Tag Archives: Silver Sound

Sound designer Ash Knowlton joins Silver Sound

Emmy Award-winning NYC sound studio Silver Sound has added sound engineer Ash Knowlton to its roster. Knowlton is both a location sound recordist and sound designer, and on rare and glorious occasions she is DJ Hazyl. Knowlton has worked on film, television, and branded content for clients such as NBC, Cosmopolitan and Vice, among others.

“I know it might sound weird but for me, remixing music and designing sound occupy the same part of my brain. I love music, I love sound design — they are what make me happy. I guess that’s why I’m here,” she says.

Knowlton moved to Brooklyn from Albany when she was 18 years old. To this day, she considers making the move to NYC and surviving as one of her biggest accomplishments. One day, by chance, she ran into filmmaker John Zhao on the street and was cast on the spot as the lead for his feature film Alexandria Leaving. The experience opened Knowlton’s eyes to the wonders and complexity of the filmmaking process. She particularly fell in love with sound mixing and design.

Ten years later, with over seven independent feature films now under her belt, Knowlton is ready for the next 10 years as an industry professional.

Her tools of choice at Silver Sound are Reaper, Reason and Kontakt.

Main Photo Credit: David Choy

Smile wins Grand Prize for best music video at Showdown 8

By Randi Altman

Silver Sound’s Showdown 8 Music Video Festival took place this week at the Brooklyn Bowl, highlighting bands, showcasing music videos and naming the winner of their Best Music Video contest.

I’m proud to say that this was my fourth year as a judge of the contest and happy to report that my number one pick took home the top prize. Joe Staehly’s Smile, for artist Jay Pray, features an older woman revisiting places from her past, bringing with her a film projector that plays images of herself and friends — including one special boy — when they were young. Finally, in present day, she visits an older man in a medical facility. He clearly doesn’t recognize her and is visibly uncomfortable. The woman then turns off the lights and turns on projectors that fill the room with images of their past.

For this effort, Staehly took home the Grand Prize for the video he shot on Red Epic Dragon and Super 8 film. Smile brought the audience, and this judge, to tears. That’s right, a music video did that.

Twenty-three-year-old Staehly is a Philadelphia-based cinematographer and director at Set in Motion. Staehly, who also edited the piece, is the youngest grand prize winner in Showdown history.

Each year 21 music videos and four bands compete for the Grand Prize — Silver Sound will produce a music video with them — worth over $10,000. Staehly will be collaborating on this music video with artist Gabrielle Sterbenz.

Created eight years ago by the talents behind NYC audio post house Silver Sound, Showdown shows no sign of slowing down. “Music videos are an oft-overlooked medium that I personally find very exciting,” reports Silver Sound partner/festival director Cory Choy. “Music video directors take risks, both narratively and technically, that other filmmakers, who have to worry about dialogue, aren’t willing to take. It’s a challenge, but it’s also incredibly freeing and exciting to experience two stories simultaneously — the story that the music is telling, and the story that the movie is telling. The way these stories interact and resonate with each other… that’s what music videos are about.”

VFX bring wheatpaste poster to life in ‘Paper Heart’ music video

Each January, The Silver Sound Showdown music video festival and battle of the bands takes place at Brooklyn Bowl. It pairs the winning director and winning band together to make a music video with Silver Sound Studios in New York City. It was here that Paper Heart, the music video directed by Nick Snyder, produced by Silver Sound and featuring the band Blood and Glass, was born.

Paper Heart, is one of the most ambitious Showdown collaborations to date,” according to festival director and producer Cory Choy, features Blood and Glass lead singer Lisa Moore as a wheatpaste poster on walls across Brooklyn. It was shot on a Red Scarlet camera and features effects created in Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop. It was edited on Adobe Premiere Pro.

Why the wheatpaste poster look? LA-based Snyder (@nickwsnyder) works in the arts district of downtown, where he sees inspiration in everything. He also liked the idea that the nature and lifespan of the wheatpaste poster seemed to play nicely into the “themes of isolation and fragility found in the song.”

