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The Basics of ADR, Pg. 3

Positioning the Mic:
It is important to place your mic at an appropriate distance, if you want the audio to sound believable.  With that said, we'll start with shotgun mics and then go to lavaliers.

The appropriate distance for most shotgun mics, is between eighteen inches to three feet, depending on whether it’s a short or long shotgun. The shorter the shotgun, the closer it’ll need to be to your actor.

By and large, the best recording position for the shotgun is usually slightly to the left or right of the actor with the head aimed at the lips, rather than straight in front of the actor. You’re more likely to get snaps and pops if you put the microphone right in front of the actor, facing him head on. (Having the shotgun’s windscreen on will also prevent pops and snaps.) Additionally, it’s often helpful to angle the mic up or down from either a lowered or elevated position, rather than shooting horizontally at the mouth. Of course, make sure to experiment a lot ahead of time.

Lavaliers need to be placed at the normal distance (usually six to eight inches, depending on the height of your actor) from your actor's mouth, aimed toward the lips as much as possible. (Aiming is especially important for directional lavaliers; less so with omnidirectional one.) For lav recording, be especially careful to have your actors avoid wearing clothing that rustles, like sweaters, blazers, and the like.

The Process of Looping:
For looping to proceed, each actor’s lines need to be broken down into sentences or portions of sentences on a simple script, with you and the actor both having a copy. These lines will then be recorded from the actor’s mic, as the original lines are played back over and over in his headset, until the actor records one or two good takes. (Obviously, two good takes are optimal, but most actors have a “golden” moment for a certain line, and they may actually get worse after that moment. Don’t wear out your actor if that moment has passed, because you can probably piece together a second take from earlier loops that have been recorded.) You can then check off each dialogue loop once it’s been recorded properly, making any notes you might need on the script.

To increase the likelihood of an actor beginning in sync, it’s a good idea to record three beeps, each a second apart, to serve as an audio cue for the actor to know when to begin speaking. These beeps will be placed exactly one second before the first word of the first line. That way the rhythm goes: Beep…Beep…Beep…“And then we ran—“

Just because an actor starts on sync, doesn’t mean he’ll stay there. When your actor’s dialogue starts on sync and repeatedly drifts off-sync, this probably means that the loop of dialogue is too long for your actor to get it in a single go. In this situation, you have to break down the looped lines into smaller sections so that the actor can say each portion at the correct speed.

Most actors require fairly small line lengths at first, in order to get down the rhythm of saying things the way they’ve said them before. Each actor is different as to how fast they progress. I’ve had folks who’ve progressed to doing two and three dead-on sentences at a time in as little as a half hour, and had folks who worked for three days, still needing to have lines broken down into small bite sized loops. Some actors progress faster if you have them mark hesitations and beats on their lines, but each actor is different. (Because of the differences in actors, it’s not a wise move to schedule more than one actor per session. While an actor may get done with plenty of time for you to record another actor, usually Murphy’s Law exerts itself and the first actor takes four times as long as you expected, which in turn leads to a very irritated second actor hanging around your studio all day, getting more and more fed up as time goes by.)

The hardest thing for most folks when they do ADR is how close is close enough? By and large, an actor’s delivery needs to be around 10 milliseconds from the original recording. This is hard at first, but, if you adhere to it, your actors will learn the proper way to do it and you will make final alignment much easier on yourself.

When each portion is recorded close enough, it can be aligned by hand or with a standalone program like SynchroArts Vocalign Project to the original sync audio after the actor has left. (Sync audio is the original sound that was recorded and is used as a guide to help the ADR technician or filmmaker or whoever has the audio software line up the re-dubbed audio with the original audio.)

The Importance of Tone and Delivery:
After you’ve heard a line of dialogue a million times, it can be very hard to decide if it sounds the way you want. However, tone and delivery is a place where you can really stumble or really exceed in ADR. At the very least, the delivery needs to match the body language of the actor’s image. (If you’re using audio-only looping, you may need to remind the actor of the mood they were in when they were filmed.) Now, if you stay alert, in many cases you can actually get much more powerful performances out of your actors in ADR than they originally delivered. This was a fact I discovered as I got into the ADR process. Now, to do this effectively, you do need to layer consecutive loops of dialogue so that they flow in a seamless whole with the new touches and emphases working together. The cool thing is that, when you can pull this off, ADR goes from a salvaging process to a very creative process. In fact, it’s said that Marlon Brando understood this fact so well that he would always mumble his lines in front of the camera, so that he would have the freedom to improve and finalize his performance in the ADR studio.

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