Atlas, Submitted.

The past few weeks have been cold. Bloody cold. OK, not Canada cold, so I can’t complain so much, but there’s something to be said about doing voice work when you’re chilly.

I have to rug up in layers, of course, because the garage isn’t heated and, though the sound booth has a good bit of insulation, it, too, is not heated. In summer it’s a hot-house and in winter it’s a refrigerator. The problem with layers, though, is that the warmer stuff tends to be noisy.

Noisy clothes? Yep, totally. You probably don’t pay much attention to it, but when you move your arm or twist your torso, or lean forward or back, or even roll you neck, there’s an associated noise. If you’re naked, it’s not so evident. If you’ve got on cotton, it’s hushed. If you’re wearing a polyester puffer-jacket, it’s the equivalent of unwrapping a Mars bar in the middle of a quiet cinema.

Not good. The slightest shuffle or motion (let alone wild gesticulations) are captured on the mike and each scene needs to be done again. And again. It’s a waste of time, but at least I’m warm.

Cotton hoodies are pretty good, so long as I suppress the zipper on the front. It makes little ‘tink, tink’ noises that are pretty darn obvious. I’ve taken to putting a blob of blu-tack underneath to stop it chattering while I’m vocalising. The chair is solid, steel chair, very cold on the tuchus, so I’ve put a small cushion on and covered it with a terry towel.

I can’t put a heater in there because the space is too confined for anything that isn’t electric, and electric heaters are notorious for making a hum. I’m thinking seriously about pre-heating the space before I start, to take the edge off. Makes sense, I guess, only we’re on the other side of winter and that means the days are getting warmer and all of this effort will be for nothing until the next year.

So that was me these past few weeks: Squatting in a rickety sound booth, freezing my proverbials off, rugging up in a woolen beanie, gloves and scarf with a wodge of blu-tack stuck to my zipper. And that’s if the weather was favourable. It was a slog, but I got through it and I’m happy.

I had to do the supermarket scene again because there was a lot of choppiness and I flubbed the voices. Everyone got a bit too bogan and by the end of it, I couldn’t even understand what I was saying.

After all of that, Atlas, Broken has been turned into an audiobook and submitted through Findaway for processing. It will be a few weeks before we see it come out the other side. Fingers crossed I’ve dotted all my i’s.

The Front Porch at Grosvenor Lane

With the backdrops pretty much ready to go, with the exception of the fireplace, which needs some serious shadows, I’ve been looking at the animation side of things.

Nothing gets stuff done like getting stuff started, eh?

Synfig

Opening up Synfig, I set the dimensions to 1280 x 720, which gives a 16 : 9 ratio, ready to go.

Synfig-properties.png

Now, the scenes are to be slow and progressive so, unlike Adaptation which was more a collection of conceptual shots, I’ll be looking for a lengthy time span of about ten seconds. At a frame rate of 30 fps, that’s, uh, wait, let me get my calculator out… carry the 1… 300 frames.

Synfig-properties-time

Hit the OK button and get ready to rumble.

I start by adding a flat colour for the background. Black is good, considering the number of shadows. Why do I need a background if I’ve got a backdrop? If any part of the backdrop image happens to be transparent, or if I use a layer over the top which modifies the alpha of the backdrop, I don’t want to make sure it doesn’t use white or something to compensate.

Anyway, with that in place, I add the backdrop of the door frame (taken from the actual cover. Yes, it’s grainy. Yes, it’s dark. That’s ok. The scene is at night, and it’s going to be a bit further away than our Professor, anyway. The door, however, is sharp. This is where the Professor will be spending some time opening up the lock.

So I insert the door and, presto, I’ve got a front porch!

FrontPorchInitial.PNG

Props

Now I want to be able to move things about. I want the Professor to walk from the right, over to the door while chatting to the protagonist, unlock the door and open it. And for extra focus and ‘night time’ness, I want there to be some evidence of a lantern.

ProfessorBody
The Professor’s Torso

 

 

ProfessorArm
The Professor’s Arm

I’ve broken up the Professor into two main parts: his arm, which will move about to give an impression that he’s not just a cardboard cutout, and his torso. Both the arm and torso will belong to a group so that, as the Professor ‘walks’, the arms and torso bob at the same rate.

FrontPorchWithProfessor.PNG

I’ve added the ‘lantern’ to the Professor group, so that it, too, moves along with the body. It’s really just a shroud, a radial gradient of zero-alpha to full, with a heavy offset, such that everything outside of the lantern’s influence is dark.

You’ll note, on the time line there, the bunch of green dots. This is the motion of the Professor, stepping and bobbing along. The green is Synfig’s TCB waypoint inference. It gives a looser waypoint than clamped or ease. If I set them all to linear or clamped, the Professor would be marching like a soldier. As it is, his gait is more natural.

