 360x243), the picture appears very squished on the DC30+ with its square pixels (640x480 or 320x240). The Aurora Fuse, the other videocard often used by Pro Tools in OS 9, doesn't have this problem as long as you use the 2.0.3 driver.

There is a fix for the DC30+ and it's called OS X. If you switch your system over to OS X, some version of Pro Tools 6 and use the DC30 Xact Driver, your DC30+ card will playback your Igniter digital picture at the proper aspect ratio. I just tested this out myself on Friday.

Unfortunately there still isn't an OS X driver for the Aurora Fuse. Those of you with this card looking to switch to Pro Tools 6 should probably just suck it up and plop down the $1000 for the Igniter. Obviously the DC30+ is a viable option with the 3rd-party driver, but since the card hasn't been manufactured for 4 or more years it's a crapshoot whether you can get your hands on one.

September 3, 2004

Capturing Video For Pro Tools With Sync Audio In OS X

Here's step-by-step instructions for loading digital picture for use in Pro Tools in that cool way that I briefly talked about the other day. I can't take credit for this one. The amazing Ron Eng came up with it. It definitely works with OS X 10.3.4, Pro Tools|24 Mix hardware, Pro Tools 6.2.3 software, Final Cut Pro 3, Adobe Premiere 4, Miro DC30+ videocard and DC30 Xact driver. I'm sure it works with newer versions of hardware and software like Pro Tools HD and an Aurora Igniter card, I just haven't tried it out myself.

  1. Final Cut Pro must be set up to capture video from your video card at the recommended 1000 KB/sec and audio from the Digidesign hardware via the Core Audio driver. You will probably need to have audio from your videodeck coming in on Analog 1 and 2.
  2. Make sure that your Universal Slave Driver or Sync I/O is set to pulldown and the sample rate that you're working in. You can run Pro Tools first and set that in the "Session Setup" window if you're not familiar with doing it on the hardware.
  3. Make sure that you've quit Pro Tools. Core Audio cannot use Digidesign hardware while Pro Tools is running.
  4. Run Final Cut Pro.
  5. Select "Log and Capture" from the "File" menu.
  6. Press play on your videodeck and click the "Capture Now" button in Final Cut Pro prior to the "Picture Start" frame.
  7. Load the entire picture and press the Esc key to end capture.
  8. Press Cmd-W to close the captured picture, saving and naming it appropriately.
  9. Quit Final Cut Pro.
  10. Run Adobe Premiere 4. This is a OS 9 application so you'll need Classic installed. It's the only video application I know that allows you to reconform digital video frames.
  11. Open the digital picture that you just captured in FCP.
  12. Find the first frame of picture. If you have an Academy Leader it will say "Picture Start". It might simply be an even hour of timecode or 0+00 of footage in the window burn.
  13. Click the "In" button to set this frame to the in-point.
  14. Select File -> Export -> Movie Segment.
  15. Name and save the new digital picture file.
  16. Select File -> Tools -> Conform Movie.
  17. Choose the newly saved digital picture from the open dialog window.
  18. Set the frame rate to 30 fps and click "Conform".
  19. You are now good to go. You can throw out the original digital picture from Final Cut Pro.

The beauty of this method is that the audio and video tracks are in sync so the video file can be played back on any computer and it is completely usable. It could be used to spot ADR or cue Foley on a laptop. Since the picture is set to 30 fps is is compatible with Pro Tools 5.0 and 5.1.x---software which only has a joined video and audio pulldown setting. The audio tracks can be imported into any Pro Tools session by selecting "Import Audio From Current Movie" from the "Movie" menu. This audio will be in sync with all of your other film-speed material that is being pulled-down to video speed.

This method works great. If your audio and video are not in sync when you're done with the process, check that your sync device (USD or Sync I/O) is set to pulldown. If not, you'll have to reload. Otherwise the reconform probably didn't take. Run Adobe Premiere 4 again and repeat steps 16 to 18.

August 30, 2004

The Day Everything Was Upgraded

Hey, hey party people. I'm typing up this entry in my brand-spankin' new copy of BBEdit 8. Perhaps you don't know this, but I love BBEdit. If I were still in third grade, some clever person would undoubtedly quip, "Then why don't you marry it?" That's how much I love BBEdit.

So of course typing this is hardly giving it a workout. If it had been released Friday I could have truly put it through its paces as I worked diligently on my site redesign. I will have to break it in while I try to slog my way through various PHP and Javascript methods of dealing with style sheets later this week.

Today was software update day for my workstation. Pro Tools 6.4.1. Soundminer 3.1.2 (b96). Change Note Assistant 1.0.2. Titan 3.1b11. I did verify that Adobe Premiere 6.5 does not properly support Core Audio in OS X. It won't work with the new official Pro Tools Core Audio Driver 6.4.1. Final Cut Pro will handle it however. I'll have to dig out my copy and put it on my system.

Shhhh. Here's a secret: Load picture digital picture in OS X in Final Cut Pro with audio via Core Audio through your Pro Tools hardware. Make sure your USD or Sync I/O is set to pulldown before-hand. When you're done open the picture in that old copy of Adobe Premiere 4 that you have lying around. (Come on, you know you do.) Trim the picture to start at 0 and export video clip or piece or whatever that option is. Use the Conform tool to conform the picture to 30 frames per second. You now have digital picture file with in-sync embedded worktracks that you can use to spot to on a laptop or whatever. It can also cut against it in Pro Tools 6.x or 5.3. It's also backwards compatible with 5.1.x. And you can use the Import Audio From Movie function to get video guide tracks into your session. Pretty sweet.

Tomorrow I'm back with the Universal folks.

Ooo! I just discovered something fun in BBEdit 8! Ok, those of you who used 7, might remember the screen flash that you would get if you typed a close parenthesis ) before the open (. In 8, you get a fun message that flashes on your screen. Go on. Give it a try.

August 24, 2004

Pro Tools 6.4.1 For Mix Hardware

Digidesign has finally released the long-promised Pro Tools 6.4.1 software---the last version to support Pro Tools 24|Mix hardware. It requires a G4 PowerMac, OS X 10.3.4, and obviously Mix hardware.

I haven't had a chance to try it out yet. I have been using the unsupported Pro Tools 6.2.3 for a while now and I've been anxiously awaiting things like an officially supported Core Audio driver, sorted AudioSuite and TDM plug-in menus, +12 dB faders and the like. Unfortunately I think they're only offering breaking timecode loading with HD hardware. I was hoping to use it to load DATs.

August 18, 2004

First Mbox Problem

I encountered my first Mbox Pro Tools problem yesterday. I was converting a massive dialog session from BWF to SD2 via "Import Session Data" and it seemed to stall at the very end. I tried to force quit and it ended poorly. I had to hold down the power button to shut down my laptop and reboot. A second test wound up with the same result.

I wasn't sure what what causing it but I thought I could figure it out so I tried it one more time. This time I kept the Task Window open and the arrow on the process turned down so I could see the complete list of audio and fade files it was working with. Sure enough, as soon as the last audio file was reached the end of its conversion, Pro Tools hung again. This time however I fired up Terminal, which took a really long time. I was starting to suspect that maybe Pro Tools had managed to chew up all my processor cycles and was now stuck in loop and not freeing it up.

When I ran "top" from the command line, I was surprised to see 75% to 80% free CPU. But then I noticed that I was only showing 5MB of RAM free. When I went down to the Pro Tools process I saw that it had wound up with nearly 2GB of virtual ram. I don't have 2GB of physical ram in my computer so it had written a lot of stuff to the swap space on the hard drive. As I watched, that number slowly dropped. Eventually I was showing about 250MB of free RAM and suddenly Pro Tools came back to life.

Obviously I need to install some more RAM in my laptop.

August 14, 2004

You Gotta Love The Mbox

My regular digital audio workstation that I use for my job is a Pro Tools 24|Mix Plus. It's the old hardware, I know, but I haven't really needed to upgrade to HD. (Though that support for breaking timecode in the 6.4 software makes it awfully tempting. Loading production sound roll DATs would be much easier.)

I've also been the owner of an Mbox for a while now but I never used it very much. I bought it with the thought that I could do work at home if I wanted to, but the situation never arose where I decided to do so. I also bought the DV Toolkit to unlock the timecode and feet+frames options so that Pro Tools LE is nearly identical to my full system in the office. Plus at $1450 ($450 for the Mbox and $1000 for DV Toolkit) it's a far cry from $16K+ for a TDM system.

This job I'm working on over at Universal has me away from my main Pro Tools system that's set up at Fox. So since my Mbox and a pair of Sony MDR-7505 headphones don't take up that much more space in my bag, I've been bringing it to Universal and using it a lot and I'm really impressed. My zippy laptop is certainly a factor in this. I have a 15" Aluminum PowerBook at 1.25GHz. But still, I'm amazed at the amount of things I'm able to do as an assistant sound editor with an Mbox.

I can't load digital picture from videotapes since the editors use various MJPEG A cards (DC30+, Fuse, and Igniter) but if we were using DV picture with a box like from Canopus, I could. I can't print cuesheets because I can't get stupid Tape to work in OS X and my laptop doesn't boot into OS 9. And I can't deal with SCSI drives, but most of our editors I cutting off Firewire drives. (And if I really needed SCSI support, there are various SCSI PC cards I could use, or maybe even a Firewire to SCSI interface.)

But I can do everything else. It's really fantastic. Titan 3 works great. The DigiTranslator that comes with DV Toolkit converts my OMFs to Pro Tools sessions. Soundminer runs well. It is a viable alternative to a full-blown system.

Of course I could always do all the paperwork-related assistant things with Excel, Word and BBEdit. I'm reallying digging this.

August 11, 2004

Hate The Tape

This program is the bane of my existence. Ugh! Tape is the worst piece-of-crap software I have ever had the misfortune of using. And I'm forced into it. There's just nothing else for printing cuesheets from Pro Tools.

The whole "OS X" support is a big effin' joke. I have tried on 4 different computers and cannot get it to work. Full of bugs, never out of beta and I have to own it. It totally sucks.

For years I used this other awful piece of software called Track-It. Thankfully it is no more. Why can't anyone write a real cuesheet program that works with Pro Tools?

Well today I discovered a handy little trick for Tape. Tape finally supports Pro Tools 5.1 sessions. (Don't blink or look at it wrong or it might stop working. Crap ass software.) I forget when that was added in. Sometime in the last year I think. Even though Pro Tools 5.1 has been around for something like 3 years. Whatever. It's bullshit. Anyway, Tape only works properly with SD2 Pro Tools sessions. Well, maybe it works with AIFF but it certainly won't deal with Broadcast Wave---even thought it's a perfectly legit sound file for Pro Tools 5.1. Like I said crap-ass software.

So here's the way around it.

  1. Take your BWF Pro Tools 5.1 session. Open it and make sure it's all set for cuesheets. Save if you need to and close it.

  2. Make a new Pro Tools session with SD2 as the file format. Make sure the bit depth and sample rate match your BWF session.

  3. Select "Import Tracks" (Pro Tools 5.1) or "Import Session Data" (Pro Tools 6) from the File menu. Highlight all your tracks for importing.

  4. Make sure you choose "Reference original media" for the audio. (Or whatever that pull-down menu says. I can't remember the exact wording off the top of my head. Don't use "copy" or "consolidate".) And click "Ok" or "Import" or whatever that button is labeled.

  5. No audio should have been copied. If media was written, you probably didn't use the same bit depth or sampling rate as the original. Start again at step 2.

  6. Save and close the session.

  7. Open it in Tape and print away.

Basically, it seems that Tape can't deal with the "BWF" header in a Pro Tools 5.1 session. It only likes ones with an "SD2" header. However, you can mix and match supported audio formats in Pro Tools. So as long as you have an "SD2" session at the same bit depth and sample rate, you can import BWF audio into it without having to rewrite the media and Tape will print your cuesheets.

Stupid program.

