Sound recording

Sound recording for the advanced

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Ambient sound, room tone, and wilds

The secret to creating a great sounding film isn't just about recording character's lines of dialogues, it also involves recording  background noises that can be mixed into the sound design of a film.

When we say background noises, we're talking about the following: ambient sound, room tone, and wilds.

Ambient sound

Say you have a scene that takes place next to river among trees. In the shots you film, you might capture those natural sounds around you (so the river, birds in trees, the wind etc) but from as you move from shot to shot, the quality, the volume, or the consistency of that audio will change. 

To overcome this, record separately a longer audio track of ambient sound. You can film with your camera and the microphone if you have to, you don’t have to use the footage, you just separate the audio track later when your team edits. If you can record ambient sound directly to an audio device then that's great also.

Later, when you have that audio recording your settings ambient noises, you can place it into the scene you’re editing. That way the ambient sounds will be consistent and clear throughout your scene. 

Room tone

Room tone is similar, although there might not be as many obvious sounds like there are outdoors. However, even shooting a scene inside a controlled space like a room can result in inconsistent sound from shot to shot. If you capture room tone separately, when everyone is still and quiet, you can edit the audio of the room into your scene so the audio differences from shot to shot aren't as obvious.

Here's a fantastic video over at Vimeo Film School explaining ambient and room noise and why both are important.

Wilds

Wild tracks or ‘wilds’ as they’re known, are more specific sounds you record and add later when editing your film. Wilds can include environment sounds from the location your scene takes place in, such as birds chirping or the sound of a basketball being bounced; but more often than not they're more prominent in your scene such as a door slamming, or a coffee mug breaking on the floor - sound you want to stand out in your film.

If you try and recording these sounds at the same time as you're filming, you might not capture the sound effect well enough. This is why recording wilds can really improve the sound design of your film.

Activity

Step 1: With a camera and your microphone, film ambient sound and some wilds for an outdoor setting, and then room tone and wilds for an indoor setting.

We suggest filming a really short scene for each setting. It doesn't have to have dialogue or even make much sense, but you should use a variety of camera set ups and shots (don't just leave the camera in the one place for the entire scene).

Step 2: After you've recorded the footage for your two short scenes as well as all your audio, you'll need to use some editing software to really see how these sounds help you create great sound design. You can learn about editing in the editing module if you haven't used any editing software before.

Step 3: In your editing software, put the film clips for your scene in order and edit them quickly so the scene is working (even if it's really simple).

Watch and listen closely to the scene, what do you notice about the sound quality and volume levels as the scene moves from clip to clip?

If you used a microphone that's plugged into your camera you'll need to separate the audio from the video so you're left with just the audio. You can do this in your editing software, but you might have to look up how as it might be different for different editing software. If you recorded sound separately on another device, get those audio files into the library of your editing software.

Step 4: Bring the ambient noise and wilds you shot outside and place them into your timeline. Do the same for the room tone and wilds you recorded for indoors. You might have to alter the volume levels of your audio files and the sound from your video files, so keep adjusting until you feel the different audio tracks, including your actors' dialogue feel like they are mixed together well.

Reflection

How much better do your scenes sound with ambient noise, room tone and wilds? Compare to how your scene sounded without them.

Next time you make a film, do you think you'll record extra sound besides dialogue? Why? Why not?

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