All that’s left to do now it animate the door opening, add in a warm ‘lantern’ glow to the radial gradient and shade the door more as it opens to give an impression of darkness and depth.

Sound

There are three key sounds in this scene:

  1. The Professor nattering to the Protagonist about it being dry on the porch.
  2. The key turning and the door opening.
  3. The ambient rain, a crucial element of the story.

Getting the key and lock sound was fairly simple. I went out the back to the gate and practiced with the slide bolt. A few trial runs and I recorded it on my phone, picked the best sounding one and cleaned it up in Audacity. More on the cleaning-up bit later.

The voice was more difficult. Where, oh, where does one find a Victorian Professor in the middle of outer Melbourne suburbia? I tried a few online services, but I couldn’t get the voice actor I was after. The ‘British’ was either too uppety, too young, too old or, in most cases, too damned expensive. I’m working on a shoe-string, here.

Fiverr looked promising. There are a lot of voice over artists who are willing to lend their talents. Checking through the various videos and samples, though, it seems it’s mostly geared toward reading scripts for advertisements. Not what I’m after.

In the end, I put on my best ‘old-but-not-too-old’ British accent, practiced again and again and again. And again. Then recorded myself. Yeah. That’s what I did. I hope it sounds right. You know when you hear your voice on tape and you think, “Heck, is that me?”

Lastly, the rain. I haven’t got that sound clip yet. I’m expecting it to rain here in Fawkner tomorrow, and I’ve got a nice corrugated iron cantilever out the side that should sound awesome.

Anyway, back to Synfig: I tried adding these sounds as ‘sound layers’. That is, one adds a layer of type ‘sound’, points the sound file to the .wav or .mp3 and then set the offset.

Synfig-sound-layer.PNG

This seemed the perfect way to add sound to the clip apart from two things.

Firstly, it didn’t always play. Every so often, when re-running the clip, I’d have to select the layer to give it a poke, and the sound would then play. OK, no biggy. So long as it exports…

It didn’t export. No matter what format I exported it as, the sound didn’t come through in the final file. I vaguely remember having this issue with The Bullet. My solution there was to add the sound when assembling the final video. I guess I’ll have to do the same thing here.

More on the sound and Audacity in the next post.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Making Ghosts

As previously stated, I’m going to be giving love to Grosvenor Lane Ghost in the form of an animation. I’ve learnt a lot from the Bullet, and from Adaptation, about the sound, about the music, about vectors and rasters and paths.

Making a plan

It all starts with a plan. I made a story-board for the Bullet, likewise for Adaptation, and I think that helped a bunch. I could see what I needed to make / draw / record.

What I didn’t see was exactly how much was involved in each scene. This is because my plan wasn’t fine-grained enough: “Brother Holland in the bathtub” doesn’t capture all that was eventually required to make that scene. So, too, “Crabman in front of building” or “Assault on Sanitation Facility”.

Sure, it helped break things down into manageable chunks, but each of those chunks was broken down on the fly. OK, I’ve worked like that before. Sometimes there are just unknowns. It’s a fact of life. However, if I sit and think about each scene, I can picture each bit that is necessary:

“Oh, I’ll need a sniper’s scope. And figures in uniform. And a background. And waymarkers. And text.” Right. That’s a whole lot more concise.

To ease the production, I’ve taken the story board, made scenes and, for each scene, detailed the rough time (it’s very loose at the start), the voice-overs, the sounds, the backgrounds and the props required.

And I came up with this:

GrosvenorPlan

Scenes on the left, assets on the right. And from here I can pick and choose the bits I need to make. Only got twenty minutes left on lunch? Make a differential thermometer. Have a couple of hours to spare, crank out the laboratory scene. Got a quiet (Yeah. Right) room? Record some voice-overs or sounds.

I’ll not working from start to finish, rather it’ll be a bit of this and a bit of that as I can fit it in. In an ideal world, I’d like to concentrate on one thing at a time. In a real world, that ain’t going to happen.

Besides, with technology today, I can work on (most) of these things during lunch, before bed, between dodging telemarketing calls or while watching tv.

Cool, Jez. What’s first?

Ha. Ha ha. Haaaaaa. Yeah. Meat or potatoes, right? Well, you know what? I’m going to have a little fun and start with the music. That’s right, I’m skipping to dessert.

Why? Because it’s fun. Really. It sets the mood for the pictures to come. And I think it’s important to have background music for a video rather than just sound. Not only that, if I’m going to make a bunch of these (one for each book in Paranormology), then I’ll want to have a ‘theme’ going, a tune that is associative with the series, not just the book.

Which means making a ditty. And since MIDI is such a wonderful way for a single shmuck to make music, and considering I already have Virtual Midi Synth installed, I’m going to go bury myself in my earphones.

Look out, Anvil Studio, here I come!Mini Jeztyr Logo

The Bullet Animation – Sound

Up to this point I had been toying with graphics and animating things and sketches and learning about vector graphics – and I’d completely neglected the audio! Well, not completely. Mostly.

