Audio postproduction is the process of synchronizing sound to picture, adding sound effects, music, voice-over / dialog, and mixing.
Adding sound effects to a film is known as Foley, named after Jack Foley, an actor who used his skills to perform sound effects to match picture. Showboat (1929) is regarded as the first Foley session. Today, recording “props” to match the action on-screen in a Foley “pit” is the same concept and has evolved significantly.
The birth of the television industry gave way to new opportunities for post-production. Early television shows were broadcast live, which did not allow for any “post” sound. That was until landmark shows like Amos and Andy and I Love Lucy were recorded on 35mm film around 1950/51. This gave the opportunity to add sound afterwards such as “canned” laughter.
Over the next three decades, audio technology gave way to more tracks, more channels, and improvements in tape quality. Things like large format analog mixing consoles having as many as 192 inputs, up to 48 tracks of analog tape, and portable recording rigs became used throughout the film and television industry. As a result, film and television sound became more sophisticated than ever before. Epic films such as Apocalypse Now and Star Wars were marvels of sound creativity and analog capabilities in the late 70s. Even today, large format mixing consoles are preferred by many top mixers, who mix some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.
The introduction of surround made for not only more possibilities in audio post, but for audio playback in theaters and eventually in people’s homes. Surround’s roots can be traced to Disney. Their pioneering post-production sound and technology were used on the first multi-channel soundtrack for the 1940 film, Fantasia.
Surround sound is a very broad term that covers many different audio configurations. The number of channels and the placement of the speakers vary with each format. While “5.1” (five-point-one orfive-dot-one) is the most common, there are other types that include even more channels such as “7.1.” Some can even reproduce the experience of height such as IMAX and 10.2, which includes channels/speakers placed above the listener.
The most common 5.1 surround configuration is made up of 6 (5+1) channels of playback information. Left and right (as in stereo), a center channel, left and right surround channels, and the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel. Dialog is most commonly placed in the center speaker, music in the left and right speakers (sometimes in the center as well), and ambience and effects are often placed in the surround speakers behind the listener. Finally, the LFE channel is used to enhance low-end effects such as explosions and/or rumbles. The common misconception is that the “.1” is the subwoofer speaker itself. It actually refers to the LFE channel of information. Listening to the LFE channel alone during a typical movie would reveal that very little audio is placed in this channel- certainly none that is considered crucial to the story-telling of a movie.
One of the most significant developments in modern post was the introduction of the Digital Audio Workstation. The modern DAW uses powerful software controlled by a personal computer. Specialized audio recording and editing software expanded and redefined what post-production could do. It also expanded the industry by making the technology available to more people than ever. As a result, a post facility could now have less “rack” gear and mics, a smaller “tracking” room, and a large screen TV instead of a the large glass window separating the control room from the live musicians found in a traditional music studio.
As these DAW systems became increasingly more common, there was a growing need to physically connect the software systems to the real world environment of the more streamlined post studios. Lots of new products and technology started to pop up and different gear companies, including Dangerous Music, started to assess the studio setups of this new era. In these days DAWs were still fairly relatively primitive, and for all their advantages, had their drawbacks. People started to recognize that early DAWs missed many crucial functions found in the “center” section of a recording console. The obvious need to control the speaker volume in a studio was just one major component missed by these systems.
To alleviate this issue, people started making dedicated monitor control system; Dangerous introduced the ST/SR. The idea was to take all of the best features of the old console monitor sections that everybody loved, but add modern features and functionality. The result is an expandable monitoring system that can adapt to the rapidly changing world of music technology, and also accommodate different needs for different users.
That brings us to today, where Post-Production facilities still perform most of the same tasks as they once did (Foley, ADR, Voiceovers, Scoring, etc) but the medium and the means have evolved quite a bit since the days of Jack Foley. DAWs are now the industry standard in these facilities and many of them have replaced their large-format consoles with digital ones, or even control surfaces.
Even monitoring continues to change; these days there are a lot of people who prefer to monitor with a digital system as opposed to analog. This also means that in some cases there are multiple digital sources that need to be monitored from the same controller, preferably through the same converter for proper reference.
The Dangerous A.S.S. (Additional Switching System) has become a popular solution for this. It is a rack unit that expands the ST/SR, and allows different modules to be added to the system while still utilizing the same ST Remote to control everything. One such module, the DAC ST, employs a mastering-quality digital to analog converter for those who prefer to monitor digitally. The added bonus is that up to four stereo digital sources can be connected for switching among different devices. For surround monitoring, there is the DAC SR which utilizes the same converters, but in a 5.1 setup.
With the absence of consoles, some post facilities also prefer to utilize analog summing in their workflow, due to some of the limitations of the DAW mixing environment. Summing busses are a convenient and space-saving solution to this, and are being seen more and more in modern studios. As the world of audio technology continues to change and grow, Post-Production facilities change with it.