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Get Looped!

ADR in Sony Vegas By Douglas Spotted Eagle

Set up the external monitoring options in the Options>Preferences dialog. Click image to view full size.
Independent filmmakers all know the value and import of looping, or "Automated Dialog Replacement." ADR has long been a Hollywood practice, although some films are now using more wild audio than ever before. Essentially, this practice is a matter of bringing talent into a studio and having them re-record dialog from the set where they may have been filmed/taped earlier. This accomplished several goals.

    * It allows for clean recording without room noise or noise from surrounding equipment
    * ADR allows for a more emotional take in many instances, as the actor/actress may have been physically exhausted, not responding verbally well with other elements of the show, or may have not had the right inflection
    * Allows for wild audio to be less of a concern, making sure dialog tracks are clean and articulate.
    * Offers total control and multiple takes for "comping" to the director. (Comping is taking several takes, extracting various words from each take to create one complete line. Imagine building a complete sentence from fragments of other sentences. This is comping, and allows for the best performance possible in many instances)
    * Many actors enjoy the opportunity to re-record lines, as it allows them to inject more passion into their vocal performance, particularly when they can see the film in rough context. (It has been suggested that Marlon Brando deliberately mumbled his lines on set so that he could see a complete scene in context prior to recording his final lines.)

Looping has never been easier than it is in Sony Vegas 6 software. Vegas 6 is likely one of the easiest tools available for looping. Providing the talent with an in-sync external monitor, the director or engineer/editor can play the same scene over and over while the talent records their lines as they look at themselves. Vegas allows for the scene to be placed in a "loop" mode, so that it simply repeats the selection as many times as the engineer/editor/director requires.


To set Vegas up for looping, you'll need at least one external monitor. External monitor can be a standard television monitor, a flat screen, a second computer monitor, or a bank of monitors fed from a distribution system. In the Vegas Preferences, find options for SDI output, 1394 output for SD/DV previews, and a Secondary Monitor preview. The Secondary monitor preview uses a two-head monitor card, so you'll need to have a dual monitor setup with a dual head video card, or a pair of video cards installed. Having two monitors with a loop from one to the other is very helpful as it provides both talent and director/engineer the ability to watch the screen during the ADR sessions.

Right click the audio to see all the various takes, and separate them to various tracks to prepare for comping the various parts of the tracks together. Click image for full size.

The 1394 output is for outputting video via Firewire/iLink to a converter device such as the Convergent Designs SD Connect, a Canopus converter, an ADS AV Link, or other similar devices.

If you have a Decklink card, this will function as an SDI output.

Set up the external monitor of choice, generally offering the external monitor in the same room as the talent is re-recording their dialog. This allows them to see their lip movements and time their re-recording to match. If the talent can't see their image during re-recording, it makes the process much slower, especially if the wild audio isn't very well recorded and intelligible. The director/editor can either watch the same scene on a second external monitor, as the Vegas Preview window will not display video when external modes are enabled.

Now insert a new audio track to the Vegas timeline on which the new audio will be recorded  Create a selection that offers the talent some pre-roll and post-roll so that they can hear cues coming into the line(s) to be recorded. Without a pre-roll, the talent may not know when to cue themselves to speak their lines.
Before recording, enable the Looping mode in Vegas by either selecting the looping button in the transport, or by pressing the "Q" key. This will convert the selection indicator from default grey to blue, indicating a looped selection. You may also wish to select the "R" key with the area to be recorded set as a selection.  This allows the input of the script/dialog section, providing a logged indicator for anyone who might be receiving the project for later editing.

When the record button is engaged during looping mode, Vegas will repeat the selection over and over, recording a new "take" each time it loops. The last loop will show up as the Active Take. However, all other takes are also accessible, and may be placed on other tracks. We'll look at that in a moment.

The biggest challenge of ADR is to keep the talent in sync with the picture. The talent not only needs to see the picture, but also will benefit from using some sort of cue tone. Most common are three "beeps" in the Hollywood world, where the talent hears a 3-beep cue prior to beginning their dialog. Vegas doesn't have a beep generator, but it's easy enough to download beeps or create your own. Put these beeps on their own track, placed exactly one second apart to help talent count time. (one, two, three, begin) Putting the beeps on their own track, and then grouping them, allows editors to move the three beeps to any cue point on the dialog track, and save time in not having to insert, or set up, or time beeps for other cue points. Be sure to always include the beeps in your pre-roll or looping selection.