July 28, 2004

More At Eleven

Xeni, the author of the "Wired" article about spatial sound, wrote me a nice letter this morning about yesterday's post. She basically said I should go read Iosono's website and my technical questions would be answered. I was a bit abashed at first. Here I was proclaiming the problems I thought I saw with this new technology and I hadn't even read their website. (Hey, our president has fully admitted that he doesn't watch the news or read the paper because he doesn't want to be exposed to those lies and biases. Can I use the same excuse?)

So I read it. I still have questions. Just more of them.

The one thing I noticed was that their theater system supports all the standard sound formats. You can feed it Dolby Digital, DTS, SDDS---even stereo---and it'll happily play it back. You won't get its super-bonus positioning features but you will get its "every seat in the theater sounds as good as every other" feature. That's certainly nice. I have my doubts that theater chains will be willing to fork over cash for that feature alone. "We gave them their stadium seating. What do they want from us, blood?" People care about good sound to a certain extent. The "sweet spot" in every chair might be too much to ask. But maybe I'm wrong.

The workings of the "spatial sound" part of this new Iosono system sounds like it is basically audio files plus metadata---the master track plus information about where to place it and move it and whatnot. That makes sense. Their website says that their workstation can take up to 64 sound files and place them or move them through the theater sound space.

I have to admit I'm still confused. What is their master sound format? Is there a master sound format? Is it simply an open-ended thing? Up to 64 tracks plus meta data and that's it? No built-in hard speaker assignments? So let's assume that it's something like that. How do you turn it over for encoding? Eight 8-track hard drives off the Tascam MMR-8 recorder? A firewire drive from Pro Tools with all 64 tracks on it? Maybe most people don't care about these things but this is the nitty-gritty tech stuff that I like to understand. Now after it's encoded, what gets shipped to theaters with the prints?

When you're dealing with a 5.1 master sound track it's pretty simple---6 channels of audio. That easily fits onto a hard drive. Since many stages make use of MMR-8 recorders, the drive from that machine will usually be sent to the NT Audio or one of the other facilities around Los Angeles that will encode the soundtrack on to the film. Dolby shows up on the dub stage with their own encoding gear and they'll generate a couple of MOs (Magneto-Optical Disks) with their Dolby-encoded master audio. These disks get shipped to the lab facility as well.

With a 5.1 master sound track, each channel of audio contains all the audio that is played from one speaker in a theater. Usually the layout is like this:

  1. Left
  2. Left Surround
  3. Center
  4. Right Surround
  5. Right
  6. Sub

That's what I'm wondering about with my questions. How does that process work for the Iosono system?

You need to have at least the 5.1 covered with this new system so you can fill up the space with sound. Pretty much all the dialogue comes out the center channel along with some of the sound effects and foley. Most of the sound effects and music are in the left and right speakers. The surrounds are used for reverb returns on music to give it more presence, backgrounds to create the environment, and sound effects for movement (i.e. bullet bys past the camera into the surrounds). At a minimum you need to recreate that in Iosono. Everything else is bonus.

But here's a problem that I see: predubbing. When the sound editors on a film show up on the stage for predubbing they have lots and lots of tracks of sound with them. This might be a typical breakdown:

  • Dialogue --- 16 tracks
  • ADR --- 24 to 32 tracks
  • Group ADR --- 24 to 32 tracks
  • Foley (Footsteps and Props) --- 32 tracks
  • Backgrounds --- 96 tracks
  • Sound Effects --- 32 to 200+ tracks

Sound Effects of course is the difficult one. If the film is a talkie, light romantic comedy, then you're probably closer to the 32 tracks. If you're dealing with an action movie you can easily go well beyond 200 tracks of effects. Foley could be similar. If you're dealing with a sci-fi or a period piece with lots of objects that are not "standard" to our world there might be many, many more tracks of props.

Now these cut tracks need to be predubbed to manageable amounts for the final mix. We usually deal with 8-track predubs or at least think of them in groups of 8-tracks. So you might wind up with something like this:

  • Dialogue --- 1 8-track predub
  • ADR --- 1 8-track predub
  • Group ADR --- 1 or 2 8-track predubs
  • Foley --- 2 8-track predubs
  • Backgrounds --- 4 8-track predubs
  • Sound Effects --- 4 to 15 8-track predubs

So even on a light show you can be looking at 104 tracks of sound after predubbing---and we still need to add music in there. That's more than the Iosono system can handle. You almost need to do a second predub to get that down to the 64 tracks.

It's not an impossible workflow to manage but it would take more time. And that is one of the critical points from my previous post. How much is a studio willing to spend on this?

I don't want anyone to misunderstand me on this---it sounds like a very cool system. I just wonder how it can fit it our existing time frame to accomplish our goals and will studios and theater chains be willing to shell out the cash for it?

July 27, 2004

This One Goes Up To Eleven

Wired has this article about a new "super" surround sound which uses more than 300 speakers in a theater to truly recreate an environment and place sounds anywhere within the room. Three hundred speakers is a couple more than the 6 that most theaters have today. (Actually theaters usually have more than 6 speakers. You'll often see many along the sides and in the back corners but they broadcast the same sound. There's still only 6 individual channels of source material that get played through those speakers.)

It's an interesting idea and those of us in the sound industry have often joked about the fact that eventually there will be speakers covering every single inch of space in theaters. (Obviously there was a bit of truth in that humor.) However without having actually seen the demo myself---someone please add me to the list next time :) ---I have to say that I have some doubts about this system.

I don't have doubts about the fact that we will have more than 6 channels of audio in a theater in the future. That's a given. In fact it's the present. There is actually a 6.1 system (7 channels) from Dolby called Dolby Digital Surround EX which adds a center surround speaker directly behind the audience. Often only the "high end" first run rooms in a movie complex are setup for EX. Plus not all soundtracks are mixed to support that. But all that aside, we will probably see other additional speakers added in the future. (If I had my way we'd have a high center speaker on the ceiling of the theater in the front. IMAX makes use of it because the screens are so large but for regular theaters it would allow sounds to not just go side-to-side but also up and down. Try to imagine a jet fly by with a high center speaker. It could be awesome.)

There are a couple of things that confuse me about this system. The first is how many channels of sound do you actually have? Ok, sure it has over 300 speakers. Does that mean there are 300 channels of sound? When we finish our final mix on a movie we wind up with a 6 track master. Dolby encodes that into data that sits between the sprockets of the 35mm print for Dolby Digital. DTS writes those tracks onto a CD-ROM which gets shipped with the print for theaters that support that standard. And SDDS writes it to both edges of the film---outside the sprockets. (Actually SDDS is a 7.1 system with 5 speakers up front instead of 3, but very, very few theaters have it anymore. Yet another proprietary format that Sony botched.) What do you do with a 300 track master?

Three hundred channels of sound is a completely unreasonable amount of material to turn over at the end of the mix. I'm certain that they actually use fewer but the question remains: how many?

Another big problem I see is their current interface. I have been on the stage with pretty much every big-name mixer in town and I cannot imagine any of them wanting to play with a light pen to place sounds around the room. It seems like it would take way too much time. Even though movie budgets are balooning to huge numbers, the vast majority of that goes to actors' salaries and special effects. Sound budgets are often smaller today then they were 10 years ago. You no longer have 30 sound editors on a crew cutting film and 5 assistants helping them. More often than not it's 10 editors and 1 or 2 assistants. And it's a similar thing on the dub stage. Typical films today predub in 3 or 4 weeks and final in 2 or 3. That's it. Seven or eight weeks on the final dub stage to create the master track.

Again, I wasn't actually at the demo so I don't know how easy it really is to use. But when I think of the time it can take on a stage just to pan a bunch of stereo car bys through the center speaker because an editor didn't turn it over as an LCR---not to mention the time involved to create a large action sequence like a gunfight bullets and debris flying all over the room---it seems that the light pen positioning would be awkward and slow. The pictures included with the article show a Pro Tools system sending what appears to be a single sound into their positioning system. That's not a realistic test for time, ease and usability. They should try it with the hundreds and hundreds of tracks that get turned over for your typical action sequence. How long does it take to do it then?

A final problem I see is the home theater market. DVDs are huge business for the movie industry. Lots of people have little 5.1 systems in their living rooms. How do you take a 300 channel mix and bring it down to a 5.1 for the DVD release? How many weeks are you willing to spend on that? And I do mean "spend". How much money will a studio pay for that down-mix? That's what it will really come down to. Your typical home theater cannot possible recreate the same range of frequencies that a good theater can, but at least the speaker assignments are the same. Now try to untangle a mess of sounds spread out over 300 channels and focus it down to 6. It seems to me that it would take weeks to do that.

After a day to do the printmaster on the final stage we usually spend 2 or 3 days making all the versions---Dolby Stereo, Dolby Surround, Mono, plus the M&E (music and effects) for the foreign versions. Now you need to extend that by what? A week? Two weeks? Just to get a 5.1 for DVD release? And what about the theaters that can't afford the "super" surround system? You're still going to need a 5.1 version for them.

It's a pretty cool idea. I'm not sure how soon we'll actually see it in action. Or if we'll ever see it in this incarnation. (I'm telling you, they should have invited me to the demo. I'd tell those Germans what they need to focus on. ;) )

Thanks (once again) to Boing Boing for making me aware of this. (It's kind of like the old "Are you a Beatles person or a Stones person?" question. Only this one is "Are you a Boing Boing person or a Fark person?" I'm a Boing Boing person.)

July 15, 2004

A Couple Of Semi-Audio-Related Things

A few notes of interest for the audio pros in the house:

Marathon has released a horizontal rackmount for G5s. When Apple unveiled the G5 at WWDC 2003, several sound editors were gathered in my office, watching the streaming Quicktime and drooling. But as soon as the specs came out we saw two big problems: only 3 PCI slots---4 slots is really optimal for Pro Tools systems, and a height of 20". The standard size for rackmount gear is 19". The new computers were an 1" too tall. You couldn't secure them in a rack with all your other gear. And all over 1 stupid inch! It seemed so ridiculous. Doesn't Apple realize that the music and film industries are some of their biggest clients? Lots and lots of people in these industries like to rackmount their gear.

Well Marathon has finally released a solution. I figured they eventually would. Unfortunately the installation instructions include the use of a hacksaw.

This isn't new but I just recently stumbled on to it:

Fxpansion makes a few audio wrapper applications including a VST to RTAS Adapter. This software allows Pro Tools and Pro Tools LE, software which only supports its own native audio plug-ins---Audiosuite, Real-Time Audiosuite, and TDM, to run VST plug-ins as RTAS plug-ins. What a great idea! And for under $100.

They also make a VST to AudioUnit Adapter which is nice for Logic users who might have been annoyed by Apple's decision to drop support for VST and only support the native OS X plug-ins standard AudioUnits. (Of course in fairness to Apple, they have offered a VST to AU SDK. And I've read stories of the conversion only taking a couple of hours to clean up code.)

And they have a third adapter which is VST to Rewire. This one sounds very interesting. Rewire is an inter-audio app bussing standard. It allows you do do things like design some techno masterpiece in Reason and send the sound directly into Pro Tools for recording. All internal. All digital. In Pro Tools Rewire is a plug-in that gets activated on a track. So in essence its VST to Rewire might be very similar to VST to RTAS. However, Soundminer allows you to audition 5.1 audio straight from Pro Tools by running 4 Rewire plug-ins---2 stereo and 2 mono. Maybe you can do similar things with this adapter. It would interesting to check out.

July 11, 2004

The Sound Of His Voice

I need your help. As you may know, I'm an avid listener to audiobooks. During the 2 hours of commuting I do every day, I typically spend my time listening to others read books to me. When I do get into the office, I'm a sound guy. I, along with the other people on my crew, make the movies you go and watch sound good. To do this I have all kinds of gear (boys' toys) in my room.

You may remember when I mentioned an effort by Telltale Weekly to make audiobooks of the public domain works from Project Gutenberg. This got me thinking. Audiobooks---I like audiobooks. Sound---I'm a sound guy. I've got microphones and computers and whatnot. These guys are looking to record audiobooks. Hmmm...