The issue, as I saw it, is that I had to finish the animation before I could add the sound. I could hardly hope to figure out the timing without something against which to time. Anyway, by the time I got to the first major iteration, I thought I’d better spend some time on sound.

Music, Sound, Voice

I broke up the tasks of sound into three main categories: The background music, ambient sounds and voice-over. I chose to go without a voice-over for reasons previously mentioned, but I think I’d like to give it a try in the next animation. I can imagine it would present its own challenges and I’d like to explore them one day.

For now, this post will concentrate on the ambient sound, the next will be on music.

My first task was to think about what scenes needed what sounds. Going back through my animation files, I watched the silent progress and imagined what might lend itself to the matter. I made a wee list:

  1. The hissing of the furnace
  2. The rattling of the conveyor belt
  3. The kak-klunking of the machinery
  4. Heavy breathing of the Assassin
  5. The bang of the Bullet

Armed with my dodgy microphone, I tried my hand at making noises with my mouth. I discovered a couple of things. Firstly, my microphone ain’t no good. I thought it was broken at first. No, not broken, just really crappy. The resulting sound was barely above a whisper. Upping the gain only upped the noise and clipped the sound. I couldn’t make too much noise: I’ve got a young ‘un who is usually asleep by the time I’m doing anything. On top of that, everything came through with a hum that I later tracked down to being the fan of the computer.

Secondly, while my vocal impersonations of the garbage truck on a Friday are enough to impress small children, Michael Winslow I ain’t. Even when I did manage to get a sample of something loud enough to be workable, it sounded pretty lame. The rattling conveyor sounded like an old man about to lose his lunch, the kak-klunking sounded like nutshells being rubbed together.

Take two

Microphone = Inadequate. Location = Terrible. Source = Abysmal. To address these issues, I looked at the palm of my hand. My phone! Not only can it take telephone calls, it has a recorder built into it. On the weekend, I buzzed about outside, in the garden, in the garage, trying to find sources for sounds. The roller door. A hammer. The hose. The air conditioning unit. The lawn mower. The can opener. There were clunks and rattles and hisses and sighs all over the place.

By the time I came back inside and thawed my nose (it’s Winter time), I had a phone full of sounds, ready for use. Only, they weren’t. First, I needed to download and convert them into something usable.

Audacity

A long, long time ago, Dad splashed out on a Sound Blaster Pro. Tucked into the whopping ISA expansion slot on the motherboard, it allowed, for the first time, not only playback of awesome sounds and music, but also recording of awesome sounds. As a family we huddled around the box to record funny messages for windows startup, add reverb and warp the pitch until we sounded like chipmunks.

When I tried the recorder the other day, I was sorely disappointed. Yes, I could record, but that was about it. Where had all the fun gone? Why couldn’t I fade in or out? What about the echo and hiss-reduction and all of that. We had it back in the 90’s, right?

AudacityWell, all of that is still there. A quick search on the net brought me to Audacity (http://audacityteam.org/). Simply download and enjoy. The interface was a bit daunting to look at, granted, but stick with it. Go ahead, import a sound file, boom, there’s the waveform, ready to be fiddled with. First port of call for me was to trim out the bits of the samples that I didn’t want. Highlight the section and delete it, simple as that. And if you need to insert a block of silence, sure, select menu > generate and make as much sweet silence as you need. I had to do that a fair bit: I had a two year-old shadow following me around, nattering all the while.

You can cut and and copy and paste, or select a region and make it repeat x number of times. Importantly, you can fade in or out, cross-fade between left and right channels, or apply some really cool filters to knock out high hisses or low hums. I must admit, I lost myself for quite some time as I mucked about with different filters, seeing what each one did.

One of the really cool features of Audacity is the ability to have multiple, parallel tracks. They end up working a lot like layers in the graphics programs, so you can tweak one track independently of another, speeding it up, slowing it down, adjusting the volume, whatever you like. And you can play it back, just like that, to hear how it goes.

In the end, banging a lump of wood on the roller door provided a decent ka-thunk, ka-thunk, and the air-conditioner gave up a bunch of interesting sounds, whirrings and groans and squeaks and hisses. One thing I couldn’t find in my garage wonderland of noises was the distinct sound of a rifle shot.

Essential to the animation, I simply could not recreate a convincing bang that was distinctly a gunshot. Short of rocking around to a rifle range, I poked about online to find free online noises. I listened to the report of a few different models and settled on the Springfield M1A rifle: It has that heavy crack that I was after, along with a lasting, gaseous hiss.

Pushing this all together, I must say that I’m not entirely happy with what I ended up with. If there’s anything I’d go back and do again, it’d be the sound, simply because its just not punchy and distinct enough. In fact, I’d probably seek help from a sound engineer in this department. Anyway, enough prattling about that, next time I’ll prattle on about the music.