Thursday, 24 December 2009

sound design with Dave Aston

Yesterday I found myself driving over the snow covered hills to Skipton for the sound mix at the Digital Audio Company, led by Emmy award winning sound designer, Dave Aston.
Joining me were directors Simon Cartwright and Jess Cope, composer Peter Wright and editor Adam Kirk. It was an incredible experience, and for me quite emotional to see and hear the film come together after a year in the making.

Below, the master at work, Dave Aston at the helm.

On the directors couch, Simon and Jess. Note the directorial book on Simons knee... filled with and many doodles and notes. I’ve begged Simon to share a page or two on the blog. He is bashful... but it is Christmas!

Composer Peter Wright worked and perfected the score side by side Dave Aston. Yesterday was the ideal workflow. Hearing the music with the mix, if Peter or the directors wanted to change something or experiment with a fresh idea, Pete was on hand to do just that. Truly inspiring.

We have been extremely fortunate to have Dave Aston and his team working on the sound design to “The Astronomers Sun” over the last week, and I asked him if he would share some of the insights to the process of sound design with us. Here’s his interview.

Can you explain what is the role of a sound designer is?
According to Skillset Sound Designers are responsible for providing any required sounds to accompany screen action. Most Sound Designers are experienced Supervising Sound Editors who carry out a managerial role, steering the work of the entire sound post production process, combined with the specialist role of creating the sound concept for films. As well as creating the sounds for giant explosions or car crashes, Sound design is also the art of creating subtle sounds that enrich the language and feeling of a film.

You are the owner of your own studio, the Digital Audio Company. Can you tell me about the company and the your considerable experience in Sound Design?
Having my own studio is quite a luxury in this day and age, but it does mean that I can do the preparation in a good acoustic environment whilst being able to look out of the window over the Yorkshire Dales. We built the studio when the company grew too big to run from our house 15 years ago. At the time we were doing a mix of documentaries, drama and music mastering; which might seem odd, but we are audio specialists after all. We have two dedicated control rooms, one for mixing and one for preparation along with a voice room that can double as another preparation room. The two main rooms have ATC 50 speakers which means that we have consistent sound monitoring and much better preparation facilities than most. Our huge sound effects library is accessible from a central storage device so we can instantly access effects in any room. We’ve set things up so that the creative take precedence over any technical aspects of a job.
Even before I left school I was into sound, doing some live work with local bands and recording my friends playing, bouncing back and forth between two reel to reel tape recorders. I followed a path from the live work to music recording studios where I gained a wide variety of experience and learnt about the quality of sound. The music was great fun but too many long sessions meant that I decided to steer a course to sound for picture. When digital came along I bought an early digital audio workstation and set myself up to do audio post production for TV. Although I enjoy mixing I soon found my niche as a sound editor, bringing the pictures to life. I found that I had the knack of interpreting the wishes of the directors and producers that I work with, and they trust me to work on my own without their constant input. I enjoy this as I can be as creative as time allows and surprise them with the finished project.

How did you became involved in “The Astronomers Sun”?
I had worked with Peter (Kershaw), one of the producers, on a couple of short films he had done. (“Wilfred” and “Cinema of Horror”). When he rang me up I could hardly turn down an animation on my own doorstep.

What are the unique challenges working on an animated film as opposed to live action?
I have to say that working in drama we produce music and effects tracks for foreign language dubbing, so we effectively start with a mute film like animation for probably 90% of the scenes. What is different is that the sync sound might have something in it to inspire and develop, whereas the animation only has the pictures. The trick is to make the animation convincing as if it were real life. If I can’t convince myself I throw the sound out, so on this particular film the Teddy is the third attempt, so I hope you are convinced.

As well as yourself, you have a talented crew including foley from Universal Sound. You tell me a about that?
I have worked on numerous projects with the guys at Universal Sound. They specialise in Foley which is generally the replacement of footsteps and clothes movements when dialogue is stripped out for the foreign language versions. We have a working relationship where I will send them notes giving direction where needed and they just do their job. Very well I might add. Sometimes they will add other spot effects that I might not have here. For instance the opening of the watch and the fitting of the mirror are a combination of our efforts.

This is the first time that 4mations directors, Simon & Jess have had the opportunity to work with a sound designer. What has it been like working with them?
It has been a pleasure working with them as they are obviously keen to produce a film of the highest quality. They were obviously conscious of the final sound when doing the animation and were able to give me a good idea of what they had in mind for the finished product. I look forward to the next one.

Thanks Dave!
Watch out for on the special effects in “the Astronomers Sun” in a weeks time.
Until then, to one and all, Merry Christmas!
David Bunting, Co-producer

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