This ties in very neatly with my work situation. I rent space from a creative agency who specialise in film trailers. They're not the "in a land" booming voice over style trailers - they have quite rightly won a batch of awards for having a different take on the genre.
They have several Media Composer offline suites all linked via Unity, an Andrenaline online system and also use Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, as well as other software. This means I get to hang out with a bunch of picture editors and creatives, bouncing ideas off each other over lunch or coffee.
I'm a big believer in post production being one big team game, where no one person is the star, and everyone makes a contribution. In the early days of my career I loved working at the BBC - just by walking down to the canteen you could never fail to see the enormous diversity of skills - technical, creative and administrative, that it takes to make even a 30 second piece.
So when Massimo Fava, an editor and creative at the agency, came to me asking about some sound design for a project he was cutting, I was delighted. He needed to get the sound design concept in place before continuing his edit, as the timing of the cut and the VFX were going to be driven by it.
Mass wanted a particular word to sound like it was breaking up, or rather breaking down, in a sort of hybrid digital and analogue way. In this case it was the word "Scientology". We chatted through what he was after, and spent an amusing ten minutes trying not to spit out our coffee while the other one tried to verbalise the effect.
To start with, Mass sent me an AAF of the sections he wanted treating. I picked them up from their network and got cracking. Despite loving a collaborative process, when I'm getting to grips with a sound design concept, I like some time alone just to think through what tools I'm going to use, and to then present a few initial ideas once I've got my head around how I'm going to do it.
Mass' brief reminded me of an effect I'd heard BT (Brian Transeau not British Telecom) use on his track "Somnambulist". Just then I remembered some link between BT (who I'm a fan of) and iZotope. So I visited their website and sure enough there was Stutter Edit.
iZotope describe it as "an effect and an instrument". I guess that's true. Guitar FX pedals are as much a part of the instrument as the guitar itself. I would say that samplers qualify as an instrument in their own right, though I grew up in their hey day.
Having downloaded and installed the trial version, I was presented with the same dilemma I usually get at this stage - where do I start? I quickly realised I needed a MIDI controller to fully take advantage of it properly so I dusted off my trusty Korg MicroKontrol, and soldiered on with the mentality of "what happens if I press this button?" and an open mind. Stutter Edit has an extensive library of presets, which gave me an excellent starting block.
While I was starting to get somewhere with this approach, I realised that I was going to have to clean up the original dialogue, as background noise was spoiling the effect. A quick trip through iZotope RX5 DeNoiser got that sorted.
I presented my first attempts to Mass, who liked them, but felt they were a little too "digital". He also wanted to bring a bit of that analogue tape stop / record winding down feel. It's a bit of a contradiction but I've learnt over the years never to let that stop you.
Luckily Avid have kept the wonderful Vari-Fi in their stock plugins. I think if they ever stopped supporting it there'd be a revolution! By manipulating that using a couple of cheats I know, we managed to get a nice blend of the voice slowing down and stuttering. I built up the sound design out of around ten layers, and gave Mass a mix-down of those layers, plus all the stems.
Around a month later, after the lawyers had done what they do, the agency came to me with the cut they were hoping would survive the process. It was very much not signed off but they wanted me to have a look at it in advance. As it was that was a very good idea. I started with cut 8, and finished with cut 10, and luckily there was only one shot change. I was also pleasantly surprised that Mass had used the stems rather than the mix down, whittled them down and manipulated the timing a bit. He'd even done the classic reverse reverb treatment within his Avid in places.
The agency needed a 5.1 mix for DCP Theatrical Release, so my next task was to think about how we could make this sound design more entertaining in surround. Panning the stems around gave me a nice surround effect but it was more enveloping than confusing and disorientating.
So I reached for another classic Avid stock plugin - AutoPanner mono to 5.0. Using different timings, width and direction on the stems gave a really nice random chaotic feel to the sound design, and on the reverse reverb effects kind of makes you feel like you're coming out of a backwards sink hole vortex, into the dialogue line.
I'm always nervous when clients come and hear surround sound design for the first time. I'm never certain that I haven't got carried away, so when they jumped and looked at all the right places, I was very pleased.
If you have the facility to listen in 5.1, please download it here, but even if you don't, you can see the result here in stereo...