Monday, October 11, 2004

Editing Narration with Pro Tools:

Keywords: Pro Tools, M Box, narration.

MYSTIC INDIA is a large format film project that started shooting in March of 2003, and which I’ve been working on since. It was shot entirely on the Indian subcontinent, on 70mm 8 perf film. It was the first film I had worked on where all the dialogue was in Hindi.

It seemed there was no shortage of hurtles to finishing this project. One interesting hurtle was the final English language narration. The director had convinced the Indian financiers that the narrator should be a well known actor to Western audiences. Peter O’Toole had agree to read the part. The Indian producers preferred a well known Hindi actor, but the director convinced them.

Unfortunately, the ADR session with O’Toole did not go well. Although his voice is excellent, he struggled to pronounce the many Hindi words. When I listened to the track, a second problem was evident: whose pronunciation was the correct one? With the director and three Indian producers all giving slightly different pronunciations, O’Toole occasionally prompted them to give him only one version.

After returning from recording in London, the director called for my help. To keep O’Toole as the narrator, he wanted me to edit the narration and to fix as many of the problems as possible. Having cut the picture and several version of temp narration, I was the best candidate.

The Avid wasn’t going to work for this job. Although it has time compression and pitch shift tools in the Audio Suite, it cannot edit audio in the sub-frame level.

The narration was recorded in Pro Tools, at 48k 16 bit. I got a CD-R with the session and audio files (Sound Designer II). A while back I had invested in an audio device, the M Box. It is a outboard box that is the hardware required for Pro Tools in Mac OS X, albeit with limited capabilities. It is packaged with Pro Tools vs. 6, which is OS X native.

The M Box connects to my Power PC G4 laptop via USB. With some headphones, I sat at home and constructed each line of narration from the recorded pieces.

When O’Toole encountered a Hindi word he couldn’t pronounce, the people at the session would give him the correct reading. Although he still couldn’t pronounce the word correctly in a sentence, I was able to copy the best pronunciation and fit it into the right spot. Sometimes a reading needed time correction. Or pitch shifting. Or splitting words in half (or more) to create the correct version. It took two days to create the approximately 27 minutes of final narration. But the results were well worth it.

As a final stage, my assistant input the cut narration into my Avid. Each phrase (and any alternate) was lined up correctly to the picture. We output a OMF file for the sound editors, who were able to open the narration for the stage.

Platform: Power PC G4 laptop, 512 MB memory, 55 GB internal storage, running OS X.
Peripheral: M Box by Digidesign
Software: Pro Tools 6.0

Finally: The M Box is a great tool to edit very specific dialogue, or to do multiple other sound tasks. I also use it to create interesting backgrounds, create special sound effects, or to add effects via the built in audio plug ins.


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