Director Nick Snyder, right.

Director Nick Snyder, right, in front of monitor.

Snyder’s Showdown-winning video Lost Boy Found also combined the techniques of live performance, compositing and animation — silhouettes of actors were composited into a fantasy shadow puppet world — so this was a realm he was comfortable in.

The Production
After several months of prep, Snyder and the band made their way to New York City for the two-day shoot. The first day was dedicated to shooting plates. Locations around Brooklyn had been scouted by Silver Sound, Google street-viewed by Snyder prior to arrival and then scouted in person. So by the time production began, specific moments had been planned to take place in a handful of selected locations. The remaining moments were narrowed down to areas where the filmmakers anticipated chance discoveries. Snyder, DP J. Andrés Cardona and a skeleton crew set out onto the streets of New York to shoot with their Red Scarlet.

Going Green
The second day was shot at Parlay Studios in Jersey City and dedicated exclusively to greenscreen shots. During a brief break in between days, Snyder analyzed the plates. While he shot listed and storyboarded, he also left room for improvisation and collaboration.

greenscreen RED Scarlet

To aid lead singer Lisa Moore in her characterization, extra attention was given to wardrobe, makeup and props. “For example, it was decided beforehand that her prop cane would become a matchstick and that after using it, the matchstick would shrivel and blacken,” explains Snyder. “The art director constructed a practical burnt matchstick prop, but rather than swapping it out during Lisa’s performance, the prop was shot suspended in front of the greenscreen. Then, using an LED light on Lisa’s un-burnt cane, I tracked the movement of the matchstick in After Effects. I then replaced it with the burnt matchstick seen at the end of the video.”

The same technique was used for the origami birds that interact with Moore throughout the video. Practical birds were made, shot against the greenscreen and keyed out in post. The intention was that they could be keyframed in After Effects, but their natural movement would allow for a slightly more organic feel. It was a good time saver. “Green apple boxes, chroma key gloves and even crew members wrapped in green blankets were used to achieve the effect of tactile contact within the video,” explains Snyder. “The performance moments were shot from start to finish in various sizes, and shooting in 4K allowed for any Lisa/plate size relationship miscalculations,” explains Snyder.

The Post
The next step was assembly. This involved mapping Moore to the building surface plates. Premiere Pro was used to assemble performance shots in raw R3D and narrow down her best takes. For performance takes, a six-panel export was made to quickly compare her gestures from the narrowed down shots. From there, a preliminary pass was made on pairing Moore with the plates by adding the chroma key effect in Premiere. “This simplified version of After Effects Keylight allowed us to see what was working without having to check all the shots in the much more sluggish After Effects video playback,” says Snyder. “Additionally, once the assembled shots were ready for AE, the greenscreen clips with this chroma key effect would stay in the metadata of the shot.” Another time saver, he says, was that once the Moore/plate relationships were locked and a cut was close to locked, the compositing could begin.

bird person birds

To save space and make for faster save times, Snyder chose to create separate After Effects files for each shot. The first step was to finalize the look for “Wheatpaste Lisa.” After some trial and error, a look was established and a master file was created that could be imported into each After Effects file, but the process for creating the look wasn’t as easy as copying and pasting a LUT. In some cases, upwards of 20 pre-comps were used.

According to Snyder, the basic process went like this. “The greenscreen shot was keyed out using Keylight, adjusting for spill and greenscreen inconsistencies. Luckily, the DP did an excellent job at lighting Lisa, so this was a breeze. If there was an issue, a simple matte choker was used. Then, this was precomped and a minimal texture was brought in to dirty it up a bit. The overlay blending mode was often used as well as an image mask. It was precomped again; an off-white stroke was added using a layer style stroke. This effect was used to create the white-edge poster look. The stroke size and precomp level varied from shot to shot, depending on the size of shot Lisa was in and also the texture of the plate onto which she was to be composited. At this point the look started to emerge a bit, but a few steps remained in order to completely bring Wheatpaste Lisa to life.”