So here's where you come in. Today I recorded my first audiobook. (Did I ever mention that I used to be a radio DJ in college?) I haven't played it for anyone yet. In fact I literally just finished the final mix on it. I haven't submitted it to Telltale Weekly. I'm actually not sure if I can---the public domain status on this particular work is a bit tricky. I need some constructive criticism from everyone. I'd love for you to post comments or send me email letting me know what you think. I'd would like to emphasize the constructive part of that prior sentence. If you think I read too fast or my diction is bad or my voice is too nasaly, I'd like to know. Of course I wouldn't mind a few "good job" emails either. It would be great for some opinions on the sound quality too. Not just the tone of my voice, but how is the recording? Too loud? Too bright? Too noisy? (I'm really glad that Telltale Weekly exists, but I do have to say that some of their recordings are a bit on the poor side.)

So without further delay, I present to you, "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain. (We can fight about my politics too if you like.)

July 10, 2004

Mackie 1604 5.1 Surround Layout

As I said before, I recently bought a Mackie 1604 mixer and added it to my Pro Tools workstation. I came up with what I consider to be the ultimate layout for the mixer. Obviously everyone has their own needs and their own gear so this won't work for all. But it might give you a few ideas of how you can improve your own audio monitoring.

Ins

:

1/2     (Open)
3/4     Video Deck Out
5/6     DAT Out
7/8     (Open)
9-16    Pro Tools Out 1-8

Aux Returns

:

1       Computer
2       Ipod
3       Laptop
4       DVD

Outs

:

Main    L/R
Sub1/2  LS/RS
Sub3/4  C/LFE

Direct Outs

:

1-6     Pro Tools In 1-6

Aux Sends

:

1/2     Pro Tools In 7/8
3/4     Video Deck In
5/6     DAT In

Tape

:

In      VCR Out
Out     VCR In

There are a few key ideas behind this layout. The first is the use of Inputs 9-16 for the Pro Tools. This came straight from the 1604 manual itself. It has a layout for an 8-channel multi-track recorder that does the same thing. Typical post-production sound thought is to put your Pro Tools on 1-8 since it's the single most important piece of gear. However, by moving it down to 9-16, it opens up the Direct Outs 1-8. These take the signal coming in on Inputs 1-8 and pass them out, post-fader, through the Direct Outs. This way you can send those into your Pro Tools and not use up your sub-outs.

The second key idea is Aux Returns and Aux Sends as additional Ins and Outs. Often these are thought of as paths to send signals for effects processing that then returning them to mixer. A channel insert will run an effect on a single channel like a compressor on a microphone. But an Aux Send and Return can be used to add reverb to many channels at once.

That's all very cool for working with a band but not very useful for a digital audio workstation. So forget it. The Aux Returns are 4 additional stereo inputs. You can see that I used them to patch in my computers and what not. It's mostly about listening to music. You can put anything you want here. It doesn't have to be stereo. In some cases, especially Aux Return 1 and 2, they can be sent into a "record" path were they would go back into your Pro Tools. But for the most part use it for gear that you simple want to listen to on your speakers.

The Aux Sends give you 6 mono channels out to whatever you patch. They are accessed on the Input channels themselves. This is an easy way to do something like send a stereo pair from Pro Tools to be recorded on a DAT or a Video Deck. I also put Pro Tools itself on a pair of Sends. It's for greater flexibility. I can't see myself using it much but it would allow me to loop a sound out a Pro Tools through the board and back in. Maybe I wind up with some amazing analog reverb unit. It could be patched into a channel insert and sent right back into Pro Tools for recording. That's the idea. As I said before about Direct Outs, it also frees up sub-outs.

You need the sub-outs for speakers. This is the third key idea. Typically I've set up 5.1 surround sound on mixers with 8 sub-out busses. Six for the speakers and 2 to go back into Pro Tools. But with this setup we've already handled all the paths back into to Pro Tools---and other gear for that matter. Put your left and right speakers on Main Out. Most other inputs like Aux Returns and Tape In all monitor by default on Main Out. Then use the four sub-outs for your 4 additional speakers, Left Surround--Right Surround and Center--Sub.

By using this setup I was able to extend the 1604 (16 ins, 4 sub-outs) to 22 Ins and 14 Outs. And I didn't touch the Control Room Outs which could probably be used for something else. Plus I have 4 open Ins right on faders on my mixer.

Now if only my video path were so easy.

New Toys

Recently I've been adding some new audio gear to my Pro Tools system. A couple weeks ago, I upgraded my speakers. I won't tell you what I was using before---it's a bit embarassing, and I'm supposed to be a "professional"---but my new Blue Sky speakers are awesome. (In all fairness to myself, prior to this recent purchase if I had to do really critical listening, I would do it on headphones.)

I spent last weekend and a couple days this week assembling a phasing dialogue tracks for a show that's just starting up. My friend needed a little extra help and I don't mind picking up a little extra cash now and again. Phasing dialogue tracks---especially after a fairly good assembly with a program like Titan---is pretty much just hours and hours of zooming in close on waveforms and nudging production into sync. If you want to get it done fast, there's not much actual listening going on. It's all done visually. That means you can listen to music to keep your mind active. So I've spent several days listening to my favorite albums on the Blue Sky ProDesk speakers in my room and I can honestly say they sound fantastic.

I got the 2.1 setup---two 5" speakers (that's the size of the woofer) and an 8" sub. They're powered so there's no need for a amplifier. Shielded so they won't distort your video monitors. (I'm using flat panels so this isn't an issue for me.) They aren't full-range speakers. They shelve-off pretty steeply below 80 Hz but that's what the subwoofer is for. They're designed to work together, and they're matched so well that I can't tell that the really low frequencies are coming from under my desk. In the future, I can upgrade it to a 5.1 by adding 3 more speakers and Blue Sky's own Bass Management system. The price is great too. Right around $1000 for the 2.1.

For years I've been using a little Mackie 1202 for monitoring. The ultra compact size was really nice. It didn't take up much desk space. But it also didn't have a lot of inputs and I kind of felt like I was sacrificing ease of use for a small size. With the new speakers and the potential of 5.1 in the future, I knew it was time to upgrade to the Mackie 1604. This is definitely the work horse of the digital audio workstation world, and I can see why. I spent nearly half a day plotting out my new audio setup with all the extra inputs and outputs. I think I came up with the ultimate setup. I'll post information on it a little later.

Lots and lots of audio connectors

Of course after coming up with this great new audio setup, I had to patch it all through my new mixer. So I called up my buddy Sheldon at The Wired Kingdom to make me some custom audio snakes. His stuff isn't cheap but the work is impeccable and the quality is outstanding.

About a month ago or so, I stumbled across a little blurb on a microphone that caught my attention---the Studio Projects C1. I started doing some research. I read lots and lots of reviews from people raving about this mic. Not every review was glowing---but you also have to understand audio people---everything they use is great and everything else sucks. There is very little middle ground. (You'll get the same kind of responses when you talk to sound editors about the tracks on movies.) But at $200 it was pretty hard to say "no" to, especially since the microphone that most people compared it with, the Neumann U87, is a $2000 mic.

This just came in and I haven't used it much. Just some test recordings of myself. I'm also not a record producer or engineer. I'm not laying down vocal tracks all day long. We mostly use mics to record sound effects. Every mic has different characteristics and very few are "bad". Ok, maybe that's not true. There are a lot of cheap and crappy mics. But the point is when you're recording sound effects using different mics give you different sounds. And sound for film is all about have lots and lots of different kinds of sounds.

Studio Projects C1 Microphone

I made up an album of some of the pictures I took of my new gear and posted it to my .Mac account.

July 6, 2004

How To Make Those Big Hollywood Sounds

Now's the chance for the people of Los Angeles to see a bit about what those of us in the sound industry do:

Los Angeles moviegoers will have an unusual treat this summer!  The Motion Picture Sound Editors and American Cinematheque will co-present "Big Movie Sound Effects: Behind the Scenes and Out of the Speakers."

Here's your chance to see - and hear - how those cool sounds for big science fiction movies are made.  Dane A. Davis, MPSE, and Gary Rydstrom, MPSE, will present excerpts from their Oscar and Golden Reel Award-winning work as supervising sound editors/designers/re-recording mixers on THE MATRIX and JURASSIC PARK.  In addition to discussing the processes they used to create the unique aural effects, our guests will also play sequences from both films with the sound effects only in order to give a clear and rare demonstration of the craft of motion picture sound.

So come and give a listen to what remains in these classic movie soundtracks after the dialogue and music are removed.  Experience the rippling waves from slowed-down bullets, the roar of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and every little detail that gets lost in the final mix; as well as the stories behind them.

"Big Movie Sound Effects: Behind the Scenes and Out of the Speakers" will be presented in the Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre in the Egyptian Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 14.  The theater is located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California. 

General Admission:  $9
Seniors 65+ & Students w/valid ID: $8
MPEG and other guild & craft organization members w/valid ID: $6

You can find out more about the Motion Picture Sound Editors at our web site: www.MPSE.org and the American Cinematheque at www.americancinematheque.com.

Made possible with support from Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Worldlink Digital, DTS, and Dolby Laboratories, Inc.

Program subject to change.

July 3, 2004

Real Assistants Use BBEdit

You call yourself an Assistant Sound Editor and you don't use BBEdit for EDLs and change notes? If you say that you're still using Vantage, I'm going to smack you. Microsoft Word is what you're using? Well, I guess I understand. We've all kind of grown up with that whole "Word is the program you use for typing things". But seriously, yuck. Maybe you just don't realize what you're missing.

How about this spiffy little header it puts at the top of all printed pages? Pretty nice, huh? Ever dropped a stack of Vantage change notes and then tried to figure out the correct order again?

BBEdit Printed Page Header

I barely know where to start with all the great text-fixing features it has built-in. Just take a look at all the options on this menu. Pretty great stuff.

BBEdit Text Menu

But it's real strength is in it's support for Regular Expressions and AppleScript. Regular Expressions are complex find and replace searches that are much more powerful than a simple "Find 'cat' and Replace with 'dog'". In my last post I gave an example of a Regular Expression that could be used in Soundminer to split apart text with the format of "Title Description" into two individual "Title" and "Description" fields.

Just today I was trying to assemble some reels of dialogue using Titan. The source DATs were loaded with the filenames like "001 004/05.L.wav"---meaning Sound Roll 1, Scene 4, Take 5. Unfortunately the EDLs listed the sound rolls without leading zeros. So it would say "1" not "001". Titan needs the EDL and filename to match so that things can be linked properly.

No problem with BBEdit and Regular Expressions.

Bring up the Find window. Make sure that "Use Grep" is checked. That's what will turn on Regular Expressions.

Type this in the Find field without quotes: "^(\d{3}\s{2})(\d{1}\s+)"

And type this in the Replace field without quotes: "\010\2"

Click the Replace All button.

BBEdit Find and Replace Window

In English you just told BBEdit: Starting at the beginning of a line (^) look for a group of characters, 3 digits followed by 2 spaces (\d{3}\s{2}), then look for a second group of characters, 1 digit followed by 1 or more spaces (\d{1}\s+). Return the first group (\01), add a "0" and then return the second group (\2).

This will find any single digit sound rolls in an EDL and add a zero to the head. Now you need to turn 2 digit sound rolls into 3 digit ones.

Type this in the Find field without quotes: "^(\d{3}\s{2})(\d{2}\s+)"

And type this in the Replace field without quotes: "\010\2"

Click the Replace All button.

Now all of your sound rolls have 3 digits, leading zeros as necessary. All in about a minute. Try typing all those zeros in by hand and see how long it takes you. Plus the Find window allows you to save those Regular Expressions as Patterns that you can call up any time you need them.

BBEdit Find Pattern Menu

I said that the second strength of BBEdit is AppleScript. Nearly all of its functions can be called from simple AppleScripts, including Find and Replace with Regular Expressions. That means you can make a simple "Add Leading Zeros To Sound Rolls In EDLs" Droplet. Drag your EDLs on to it and they'll all be fixed in seconds.

