When producing a film or video project, there are a number of sound
elements that you may need over the life of the project. Here is a
brief description of the steps that are likely to be involved. Projects
that move through multiple frame rates may have additional steps. This
description is centered on the Pro Tools digital audio workstation.
This is sound which is recorded when you shoot the project, usually a 2
track format. Varieties of tape formats include DAT, 1/4Ē tape, and
video tape. Hard disk and random access formats include Deva, Fostex
DVD, Aaton and others.
Sound editing during the picture edit
The production sound gets loaded into a non-linear editing system (NLE)
such as Final Cut Pro, Avid, Premiere and others. Some systems, notably
Final Cut and Avid are friendlier to doing sound work in other systems,
which in our case will be Pro Tools.
The production sound is typically one or two tracks; once in the NLE
there are many more tracks available. This feature is useful for adding
more sound and for organizing the sound so that it can be mixed. In the
old days, we tended to do minimal sound work in the picture editing
system and then do a sound edit where effects and music were added.
These days the sound edit can happen during a picture edit in the NLE
or there can be a separate edit in Pro Tools depending upon the needs
of the project. Documentaries and other less-complicated forms are
frequently prepared in the NLE by the picture editor. Narrative
features often have a separate sound edit in Pro Tools to allow for
more involved dialogue, music and effects work.
An edit that is properly prepared for mixing can be anywhere from a few
tracks to a hundred or more. A typical track layout for documentaries
uses between 10 and 24 tracks. Simple narrative features fall between
24 and 40 tracks. More complex projects requiring detailed sound design
and 5.1 finishes will usually use more tracks.
Letís say that you have 16 tracks of sound in your Final Cut Pro
system. Youíve got 8 tracks of dialogue that have been arranged by
scene and the kind of microphone used. There are 4 tracks of effects to
add a bit of atmosphere and there are 4 tracks of music (2 stereo
pairs). Youíve taken the sound work as far as you can in Final Cut and
you want to give it to a person with a Pro Tools system to make it
better by mixing it. There is a way to transfer your existing sound
work intact from Final Cut to Pro Tools called an OMF export. This
means that if you have 16 tracks of audio in your picture edit, those
same 16 tracks can be turned into a Pro Tools session, including the
audio media. This is the fastest, simplest and most efficient method of
getting your sound into Pro Tools.
I cannot give you a click by click guide to doing an OMF export, as
systems vary; you will have to consult your manuals for that. Hereís an
Can every NLE system do an OMF export?
No. The system must support OMF exports as part of the software. Final
Cut Pro and Avid support OMF exporting and importing as a standard
feature. Pro Tools supports OMF exports and imports, but you have to
purchase a special software upgrade to make it work. If you are in
doubt, consult the manufacturer of the NLE.
What is included in the OMF export?
Audio regions on the timeline are included. Clip based gain and those
little triangular rendered fades are included. Effects are not
included. Picture is not included.
Are there any particulars to the OMF export that I should know?
Yes. If there is an option, exports should be type 2. Exports should be
embedded, in which all of the audio media gets rendered into a big fat
file. The sample rate of the export should match the sample rate of the
NLE, which is often 48 kHz. You should specify generous handles for the
audio; letís say 300 frames, which are used to help smooth everything
out in the mix. You should generally not process the sound in any way
prior to mix; donít use equalizers, compressors or other effects.
How do I get the OMF to the sound person?
Export the OMF to a firewire drive and bring us the firewire drive. You
can also burn it to CD or DVD. Weíve also received OMFís by FTP and on
Can the OMF get screwed up?
The OMF usually works well. When there are problems they are in one of
two areas: the export was done improperly or there is some transfer
issue, like the hard drive not mounting or the CD not being readable.
Good practice means getting the OMF to your sound folks a few days in
advance of the mix so that the export can be redone if necessary.
Sound editing in a Pro Tools system
Once we get the OMF, we can go to work in Pro Tools. It is possible to
do more detailed dialogue work here as well as adding more sound
effects: hard effects like doors slamming, phones ringing and ambience
effects. Pro Tools is great for additional sound design work. If the
job is particularly detailed or complex, several Pro Tools systems may
be utilized; one for dialogue, one for foleys, one for other effects,
etc. The sound editors or the audio post production supervisor will
usually figure out who gets what.
Music composition and editing
Somewhere in this process, music is either composed or edited. If a
composer is creating original music, they will use their own recording
system which may be Pro Tools or any other high-quality music recording
Carmen Borgia is the head of audio services for DuArt Film & Video
in New York City. He oversees a post production sound department that
provides mixing, sound design, restoration, transfer and printmastering.
His department caters to independent projects in all formats from mono
optical up to digital 5.1.
Editorís note: Part 2 will be in our October issue. If anyone has any
questions, please submit them to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Carmen will do his best to answer your queries.