For the third instalment in their interesting Masters Q&A series, iZotope talk to The Hobbit sound designer Dave Whitehead whose credits also include The Lord of The Rings Trilogy and Elysium as part of his role within the award-winning audio team at New Zealand’s Park Road Post Production.
Amongst Dave’s essential arsenal of audio tools you’ll find iZotope’s RX 3 audio repair and restoration plugin, Ozone 5 Mastering Suite, Trash 2 plus the ever-inspiring Iris ‘visual’ instrument. Here, Dave tells us more about his role and how he has been using iZotope’s software.
What role does audio play in sound design?
Great audio files are the building blocks for any great sound design project. In an ideal world, we have new recordings made with great mics through great preamps, in great spaces. The world is far from ideal and that’s not always the case. That’s where products like RX 3 come in to play. Trying to align the perfect frequencies and timbres to drive the emotion on screen is what sound design for film is all about.
Why is efficiency important in your projects nowadays?
Most of the projects I work on have large concepts that must be realized in a very short space of time. You pull all the insight you can from the script, artwork, personal research, the film footage and the director’s brief. You then have to dive in with your own concept. That process is usually one of discovery, parsing the good from the bad–and the plain ugly, which is actually exactly what you’re after sometimes. So, efficiency is everything – from naming your field recordings to saving your plugin settings.
Creating plug-in chains is a daily practice and is one of the cornerstones to designing sound (along with getting great field recordings). When you’re in a real hurry, you need intuitive plug-ins that are easy to move around. I find the interfaces of iZotope plug-ins easy to navigate, which means they become an extension of your thoughts, ultimately improving your creative output.
I used to twiddle with plug-ins and find a great sound, then tweak the settings a bit more and that magic sound I had would be gone. I learned my lesson early and record anytime I hear something good come out of my speakers.
Which iZotope tools are you currently using?
I have used all of iZotope’s products in the past year, but I have my favourites. I use Ozone at some stage on any given day. In sound design you’re trying to make the perfect sound for any given moment so I am constantly working a single sound to get the most out of it. Ozone allows me to literally punch a sound into shape. The Multiband Dynamics are where I tend to shape sounds the most and coupled with the Harmonic Exciter and Stereo Imaging you can seriously augment and transform something meek into a monster.
Iris is awesome! It’s the perfect stinger machine. The day it came out I made a few hundred stingers for Elysium. It’s also excellent for creating ambient loops and alien textures, musical tonalities and drones.
Trash 2 hit my plug-ins folder late last year and I didn’t really play with it much at first. Turns out that was my loss. The distortion is like no other. You can create your own distortion algorithms or choose one of the presets as a starting point. The control over the distortion is phenomenal, especially with multi-band control, which allows razor sharp harmonic shaping across multiple frequencies. Then there’s the convolution section. This is a great sound design tool and I will be exploring it heavily this year on a couple of Sci-Fi films.
How did you use RX 3 in any of your recent projects?
I’ve used Spectral Repair to remove birds and insects from many recordings during The Hobbit. It’s preferable to start with a perfect recording, but nowadays if a few birds tweet while I’m recording, I’m not as concerned as I know I now have the tools to fix it.
The Declick module is great to help tame the crackles and pops of a fire. You can get the warm roar of the flames without the clicks, which will always aggravate the re-recording mixers. I sometimes use Alloy 2’s Transient Shaper for this also, to subtly take down the attack on sounds with a sharp attack, like drips.
Occasionally, I will teach the RX 3 Denoiser what noise is and record that noise only as a sound effect. You can get some really cool results. But I’m also removing noise from files constantly and have found myself using the new Dialogue Denoiser, usually in Manual mode, for real time noise reduction. It’s quick and the results are great, which are the two things I like most while in salvage and repair mode. It’s quick and effective noise reduction.
Dereverb has also opened up the palette of usable material. We have recorded great material indoors over the years that you really can’t use on exterior scenes without gating or EQ’ing drastically. Dereverb helps transform these for multiple uses.
When have you had to fix audio that was recorded less than perfectly?
This is a constant practice and not always because something was recorded poorly, but more frequently because you want to hone in on one particular element within a recording. Like a surgeon, you can isolate and attenuate, or export components of the audio. For example, I’ve isolated selected cicadas in a jungle to tame the cacophony into a quiet jungle. I’ve lowered wind in trees to better isolate the tree creaks. The list goes on and on.
When I started out, I had terrible mics, worse recorders and even worse preamps. RX 3 has really allowed me to revisit old material and revamp it. I remembered recording a bee in 1991 and found the old DAT tape. I loaded it, removed the birds and noise on the recording and used it in The Hobbit.
I also record vocal FX at the desk in my studio quite often. I have a noise profile saved and can quickly remove the noise before working with the material, which is handy too!
iZotope creates plug-ins for people who create some of the best ear candy in the world. I find new parameters to play with all the time and love that they keep making new tools to play with.