In this article, we’re going to be looking at perhaps two of the most confusing Oscars categories: Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. If you’re not familiar with the sound and audio post-production landscape, these categories might seem exactly the same thing; however, there are certain differences, and that’s why we often see a movie nominated for both.
The big thing to think about what’s sound editing and sound mixing is that sound editing refers to the recording of all audio except for music. And what’s audio without music? Dialogues between characters, the sound picked up in whatever scenario a scene was recorded at, and, also, sound recorded in the studio, for example, ADR, extra lines of dialogue, all those crazy sound created to mimic, for example, animals, vehicles, environmental noises, the foley, etc.
Sound mixing, on the other hand, is balancing all the sound in the film or the movie. Imagine taking all of the music, all of the audio, all of the dialogue lines, all the sound effects, the sounds going around, etc., and combining them together so they are perceived as balanced and beautiful tracks.
Some people refer to this last category as an ‘audio tiramisu’, as there are layers and layers of sound that, in the end, compose a beautiful orchestrated group of sounds. Layers of what’s happening in a film’s particular scene and the real realm and layers of what’s happening around it, like in the spiritual realm.
If you recall The Revenant, the American semi-biographical epic western film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu that was nominated for several Academy Awards categories including both sound editing and sound mixing, the exemplification of the film’s sound being a total ‘audio tiramisu’ is more noticeable. In the revenant, the sound was so perfectly crafted that it was like if two different stories were taking place at the same time side by side, and you could only distinguish between them by listening.
When it comes to sound editing, take for example another movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, the 2015 post-apocalyptic action film co-written, produced, and directed by George Miller. The movie contains all of these amazing and great recordings of cars, fire, explosions, the really subtle dialogue, which ultimately creates so much contrast between the action and what the characters were really saying. Max, played by Tom Hardy, was actually really quiet, whereas Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, was screaming at the top of her lungs, and all of that happened in the middle of the most frenetic action possible. All the audio was used and mixed at the same time.
Having used and mixed the audio at the same time was, in reality, a huge achievement. Rumor has it they used up to 2,000 different channels, meaning they used 2,000 different audio pieces at one time, which is perfectly recognizable at the opening car chase sequence, allowing you to perceive how much sound was being used. The movie, in the end, managed to mix all the dialogue, the quiet dialogue, the effects, the action, the environmental sounds, etc., and to use it all together.
The Process Deconstructed
The relationship between sound mixing, sound mixing and storytelling, however, is perhaps the cornerstone of the whole audio post-production process. How audio design and sound mixing can be used to help storytelling, specifically in the films, is the main question that audio technicians strive to answer.
First, they approach both practices thinking how they can make the tracks sound better, and then how they can add to the story —make the audio tell the story, even if you don’t specifically see what’s going on. In terms of sound design, the whole idea behind this creative process is coming up with key takeaways regarding what is the purpose of the scene, or whether or not there are specific things that don’t appear in the moving images but still are ‘there’ and need to be told.
After having analyzed the scenes in terms of what can be done to improve the general storytelling, audio technicians start to balance the dialogues track by track, which is, of course, a process that takes several hours. Is it necessary to add the room tone? Is it necessary to remove it? Those type of questions normally arise during this part of the process. Afterward, the EQ part starts.
The EQ is normally that part of the process where audio technicians do a little bit of clean up by changing the frequencies of the sounds the audience will hear in order for them to hear them clearer and better. This is important in terms of the storytelling because by using an equalizer, audio technicians can add textures to the voice and the sounds people will hear, which is of course what the whole storytelling is about.
*The images used on this post are taken from Pexels.com