Other ideas for BBEdit, Regular Expressions and AppleScript are removing those ugly boxes that show up at the end of every line of change notes made by the new Avid Meridien systems. Or splitting Picture and Track changes notes into two files. Or even interacting with other programs like Word, Excel or Filemaker. How about searching a change note for the new LFOA and entering it into a chart in Excel? All kinds of things can be done if you just take a little time to learn.

July 2, 2004

MTools To Soundminer Cleanup Tip

This is based on a little tip I posted on the Soundminer beta tester message boards:

How To Clean Up A Sound Effects Library Ripped In MTools And Imported Into Soundminer

Anyone who has ripped the sound effects from a commercial CD library with Soundminer's Ripper program knows how great their data is. Anyone who has moved to Soundminer from MTools knows that the MTools data isn't anywhere near as cool looking. Don't worry, you can get things looking nice without too much trouble.

Make sure that you're displaying the following fields: Filename, Description, Source, Category, Notes, Designer, Library, and possibly RecMedium.

Make a new database and scan a folder to work with. If you screw it up, you want to be able to go back to your original stuff.

Bring up the Admin window from the Misc menu. Set the Designer field to the creator of the CD library---most likely either Sound Ideas or Hollywood Edge. Set the Library field to the name of the CD library---Citi Trax or Impact Effects or whatever it is.

Copy Filename to Source. If the CD library is from Sound Ideas the filenames probably all start with "SI-" and end with ".L". If they are from Hollywood Edge they probably start with "HE-" and end with ".L". Remove these from the Source field. You can either Remove 3 Characters From The Start and Remove 2 Characters From The End. Or do a Find and Replace with nothing. The remaining data though not identical to what Ripper writes will be very similar. For example, a file from Impact Effects that was ripped with MTools will probably be named something like "SI-IE01_04_01.L". After removing the extra characters the Source field would be "IE01_04_01".

I also like to note which files were done by MTools for future reference. I set the RecMedium field to "MTools" for that reason. (A good-sized chunk of Cameron's library was converted from Waveframe over to Pro Tools. I put "waveframe" in the RecMedium field of those files for the same reason. You never know when that information might be useful.)

If the description is all uppercase you can use the change case to Title Case function to make it much more readable.

With these few simple steps. You'll be very close to what a Ripper ripped sound file looks like. It's definitely a good idea to backup your data to the files themselves.

There's one other thing you can do to make things look even better. Most of the CD libraries from Sound Ideas use the format "Title [Lots of spaces] Description" in the Description field of their database. All of this information including all those spaces---which make the printed catalog look nice but which are messy in a digital database---wind up in the Description field when the CD is ripped by MTools. You can put the "Title" into the Category field and the "Description" into the Description field (and dump all those extra spaces) by following these simple steps.

This process will give you about a 95% success rate. The biggest problem you will encounter is data that is not consistantly formatted. I found that the Audio Pro library is a big offender in this area. This process looks for 2 or more spaces in a row. If there aren't 2 or more spaces between the Title and Description, it won't work correctly.

Again from the Admin window, copy the Description into the Notes field. (Or another long field that you're not using for anything else.)

In the Find / Replace box, check the RegEx box.

Type this into the Find field "(.+?)\s\s+?(.*)" without quotes.

Type this into the Replace field "\1" without quotes, and click Ok.

This will return just the "Title" part of the of the Description. Take a second and check to make sure it worked. Like I said, if there aren't more than 2 spaces or tabs in a row, this won't work. You might have to fix some by hand. When you're satisfied, continue.

Copy Notes into Category. Copy Description into Notes.

Type this into the Find field "(.+?)\s\s+?(.*)" without quotes, again.

Type this into the Replace field "\2" without quotes, and click Ok.

This will return the Description part. Again, check it to make sure that it returned everything correct. (You might wind up with extra spaces at the head of this new description. You can use the Remove Characters From Start function to get rid of them quickly.) When you're satisfied, copy Notes to Description and erase the Notes field.

That's it. Definitely back up all this data to the sound files.

Those funky looking things you typed into the Find and Replace fields are called Regular Expressions. They can be a bit tricky to learn but they are amazingly powerful. Definitely worth a bit of study. You have a great command-line Unix version installed with OS X called "grep". If you fire up your terminal and type "man grep" at the prompt you can read all about it. Google would be another great place to look for information. There's also a book by O'Reilly "Mastering Regular Expressions" that might be useful.

July 1, 2004

Stereo vs. Binaural Recording

Yesterday, Boing Boing posted a link to an article about surround sound research at UC Davis.

This new technology is a very interesting extension of binaural recording. Binaural is a two channel format that mimics the pick-up pattern of the human ears.

Stereo is two channel as well but it recreates a "wall of sound". To record in stereo, you take to two mono microphones and position them in a "v" shape. The point is the head of the microphones. They should be at a 90 degree angle to each other. The heads should (obviously) be pointed at the sound source.

When played back from stereo speakers, a stereo recording creates, as I said, a "wall of sound" that is projected out from those speakers. Closing your eyes and facing the speakers, you could imagine the sounds happening just in front of you. Listening to a stereo recording on headphones places that plane of sound in your head. Put on a record that features a lot of stereo panning like Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon". On headphones, you'd swear the sound was moving right through the center of your head. Here's a little bit of "On The Run" from that album so you can see what I mean.

Binaural recording, as the article points out, typically uses a dummy head with microphones placed in the ears and positioned at the same angle as human ears. There are also "stealth" binaural recording rigs that put tiny microphones in what appears to be walkman-style headphones. Wearing the "headphones" puts them in the proper location for binaural recording.

The biggest difference between stereo and binaural recording is that binaural can only be played back on headphones. Listening to binaural recordings is like really being there with sounds going on all around you. It records in 360 degrees, so recording a sound of someone walking behind the dummy head would sound exactly like someone was walking behind you when listening on headphones. If you play a binaural recording back on stereo speakers it sounds really strange. It's hard to exactly put your finger on what's wrong but you can tell that something isn't right with it.

This new technology from UC Davis records 8 or 16 microphones positioned in a circle, and during playback mixes the relative strength of each signal in real time based on the positional data from a worn sensor. With normal binaural, the previously mentioned sound of walking behind you would always be behind you no matter where you turned your head. This new technology would allow you to turn your head around to "see" who was behind you and you would then hear the sound of walking as if you were looking at it.

Fascinating stuff.

I worked on an IMAX movie called "T-Rex: Back To The Cretaceous" that had a limited amount of binaural sound in it. Being a 3-D IMAX movie, you were given goggles to wear which would make the 3-D images look correct when you sat in the theater. These goggles were much larger than the standard red and green paper ones that you often get for these kinds of things. There were actually tiny speakers in them that were positioned directly over your ears when properly worn.

When we were on the dub stage mixing the movie, we would actually have to wear these goggles (minus the 3-D lenses) so that we could properly mix the sound for that channel. For those who are curious, it was actually wirelessly beamed to the headset via an infrared signal. The idea was that 3-D visuals plus binaural sound should really place you in the movie. However I found that the soundtrack was so loud with the music and the dinosaurs stomping around that even with the speakers right next to your ears, they were easily drowned out by main speakers in the theater. It was an interesting concept that wasn't quite realized.

In March 1999 I recorded a rock show at a little club in Los Angeles called Dragonfly. A band I knew said it was ok and I was very excited about the prospect so I showed up with 2 different DAT rigs and a video camera. Two of my friends came along to help me manage it all. One of the DATs included a stealth binuaral headphone setup. During one of the opening bands, I had my friend who was going to use the stealth rig, go practice using it. He didn't quite understand the concept and he moved around alot. Put on some headphones and you can hear the vocals and instruments move from ear to ear in this recording as he looked around from side to side. (One of the best reasons to use a dummy head instead of a live body.) You'll notice two things from the recording of Candy Ass covering The Runaways' "Queens Of Noise". First, unlike the Pink Floyd song above, when the sound moves it doesn't pass through your head---it "rotates" around you. Second, if you listen on speakers, it doesn't sound right.

It's not a very good example of binaural recording. I know. But it's the best I could come up with easily.

June 18, 2004

Sound Convention

Terry Pratchett has a running joke in his Discworld books about narrative conventions. For example, due to “narrative convention” every carriage wreck (it is a fantasy-based series) ends with a lone wheel rolling down the street. On a similar note, after the “Star Trek: Enterprise” season finale, I mentioned how much I’m sick of the currently popular narrative convention that heroes can out-run an explosion.

Many people may not realize it but film sound is full of conventions as well. And some of them drive me crazy! Anytime a wide expansive shot of the ruggedly beautiful wilderness is shown (particularly if there are distant mountains), you always hear a red-tailed hawk cry out with a distant “Screeee!” In fact speaking of animals, pretty much anytime an animal is on screen it has to be yammering away. Non-stop noises from them. I can’t necessarily speak for everyone, but my two cats are quite content to not make a peep for hours on end.

But the one thing that drives me completely up the wall is that computers in movies have to constantly be making beeps and boops. If my computers made half as much noise as movie computers make, I’d have thrown them out the window and declared myself a Luddite.

The movie term for computer sounds is “telemetry”. It sounds all slick and cool, but the fact is in terms of sound, movie computers haven’t progressed far beyond the multi-colored flashing lights and the spinning reel-to-reel tape of the sci-fi movie computers of the 1950s. I am on a mission to get rid of computer telemetry in movies. Computers can make noise—they do in real life. But it should be the whir of the fan, the purr of the CD-ROM, the chatter of the hard drive, and the tick tick tick of the keys.

So it was with great pleasure that I spent today playing around with real-world computers sounds and making “Hollywood” computer sounds with them. Take an actual close-mic recording of hard drive chatter and mix it in with a quieter reversed version of itself to get an interesting effect. Run a broadband noise reduction on various fans to greatly reduce the white noise and to expose the unusual metallic tones of spinning motors. Things like that. Hopefully some producer or studio executive farther up the chain of command won’t say, “Hey! Where are the beeps?”

This is something you all can help out with. Next time you’re sitting in a theater watching a movie and you hear annoying noises coming out of the movie computers, jump up, hurl your tub of popcorn at the screen, and yell “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Ok, maybe that won’t help. But it would be pretty fun to see.

June 11, 2004

Worldizing Sound With Altiverb

Recently we've been working on new movie and using Altiverb to place sound effects within their environment. What a great piece of software! There's a new version 4 that's recently come out.

Instead of grabbing all those sliders like Wet / Dry, Decay, and Pre-Delay and trying to find settings that sound like a real place, Altiverb actually takes the sonic characteristics of an environment and applies it to the sound. Using a starter pistol or a tone sweep to make some noise, and recording the sound inside a particular place like a church, a car, or your bedroom with one, two or four microphones, Altiverb will analyze that sound and make a church, car, or bedroom setting. This is called an Impulse Response. Then when you want to take a recording of something like someone singing and make it sound like it was done in the church, you selecting the "church" setting. Easy and very, very cool.

Altiverb ships with a lot of pre-set environments like various churches, cathedrals, music studios, auditoriums, and a whole slew of home and office places. You can download more from their website. And I've found a few other websites with other pre-sets that can be downloaded:

Altiverb.DAW-Mac.com

Fokke van Saane's Altiverb Impulse Responses

And of course you can go and record your own!

June 4, 2004

Continuing The Deva / SD2 / BWF Discussion

I've been getting quite a bit of traffic to my website the last couple of days from both the DevaII mailing list at Yahoo Groups and the rec.arts.movies.production.sound newsgroup. Hello all!

It seems that someone posted a link to my article on dealing with Sound Designer II (SD2) sound files on the FAT16 DVD-RAMs that you get from a Deva II field recorder. (And the problem of losing the resource fork.) I hope people have found it helpful.

I still don't know for sure if Apple has fixed the FAT16 DVD-RAM driver in the OS. Two versions of OS X, 10.3.3 and 10.3.4, have come out since I wrote that piece and I haven't started a new Deva show in that time, so I haven't been able to test it. And the report I filed at Apple's Bug Reporter lists it as "Closed/Duplicate" which just means "Yes, we know about it and someone else has already told us about this."

