The following is an excerpt from Designing Sound for Animation, 2e by Robin Beauchamp. This nuts-and-bolts guide to sound design for animation will explain to you the theory and workings behind sound for image, and provide an overview of the stems and production path to help you create your soundtrack. Here, Robin gives you some tips on recorded dialogue and some of its common issues.
Whether recorded as scratch, final dialogue, or ADR, there are many objective criteria for evaluating recorded dialogue. It is the responsibility of the dialogue mixer to ensure that the dialogue is recorded at the highest possible standards. The following is a list of common issues associated with recorded dialogue.
Sibilance — Words that begin with s, z, ch, ph, sh, and th all produce a hissing sound that, if emphasized, can detract from a reading. Experienced voice talents are quick to move off of these sounds to minimize sibilance. For example, instead of saying “sssssnake” they would say “snaaaake” maintaining the length while minimizing the offending sibilance. Moving the microphone slightly above or to the side of the talent’s mouth (off-axis) will also reduce sibilance. In rare cases, sibilance can be a useful tool for character development. Such was the case with Sterling Holloway’s hissing voice treatment of Kaa, the python in the Walt Disney feature The Jungle Book (1967).
Peak Distortion — A granular or pixilated sound caused by improper gain staging of the microphone pre-amp or from overloading the microphone with too much SPL (sound pressure level). Adjust the gain staging on the microphone pre-amps, place a pad on the microphone, move the source further from the microphone, if using a condenser microphone, consider a dynamic microphone instead.
Plosives (Wind Distortion) — Words that begin with the letters b, p, k, d, t, and g produce a rapid release of air pressure that can cause the diaphragm to pop or distort. Plosives can be reduced or prevented with off-axis microphone placement or through the use of a pop-filter. Some takes can be improved by applying a high-pass filter set below the fundamental frequency of the dialogue to reduce plosives.
Nerve-related Problems — Recording in a studio is intimidating for many actors. The sense of permanence and a desire for perfection often produce levels of anxiety that can impact performance. Signs of anxiety include exaggerated breathing, dry mouth, and hurried reading. It is often helpful to show the talent how editing can be used to composite a performance. Once they learn that the final performance can be derived from the best elements of individual takes, they typically relax and take the risks needed to deliver a compelling performance.
Lip and Tongue Clacks — Air conditioning and nerves can cause the actor’s mouth to dry out. This in turn causes the lip and tongue tissue to stick to the inside of the mouth, creating an audible sound when they separate. Always provide water for the talent throughout the session and encourage voice actors to refrain from drinking dairy products prior to the session.
Extraneous Sounds — Sounds from computer fans, florescent lights, HVAC, and home appliances can often bleed into the recordings and should be addressed prior to each session. In addition, audible cloth and jewelry sounds may be captured by the microphone due to close placement of the microphone to the talent. It is equally important to listen for unwanted sound when recording dialogue.
Phase Issues — Phase issues arise when the voice reflects off a surface such as a script, music stand, or window and is re-introduced into the microphone. The time difference (phase) of the two signals combine to produce a hollow or synthetic sound. Phase can be controlled by repositioning the microphone and placing sound absorbing material on the music stand.
Extreme Variations in Dynamic Range — Variations in volume within a vocal performance contribute greatly to the expressive quality and interpretation. Unfortunately, dialogue performed at lower levels often gets lost in the mix. Equally problematic is dialogue performed at such high levels as to distort the signal at the microphone or pre-amp. A compressor is used to correct issues involving dynamic range.
Handling Noise — Handling noise results when the talent is allowed to hold the microphone. Subtle finger movements against the microphone casing translate to thuddy percussive sounds. The actors should not handle microphones during a dialogue session. Instead, the microphone should be hung in a shock-mounted microphone cradle attached to a quality microphone stand.
Excerpt from Designing Sound for Animation, 2e by Robin Beauchamp © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Designing Sound for Animation can be bought on Amazon, BN.com, or your favorite online retailer.