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Sound Design with a Photochemical Workflow

sound design mixing audio photochemical workflow editing optical film print

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#1 Colin McGuire

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Posted 24 September 2015 - 11:57 PM

Hello everyone,

 

I have researched online and can't come to any solid conclusions about how sound design and/or mixing is done when you're working optically.

 

For instance:  I'm making a movie and seriously considering taking it the full photochemical route, ie. shooting on 35mm scope, processing the film at Fotokem, getting a work print made (no DI), cutting the film on a flatbed, conforming the negative, timing the answer print, and striking a release print.  The idea is to keep my movie completely off a computer.  But the thing I can't seem to wrap my brain around is the audio part of the process.  How do I sync the separately and digitally recorded dialog to my work print? How do I mix in the music I want? Most importantly, the sound effects?

 

I tend to have substantial sound design in my films, sometimes 150 tracks or more, and spend around 80% of my post production process on sound.  Is there a way to do this optically?  Should I just go with a DI?

 

I hear a lot of terms like sepmag, and 35 sound mag, but I'm not really sure what they are or how you edit with them.

 

Thanks in advance for your help.

Colin


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#2 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 25 September 2015 - 02:27 AM

This is the problem with 35mm sound today.

Back in the day, you'd send your mag tracks to the audio house and they would record all the elements onto film, run those films through multiple mag machines in sync with the print and mix it.

That all stopped in late 80's, early 90's. Mostly all of the mag facilities, threw their equipment away and went digital. This is good however because mag mixing was a real pain and unlike film editing, which delivers an arguably better image then DI, analog mag audio mixing doesn't. Digital mixing is far superior and A LOT cheaper in the long run.

The best way is to digitize the entire film (after neg cut) and very carefully cut in all the audio from the original source audio. Then export an OMF file for your audio guy, they will love you forever. This way, they can work with all the original stems and fine tune your audio directly from your source, rather then a dirty mag track. It's a time consuming process on your part, but it's well worth it in the long run. I do all my audio digitally on set and edit in Avid. I love bench editing, but it's too costly today and getting good quality audio out the back end is a pain.

So once you have the audio mixed, then comes the hard part. Unlike DCP (digital cinema package) which is pretty much open source. Film soundtracks are licensed and the licensing is expensive. Dolby stereo (A) optical tracks are the cheapest, but they still cost considerable amount of money. Dolby Digital tracks are roughly $15k for licensing and then you've gotta deal with making the prints. The total cost of a DD soundtrack on 35mm can be upwards of $30k. Dolby makes the only system capable of making the sound track, so they charge a lot for it. DTS is another option, but they're around the same price and you've still gotta make a timecode track.

There really is no benefit to printing film today unless you have a way to project it. So cut the negative, transfer the cut negative, throw it into Avid, do your temp audio mix and send it on it's way to the audio house. When you get the 5.1 back, send it and your picture to get a DCP made and you're done.
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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 25 September 2015 - 02:40 AM

The traditionial method is transfer the audio to magnetic film (sep mag) this is film with same dimensions and perfs  as your film stock but with a magnetic coating, which you can record your audio on. You edit this on your film editing machine (flatbed or otherwise) with the sep mag running on the audio section, which runs in mechaical sync through the perfs with the workprint. Regard it as a mechaical timeline.

 

This is mixed by running each sep mac track running through a player, which is interlocked with other such players,, so that so the tracks are played back locked together (they could be rock and rolled backwards and forwards to replay any section) . These outputs are then mixed together to give the sound master onto sep mag. 

 

http://www.musicofso...tered-light-005


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#4 Jay Young

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Posted 25 September 2015 - 04:56 AM

Things could have changed, but several years ago (2008 ish) the Dolby licensing wasn't that expensive.  I would advise you call and ask your local Dolby rep.  I'm pretty sure there are labs that do optical sound, and Dolby SR is just noise reduction anyhow.   There use to be a thing where one could get Dolby Stereo ("4-track" analogue) for free if the project was less than 45 minutes, or something close to that.