The AppleScript I wrote to fix the broken resource fork problem could be modified to fix a broken resource fork on any file really. Assuming the problem is that it got stripped on due to a transfer to a FAT16 disk, and that you still had the resource fork.

I found this German company, Spherico, that's written several programs for dealing with sound dailies and Final Cut Pro. Most of the programs are about bringing all the functionality of the Avid to Final Cut Pro. There is one however called CopyRestore SD2 which does the same thing as my AppleScript. It will copy the files off the DVD-RAM at the same time. Maybe it's cooler. I don't know. Like I said, no Deva movie to try it out on yet. It's also $25.

They have another program BounceUsII which plays multi-channel Broadcast Wave files (BWF). Plus you can display and edit the metadata. Do mix-downs for editing against a "comp" track. Convert to and from SD2. And it'll spit out XML for importing into Final Cut Pro. It looks pretty cool. I've been trying to play with it using some BWF sound effects with metadata, but it keeps giving me strange AppleScript errors. Not sure what I problem is. Anyway, you might want to check it out and see if you have better luck.

There's another handy program I came across called BWAV Reader which shows you all the metadata and other information about Broadcast Wave files that you drop on it.

BWAV Reader Screenshot

It has this very tempting "Edit Metadata" button that when clicked simply pops up a "BWAV Writer will do what you want. Contact the author." window. I checked the website and there's not BWAV Writer program there. Looks like I'll have to send him an email.

May 25, 2004

Number One Reporting For Duty, Sir.

I've picked up some work helping finish up a movie that'll be a big summer release in July. Today I was conforming predubs, which is quite cool for me. I need to spend more time editing. My official title (not on this show, I'm just helping out on it) is First Assistant Sound Editor. You can think of me as the general manager of a store, while the Supervising Sound Editor is the owner. Or in the way I prefer to think of it: I'm Commander Riker to Cameron's Captain Picard. Basically I lead the away team missions and look quite dashing in my beard from Season 2 on.

Maybe someday I'll be able to say more stuff about movies I'm working on, while I'm working on them. But not today. Today as most days I'm just a little cog in a very large wheel. Don't get me wrong, I love the work I do. Playing with computers all day long. Recording cool sounds and doing weird stuff to them with effect processing units and special software. I find it fun.

It isn't really all that glamorous though. I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday. There is the mystique about this town that I've noticed when talking with people from other places--like when I'm visiting my family in Boston. "Oh! You work in Hollywood! How exciting!" is a typical kind of response I get from people. And yes, it's exciting but not in the way people would think. It's exciting because I'm doing what I love to do. It would be the same for someone who loves teaching, or accounting, or whatever career they really get into. It's not like I hang out with Steven Spielberg all day and tell him how his next movie should feature a monkey and a robot battling to the death on distant planet run by the decendents of ancient ninjas who were abducted by aliens a thousand years ago. (Though now that I think about it, that would be pretty sweet.)

Occasionally I meet actors when they come to a stage to record ADR if I'm not busy with something else. But that's usually nothing more than a "Hello, nice to meet you." Perhaps a handshake. When I worked on "Down With Love" I was able to go up to Renee Zellweger and after the the customary, "Nice to meet you," I did get in a "Could you sign this please." But only because she needed to sign her Exhibit G so that she could get paid. (And actually it was Sarah Paulson playing Vikki Hiller who I found so enchanting on that picture. Shaking hands with her was like a dream come true. Sarah, if you ever happen to read this, go ahead and click on that "Email Me" link in the corner.)

Mostly it's about playing with computers. And collecting lots of electronic gear. It's definitely a job for boys who like toys. (Or girls. Girls who like toys, I mean. Sexual preference has very little bearing on job satisfaction in the sound industry.)

May 23, 2004

I Just Wanna Go To The Rock 'n' Roll Show

Both Wednesday and Thursday night I saw Sleater-Kinney play El Rey here in Los Angeles. (I've mentioned this already.) They are such a great band. There had been some talk on the wordsandguitar mailing list that someone had recorded the Wednesday show. This morning I decided to check it out.

For those who aren't in the know, the SK Depot is an FTP site with lots of live material from Sleater-Kinney. (If you want to check it out, I suggest you take a look at the mailing list for the latest address, username and password. It changes occasionally.) So I popped in over there and downloaded the show. I noticed that there were a lot of shows in a .shn format. I wasn't familiar with it so I decided to do some research.

Now, hours later I gotten into the audiophile groove.

After I wrote my initial analysis of Apple's Lossless Codec, I got a lot of traffic from websites like Furthur Network and the Grateful Dead mailing list. I didn't investigate things too far then, but now I kind wish I'd looked into it more since today I wound up on many of those sites that linked to me.

There seems to be three main lossless audio codecs that are the most popular: FLAC, Shorten (.shn), and APE. I'm sure there are many others, including Apple's, but those are the ones that I encountered the most in my research today. There are also lots of other articles, webpages and whole websites dedicated to these things. I'm going to focus on the Macintosh OS X side of things. Though others might find a few things interesting.

If you encounter files in any of these formats you need to know how to deal with them. (As a side note: audio files compressed with a lossless codec are really good. They're larger than MP3s but they sound exactly the same as the CD, DAT, or other media they were made from.)

iTunes only supports Apple's Lossless encoder, so if you want to play the files you'll need MacAmp Lite X. Unfortunately development on this program stopped years ago. Fortunately Josh over at The Arctic Lounge has archived the last versions of MacAmp Lite X including the FLAC and Shorten plug-ins.

Maybe you don't want to listen to those files in MacAmp. Maybe you want to listen to them in iTunes or your iPod. Then you'll have to convert them. Scott Brown has written a great GUI for the command line versions of the FLAC, Shorten, and APE converters called xACT. With this you can easily decode your files into AIFFs or WAVs. And from there you can make MP3s, AACs, or Apple Lossless Files in iTunes. (Set the encoder you want to use in the "Importing" section of the Preferences. Highlight the AIFF or WAV files to convert and select "Convert Selection" from the Advanced menu.)

Another side note: there are many different methods for converting CDs or AIFFs or other audio into MP3s. Many people consider the LAME encoder to be the absolute best. This is not the encoder that Apple uses in iTunes. Blacktree has released their iTunes-LAME Encoder for those of you who want the best sounding audio possible in a lossy format.

I downloaded several lossless Sleater-Kinney shows from the Depot and converted them to Apple's Lossless format so that I could listen to them on my iPod. Here are some of the statistics:

Los Angeles, CA 05-19-2004 - 70:24
712.3 MB AIFF / 372.2 MB SHN / 337.9 MB ALC (1 / 0.52 / 0.47)

Berkeley, CA 05-31-1997 - 40:15
407.1 MB AIFF / 216.5 MB FLAC / 200.5 MB ALC (1 / 0.53 / 0.49)

San Francisco, CA 08-07-1998 - 57:08
578 MB AIFF / 338.3 MB FLAC / 339.1 MB ALC (1 / 0.59 / 0.59)

San Francisco, CA 07-01-1999 - 73:17
741.7 MB AIFF / 413 MB FLAC / 416.6 MB ALC (1 / 0.56 / 0.56)

Cambridge, MA 05-17-2000 - 76:51
777.4 MB AIFF / 505.1 MB FLAC / 508.7 ALC (1 / 0.65 / 0.65)

This shows several important things.

  1. The space savings of lossless audio is significant.
  2. I got much better results than with my initial test of "Are You Gonna Be My Girl".
  3. There isn't a radical difference in size between Shorten, FLAC, and Apple Lossless.

And now the cool part...

There's tons of lossless audio out there on the net for you to download. I'm not talking about Kazaa or other sharing networks where you are illegally downloading copyrighted material from other people's computers. I'm talking about live concert recordings (bootlegs) of bands that don't mind fans sharing the love. Of course a lot of it is jam bands: Grateful Dead, Phish, Rusted Root, Widespread Panic, and the like. You need to look around a bit more to find other bands, but it's there. Have fun with it.

Resources:

May 17, 2004

15 Minutes

In celebration of my going back to work, I'm going to let you in on a little secret...

I'm on the "S.W.A.T." DVD. Yeah, you know the movie. Colin Farrell, Sam Jackson & LL Cool J. You can see me out in the desert recording guns for the movie.

  1. Pop in the DVD
  2. Select "Special Features"
  3. Select the Next Arrow ">>>" for the second page
  4. Select "Sound & Fury: The Sounds of S.W.A.T."
  5. Select "The Sounds of S.W.A.T."
  6. Select the Headphones
  7. I first show up at about 1:28.

Jon & Cameron preparing to record guns for S.W.A.T.

That little featurette tells you a little bit about what we do. Plus there's some cool scene breakdowns where you can listen to how we divide up the sounds for predubbing. (It'll work in stereo, but a 5.1 speaker setup really shows off our stuff.)

Men At Work

I had my first day back at work today. It was exhausting. Not that a ton of stuff happened. The first day after a chunk of time off is always tough. Inevitably during my free time I slip in the habit of staying up as late as I want and sleeping until whenever I feel like getting out of bed. When I'm working I usually follow a strict regemin of getting up at 6am and going to bed somewhere between 10pm and 11pm. These two schedules clash hard those first few days back to work.

We spent a couple hours in a spotting session for the movie we're working on. The picture editor wants us to punch up the sound a bit before he shows the cut to the director on Monday. So a lot of it was fast forward through sections. "This is fine. Our temp FX are working here." That kind of thing. Then there'd be moments like, "This car chase is ok, but it's not great. See if you can help it a bit."

It's a 7 reel show right now. Typically reels are no more than 20 minutes long. Most dramatic features are 6 reels at release and most comedies are 5. It's not uncommon early on for a show to be a little long while they figure out what's working and what's not.

I got the videotapes and loaded the first 4 reels in the computer. And I converted the OMF exports of the editor's audio tracks to Pro Tools sessions. (Tomorrow morning I'll have to finish loading the other videos.)

We set up a Pro Tools system at Cameron's house several months ago, and moved certain things from the office there because we weren't working for awhile. We knew we had to bring some of that back to get this job done so we took off about 3pm to go back to his house and gather those drives and CDs up.

We also had to record some sound effects that the editor wanted after the spotting session. So we spent several hours in the afternoon rolling cans along the floor, making hinges squeak, and bumping luggage around on the sidewalk. Tomorrow I'll load that DAT into the computer and master the sound effects we recorded.

It's good to be back, and tomorrow will be fun. After getting all that new material into the computer, my job is to figure out all the backgrounds that are necessary and cut them into place.

May 4, 2004

How Good Can It Sound?

Stereophile magazine has published an article on iTunes. Most of it is yet another rehash of new features of iTunes 4.5. However the most interesting point is that the New York branch of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) is gathering this month to discuss the impact of portable digital audio players like the iPod using compressed audio files on the sound of music.

It is an important topic. When we do the final mix for films, we go to a dub stage that looks like a theater with most of the seats pulled out and an enormous mix board in the middle of the room. The speakers on these stages sound far better than the ones in most movie theaters. When it comes time to do the DVD mix, sometimes near field speakers are placed on the stage. These might be Genelecs or Audix or some other high end speaker that sounds much better than your home theater setup. The point is we try to get the best sounding mix out of the best sounding speakers. And when we go from movie theater to home theater we try to accurately reproduce the ideal listening environment.

Another way to think of it is that you know a hundred dollar pair of headphones is going to sound a lot better than a ten dollar pair. When you're working with sound, whether it's music or films, you want it sound the best it can under the best possible situation. (And therefore it should sound as good as possible under less than ideal situations.)

But iTunes and iPods and the like present a different problem. We are no longer just talking about monitoring through different headphones or speakers. We are talking about reducing the quality of the sound before it even gets played back. By it's very nature, a compressed sound file is better at playing back certain frequencies, and worse at others. In my own personal observations, high frequency transients like the harmonics from cymbals are the first things to get thrown out in MP3s. So if you know that a lot of your listeners are going to be listening to MP3s versus CDs, do you start reducing those high end frequencies in your mix?

