RESEARCH – Dub Mixing to R128

(Outcomes – IN2 + GR3)

Part of a dub mixer’s job is to deliver mixes of programs to particular technical specifications. In the case of programs for broadcast, the current European standard is EBU R128, a set of rules regarding loudness normalisation and permitted strength of audio signals. As part of another module this semester we interviewed staff at Soho Square Studios, one of whom explained to us that knowledge of working to this standard is very much sought after in the post-production industry.

The dub mix I carried out for our project last term conformed to the BBC’s guidelines for production. This term, I’ve suggested to our directors that all our output should conform to the newer R128 broadcast standards – they have no particular requirements, so this is as good a choice as any.

The essential difference with R128 mixing is that it requires reference to the overall loudness of the piece over it’s entire length as an average, where BBC guidelines I have employed previously simply control the audio peak levels within the program regardless of it’s average loudness. The changes were wrought mainly to deal with advertisers using the perception of loudness (through compression, and rather than the mathematical loudness inherent in the audio) to create irritating volume changes relative to a given program. Practically, it enables higher highs and lower lows across the course of the program, but controls the volume across the course of the bulk of the output.

EBU R128 changes the unit of measurement of mixing from decibel or PPM to loudness unit, and requires that the mixer bring the average loudness of the piece in between 22 and 24LU by it’s completion. It also measures peaks within the audio waveform much as with the BBC method, and requires that none of these surpass 1.0 on the true peak scale. There is also a loudness range requirement which must not exceed 95%. [IN2]

I purchased a metering plugin which is R128 compliant, and ran the mix I created last term through it for reference –


As we can see, this piece would not comply with R128 as it too quiet on average by 4.4LU even though peaks etc are within range.

Having completed the mix of Descent to the previous BBC guidelines, results were –


This was both too quiet on average (27.1), and contained a couple of sharp peaks (0.3) which are too aggressive for broadcast. I remixed the latter and ran another mix –



As you can see, this mix is *only just* within the compliance threshold for average loudness, though the peaks are now well within the line. I deemed this sufficient as I was extremely pressed for time by this point.

Working to R128 is industry standard for broadcast in the UK and as such is an extremely useful to have learned – it was referred to during an interview with a professional audio engineer for another module as one of the most important things to know about – and it’s interesting from the perspective of the mix process, since it enables a less slavish monitoring of PPM metering and a freedom to push big sounds more aggressively for impact. Descent was not really the film on which to demonstrate this last technique since it is one which uses realism and more subtle light and shade, but I think the process will inform future sci-fi work I undertake, if nothing else. [GR3]

—————————————— 500 words

Key Points –

Research and the practice of dub mixing to R128 ResearchApplication of skills and conduct in production.

  • [IN2] To develop a better understanding of the craft and industry of a Dubbing Mixer, and to contribute to the dub mixing required for presentation of the artifact – (Dubbing Mixer)

Reflection on usefulness of research and practise – Individual reflection

  • [GR3] To provide a professional standard of service in respect to location sound recording and post-sound design / mixing.

P + P – DESCENT – Footsteps, foley and less is more

(Outcomes – IN3 + GR5)

This is a quick blog describing how a small piece of advice can make a big difference.

Whilst I was working on the footsteps for the first kitchen scene in Descent, Ronnie Fowler stuck his head into the sound theatre. I was moaning about the job at the time, and he pointed out that there’s no need to slavishly detail scenes with incidentals like footsteps, and that doing so can actually be distracting. He suggested using fewer sounds, and concentrating on establishing movement or augmenting actions only, in the time-honoured fashion of less being more, echoing the advice of Wyatt and Amyes who point out that ‘Often in foley, less is more and lots of foley tracks running together can seem chaotic. The foley editor’s skill is in achieving a high degree of naturalism whilst focusing attention on those sounds that are actually important.‘ (Audio Post Production for Television and Film, 2004). [IN3]

An example of this principle at work is the first thirty seconds of this clip from Battlestar Galactica’s 2006 reboot –

