Submitting Starship Troopers

On July 7th, the team behind my Starship Troopers sound replacement completed the project for assessment purposes. While it was a good attempt by the majority of the team for our first sound replacement, I feel additional work is needed to bring it up to industry standard. I will be trying to do so by the end of August or the first week of September, as I have other projects that require my attention in the meantime, which I will be detailing in future posts (stay tuned!) You can view my progress on the project to date here:

 

Project Management, Project Plan & Teamwork

We presented the original pitch to the class via powerpoint presentation in the initial week of the project, allocated to finalising the project plan and refining our asset list. The pitch was a success and the class we presented it to seemed excited about the eventuation of the project. The original project plan I felt was adequate in defining the goals of the project and setting appropriate deadlines, however some team members failed to meet these deadlines or guidances which led to some undesirable aspects of the project. The workflow of the project did differ from the original plan, as I originally planned for different elements of the project to be mixed by those responsible for designing them, however this left a lot of time that team members were not able to work on their elements, so we all ended up having our own Pro Tools projects and consolidated the files into one main mix project file instead, which I felt was a lot more time-efficient. As the project manager behind the sound replacement, I felt a lot of pressure when my team was struggling with deadlines and not meeting the quality of work that I anticipated from a technical standpoint.

By putting aside my time to try and micromanage these issues, I felt that I sacrificed a lot of time by trying to get basic elements of the project up to standard that I could have spent researching and implementing correct mixing methods (which I am admittedly very rusty at). The project as a whole suffered a lot because of this time management and also the fact that I was unfamiliar with my headphones in terms of frequency response, which could have been remedied by using the reference track more effectively and using a comparator (another set of speakers or headphones) during the mixing process.

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Overall the dialogue had some obvious issues, namely Zim’s voiceover recording carrying too much of the sound of the room in which we recorded, with some very high-frequency reflections coming off of the glass door in the vocal booth. This is something that we should have realised in the recording stage by playing back our recordings, but this did not happen. I also feel that Ben may not have done sufficient research into microphone techniques leading up to the recording. Ben tried to resolve this by using iZotope De-Reverb, with unsuccessful results. Following the submission of the project, I have since re-recorded Zim’s vocal in a less reverberant studio with diffusion methods in place. Some of the volume automation of dialogue was also a little too weak, though I was a little reserved in the mixing stage in regards as I wanted to retain the importance of the characters rather than going for a super-realistic sound field.

 

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The music was also not up to standard as it did not fit the brief that we agreed on (strings and some electric guitar). Pete instead experimented with synthesizers in the style of EDM music which weakened the serious tone of the scene. He also got his friend to record guitar remotely at the last second, rather than implementing sufficient planning so that he could be the recording engineer responsible for the tracks. As a result, the guitar recordings were not reflective of the brief assigned and ultimately the project was left without music that would add atmosphere to the scene as a whole.

Communication didn’t occur between team members, and as such we weren’t able to provide feedback in the early stages of the project to ensure that the music was on-target. As a result, I will be recording my own guitar tracks and using a string instrument VST plugin to create the eventual music in the final product.

Overall, the project would have benefited from having regular team meetings and updates from each person, which is something I plan on being more proactive about organising in my future projects. Simply assuming a job will get done is not appropriate and I should implement measures such as the above to ensure the project is going to meet the standard I strive for. Some meetings were scheduled, however not frequently enough, and some team members were unexpectedly unavailable for these meetings despite previous confirmation that they would be. A shared google calendar in addition to our gantt chart would have also been more useful when organising tasks and deadlines.

The feedback stage of the project also came quite late, as members weren’t very proactive in providing each other with critical feedback, and as such the feedback to implement approaching the final submission was very minimal, and included feedback mainly from Rose (our teacher) and some classmates. Ben did give me some feedback in the last few days of the project, however I had to prioritise what I worked on heavily at that point. I was able to contact Harry Cohen, one of the original sound designers of Starship Troopers, and he agreed to give our team (me specifically) feedback on our mix. Unfortunately his feedback wasn’t received until after the submission, but it is nevertheless extremely valuable to my growth as an audio professional, and will be implemented moving forward. Since the completion of the project for submission, we have also gained further feedback from classmates, Rose, and Ahkshay (another teacher). The list of improvements to work on is as follows:

  • More background sounds
  • Machine gun and laser sounds need more variance rather than repeating the same sample, though these samples are of a good quality by themselves
  • ADR needs some processing and further automation to fit the environment
  • Some footsteps are too loud
  • Machine guns sometimes overpower the dialogue
  • Some results of laser/bullet shots should be emphasised depending on the visual focus
  • Have a “hero shot” – a unique sound for the focal character on the screen.

Creative Processes

You can read about how I recorded and designed my sounds on my previous blogs below, where I have done some critical reflection on the process and result of my work:

I am quite happy with my laser sound and machine gun sounds, but as per feedback, I realise the necessity of some variance during playback, for which I plan to use a sampler, and possibly some techniques surrounding EQ when I rework my project. I feel like the reload sound and the headshot sounded really nice in the context of this scene in Starship Troopers, but the headshot would need some minor alteration in other types of film or television as it is quite over-exaggerated and is made to fit the “B-Movie” style of Starship Troopers. I could do this by different EQ methods, softer compression, pitch shifting and changing the balance in relation to the mix as a whole.

In the context of mixing, it was by far my biggest weakness in this project, and I found the following video about mixing conventions in film and television too late in the process, and got some guidance from fellow student Sebasthian regarding gain structure as well, which would dramatically improve the professional quality of my mix. As mentioned previously, using a comparator and the reference track would help me with my levels as well. I plan to use these methods when I rework my project.

 

Moving forward I would like to deepen the pool of sounds relevant to the science fiction genre that I am able to create, such as teleport sounds, various fictional firearms, explosions, and digital/technological drones such as the following scene from the matrix, which will require advancing my capabilities with synthesizers, for which I have already done some research on, but have yet to attempt it myself.

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