It's definitely something to think about and should be an interesting discussion.

May 1, 2004

One Step Beyond

A Pro Tools update for everyone.

I've said that we set up a Pro Tools system in an unsupported configuration to and have been testing it. You can get all the details on the system in my earlier post.

It works pretty darn well. We had our first big test Thursday and Friday with pulling sound effects from our new Soundminer database and sending them into Pro Tools to cut a very action intensive 5 minute scene. Guns, explosions, general mayhem. It worked beautifully. I don't remember the exact track count, but it was over 32 because at one point Cameron had to change the voice setting up to 64.

The one disappointing thing was the performance of the MJPEG A quicktime movie on the Aurora Igniter video card. It was a bit jerky. We checked the Info window while playing the movie in Quicktime Player and it wouldn't stay at a constant 24 fps. Occasionally it would speed up or slow down by about .5 fps. We didn't have time to tweak the settings so I can hopefully get that to perform better.

Plus it wasn't exactly the standard Quicktime file that we would normally playback for sound editorial. It wasn't loaded off a video tape like they normally are. This was the conversion from an Avid Quicktime that I mention in my last post. The image size was larger than I normally digitize at, and maybe that had something to do with the less the perfect playback.

In fact, the Avid Quicktime played back better even in Pro Tools with all those tracks of audio running too. The only downside to that was the movie could only display on the computer monitor and not on the video monitor. So Cameron used that to cut against instead of the MJPEG A picture.

We haven't really tried out the SCSI on this setup yet. This scene was cut off the internal hard drive (a standard HFS+ format, not journaled) and the digital picture was played back off a second internal hard drive.

It's not the be-all end-all, but it does seem that the Pro Tools 6.2.3 software works well with Mix hardware on a G4.

April 30, 2004

Avid Quicktime Codecs

This one is for me as much as anyone else.

Once every six months or so I find myself in a situation where I need to either play an Avid Quicktime or convert it to another codec that's more useful to me (like MJPEG A), and I'm on a system that doesn't have the Avid codecs installed.

Yesterday I had to do it again. And I had a hard time finding the right codecs on Avid's website again. So here they are in all their glory:

Avid Meridien Quicktime Codecs for Mac OS X, Mac OS 9, Windows XP, and Windows 2000. These are the latest versions.

Avid Quicktime Codecs for Media Composer / Film Composer 10.5 and Xpress 4.5 (Mac OS 9). This includes ABVB 9.3 and Meridien 9.4.1.

Avid Quicktime Codecs for Media Composer / Film Composter 10.1 and Xpress 4.1 (Mac OS 9).

Avid Quicktime Codec ABVB 8.0.2 for Mac OS.

Avid's software download page. Though for some reason you can't actually find the latest Meridien drivers on this page.

Don't forget to put your Quicktime codecs in the right place! In OS X, they need to go in /Library/Quicktime. In OS 9, they need to go in System Folder/Extensions. (Windows users, I have no idea. Sorry.)

Codecs for OS 9 will not work in Classic under OS X!

April 29, 2004

Lossless Is Good

If you keep up with Apple developments at all you probably already know that today is the one year anniversary of the iTunes Music Store. In honor of that Apple released iTunes 4.5 and Quicktime 6.5.1.

The new version of iTunes includes features like the Party Shuffle, Jewel Case Insert Printing, and iMix. You can read about all that stuff over at Apple's site or pretty much any other Mac news website.

The feature that I found most intriguing is the new Apple Lossless Audio Codec that comes with Quicktime. MP3s and AACs have revolutionized how we think about music. But let's face it, they are compressed audio files. Any CD will sound better. iTunes and the iPod will quite happily play uncompressed AIFF files but they are much larger. You are probably familiar with an MP3 at 128 kbps. An uncompressed AIFF file runs at 1411 kbps. In other words, 0.94 MB per minute versus 10.33 MB per minute.

So I pulled out my CD of Jet's "Get Born" and decided to do a little experimenting with "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." Marc Heijligers did some excellent qualitative studies of various types of audio compression in "Encoding Observations." I used a method similar to his to analyze Apple's Lossless compression.

I used Peak to rip an uncompressed AIFF of the track. I opened that file with Quicktime Player Pro and exported it to a movie with the Lossless codec. (Unless I missed something, it seems that only the "export to Quicktime Movie" option allows you to use that codec.)

Export to Quicktime Movie with Apple Lossless Compressor

Just to be completely legit, I exported another movie with the audio uncompressed. The first thing I noticed was the difference in file size. At 3:33 long, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" was 36.1 MB uncompressed and 27.1 MB with the lossless compression. The compressed file was 25% smaller. Again in comparison, a 128 kbps MP3 is 91% smaller. For this song it would be about 3.3 MB

Obviously an MP3 or AAC is a lot smaller, but you also lose some of the sound information in the process. This new Apple Lossless codec promises to save 25% in file size and is supposed to sound exactly the same. To test this out I opened both the uncompressed movie and the lossless movie in Peak.

Visually the two files seemed to have identical waveforms.

Uncompressed Audio
Uncompressed Audio

Lossless Compressed Audio
Lossless Compressed Audio

With a quick listen on my studio headphones, I couldn't tell the difference. I needed to be sure though that there was literally no difference. This is where I used a method that Marc talked about in his article.

I inverted the phase of the Lossless compression file.

Invert Phase

Then I copied the entire file to the clipboard, and using Peak's "Add" DSP function, I mixed the phase inverted Lossless audio with the original uncompressed audio.

Add Function

The resulting audio file was completely silent.

Silent Audio

A sound waveform looks a squiggly line drawn along the X-axis of an X/Y graph. You might be familiar with a Sine wave from trigonometry. A simple tone looks like that. When a sound is phase inverted, the peaks and valleys of that squiggle are swapped. So where the original sound might have a peak at 4 on the Y-axis, the inverted sound would have a valley at the same point in time at -4 on the Y-axis. Obviously if you add 4 and -4 you get zero. So a phase inverted sound mixed into the original sound should give you a silent audio file.

Since I phase inverted the compressed file, mixed it in with the uncompressed file, and wound up with a silent file, the codec truly is lossless. The two files are sonically identical.

Out of curiosity, I imported the original AIFF file into iTunes. I went into the preferences and changed my import settings to "Apple Lossless Encoder."

iTunes Importing

Then I used the "Convert" function under the Advanced menu to convert my AIFF into a compressed file using the new Lossless codec.

Convert Selection

The resulting file was an AAC file with the same .m4a extension as my other AACs. When I got info on the new AAC, I found that it was 1061 kbps.

Info for Uncompressed Audio
Uncompressed Audio

Info for Lossless Compressed Audio
Lossless Compressed Audio

With a space savings of 25% and truly no loss of sound quality, Apple's new codec is definitely something to take a look at for both sound professionals and audiophile consumers.

April 22, 2004

Digital Audio Field Recorders

For many years the DAT recorder has been standard for both timecode and non-timecode field recordings. Now that Digital Audio Workstations are supporting file standards beyond the 16 bit, 48 KHz limit of DATs, it makes sense to look at other options. I was able to check out 3 cool new recorders at NAB.

Deva V

Zaxcom's Deva recorder is in essence the grandfather of the hard disk field recorders. There have been others but they are the first to really offer one that has gained widespread use in production sound.

Their latest recorder, the Deva V, which is due "any day now", is a big improvement over the 4-track, 24 bit, 48 KHz Deva II. The new recorder offers 10 tracks of audio at up to 192 KHz. It also has a touch screen menu which offers much better access to functionality than the few buttons of the Deva II.

In the demo I saw, the Deva V has an on-screen keyboard which allows you to enter text like track name information, and scene and take, which was only previously possible through an external digital mixer with a built-in keyboard. The Deva V also allows you to route any input channel to any record track (or number of input channels to number of record tracks for internal mix-downs). The older Deva II had a similar functionality but the new track matrix screen makes it much easier to see what's going on. (Ask any Deva II user about their first time with the machine and they will probably admit to multing Input 1 to every record track for a while. It was a common mistake.) The only problem with these on-screen functions is that the screen is quite small so you need a pointer similar to a PDA pen to select many of these functions.

They've also added a Firewire port to the device and and optional internal DVD-R. The DVD-R is a smart move away from DVD-RAM. If you've read my previous article on the headaches of DVD-RAMs in the Mac, or you've experienced it yourself, you know what I'm talking about.

It's a cool device and I've only just touched on some of the new features. It is a bit pricey though. It will set you back about $13,000.

Sound Devices 722 and 744T

These two recorders are very impressive. They are extremely small--a little larger than a VHS tape. They have a very clean and simple interface. According to the reps I talked to at NAB, they are 60 days away from release.

The 722 is a 2-channel recorder, while the 744T is a 4-channel timecode recorder. They both do 24 bit recordings at up to 96 KHz. The 722 has an internal 20 GB hard drive which would give you about 30 hours of stereo recordings at 16 bit, 48 KHz, or about 10 hours at 24 bit, 96 KHz. The 744T has a 40 GB hard drive, so it would give you about the same amount of time but with 4-channel recordings. (Or double the times of stereo.)

It has a Firewire interface, so that when you plug it into your computer, it shows up as a hard drive on your desktop for transferring files. It also has what they call a C-Link interface which allows you to daisy chain multiple recorders together and have them all going into record at the same time with the push of one button.

The price is right on these as well. The 722 will go for about $2600 and the 744T for about $4200.

Fostex FR-2

This is the recorder that impressed me most. It's about twice the size of the Sound Devices recorders but it is very light. Like the others it records 16 or 24 bit sound files, but it can go all the way up to 192 KHz. It's only a 2-channel recorder, but there will be a timecode option available later this year. It is also in stores right now.

It only has a USB interface to attach it to your computer and transfer files, so it is not as fast as the FIrewire of the other recorders. However, the $1300 price tag more than makes up for a little extra transfer time.

The one caveat is that it doesn't have a built-in hard drive. You have to purchase that separately. This is can be seen as a bonus though too. It supports recording to 1.8" Type II PC Card hard drives. Many of the 5 GB models now go for about $250. The other option is that it supports Compact Flash Type II cards for recording. The same ones used in some digital cameras. The 2 GB cards go for about $400 right now. It is an additional expense, but there are no moving parts. Plus by recording to compact flash, you can pick up a $20 USB compact flash reader and transfer your recordings to your computer without eating up your recorder's battery time. With a 2 GB card, you can get about 3 hours of 16 bit, 48 KHz stereo recordings or 1 hour at 24 bit, 96 KHz.

April 21, 2004

The Quest For The Knob

It goes without saying that the most important thing about an audio workstation is that you are able to hear what you are working on. This often leads to the continual quest for the best sounding speakers and headphones. The question that those of us who work in the sound field don't always think about is "What is the best mixer to use?"

A standard Pro Tools system has 8 outputs. (Yes, the HD hardware can output up to 16 but often on a standard editorial system, people only use 8.) The various flavors of the Mackie 1604 has been the work-horse of mixer setup.

However, ever since Pro Tool 5.1, the software can be configured to handle an internal surround mix and output in 5.1. With this change editors using workstations that are configured to monitor in 5.1 really only need to use 6 outputs. So on the mixer side of things, you need the 6 or 8 inputs from Pro Tools and probably another 2 (stereo pair) for the Mac speaker. Sometimes you might have other gear like a DAT or video deck that you want to monitor independent of Pro Tools, but often you just need the 8 or 10 mixer inputs to handle everyting.

The problem comes with the outputs to the speakers. The easiest way to deal with a 5.1 speaker setup is to assign each bus out to a speaker. So you need 6 buses to handle the outputs. The Mackie 1604 only has 4. You can make use of the Aux Sends for the two additional outputs but it's not configured as nicely. So now you're looking at jumping up to an 8 bus mixer and that's starts getting much more expensive.

And really when it comes down to it, if you're setting up a 5.1 workstation, you don't need or want individual EQs on every channel. And individual volume controls become a big hassel. After spending a long time calibrating the Sound Pressure Level of the room, you want to lock those faders down so that the relative volume from one channel to the next is aways the same. What you really need is what I've been refering to as "the box with the big knob" for a year now.

