Category Archives: Tips, Tricks and Unnecessarily-Hidden Features

Quick and Easy Dialogue Cleanup with RTAS

Quick and Easy Dialogue Cleanup with RTAS

On Star Trek Into Darkness I had the opportunity to break out of my usual Assistant Editor responsibilities and tackle a new experiment in temp sound editing. Will Files, Matt Evans, Robby Stambler and I formed a new mini-department within Editorial that was tasked with temping out the Editors’ sequences and mixing them in 5.1. There’s a lot to the process that is new and interesting, and I hope to get another post up soon that more fully flushes it all out, but for the moment all I want to talk about is a method for basic, global dialogue cleanup that is probably old hat to some (and par for the course for professional sound mixers), but was new and amazing to me.

This tip comes courtesy of Will Files, who as a loan-out from Skywalker Sound was the guy who guided this whole process on Trek and helped teach me, Matt, and Robby the ropes of the sound world.

RTAS Is Your Friend

Before this show, I didn’t really know what RTAS was useful for, much less how awesome it really is. It allows you to use many of the AudioSuite plugins that you would normally apply to a clip, and apply them to an entire track instead, without rendering (thus the RT in Real-Time Audio Suite). Up to five RTAS plugins can be chained together per track. When applied to dialogue tracks, you can chain together 3 RTAS plugins that will make your dialogue much more understandable and leave more room in other frequencies for your sound effects and music.

So, to get started, you have to show the expanded audio controls in your timeline, and make your track size big enough that you see the little RTAS boxes:

RTAS

You can see that I have an EQ, a Compressor, and a De-Esser, in that order, on my dialogue tracks.  Let’s go through them:

1) EQ

The EQ you add here is basically a band pass with a little customization. Everything below 60Hz is gradually stripped away, as well as everything above 12kHz. This is because your typical dialogue won’t produce any audio in those frequencies that you want to keep, but by throwing it away you can start to address issues of boominess, high frequency hiss, and other technical problems with your production audio that get in the way of understanding the dialogue.

Aside from the band pass, this EQ also lowers frequencies around 120Hz by 2db, and raises frequencies around 4kHz by 2db. Again, this helps with boosting the frequencies of your dialogue that are most useful for comprehension, and removing frequencies that tend to get in the way, but without being as blunt as the band pass since these are frequencies you do want to hear.

RTAS EQ

2) Compressor

Now that you’ve removed unwanted frequencies, it’s time to normalize the volume. For that you use a Compressor, which will actively limit how loud your dialogue can get. If it gets too loud and crosses our set threshold, the Compressor will bring it back in line. The more the volume goes past the threshold, the more it will be reined in. This helps make sure there are no loud surprises in your dialogue, and will save you some of the hassle of mixing loud clips down to a more comfortable listening level.

In this case, we’ve modified three of the settings from their default states:

  1. Knee = 6.0 db.   This adds a little curve right at the threshold point, so that the ratio of a loud input level to its compressed output level is approached more smoothly. Without it, the compression would switch on at full force when the volume crosses the threshold. For a better explanation of this, read this article.
  2. Threshold = -20db.  By moving this up 4db from the default -24db, we’ve allowed our audio to be a bit louder before it activates the compressor.
  3. Gain = 4db.  This knob controls the output level of all audio passing through the Compressor, even audio that is below the threshold line. Since compression only reduces volume and can leave your dialogue levels feeling too low, adding a bit of make-up gain can help keep it at a good baseline.

Compressor

3) De-Esser

This one does exactly what its name implies, and helps with any S sounds in your dialogue that can be particularly piercing to listen to. It’s basically another type of compressor that handles high frequencies instead of high decibel levels.  On this we’ve set:

  1. Frequency = 5.4 kHz.  This means the De-Esser will be triggered for frequencies above 5.4kHz.
  2. Range = -3.0db.   When the De-Esser is triggered, it will reduce the gain of the signal by up to 3 db, which should help reduce the effects of any piercing audio.

De-Esser

As Quick as A-B-C

For those short on time, I’ve attached an Avid bin called Dialogue RTAS Effects.avb to this article which contains these three presets. They are labeled A, B, and C and should be applied to your RTAS chain in that order.

Tip: To quickly copy RTAS effects from one track to another, hold down Option and drag the effects you want to copy from one track’s RTAS chain to another.

 

 

Attachments:

Access iTunes From Within Avid

Access iTunes From Within Avid

At this point, my sound effects library has grown to the point where I can’t bring it with me into Avid. It’s just too unwieldy, and I’d end up bringing in a lot of sfx I’d never use. So starting with Hellboy 2, I kept my sfx in iTunes, and would use the iTunes interface to sort and preview my library. When I found an effect I liked, I’d drag it to the desktop and then import it into Avid (in OSX you can’t drag direct from iTunes to Avid, although last time I was on Windows you could).

