Music, Sound, and Audio Technology
Bryant Falk has been a producer and engineer for over 12 years
working with such clients as “The Ricki Lake Show,” Coca-Cola,
Sport Illustrated and Valley National Bank. He recently completed
mixing for “The Shop,” a new show airing on MTV. His company
Abacus Audio handles many aspects of the audio production field
from creative and production to mixing and final output. http://www.abacusaudio.com
Animation is recapturing the popularity of years past. With the
advent of computers, the capabilities of animators have grown 100
times what it was even 10 years ago. From 3D graphics to
extremely life-like re-creations, all these shows have one thing in
common, they need audio! In addition, animation audio is unique
in that there is no location sound. In layman’s terms, it’s all made
up! You name it – dialogue, sound effects, music – must all be
generated for your masterpiece. Unless you record the grumblings
and humming of your animator during the process, it all must be
“designed”, as we like to say in the business.
The first big question when working on an animation project is a
classic. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? The animation or
the audio? A lot of first-time animators tend to jump the gun and
start animating right out of the gate. Though I applaud their efforts,
they are a bit short-sighted. I do agree that creating your cast of
characters is the first item on your list, but the second should be
recording your dialogue for your characters. Write a script even if
it’s a rough one so you can have a better clue as to what is going to
need animating. Nothing is worse than spending countless hours
animating a character’s mouth to find out that what he says doesn’t
I like to look at animating as first creating a radio script. Bring in
your voice talent, and start capturing their dialogue. A lot of
creative and spontaneous things can happen during this process
that you would have missed out on had you “animated first”. We
call them happy accidents. I also call them personality moments.
Once you’ve recorded and edited your voice track, you can
begin bringing your characters to life. What you have just done is
called pre-syncing. You’ve laid down dialogue that you will now
sync your animation to. As for sound effects I recommend a rough
track of essential items that may affect the timing of your dialogue
like an explosion or a car door slamming shut.
Once the animation is built then all the final sound effects can
be post-synced. Usually audio houses will handle the entire sound
effects process as most animations will have hundreds and
hundreds of audio elements.
Animation is a unique beast in many facets. Besides having no
location audio, most animations have additional effects that relate
to either the emotional status of a character or sounds that don’t
exist in reality! Take for example a dog jogging down the street to
meet its master. We can first hit the obvious sounds like the
panting breath and footsteps. But how about a little “boing-boing”,
sound as his curly tail bounces up and down in meter with his
gate. The dog’s ears could also be making some very unique
movements that might warrant a sound of some sort. This is just
the tip of the iceberg; compound this with numerous characters
and additional outside events, and Kazam! You have a lot of effects
to get into place.
Sound effects placement can happen in many locations. From a
video editor’s standpoint, he or she can manually place in effects
on their timeline. This can be a very time consuming and
cumbersome project when dealing with the quantity of effects we
are talking about. Another option is a sound effects library tied
into your non-linear system whether it be video such as an Avid or
an audio editor like Pro-Tools. These are basically software
programs that catalog your sound effects libraries. A lot of the
programs will offer you the option to search via key-words,
audition the sound, and then auto place them in the location on
your timeline. One such program is Soundminer. It’s compatible
with Pro-Tools and allows for the quick search and selection of literally thousands of sound effects. These effects can be of your
own making or cataloged from a sound effects library. The key to
this working effectively is having the proper “meta data”. In simple
terms, meta data is the info on a sound effect that travels along
with the audio. On the very high end side, many audio houses
will custom design their own search system to facilitate the type of
work they are doing.
“So which door slam is the right one for me?” Ah, the question
of the century. The answer is found within… within your
animation that is. What are you trying to achieve with your door?
Is it a slapstick animation such as a Ben & Jerry cartoon? Or is it a
serious and dark flick like Eon Flux? First decide your mood, then
decide your mass! How big is the door? Is it old and squeaky, or
middle-aged and moaning? See how much can go into a single
sound! Remember your audio track can contribute so much to
your storyline. This is even truer when dealing with animation. For
example, the proper sound effect can reveal the fear in one of your
characters better than any dialogue, (teeth chattering, knees
My last caveat when building audio for your animation is keep a
sharp eye on sync. For whatever reason, tight sync can be more
elusive with animation work. The clean lines and sharp edges
found in animation allow the viewer the ability to really gauge
when a door has closed or an anvil has fallen!
So the next time you’re up late at night cruising the channels and
eating breakfast cereal and stumble onto your favorite cartoon, take
a moment and close your eyes. You’ll be amazed at how much of
the show translates through audio. Animation begins with the eyes
and ends with ears!
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