Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Great Spring Clean - part 3.5

I've been absent from these pages for a couple of weeks, prepping a couple of jobs, so there's not been much chance for more rummaging through old artwork boxes... but continuing on from the last post I have come across this bar sheet, lodged at the bottom of one of my drawers:

This is part of the dialogue breakdown of Sienna Guillory's performance from the sequence covered in the last post. (For those not familiar with what 'dialogue breakdown' means, it's taking the recordings of the actors voices and writing out exactly what sound is being said on exactly which frame. The animator can then take this information and draw the correct mouth shapes to create the illusion that the animated character is actually speaking the words with complete synchronization.) The dialogue for The Last Belle was analysed using the 'old-school' analogue system, meaning the original recording was transferred onto magnetic film stock and broken down frame by frame by rocking and rolling the sound backwards and forwards manually. This was done by Rod Howick, who has been a major name in the London animation scene for some decades. Rod's a real craftsman, and he's developed an amazing ear over the years, meaning his phonetic analysis of the dialogue, where exactly one sound blends into another, and even where the breaths occur between the words, is always completely spot on.

Rod Howick (left) next to Roy Naisbitt, at the Last Belle crew screening.
These days most breakdowns are done digitally, which has the benefit of providing graphic displays of the soundwave peaks and troughs. But if I had to do the work myself (and I have a few times on smaller jobs) I actually prefer the old analogue method - to my ears it's way more intuitive to run back and forth over the original sound, feeling your way through the sound blends: of course, the great benefit of analogue sound is you can run it back and forth at any speed without it collapsing into juddering digital globs. But as always with these things, it's more the operator than the technology itself that leads to great results. Whatever system you use, breakdown is a great skill, and it was wondeful to have such a fine craftsman as Rod bringing his decades of experience to The Last Belle.

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