Now, I’ve taken to using a feature of Finder (Leopard-only) that I’ve long overlooked: the ability to filter Finder by media type. In your sidebar, under “MEDIA”, you will find the Music item. Clicking on this accesses your iTunes library, including any playlists (I keep all my sfx in a smart playlist so I can quickly filter out the sfx), and even allows you to Quick Look them by hitting the spacebar. Find the track(s) you want and off you go, without ever leaving Avid.

Search iTunes from within Avid's Import dialog

Search iTunes from within Avid's Import dialog

The Caveats (as usual)

When using Quick Look you can’t change tracks as easily as in iTunes or standalone Finder, but it still works. You just have to hit spacebar twice when you want to preview a different track (once to stop, another to start a new track). Doing it this way prevents you from having to switch applications and incur the wrath of the 5-10 second catch-up process that Avid does every time you switch back to it with a large Unity project open.

Also, this method works great when you’re searching for a small number of sfx of the same type (variations of crowd, e.g.). It doesn’t work as well if you’re searching for a bunch of different types of sfx, since every time you do a new search it will forget what files you’ve already selected. You’d have to search for one type of sfx, import, rinse and repeat.

Converting Avid Locators to DVD Studio Pro Chapter Markers

Converting Avid Locators to DVD Studio Pro Chapter Markers

I have two methods for making DVDs for directors, depending on how quickly the DVD is needed and what quality level or features are required. For faster but lower-quality DVDs, I just play out to a standalone DVD Recorder. For higher-quality DVDs I usually export a Quicktime, run it through Compressor, and ultimately bring it into DVD Studio Pro. When I go the DVD Studio Pro route, I also like to take the opportunity to appropriately chapter my DVDs. It’s a pretty quick and easy thing to do, and provides a more meaningful set of chapter points than the automated ones you get on a standalone recorder. My favorite method for quickly chaptering a Quicktime uses Avid locators to provide Compressor and DVD Studio Pro with my chapter points. Below is the process I use, or for the shortcut just use the online tool I created.

TOOL: Locator to Chapter Marker Converter

Converting Avid Locators to Compressor/DVDSP Chapter Markers

In order to convert Avid locators to chapter markers, a little knowledge of regular expressions is required. You also need an advanced text editor that can handle regular expressions (I use the free and multi-platform jEdit). You do not need to add locators to your sequence before you export it. Exporting your sequence and making locators suitable for chaptering can be done in either order. You do need to have exported and processed your locator file before you go into Compressor, though.

Adding Locators to Your Sequence

To prepare your sequence, change the sequence Start time to 00:00:00:00. I normally clear out all the other locators in my sequence as well, and since I always copy a sequence to a new bin before I export it, removing the locators isn’t an issue for me. If you’d like to keep your existing locators, then just add a new video track and put all of your chapter locators there.

Once your pre-existing locators are cleared and/or you’ve got yourself a new video track to work with, go ahead and add a locator at every point you’d like to make into a new chapter on your DVD. Once all your locators are added, go to the Locators window and export them to a text file. If you’ve chosen to add your locators to a new track while keeping existing locators on other tracks, then sort the Locators window by track, select all the locators you just added, and export only those Selected locators to a text file.

Exporting Avid Locators

Exporting Avid Locators

Converting the Locators Text File to a Chapter Marker File

Once you’ve got the text file with your exported locators, it’s time to open it in your advanced text editor. An exported locator file initially looks like this:

Evan Schiff    00:02:18:09    V4    white    Chapter1
Evan Schiff    00:03:11:11    V4    white    Chapter2
Evan Schiff    00:04:57:18    V4    white    Chapter3
Evan Schiff    00:06:41:16    V4    white    Chapter4
Evan Schiff    00:07:37:06    V4    white    Chapter5
Evan Schiff    00:08:29:05    V4    white    Chapter6
Evan Schiff    00:12:33:04    V4    white    Chapter7
Evan Schiff    00:13:33:23    V4    white    Chapter8
Evan Schiff    00:15:19:11    V4    white    Chapter9
Evan Schiff    00:16:14:15    V4    white    Chapter10
Evan Schiff    00:17:44:20    V4    white    Chapter11

Using a regular expression search/replace, you can instantly reformat your locator file to conform to Compressor and DVDSP’s required marker file format, which looks like the text below:

00:02:18:09 Chapter1
00:03:11:11 Chapter2
00:04:57:18 Chapter3
00:06:41:16 Chapter4
00:07:37:06 Chapter5
00:08:29:05 Chapter6
00:12:33:04 Chapter7
00:13:33:23 Chapter8
00:15:19:11 Chapter9
00:16:14:15 Chapter10
00:17:44:20 Chapter11

If you don’t label your locators, all you’ll see in the marker file is timecode. This is fine, the only required data is the timecode, and DVDSP will automatically add chapter labels if you don’t supply them.