Let's face it, consumer surround receivers have it right. Plug your 6 channels from a DVD player into the receiver. Six cables from the receiver go to the home theater speakers. And there's a big knob on the front to adjust the level of all speakers up or down. That's the idea we need to recreate in the professional sound editor market.

I have yet to find a good solution to this but at the NAB show in Las Vegas, I did see a step in the right direction. Mackie has just released a new mixer that they call surprisingly enough "The Big Knob". (Mackie, feel free to put a check in the mail made out to me--oh yeah, I never filed a copyright on that name. Damn!) I was so excited when I saw that thing in their booth. No individual channel faders, just a big knob in the middle of the board.

Unfortunately, it's configured for stereo pairs. It does have 6 ins and outs (3 stereo pairs) but you can only tweak levels on two channels at time. This might not be a problem for Left / Right or Left Surround / Right Surround, but the Center / Sub pair could be a little hairy. It's possible though that with a little level tweaking on the Pro Tools interface, this mixer could me made to work with a 5.1 studio. I told the guy I talked to at the Mackie booth that I thought it was a great piece of gear, they just needed to get cracking on a true 5.1 version.

April 19, 2004

Amazingly Colossal

Insanity! The NAB trade show is huge. Think of something big. Now think of something that could beat up that big thing. Now triple the size of that. You're starting to get the picture of just how big this thing is.

We spent nearly 5 hours today tramping around there talking to people, checking out the latest audio and video hardware, and I am beat. We skipped most of the broadcast video stuff. Spent a lot of time in the Audio / Radio section, and barely touched on the "Multimedia" area. We're going back tomorrow. That multimedia section is where Apple, Avid, Digidesign, ATTO, Discreet, Adobe, and all the other computer-based hardware and software guys are.

I have spent my share of time at the San Diego Comic-Con and I thought that event was big. This doesn't even compare. More later. We're about to go to dinner and Cameron has to see the Lakers.

April 18, 2004

I'm Leaving On A Jet Plane

In just under 3 hours I will be getting on a plane for Las Vegas. The NAB geekfest awaits me.

Apple is making some big announcement today, if I remember the MacCentral news correctly. So tomorrow I should be able to see what ever cool new products they have at their booth.

I'm also planning on checking out Digidesign, mSoft / Soundminer, Zaxcom Deva, and HHB. Fostex supposedly has some relatively new 2 channel hard disk field recorder that will do 24bit, 96KHz for like $1200. I'll have to take a look at that.

I'm sure I'll be bumping into half the engineers and tech guys I work. It'll be fun to catch up when it's not some kind of mission critical emegency like normal.

Plus we have reservations tonight at Del Monico's.

April 17, 2004

My God, It's Full Of Stars.

This is cool. Beethoven's 9th Symphony time stretched to 24 hours with some really sophisticated software. (A standard performance of the 9th Symphony is usually just under 74 minutes. The original CD standard was set so that an entire performance could fit on one disc.)

I've been listening to the 5th movement. I feel like I've just touched the monolith, and now I need to beat on things with a bone club.

April 14, 2004

Someone's Knocking At The Door

It looks like we worked out part of the problem we were having with the Digidesign Core Audio Drivers that came with Pro Tools 6.2.3. If you remember from my earlier post, we are trying to use this on an officially unsupported system: PowerMac G4, OS X 10.3.3, Pro Tools 6.2.3 software, and Pro Tools | 24 Mix Plus hardware. I haven't really used the OS X core audio drivers before. I didn't realize that there was a Core Audio Setup program in the Digidesign folder. Once we ran that, and selected the proper interface, everything seemed to work fine. There is still one little bug though: both Pro Tools and the Core Audio Driver think that the 888 | 24 that is hooked up to the Mix Plus cards has 16 channels in and out. (Not the 8 that it actually does.) If haven't tempted fate to see what would happen if I selected Outputs 9 through 16.

I did notice that Digidesign has slightly updated its compatibility page. It still lists the Mix hardware as being in testing, and they still note that there has not been any problems with a PowerMac G4 in early testing. They have changed to information on the G5 though to say that it does NOT work with Mix hardware and that support is TBA.

We've started using Soundminer as our sound effects database program and it's excellent! We spent many hours yesterday letting the program scan our hard drives full of sound effects, and compile a database. Today Cameron pulled some sound effects for a friend and it took only a few minutes to make some selections and then transfer them to a folder. (This was a huge change from some of our recent experiences with Mtools where we'd spend an hour or two just trying to get the software to behave long enough to get the files on to a hard drive.)

One effect that was needed was the sound of someone getting hit in the face with a bell telephone. That's not exactly the kind of effect that you tend have sitting around. And even though I'm willing to give up quite a bit of my life to my career, getting smacked with a telephone while a microphone is pointed at me is not one of those sacrifices. So the sound had to be built from individual components. A couple of hard telephone hand set slams, a body hit, a punch, and a slight bell ring off made the perfect "phone introduced to head at high velocity" sound. Cameron didn't find quite the right bell sound, but he had a lot of great old phone rings. With the Soundminer software, you don't have to transfer the entire sound effect. You can set in and out points for the piece that you want. He selected the tail-end decay of a phone ring, had just that section transfered, and there was the needed ring-off.

On the on the "when are we going to get a paying gig" news front: we have been given scripts to three different movies that studios are interested in having us do the sound on. All of them start later in the year, and it would really be nice to find something that starts up in May, but I'm not complaining. It's nice to be wanted. As long as we can convince the "powers that be" that we're the right ones for the job, we should be busy the second half of this year. Keep your fingers crossed.

April 9, 2004

One Part Panther, Two Parts Sound, Mix Thoroughly

I spent most of another day with Cameron today. Dana, his wife, is always making jokes like "So when are you moving in?" They are such great people.

We were setting up his second Pro Tools system in his office / guitar room at his house and I found out some interesting things. We were able to get Pro Tools 6.2.3 working on a Mix Plus with Panther. Here's the specs:

  • Power Mac G4 1.25GHz (OS 9 bootable "Speed Hole")
  • OS X 10.3.3
  • Pro Tools | 24 Mix Plus Hardware
  • Pro Tools 6.2.3 Software
  • ATTO UL3D SCSI Card
  • Aurora IgniterX Lite video card with 6.2.2 drivers

Digidesign has not officially qualified Mix hardware for use with Panther and the 6.2 software. The setup that we have on our systems at Fox is Pro Tools 6.1 and OS X 10.2.6. Panther is so much nicer, I've been dying to use it for work. Digi does say though that they haven't experienced any problems in early testing on the Mix hardware.

So we thought we would give it a shot since we're not on a show right now. Pro Tools seems to function fine under basic usage. I was able to create a new session. Import some guide tracks and a movie. Play, scrub, shuttle, lots of fast starting and stopping, basic cutting and fades all worked. Now obviously a "real" session has many more than two tracks--lots of files and edits and fades. We haven't beat on it very hard but so far it's working well.

They also have finally fixed the Grid Mode bug that's been in 5.3, 6.0 and 6.1 where zooming way in would cause the grid lines and the Feet and Frame timeline to disappear.

I did encounter a problem with the Digidesign Core Audio drivers. When you select "Digidesign HW" in either Sound Output or Sound Input, the name changes to "Digidesign HW (Mix)" which is good. However, none of the options appear like setting the sound level or left / right balance or anything. Also when "Digidesign HW" was selected in Sound Output, iTunes would only intermittently work correctly. Sometimes I was able to play songs fine. Other times you'd hit play and a blank window would pop up that said "Hardware Setup" in the title. The song wouldn't play and you'd have to Force Quit iTunes to get out.

I'll keep you informed as we discover new things. I would welcome any comments from anyone with their own experiences of Mix hardware, Panther, and Pro Tools 6.2.

April 7, 2004

Another Day Another Doc

Session drummer turned aspiring filmmaker, Gary Gardner, met with Cameron and I today about a documentary he's been working on for the last two years. It's about an LA jazz club called The Baked Potato which opened in its doors in the early 1970s. Practically every jazz musician has played that club in the past 30 years. Gary was recently able to interview Lou Rawls about his experiences at The Baked Potato. I suspect he still has a ways to go before he gets this whole thing pulled together, and even though I'm not a jazz fan, this is one exciting project.

First there's going to be a documentary with all these major jazz musicians like Al Jareau, Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton, and Robben Ford. (If I'm remembering the names correctly... again, I'm not the jazz guy.) Then there will be a live concert recording of these jazz musicians each playing 2 songs at the club. I think he was saying that he's planning on 30 different artists. That concert will be released on CD and DVD.

So even though the classic rock documentary I was talking about recently is a little more my style, this one is very cool for including the concert. We've already been talking about doing the 5.1 DVD mix to give a true feel of a small club experience.

And A Bowl Of Noodles

Cameron and I also spent time today goofing around with some instruments of our own--Cam on guitar, I was on bass. I've been learning to play bass for a few months now. It's so much fun. I'm never going to be great at it. In fact right now I'm definitely not good. I need to practice more. But bass is very cool.

April 4, 2004

The People Behind The People

I had a meeting yesterday about a documentary. Denny Tedesco has been working on a documentary about his father, Tommy Tedesco, one of the most prolific Los Angeles session guitarists, and the other session musicians he worked with. People like Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye. The Wrecking Crew as they came to be known.

Denny has been working on this project for eight years collecting interviews, cutting his footage together, and trying to find investors and distributors. He showed a 15 minute promotional cut to Cameron, my partner in crime in sound, and I. It was one of the cooler documentaries I've ever seen. I had no idea.

We all know that The Monkees didn't actually play their own songs. Tommy was the guitar of the Monkees. But what people probably don't realize is how many recordings session musicians appeared on in the 60s and 70s. Hal Blaine claims to have played on tens of thousands of recordings during his time as a session drummer. If you look at a list of the recordings that Tommy Tedesco played on (which is definitely not complete), it will blow your mind. Practically every big American name from the 60s and 70s like The Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Joan Baez, Pat Boone, J.J. Cale, Glen Campbell, Sam Cooke, Bobby Darin, Doris Day, The Everly Brothers, The 5th Dimension, Jan & Dean, Peggy Lee, Barry McGuire, Roger McGuinn, Harry Nilsson, The Partridge Family, Elvis, The Rip Chords, Linda Ronstadt, Sonny & Cher, and Frank Zappa.

Denny is getting close to pulling his documentary together. He has an editor who is going through the footage and helping him make a cut. But he wasn't sure about the post-sound end of things--the editing and mixing. He came to us looking for advice.

This is one documentary I hope gets finished and made available to the public whether through film festivals, or PBS, or DVD, or all of the above. It is a fascinating story about the classic rock era and the people who made it happen. And I would consider it an honor to be able work on this project.

March 31, 2004

Digging For Sound Effects

Yesterday I was shown a demo of a great sound library program called Soundminer. It's very exciting: 58 metadata fields, SQL search functions, Rewire support for multichannel monitoring, Quicktime support for auditioning against picture, all kinds of fun stuff. But I get ahead of myself...

A sound company's or sound supervisor's bread and butter is the sound effects library. Attitude, communication, and all those customer service things are very important, but without a sound effect library there can be no post-production sound. A critical factor in the sound effects library is how easy is it to get to the necessary sounds?

When I started working in this industry eight years ago, most Supervising Sound Editors would use a process similar to this: Take the continuity list that shows the division of the film into reels and scenes. For each scene create a list of spots. Search the sound effects library for appropriate sounds for each spot. Listen to the CDs and DATs and make lists of the chosen sounds for each spot. Print the lists. Have the assistant load the sounds into the computer from the source CDs or DATs. Have the assistant copy the sounds to the editors' drives and make copies of the lists for the editors.

For example, scene 20 is a car chase through New York with gunfire between the two cars. So spots might be Good Guy Car, Bad Guy Car, Good Guy Guns, Bad Guy Guns, NYC Traffic Day. It might get even more specific since the most dynamic sounds for the scene would probably be the cars. So there might be spots for Engine Revs, Tire Squeals, and Brake Slams.

