Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tiffin Screening at Chicago International Film Festival...

Chor Ai Lene's latest film Tiffin is screening at the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival beginning next week. I was fortunate enough to work on this lovely, touching short film as Sound Designer with the help of one of my former students, Sean Clark. Because the screening won't have the equivalent of DVD extras, I thought I would blog a bit on the process.

Creating the 5.1 surround soundtrack for this film was especially challenging. It was shot on location in Malaysia, which is...well, a long way away from here. The houses are fairly open to the outside, rain comes and goes often and at a moment's notice, and everything is lush and full of birdsong. Ai Lene wanted the exterior ambiences to be as authentic and natural as possible so almost all of the effect libraries we had access to for atmosphere were virtually worthless; cardinals, sparrows, and morning doves are nowhere to be found in Malaysia! Consequently, we had to rely heavily on the production audio—"wild sounds" beautifully captured by location recordist and sound mixer, Josh Jacobs. Not only did these non-sync recordings give us a means to design a rich, layered daytime exterior, they also gave us an aural snapshot of the evening soundscape, including nightly chants that broadcast throughout the city via small, poor sounding loudspeakers. The reverberent quality of these distorted sounds bouncing off the new and old town buildings, however, was downright sublime and seemed to sustain forever.

Another difficulty we encountered was applying just the right amount of interior room reflections to dialogue and Foley tracks inside homes that have an unusual amount of open windows and doorways. Foley, by the way, is the re-recording in postproduction of any sound related to human movement such as footsteps and clothing rustles. Michael Slaboch provided pristine Foley tracks that, quite honestly, brought the overall track to another level. To match Michael's studio recordings and all of our design elements to the production audio recorded on location, we had to first make a distinction between sonic events occuring in the foreground and those that were coming from outside or other parts of house that were out of frame. We then assigned different digital reverb programs to each of those physical locations, affecting only the audio coming from that particular space. Some went to front left, center, right; some went to the surrounds. Ultimately, it gave us the flexibility to position sounds with the proper perspective, exactly matching what was happening onscreen while maintaining a soundtrack that enveloped the viewer. Our aim was to mix it as transparent as possible, with one notable exception, which I will not reveal here.

I really enjoyed working on Tiffin, and in particular, working with Ai Lene and a story set in her homeland. You can see it for yourself during CIFF on Sunday 10/7 at 12 noon, Saturday 10/13 at 12 noon, and Tuesday 10/16 at 4pm.