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]

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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.

RESEARCH: Penalties for breaking picture lock

(Outcomes – PER2, GR2)

This post deals with the perennial bugbear of audio post production for films – editors and directors breaking picture lock.

All of the clients bar one who provided us with a picture lock version of their work ready for post production subsequently made changes to the picture, sometimes after discussion with us and other times surreptitiously (apparently in the hope we wouldn’t notice…duh). This is always an issue when fine post production work has started, because changes to picture mean the resyncing of large and complex audio tracklays in the DAW.

We’d seen this happen in the first term, and several questions existed for me about the problem which is apparently widespread enough to spawn memes on the internet. Having receipt of a picture delayed or having changes made to it at the eleventh hour could impact an audio producer who has a busy schedule of work, and cause them issues with completing other jobs they’ve taken on.

I turned to Grant Bridgeman for some research here and asked him whether it is normal to contractually stipulate penalties for productions which do this. The answer was the inevitable ‘…depends on the client!’, but he did send me his Sound Post Production Delivery Specifications documentation (this was furnished by email to the markers as supporting material, as I was asked to keep the documents out of the public domain). This document has a clause which directly addresses the problem and, whilst the document isn’t a contract as such, I would think it would provide some protection against the ramifications of the issue in the future. [PER2]

Practically for this project (and since no money is changing hands no renegotiation of fee is possible) we knew from experience last term that there is nothing to disincentivise these kind of changes, so decided upon a policy of Morton’s Fork – the proverbial rock and the hard place. At the discretion of the supervisors for each film we were prepared to make one or two changes after picture lock, but as deadlines approached we simply refused to accept new versions (once the version we had was of good enough quality for our hand-in, since we are not marked on picture) and suggested the film editor would have to be asked to cut and resync the final audio supplied.

This worked well for us in the academic environment but realistically such a hard-line method would be deployed only as a last resort with a trusted client in the real world. [GR2]

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Research into managing productions which break picture lock. – Research

  • [PER2] To develop a better understanding of the wording and content of contracts, agreements and rate cards offered in the film audio field.

How we dealt with it for our productions – 
Process Management

  • [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.

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]

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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.

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]

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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]

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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