Supervisors would use a database program like Filemaker Pro, Leonardo, or even something on a ancient Alpha Micro computer to search for sounds. Type in "Engine Rev" and see what goodies pop up. Or maybe there was that one recording of a really beefy police car who's engine sounds might be perfect, so the supervisor types in "Crown Vic Engine". The list of the matching sounds would be displayed, and then the process of pulling the DATs or CDs from the shelf, finding the right track number and listening to the sounds would begin. Between all this searching, finding, listening, and the all the loading, copying, and photocopying that the assistants would do, the process could take weeks.

Thankfully now we have large quantities of cheap disk space, high speed networks, and some really great sound library software. Now most supervisors have made a point to get their entire sound effects library loaded onto hard drives and ready for instant access. These might be Firewire drives that sit in their office or they might be network storage hanging off a server. With the new sound library software, supervisors can type in keywords to search for in the database and then click a button next to the description to immediately start auditioning the sounds. Choices can be made and put into a "pull list" or "bin" depending on the terminology used. And then with another click of the button, the chosen sound effects can be downloaded on to a cutting hard drive from or server or set of master drives, and imported into an open Pro Tools session.

As you can probably imagine, this saves HUGE amounts of time.

Three years ago this May, Cameron, the Supervisor I work with, and I set up a system like this for ourselves. We used a program called MTools from Gallery and it changed everything. Suddenly the process that used to take weeks could be done in several days. And we loved it for a long time. MTools is basically a series a utilities applications that interfaced with a Filemaker Pro database. The database would list all of the information about the sounds, and by clicking a button, the path to the sound would be handed off to a program called Dcode which would audition the sound from the server. Dcode is the same program that would copy of the files from the server when the pull list was sent to Pro Tools.

Unfortunately MTools has also been a bit buggy. It's a problem with a lot of sound software. We're definitely a niche market and it doesn't attract the top developers. The Filemaker part of the equation was pretty rock solid. Some people have complained about the speed of Filemaker search hundreds of thousands of sounds but I never found it to be too bad. The problem typically stemmed from the strange behavior of Dcode.

Sometimes it would refuse to run. As soon as it started, it would immediately quit. The solution was to throw out the preferences file and copy "fresh" Dcode from the install disk or the server. Then if you auditioned your first sound, Dcode wouldn't quit if you hit Command-Q. There is this button with a down arrow that is supposed to rebuild waveform overviews, but by clicking this button, Dcode will quit after you've auditioned your first sound. It also has a problem remember the path to the save directory. You run the program, select the directory you want all your sounds transfer into, spend an hour selecting the best sounds, click the transfer button, and it throws up a bunch of error messages. You realize that there's no longer a path listed in the destination field. There was literally I time two weeks ago when I sat on the phone with Cameron for two hours while we tried to get Dcode to copy the selected sounds to a local hard drive.

We have decided that we need to find a better solution. That is where the demo of Soundminer comes in. It does all the basic functions I've talked about flawlessly. And there's a lot of extra functionality that we never had with MTools. You can customize the layout, font size, color, etc. as easily as you can with a program like iTunes. (You can make customizations in Filemaker Pro and in general it's a pretty easy database program to learn, but doing something simple like change the font from 12 point to 18 point because the editor has bad eyes is a bit involved.) You can set in and out points on the sounds your auditioning and it will only transfer those portions to your editing session. It has a function where it will find matching sounds based on the characteristics of the sound itself, not just the keywords you typed in. And about a half-billion other things that are great.

I suspect that I will spend most of next week in the office switching us over to a new Soundminer-based library.

March 23, 2004

Sync? What's That?

Did you know that these cool new LCD and Plasma TVs add a delay into the video signal? Well, they do. I'm no expert but I would imagine it has something to do with converting the analog video signal to a pixel-based digital display.

If you take the cable out of your wall or a feed from your satellite dish and plug it straight into the plasma TV, and also hook up the sound to play through the TV speakers, you won't have any problem. The flat panel TV will delay the audio and video signal the same amount and everything will stay in sync.

The problem occurs when you feed the video to your plasma or LCD TV and the audio to a separate receiver and speaker system. Because of this analog to digital conversion delay that happens in the video (which by the way does not happen on standard CRT televisions), the sound will appear to happen just slightly before the visual event. Try watching a live concert and you'll really notice it.

Another way to see it is to send the same video signal--cable, satellite, DVD, or VHS--to a flat panel TV and to a CRT TV at the same time. Look for hard cuts from one shot to the next. The cut will happen a fraction of a second earlier on the CRT than on the panel.

I spent some time today at my friend's house tweaking his new home theater that I've previously mentioned. His new 50" Sony LCD Projection TV delays the video signal just like all flat panels do. Luckily his Denon receiver has a function where it will delay the audio signal on all channels to compensate for this. After a lot of testing with a Stevie Ray Vaughn concert DVD, we found that a 5 ms delay in the audio put everything in perfect sync.

Hopefully this information will help you make your home theater experience even better.

March 20, 2004

The Big Picture

This isn't strictly an "Audio" entry. In fact it's more of a "Video" entry, but I since those two things are often tied together I thought I would include it here as opposed to "Musings" or "Star Trek" or something.

I spent several hours last night and most of this morning helping my friend set up a new home theater in his house. It is awesome. He bought a 50" Sony LCD Projection TV and a new Denon Receiver and they're both fantastic pieces of equipment.

The Denon Receiver is so new that many stores don't carry it yet. It's 120W per channel. Something around 3 audio inputs and 5 video inputs. It has 3 component video inputs which is perfect for a situation with a DVD player, an HD decoder, and an Xbox or other game system. Plus is has video conversion so you can still attach composite or S-Video signals to the receiver and it'll convert them up to component and send that signal to your TV. It does a ton of other great things. I suggest you stop by your local home theater store and check one out.

When we were looking at all the different gear options for his home, we looked a various speakers too. Eventually he decided not to get anything just yet. He's just relying on a pair of full size speakers that he's used on his previous stereo for many years. They sound nice and there's no rush. You might think it strange that a couple of guys who do sound for a living didn't immediately buy speakers but there are so many factors to consider. He and I can both easily listen to many different speakers and find a nice sounding set, but now that the largest surround setup supports 8 speakers (7.1), you can easily triple the cost of a home theater system by buying those speakers at the same time. Plus my friend is in this new house. He's very concerned about getting the exact right set of speakers. Size and color are a big consideration in this. Anyway, the point is, he was very happy to get a huge TV and an amazing receiver and spend a little more time researching the speaker situation.

The TV is phenomenal too. That 50" screen is enormous. Prior to this my friend was watching TV on a 27" set. I measured the picture on his new TV. Even when the image is set to Normal 4:3 mode, it's still 41". And then of course when you're looking at a DVD in 16:9 it's just so big.

The key to a great looking TV though (and I can't stress this enough) is properly calibrating the TV. I am completely serious. I know that not everyone can afford to go plop down three grand on a new widescreen television. But even with a modest one you might have in your home right now, you can make it look pretty great. You need to have a DVD player attached to the TV set. And you need to buy a copy of the Avia Guide to Home Theater on DVD. This is the critical part. I've been calibrating monitors for several years now using this DVD. It's fantastic. Normally I keep it at work to make sure our video monitors are up to spec, (and remember I work on Hollywood movies for a living) but I went and got it to set up my friend's new TV.

There's a whole presentation on the DVD where a couple of dorky guys talk you through every single nuance of a home theater. Skip it. Unless you're interested. Maybe you don't know anything about a home theater and want to create one. Then it's worthwhile. But if you're looking to calibrate your TV, just hit the "Menu" button on you DVD remote. Selected the Advanced menu, and from there go to basic video calibration. They will talk you through all the steps necessary to get good looking pictures on your television. It's really easy and it only takes about 10 minutes the first time you do it.

Once you've calibrated the video input that your DVD player is attached to on your TV, you'll need to figure out what's going on with the other inputs. Some older TVs only have one setup. You configure the Picture, Brightness, Color, Tint and Sharpness settings once and they hold for every single input (RF antenna or cable, Video 1, Video 2, etc.) You can check this by hitting the "Input" or "TV/Video" button on your remote to change to another input. Now go back into your TV setup menu and see if the new settings you made for the DVD still hold. If they don't (and this will probably be the case on most new TVs) you'll have to calibrate the video for every single input that you use on the TV. If you have multiple video inputs, you can hook the DVD player up to each one in turn and rerun the calibration DVD. You won't be able to do this for the antenna or cable input. Your best bet is to make a note of the settings from the original DVD calibration and use the same settings for the cable. It'll be pretty darn close to what it needs to be.

So there you go. Enjoy your "new" television.

March 16, 2004

Deva Sound Files and Damaged Resource Forks

A lot of sound recording for film and television is moving to the Deva II hard disk recorder. They've been around for several years but if the recent conversations I've had with production mixers are any indication, we fear change.

Actually I think post-production sound tends to embrace new technologies, but lets face it when you're on the set or on location with a production, you've got one chance to get that recording right. So I don't blame mixers for being a bit hesitant to jump on the non-linear digital bandwagon.

Here's the problem:

The Deva II mirrors to a DVD-RAM disk as it records to a hard drive. Those DVD-RAM disks become the sound rolls for the production. There are two sizes of DVD-RAM disks--2.6 GB per side and 4.7 GB per side. The older 2.6 GB drives are not compatible with 4.7 GB disks.

The Deva II formats in MS-DOS FAT16 format, but if you set it to record Sound Designer II (SD2) files, these are Macintosh files with resource forks. In post-production, if you use a SCSI DVD-RAM drive, there is software that can be installed in OS 9 to give you proper access to the SD2 files. No problem.

Unfortunately SCSI DVD-RAM drives are no longer made and have not been made for about a year or so. There is a very limited supply of rental SCSI DVD-RAM drives in Los Angeles. Only Firewire DVD-RAM drives are available for purchase now. Plus according to Apple, OS 9 has been dead for about a year and half. All new Macintoshes only boot into OS X.

Thankfully OS X comes with drivers for DVD-RAM drives built-in. Plus it supports the MSDOS FAT16 format. So if you buy a Firewire DVD-RAM drive, plug it into your OS X-based Macintosh, and insert a DVD-RAM disk from a Deva II, it will pop up on your desktop. No additional software needed.

There is a problem with this. Apple's implementation of the MSDOS FAT16 filesystem under OS X does not properly deal with resource forks. They get stripped out of the file and appear under another directory as separate files. For something like SD2 files, this means that you lose your source timecode information which is critical for doing an auto-assembly of you production dialogue track.

The easiest solution is to record all the production sound on the Deva II in the Broadcast Wave (BWF) format. This is a flat file with no resource fork so there is no problem with losing timecode. Plus Digidesign Pro Tools, the digital audio workstation that most of us in the post-production sound industry use, fully supports the BWF format.

This solution is not always available. Often you get sound rolls from the production after shooting has wrapped and there was no conversation with the production mixer. It might be in SD2 format and there's nothing you can do to change it at that point.

I've developed an AppleScript that makes use of two other programs--ToggleFork and Resploder--to fix this problem. Take your DVD-RAM disk. Insert it into your Firewire DVD-RAM drive under OS X. Copy the entire disk (including all folders) over to your working hard drive (it can be SCSI, Firewire, internal, it doesn't matter). Run my "Deva SD2 Fix" AppleScript and point to the folder that contains the Deva sound files when you are prompted. That's it. It's pretty simple and only take a minute or so to fix an entire sound roll.

Let me know if you have any problems with this.

Download Deva SD2 Fix.
Download ToggleFork from me.
Download Resploder from me.

NOTE: I didn't write ToggleFork or Resploder. Other people did. Also, Apple released OS X 10.3.3 yesterday. It's possible that MSDOS FAT16 resource fork bug was fixed in this release. I've been in touch with Apple trying to get this fixed for many months now. I haven't had a chance to try out the new OS software and see if it now works.