Whilst you might at first argue that deciding what’s realistic in the context of science fiction might be somewhat complicated, Battlestar Galactica draws stylistic influence from gritty WW2 films such as Das Boot. Practically speaking, the central character’s feet are ruthlessly dropped in and out as required and are in no way consistent across a scene which is generally very busy in the audio dimension whilst other characters are given no audio presence at all as they pass the camera, and everything is subordinated to the dialogue regardless of the level of activity elsewhere in shot. [IN3]

Taking inspiration from this example and the advice referred to above, I revisited the foley edits for Descent and minimised my use of incidental foley wherever possible with much improved results. [GR5]

————————— 300 Words

Key Points

Advice and research into better implementation of foley FX – Research

  • [IN3] To better my understanding of sound design with at least some reference to the science fiction genre – (Sound Effects Editor)
  • [GR5] To produce soundtracks comprising of foley, SFX, dialogue, music and atmospheres to client specifications that synergistically support the other components of their films.

P + P Other – World Building – Street Scene

(Outcomes in this blog – <IN3> – <PER 1 + 3> – <GR 1, 2 + 5>)

I very much wanted to tackle the sound design for the futuristic, post-nanotech city scene from Immort as part of my work on this project, and was able to make a start on this as the film was being shot thanks to early provision of an animatic of the film. Below is the evolution of the scene from my initial mockup to the picture lock version handed over to the supervisor who also mixed the film.

Immort’s supervisor had initially produced a detailed sound design plan for the film, which formed the basis of my initial approach to the scene’s construction.

I looked immediately to Blade Runner – which includes the great street scene of sci-fi film with an insanely complex audio mix carried out by Graham V Hartstone – but the feel for Immort is intended to be different in terms of the behaviour of the characters. Lot’s of the specific things seen on screen in Blade Runner have their own tiny, almost momentary sound narrative set against the extreme bustling of the city defined by sirens, wails and pulsing humanity. By contrast, people in Immort’s world are quiet and contented, even if they are constantly beset by their connectedness thanks to their constant HUD’s. My initial mockup backdrop tried to hit similar notes to Blade Runner in the sound of humanity being strongly signified, though it’s very difficult without the specificity of actual picture available to work from. The mockup below is constructed almost entirely of heavily manipulated samples, with a couple of simple keyboard drones from Protools soft synths. It’s ugly, but gives an idea of where I was going. <IN3>

I had to change approach after discussing with Immort’s supervisor during the session in which I constructed it. He’d just come off set for the film with a better interpretation of the directors requirements and the outcome of the actual shoot for the scene. His location experience with the film told him that the extras would be considerably sparser than first implied, so lots of humanity in the audio pallette would likely not work. We arrived at an idea of generally quieting the people with bursts of the sound of their personal soundtrack as they pass-by, and the base layers defined by the unearthly hum of a nano-technological city. <GR5 + PER1>

My first attempt at following this direction up was done to a rough, no vis-fx rough cut of the film, and can be seen below –

Seeing this actual picture, the visuals turn out to be much more down to earth. Both budget constraints and a lack of extras mean the scene has ended up much sparser and near-future than the one I initially envisioned even if we discount the lack of VFX in this cut for the moment. As such I retooled the atmos more in the direction of Invasion of The Body Snatchers (the 1978 version), muting the drone of the people and trying to bring out a sense of disconnectedness (largely using manipulated foley FX and further samples, in line with the protaganists desire to be unplugged from the matrix and the suggestion of enslavement to their technology causing them to take greater care as they move around the real world. <GR5>

Instead of solid footsteps the extras feet are muted and shuffling, for which I referred to multiple scenes from Bodysnatchers like the scene linked below which dispenses almost entirely with ‘human’ foley even in crowded scenes to emphasise the distinction between the protaganists and the masses. This feel was fortuitously enabled by the incredibly well regimented ‘crowd’ at the end of the scene. There is a nod to the Blade Runner approach however, in that the HUD’s of some of the extras are momentarily given life in the audio realm as the protaganist passes them. <IN3>

Finally, this work was passed over to Immort’s audio supervisor in stem form and was incorporated into his final mix of the scene, which is backed by a music track to heighten the sense of chase and sounds which relate to the new visual FX absent from earlier cuts. <GR1 + GR2>