It generally is a good idea to allow the talent a few practice passes before engaging the record button, but at the same time, hard drive space is cheap and you can certainly delete any takes not wanted. However, keeping takes is a good idea until the final audio for the video/film is completed. When there are multiple takes to choose from, it's possible and usually beneficial to cut together words from various takes to form the perfect single take. Trimming sections from a take and blending them with other takes of the same dialog is known as "comping" or building a composite of all the various takes. Imagine you've got a line of dialog that says " My mother bakes chocolate chip cookies for my girlfriend on Sundays. Having the talent recite that line in a variety of expressions and elaborations might entirely change the meaning of the sentence depending on how the director might want to deliver the emotion. The editor could cut together the elaborated or underscored words in a manner that might change the meaning of the sentence from innocence to sarcasm or jocularity. Having at least four takes of a dialog segment is a great thing to have access to as a sound editor. Cutting "My" from one take and "mother" from another take sticks a different attitude on the line, creating a "My mother bakes cookies, as opposed to "My mother bakes cookies" etc. Directors and editors alike very much enjoy having access to these different takes in the even that the direction of a movie has to change due to cuts in the film or changes in the storyline. Often, this also allows them to not have to go back and record pickups as they can force the dialog to fit a scene's requirements. Additionally, it might be that the director isn't present during the ADR session, and the talent isn't completely sure of how to pronounce a word. Recording various takes of a word being pronounced differently affords the director choices as to how he wants a word spoken.

Once the several takes are recorded, it's a simple matter of breaking them out from the primary recording. Even though the several passes might appear to be just one track/event in Vegas, all of the various loops exist on top of the single event. By right clicking the event and choosing "Takes" from the submenu will display the various takes. From here, each take can be dragged down to its own track and used in the mix as an edit object. It might be that a take is perfect as is, so you may want to delete active takes. However, you'll want to be sure that you've got everything you need prior to deleting, and since the files are so small overall, it might be a good idea to keep them intact for any future edit needs for trailers, changes in the show after an audience has seen it, etc.

Another tip during the re-recording/ADR process, is to be sure to take good notes. If you're the director, be sure to note any of his/her comments. If you're the director, listen carefully, and figure out a notation system such as one, two, or three stars for qualifying takes. Don't go beyond three indicators, as more take time, and may confuse you or the editor later on when selecting the takes you want to use in the master dialog track.

Freeze tracks, or render to new track, when you've got each scene complete, and lock it/group it to the video frames. This helps avoid potential dialog drift or loss of sync.

There are downsides to ADR. For instance, the circumstances of the environment could hurt rather than help dialog. For example, if ADR is being performed on a scene in an automobile driving down the road, how does the thrill of a fast-moving, bumping, swaying car translate to a studio room? The answer is, it doesn't. So, in critical environment scenes, consider setting up well for production sound, or better still, find a way to bring at least a few elements of the actual scene into the studio. Orson Welles demanded that car seats be brought into an ADR studio and the actors "bumped" around by studio personnel during the re-recording of critical dialog so that not only were the elements in sync, but that the actors words were being jolted around as though the car were really on a bumpy road. The moral is, keep the elements as natural as possible, and try to record well enough on set that you can use production audio.

Track One is a master track consisting of segments cut from Takes 1-4. This is known as "comping." Comping helps directors or sound editors achieve the very best possible performance. Click image to view full size.

If you've never attempted ADR with your talent, give it a try. It makes recording in windy, noisy, high action, physically exerting, or other challenging scenes much easier, and moreover, allows the actor to focus more on the physical aspects of their performance rather than the diction and articulation of their performance. Have fun, practice, and in virtually no time at all, you'll be performing ADR just like the big outfits in Hollywood, and your film projects will be vastly improved!

 Happy editing,

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DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE, Managing Producer Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy Award winning productions.

Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others.

Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He remains active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.

Related Keywords:sony vegas audio, Automated Dialog Replacement, Independent filmmakers


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