 

If you want Dolby Digital, I read that the source audio is sent somewhere (to Dolby Labs?) and then you receive an MO disk to make the encoding on the print.

 

Digital Cinema Packs, as stated above do NOT have any licensing inherent as they use PCM uncompressed digital audio, and are 100% compatible with Broadcast Wave format.

I don't think there has been another audio format since Todd-AO?  Talk about monopoly.    

 

Anyhow I'd be more worried about theatre "projectionists" not understanding how sound works, thinking that louder is always better. 


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#5 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 25 September 2015 - 01:09 PM

There use to be a thing where one could get Dolby Stereo ("4-track" analogue) for free if the project was less than 45 minutes, or something close to that.


All matrix sound tracks go through Dolby Labs for licensing and encoding. Regular labs can't make them.

So if you're OK with mono or stereo, then it's .40 - .60 cents a foot depending on the lab.
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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 25 September 2015 - 01:24 PM

There used to be a Dolby scheme for short films in which the license was available at no cost. I couldn't say if this still applies.


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#7 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 25 September 2015 - 01:46 PM

There used to be a Dolby scheme for short films in which the license was available at no cost. I couldn't say if this still applies.


I'm sure if you wanted an analog audio track, someone would work out a deal since they aren't using the equipment that much anymore.
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#8 Colin McGuire

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Posted 25 September 2015 - 05:16 PM

I had no idea about the whole Dolby licensing thing.  Thanks for the heads up!

 

For the sake of my audio mixing, and relatively shallow pockets, I think I'll shoot film, scan it, edit and mix in a DI, and send a DCP to festivals.  If my movie gets distribution, then I'll most likely go back and take it through the optical process and get a print struck, pay the Dolby fees and so on.

 

Thanks for the help guys.


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#9 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 25 September 2015 - 05:18 PM

Were you planning on shooting 4 perf? If you don't have much money, just the optical's necessary to print 2 or 3 perf to 4 perf academy can be very expensive. So this is why DI is unfortunately the best way to go for smaller, lower budget films. 


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#10 Juha Mattila

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Posted 05 November 2015 - 01:00 PM

I had no idea about the whole Dolby licensing thing.  Thanks for the heads up!

 

For the sake of my audio mixing, and relatively shallow pockets, I think I'll shoot film, scan it, edit and mix in a DI, and send a DCP to festivals.  If my movie gets distribution, then I'll most likely go back and take it through the optical process and get a print struck, pay the Dolby fees and so on.

 

Thanks for the help guys.

Dont give up so easily! Forget Dolby and get a optical track. For my taste optical mono is very good. Brain will give you illusion of stereo when it puts together pic and sound. I never liked surraund sound. It feels it bit detached from picture.

 

Image quality of photochemical process is superior compearing if you teke DI rout. If you can find two prints and watch them side by side you will see the difference. Im not even going to start about difference of 35mm and DCP...

 

Im shure there is still theters that have 35mm projectors dusting in side of these video projectors. Film can survive, but onely if we believe it is worh of all the sacrifices we make. If we look at the "quartz crisis" at 70s. Almost nowbody didnt belive mechanical watch can survivie but here we are and clock is still ticing. Altought it almost did die. So much instruments, macines and know-how whent to dumbster. Sounds familiar? But there was enough people who belived in mechanical watch and maked the necessary sacrifises. Of course swiss clock industry wasnt same as before "quartz crisis". It had to focus on luxury. Digital is here to stay and there is no denying it, but its up to us wheter film to have a some role in movie industry or it vanishes. Im sure there will be time when people gets tired of digital images (in audio there is already some sort of renaissanse) and are willing to spend money on analog arthouse film. Different story is will there be any means to make photochemical movies at least not whit the quality that has been achieved before "DCP crisis".


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