Reflecting on this work, I think the whole process here demonstrates once again the power of picture over the audio dimension and the importance of finding synergistic balance between them. As such I think I may have wasted a little time attempting to construct anything useful for this scene from the animatic and should have foreseen that the production would not achieve the levels of production they desired, though the early work was still very useful as an opportunity to dissect the scene’s from Blade Runner and Bodysnatcher’s critically and take lessons from them, and it certainly informed the final piece in an overall positive way in the end. <PER3>

Furthermore, the process is an example of the way the group of audio producers collaborated on aspects of the films. If I had been limited to working on the film I supervised, which was shot entirely in one location, I would have been unable to build, experiment with and compare and contrast the atmosphere work in various films as I did here, a process with which I was able to usefully fill time prior to the arrival of work on my own film, which in turn benefited the group outcome. <GR1 + GR2 + PER1>

—————————— 750 Words

Key Points
Examination of Blade Runner and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers as reference for work – Evaluate similar works

  • [IN3] To better my understanding of sound design with at least some reference to the science fiction genre – (Sound Effects Editor)

Construction and evolution of the audio for the scene – Application of skills and conduct in production

  •  [PER3] To expand my knowledge of the theory of and audio techniques deployed in films similar to or influential upon those we will deliver.
    [GR5] To produce soundtracks comprising of foley, SFX, dialogue, music and atmospheres to client specifications that synergistically support the other components of their films.

Reflection on the work – Individual reflection on learning and team role + Process Management.

  • [PER1]  To develop a better understanding of the pros and cons of business structures, processes and agreements which might enable film audio producers to collaborate on multiple projects.
    [GR1] To professionally operate as a small to medium size company (or other recognisable business entity) in the audio production / post-production field might.
    [GR2] To organise and fulfil an operating strategy and schedule which deals with multiple productions simultaneously, and which maximises efficiency and minimises issues or risks to delivery.


RESEARCH – Sessions: Structuring Saves

[GR1 + PER1]

A solidly dull topic for a research blog this but pretty useful to the general cause of managing five post on five films.

We should receive picture lock for our final three films by the end of this week, and we’ve been working post on the two we already have rough cuts for a couple of weeks prior to this. With multiple people now working simultaneously in different environments, we’re just getting to the point where things can potentially get complicated in terms of versioning and data management, which I thought was worthy of a look over to see if our process can be made fitter.

At present, the only nod towards sensible data management we operate (I say we, really I operate it and people tend to follow my lead in the matter because I tend to get in first and set the basic sessions up) is a basic versioning of session files and semi-regular backups of our work in two places. This isn’t very effective, and our semester A project’s main folder ended up looking like this –

Shot of George File FolderShot of George File Folder

It’s pretty straightforward though, V15 is four versions later than v11, and I add extra detail where appropriate like ‘SC3 Foley Work’ for example. This is just about workable when we’re a small group working largely on one system with the only external work being that of importing occasional files like comped music tracks into the pre-existing session, but is going to need improving as we’re now working on multiple assets for the same film simultaneously in different places.

A quick google search brings up some advice on simple changes that can be made, which is actually aimed at software app makers but is applicable here –

WEB - FIlenaming

My current system definitely means files suffers from being indistinguishable from one another, especially since I tend to put the V number at the end of the filename, where it’s always helpfully cut off by the Mac finder dialogue in load screens which leaves me reliant on the system’s date ordering and the presumption the top file is latest in the list.

“…Strong naming conventions are essential in order to maintain an efficient pipeline,” (Production Pipeline Fundamentals for Film and Games, 193)

Digging a little deeper into more specific literature for audio project management (actually referring to the even more data-complex games industry) I found the following key concepts to help me hit some of the aims above, demonstrated on George version 1.1 below.

