Processing Foley with plug-ins
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Hey! It’s Yuri from Foley First.
Sometimes Foley Artists and Foley mixers, who are just entering the industry, ask me about what kind of plug-in processing we use for Foley recording and before delivery. That’s a good topic I am happy to talk about. But first of all, I would like to mention that this short article is not an expert opinion, a guide to using, or a call to action. Also, there is no product placement. All I would like to write about is just our personal experience and techniques in the Foley job we do at the moment. Again, everyone does as he thinks best, and everyone uses their technology, gained over the years. We, like many others, have our methods, and I will be glad to share this experience. Hopefully, it would be useful to someone.
Why we do process Foley
The quick answer is to save the re-recording mixer’s time they spend on Foley integration. Improve the recorded material before delivery.
I think having the Foley processing cycle in my production chain is as important as having a Foley supervisor in your team who is not involved in the Foley recording process. The person who can evaluate the overall picture of the product with a fresh sense of hearing. It can be one man, by the way. The more people and independent opinions are in your team, the better they all can make the product.
Foley processing allows you to determine as accurately as possible how well the material integrates into the picture, even after merely equalization and compression applied. It is an excellent way to assess and fix mistakes that were made during recording and editing. Once you apply the reverb bus on the scene with the recorded Foley, it will definitely become apparent for you of how good it sounds, unlike listening to the dry material.
Yes, we can’t know all the re-recording mixer’s techniques he or she uses while working with the Foley on the other end. What plug-ins this person uses, what parameters he or she applies to equalization or compression. But obviously, we can save them from the pain of doing work on elementary processing of the Foley or correcting not decent sounding material.
Processing Foley on the recording
That’s great if you have a lot of time for experiments on the Foley stage. But as a rule, we all are caged by deadlines, and it happens that there is simply no extra 10 minutes to find the perfect sound. Here at Foley First, while we do record material (primarily steps), our general tools for real-time processing which we can not live without are:
The essential tool for tuning the sound of surfaces and distancing. But since we all work on headphones at the Foley stage, we prefer not to get absorbed in playing with EQing. It’s better to make final adjustments on the post-processing.
This is not the most commonly used plug-in in our Foley studio. But it helps a lot with recording props and steps with a high dynamic range. Or steps with high transients, for example, wood sole shoes on wood. The compression also allows Foley walker to control the sound in his headphones and to feel comfortable and confident while recording high dynamic scenes with constant transitions such as run-scuffswalk-run-scuffs.
Having experimented with the audio gear for a long time, I came to the conclusion that using an all-in-one-box interface is something that keeps us working fast and flexible. Stand-alone preamps, compressors, and equalizers – all of them makes adjustments to the SNR. Yes, in this way the sound may be more interesting and rich when using super-expensive standalone units, but we are a budget studio. Here at Foley First, we settled on the use of Antelope Audio interfaces. A fairly flexible solution with good preamps, conversion, and very highquality real-time processing.
One of the most critical things in the recording process is to make sure that Foley puts in the picture very well. Rarely, we use Altiverb or Steinberg’s Reverence offline processing on props. But if I, as a Foley walker, during Foley recording, have doubts about how well the steps fit the guide track, it will help a lot to send them on the reverb bus to check the result.That gives an objective view of how correctly the texture and shoes matched. Sometimes it seems that a dry signal sounds excellent, but after putting Foley into the acoustics, the scene falls apart. And vice versa. Check Foley with the reverb before delivery? Absolutely!
Reviewing and post-processing. That’s my favorite production stage after recording and editing. If during the recording, the processing was not so significant, then now we can modify the recorded material much more. It is crucial to keep in mind that the control room must be very well treated and have a decent curve of the room frequency response. Otherwise, you can only ruin the sound.
So, in importance:
The EQ can be applied to almost all elements of Foley. Starting from the putting corrections to low cut filter on footsteps, to, say, adding more articulation to various kinds of cloth doing boost on mids. Of course, we don’t process every single region or clip, but we do clean it from unnecessary frequencies for the further mix.
What do we use? Fabfilter Pro-Q. Perhaps one of the fastest and GUI friendly plugin. This one is perfect if workflow speed is crucial. And here you immediately see where the problem is.
I love this processing and I very often use this plug-in for:
Correction of surface and the mass of the boot.
Just a great solution when I can adjust the mass of, say, heavy boot on hollow wood. Instead of using full range compression, you can simply attenuate or boost a frequency range that sounds too much or too less, keeping untouched all other frequency nuances in the other hand.
Controlling the range with the random high dynamic level.
It is also an indispensable solution for aligning unnecessary frequencies in footsteps on dynamic scenes. Say, one way or another, a boot on the dirt with active walking can transmit a small boomy effect at 100-250Hz, which does not always give the character a mass you need, but instead more sounds like a Foley pit artifact. In dynamic scenes, this frequency range can randomly strike in the mix. Multiband compression like Fabfilter Pro-MB is the must-have for controlling that.
By the way, there was a case when we had a character in a scene wearing the sneakers and constantly scuffing on a tile. I liked how the shape of the sneaker sounded on the surface while walking and running, but scuffs have been sounding just horrible. Having determined the undesirable frequency range on the recording, we simply attenuate that with de-esser, keeping all the frequencies working while walking. I am pretty sure that a multiband compressor just a great solution for this as well.
Transient / Envelope shaper
The thing that I can’t live without in Foley footsteps! What problems Transient shaper solves for me.
Tapping. Changing the shoe shape.
Most modern gumshoes and sneakers have a solid rubber sole that sounds like tapping and doesn’t put well in the mix. Surely, a compressor with a fast attack could also solve the problem of transients attenuation, but envelope shaper, definitely, does this job better. Even if you have only one pair of big sneakers, which does not match the character in the footage, the transient designer chained with a multiband compressor can completely transform, lighten, and make steps sounding softer. In fact, any shoe with a wooden sole or hard rubber sole on a hard surface can sound softer. That’s cool!
We, as big Nuendo fans, use build-in envelope shaping plugins. Nuendo and Cubase provide a free integrated multiband envelope shaper, which allows me to reshape the sound of the shoe. For example, I can cut transients and make boot sounding softer on mids and high, but at the same time, I can add sharpness and sustain on the low mids, to completely modify a regular boot into a heavy boot.
Applying shaping to grass and gravel.
A transient shaper also is a great tool for making these high transient surfaces sounding less sharp.
For about six months, we owned the gear SPL Transient Designer and kept watched over how convenient it is to use on Foley recording. And we did compare it with the software. SPL Transient Designer is a good piece of gear, but it made some adjustments to the SNR. Therefore, quickly enough, we surrendered this solution.
Does SPL convenient on the Foley stage? Absolutely.
Does it sound better than a software counterpart? I think, no
De-click, De-crackle, De-noiser.
We do use de-click and de-crackle very rarely. But de-crackle, together with envelope shaper, proved to be suitable for processing grass surfaces. Especially when I need to get the sound of a low soft grass like a lawn, instead of high and dry – de-crackle can help to make your tinsel or tape sound softer.
De-noiser? Never. I think, If there is a lot of noise in the signal, we need to rerecord it!
Again. One of the most necessary processing for understanding what we do and how the re-recording mixer will be able to work with it on dubbing.
I sent Foley on the reverb bus to check how it suits the picture while we do Foley recording and during the cycle of post-processing.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.