Q&A: Louis Bertini, sound editor/mixer
Bertini shares some secrets of surround-sound mixing
Q: How is Naked Bros. Band different from a show like Sex and the City, from an audio production standpoint?
A: The truth is that a number of us who’ve worked both Sex and this show will tell you that there’s not a big difference. The approach and constriction of the audio elements that we bring to Naked Bros. Band is rather similar, except that the sound FX for Naked Bros. Band have a larger cartoon element. Both shows are not sitcoms, so there’s no laugh track.
The audio becomes a character in the show. The sound editing is subservient to the video given to us by the director, but I always try to bring the outdoor sounds of the city into the studio set. We add lots of sound in order to accomplish that, whether from a sound effect library or elements we capture ourselves. In fact a lot of the same sound elements used in Sex and the City are used for Naked Bros. Band, although we change the pitch, the speed and manipulate them in different ways to make them sound different.
In addition, because the actors are kids, there’s a tremendous amount of ADR work that has to be done. There’s much more ADR work done for this than was ever done for Sex and the City. They were highly professional actors and they usually nailed it on the first take. On Naked Bros. Band, the kids make mistakes; they mumble. For me, it’s a lot of extra work, and I have learned to work fast. After two seasons I know the routine.
Q: What audio editing system do you use most often?
A: I work with Digidesign ProTools, which has become far and way the most used system. Our mixing studio (at Soundtrack) has a built-in ProTools workstation in the Digidesign Icon console. The console runs the ProTools in a very expanded way.
Today everyone should use the .WAV format because it can be recognized and used across PC and Mac computers. Even among a number of audio recording systems, like a Fostex, or across different editing software, like Final Cut Pro or Avid, it can be easily worked with. The .WAV format is also useful because it contains the most metadata and makes the post process run more smoothly.
Q: What features within Protools do you use?
A: There are different features for different purposes. For effects editing I will use the pitch-control feature in order to change a prebuilt sound and give it a different texture or emotion. For backgrounds, I do lots of volume-graphing, because backgrounds are almost always made up of three elements. If it’s a bird sound, or a bus in traffic, it’s never one bird or one bus. I combine and mix three together to get one full sound. I might use a bit more of one element than another, but to get a better character of the sound, this is critical.
One of the secrets of sound editing is that everything has to be a bit different than what came before. Even if it’s two bus sounds at different points in a story, they should sound slightly different in order to avoid the viewer being distracted.
For ADR work, I use the time-compression tool because no matter how good the actor is at nailing their replacement dialogue, it’s always a bit off. It could be as much as a whole frame, which is a lot when synced to the video.
There’s a nice program that works with Protools called VocALign Pro (from Synchro Arts), which purports to sync the audio and video automatically. It will read the waveform of the original segment and redraw the waveform of the new piece to match that. Unfortunately, in the process of doing that it almost always distorts the audio. However, it’s handy to use in addition to other tools.
Q: How long do you have to cut a single 30-mnute episode?
A: In television, even for one-hour shows, you have five days to complete the sound editing. For many of the big TV shows (e.g., CSI, Grey’s Anatomy), there’s usually a crew of four sound editors. For Naked Bros. Band, we have two, a music editor and myself, and have had four days. I wish we had more time. I’ve had to learn to work fast and work long days.
Q: How much storage do you use for an episode?
A: Dialogue for each episode can take up about 20 GB, and that includes alternate takes. Not all of it makes it into the final episode. ADR needs about a half a GB. Sound effects, which includes a folder for repeat sounds, about 10 GB. We will fill four 250 GB drives for an entire season. Again, that’s just for the audio.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge for surround-sound mixing?
A: There are technical elements that have to be worked correctly or your mix can quickly go haywire. You will lose sounds if you are not careful. There are phasing issues that have to be monitored. Often we’ll do two mixes, and that’s when you have sounds canceling each other out.
As far as the way you use it, that becomes a thing unto itself. For the audience, the focus is always be on the center of the screen, so the sound editor has to think that way as well. Putting loud sounds on the rear speakers tends to distract the audience. Whether they are in a movie theater or at home, viewers should be not looking behind them as a result of a sound effect, no matter how dramatic.