  • Seperation of name elements – So, georgev11foleyfinal becomes george_v11_foley_final
  • Consistent use of capitals – george_v11_foley_final becomes George_V11_Foley_FINAL
  • Better structuring of sections for listing purposes – George_V11_Foley_FINAL becomes V11_George_Foley_FINAL
  • Better use of the numerics (add 0’s) – V11_George_Foley_FINAL becomes 01-1_George_Foley_FINAL
  • More consistent and specific descriptives – 01-1_George_Foley_FINAL becomes 01-1_George_Foley_COMPLETE

I will be adopting this regimen for Descent as it’s post-production begins, and all our groups’ films should have a designated central machine upon which all the audio and session data is regularly consolidated which would sensibly be the machine upon which the film is going to be mixed. it will then be up to the mixer and supervisor to manage any incoming data from anybody working on the film elsewhere such as music files and sessions or editing sessions, and I would suggest the regimen here is augmented with something like an x01-1_George_Dialogue_EDIT_GB filename to differentiate work that is taking place elsewhere from the ‘master’ files.

This thinking about process will also naturally lead on to discussion of our system of backups, and I think it’s prudent and will be suggesting that supervisors for each film get into the habit of backing up the main version of their work at least every couple of days when post-work is in regular progress. [GR1 + PER1]

—– 650Words



Research into more sensible file-naming regimen and better data management – Research.


  • [GR1] To professionally operate as a small to medium size  company (or other recognisable business entity) in the audio production / post-production field might.
  • [PER1]  To develop a better understanding of the pros and cons of business structures, processes and agreements which might enable film audio producers to collaborate on multiple projects

RESEARCH – ‘Helper Track’ and complex delivery requirements.

‘…then there’s all these weird things you deliver as well, there’s a thing called a helper track…if you ever encounter in your professional careers because it took me ages to find this out, is, it’s the sound that you might or might not replace in a foreign version, so if there is a radio playing in the background and it’s got a English song on it, it’s the vocal split from that and if there’s a TV on in the background, it’s the voice track from that…‘ – Studio Manager at a top UK audio production house.

An important part of the dub mixer’s role is to manage the various deliverable’s of a film’s mix and, in the spirit of the advice above which I received from an interview conducted for another module, I’ve carried out some research into some of the more unusual requirements that may catch a newly fledged dub mixer out.

These will not only include various seperated mixes of sound effects, music, dialogue and rendered FX tracks, but also more specific versions which may be required for foreign language cuts of the film. Conversion to another language is often considered to be relevant only to the dialogue mix, but can often have ramifications for other aspects of the picture’s sound palette as illustrated above. It is also worth stepping away from the feature-film sector for a moment when considering these factors, as things like laugh tracks in studio-based TV work may well be captured to some extent with the dialogue recording and will need to be replaced or augmented if the original dialogue is removed.

An example of a related requirement of delivery for the dub mixer in the context of TV would be the bleeping or replacement of words deemed offensive from the original dialogue. Requirements here are absolutely client specific and will vary considerably based on intended audience, and the best way to minimise issue here is for:

…the discussions and understanding of the audio elements (to) be started early to be sure to fulfill the requirements prior to delivery. It is always best to get things right from the start.( [IN2]

Audio delivery requirements in general haven’t been particularly relevant to working on student films throughout this year, and in the case of the film I’m supervising for this project there’s no requirement for a ‘helper’ track as the film was kept relatively simplistic and naturalistic (though the disembodied voice over from one scene would need to be provided in another language if a foreign language version were ever motted), and I’ve had to prompt the director to specify any file delivery requirements at all. However, extrapolating our two sci-fi leaning projects this term outside of academia I could foresee the need to provide helper tracks with these mixes, since both films contain sequences featuring dialogue-heavy TV shows, disembodied advertisements and TV montage sequences. [PER1]

———————————- 550 Words

Key points

More detailed information on potential delivery requirements for the dub-mixer’s work – Research
[IN2] To develop a better understanding of the craft and industry of a Dubbing Mixer, and to contribute to the dub mixing required for presentation of the artifact – (Dubbing Mixer)

How does this apply to the films we’re making – Reflection
[PER1]  To develop a better understanding of the pros and cons of business structures, processes and agreements which might enable film audio producers to collaborate on multiple projects