To reformat the file, you would use the following regular expression:

^[\w\s]*(\d{2}\:\d{2}\:\d{2}\:\d{2})\tV\d\t\w+\t(.*)$

Your text editor’s dialog box would look something like the image below. I usually do a couple Replace & Find clicks just to make sure the pattern is working before I hit Replace All and save the file.

Regular Expression Search/Replace

N.B. In the Replace dialog box, your text editor may use either $1 or \1 to make back-references.

Importing Markers into Compressor

After you’ve saved your new marker file, open up Compressor and load your Quicktime into it. Make sure the Quicktime is selected in the main window and displaying in the Preview window. To the right of the Preview window’s timeline, you’ll see the marker button, under which you can Import Chapter List. Select your file, and if everything’s been done correctly, you should see markers pop up in the appropriate places in your movie.

Compressor Menu to Import Markers

Compressor Menu to Import Markers

Successfully Imported Markers

Successfully Imported Markers

Once your markers and DVD export settings are ready to go, Submit the job. Once the render finishes, you can import it into your DVDSP template file, and as soon as you lay it down onto a track you’ll see that the markers/chapter points appear automatically.

Why can’t I just add chapter points directly in DVD Studio Pro?

You can, but there are several limitations you’ll be imposing upon yourself. First and foremost, if you make your m2v without adding the markers first, you will not always be able to add a chapter point at the exact frame you want to. To get technical for a minute, when you encode an m2v file the frames of your source Quicktime are compressed into three types of mpeg frames. These are I-frames, P-frames, and B-frames (read your Compressor or DVDSP User Guide for more detail). You can only place a chapter marker on an I-frame, and if you don’t tell the encoder where you want an I-frame to be, it will put them wherever it sees fit, and this may or may not be on the frame that you want to make into a chapter point.

Second, the Compressor and DVDSP timelines are not nearly as precise as Avid’s, and don’t give you the visual identification of where clips start and end. I find it much faster to put accurate chapter points on the Avid timeline than in either Compressor or DVDSP.

You can put your chapter points wherever you like in DVDSP if you import the Quicktime directly and let DVDSP make your m2v file, but then you lose all the advantages of using Compressor, not to mention still having to deal with DVDSP’s clumsy timeline.

Add Virtual Cuts to a Clip Based on the Tracks Beneath

Ever needed to add cuts to a clip at the edit points of each shot inside that clip? Yeah, me too. I’m sure this has uses outside of the feature film world, but since features are what I know, I’ll explain this using an example from doing a DI.

Imagine that your DI house has just finished assembling a reel, and they send you a check tape. You ingest the check tape into your Avid, and cut it into your reel’s sequence on the top-most video layer. All is well and good, except that you have one, unbroken 20-minute clip on your timeline. Sure, you’ve got the video tracks beneath it with your dailies, but you’d really like to add edits to that 20-minute clip where each shot starts and ends.

Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do, but Avid has hidden it away inside of the Pan & Scan effect (as of MCA 3.1.2). Here’s how it goes:

  1. Load up the sequence that corresponds to your unbroken clip. For features, this would be loading up the Reel 2 sequence that your Reel 2 DI check tape is supposed to match, for example.
  2. Add a new video track, and cut in the clip you’d like to slice up so that it is in sync with the video tracks underneath
  3. Add a Pan & Scan effect to the clip you just cut in
  4. Make sure that all your track selectors are active
  5. Go to the settings for the Pan & Scan effect, and under the Action menu, click Subdivide. This will add virtual cuts in your clip wherever there is a cut in the active video layers beneath it.
  6. Using the segment tool, select all of the segments on your newly-sliced clip, and click the Remove Effect button. This will remove the Pan & Scan effect from that track, leaving you with one clip and a bunch of matched-frame edits at the boundaries of each shot.

N.B. I referenced this briefly in Step 5, but I’ll explain it a bit more. When you click the Subdivide button, Avid will insert edits corresponding to whichever tracks are active and have cuts beneath the track with the Pan & Scan effect. So if you want to make your virtual edits based on V1, V2, and V4, but not V3, just don’t have the V3 track selector active when you click Subdivide.

Once you’re finished you should have a timeline looking somewhat like this:

A sample timeline after using the Subdivide effect on the top-most video layer

A sample timeline after using the Subdivide effect on the top-most video layer

Importing 24fps Quicktimes Into 23.976 Projects

Here’s a neat little console command to tell Avid to ignore the frame rate of any imported Quicktime. You would need this command if, for example, you’re cutting in 23.976 but your vfx house insists on delivering 24.000 fps QTs. This would also work in the reverse, if someone delivers you 23.976fps Quicktimes and you need them to be 24.000fps.

Open the console and type in this command:

ignoreqtrate true

To turn it off, just substitute ‘false’ for ‘true’.

This works particularly well in the 24/23.976 situation since there are actually the same number of frames in both types of Quicktimes, they just play at slightly different speeds. So by telling Avid to ignore the frame rate of the Quicktime, you can prevent Avid from trying to interpolate frames to convert 23.98 to 24, since it shouldn’t be doing that anyway.