For Paper Heart, a combination of Adobe CC’s Glass and Texturize were used to give Moore a convincing paper texture as well as authentic surface imperfections, explains Snyder. Most often, two bump maps were used — one for generic surface texture and lighting and a second to pick up the surface of the wall behind her. For the second, a high contrast grayscale image was created in Photoshop to bring out the important parts. Using Dynamic Link, Snyder was able to paint over parts of the bump map that were less important, save and view the results in After Effects.

one two

Lastly, two layers needed to be created to mimic ink on paper and human error. This would also come into play later in the video as the iterations of Wheatpaste Lisa start to erode away. “For this effect, the comp had to be duplicated. Unfortunately, After Effects comp duplication only duplicates the top comp,” explains Snyder. “So in order to duplicate all of the nested comps, a purchased script called True Comp Duplicator had to be used. The newly duplicated comp was then brought into the original comp and placed below. Using the Fill effect, this comp was colored off-white. Then, to add the finishing touches, some final grungifying had to be done to the top layer. Using Photoshop, 5K resolution brush strokes and alpha channel grunge effects were created on multiple layers. Once imported into AE, these could be used in the top Lisa comp. Using the Silhouette Alpha blending mode, the grungy paintbrush strokes subtracted bits of Wheatpaste Lisa, creating imperfections and rough edges that exposed the off-white layer beneath it.

“Finally, back in the master comp with the two Lisa layers, those were precomped once more. At this point, the look was more or less complete,” he continues. “But from shot to shot, additional work was sometimes required to successfully composite Lisa onto the plates.” Some additional tools used were Roughen Edges, another Matte Choker and occasionally another round of Silhouette Alpha grungy paintbrush strokes.

For lighting, Snyder used either the 4-Color Gradient or Gradient Ramp on an Adjustment Layer or on a Solid set to the Hard Light Blending Mode. Opacity was usually in the 10-20 percent range.

umbrella 5 flame

During the process, Snyder and Silver Sound discovered that Wheatpaste Lisa’s movement looked best at 12fps. “We wanted to underscore the fact that Wheatpaste Lisa was an actual wheatpaste entity existing in her own little universe, not just a video projection,” explains Silver Sound’s Choy. “So the choppier feel of 12fps was used to make Lisa’s motions a little less fluid, a little more animation-y and other worldly feeling.” For this effect, the Posterize Time effect was used.

Throughout the compositing process, Snyder created H.264 proxy files from the transcoded R3D footage. This was especially helpful with the origami birds. To save space, the birds were rendered out on their own at a much smaller file size and then re-imported.

The Death of Wheatpaste Lisa
Finally, Wheatpaste Lisa had to die. To achieve the effect of wheatpaste poster weathering, both layers of Wheatpaste Lisa had to erode. “Back inside the top layer — the double layer Lisa comp — individual brush strokes and grunge effects were animated with Silhouette Alpha as their blending mode,” describes Snyder. “Once the weathering looked satisfactory, these animated layers were copied, pasted into the bottom layer Lisa comp and adjusted in movement and timing. This allowed for the top layer to erode just before the bottom layer, pushing the compositing one step closer toward realism. Occasionally, one final matte choker and/or an animated mask was used on the final precomp to eliminate any stray particles or to insure that she dissolved away completely.

The crew

The crew.

Once complete, the shots were rendered at 4K ProRes 4444. The final shots were delivered to Silver Sound colorist Vlad Kucherov with Moore separated from the building surface plates. Using DaVinci Resolve, Kucherov worked with Snyder to achieve a satisfactory look that worked well for the video concept while also helping sell the compositing realism. Having the layers separated gave Silver Sound more control during this process by being able to adjust the levels independently. The goal was to find a look that played to the feel of the song, but also gave the video a confident personalized look of its own.

“In the end, Paper Heart is the result of careful planning, post experimentation, lots of hair pulling and creating a concept that exists within a strict set of limitations,” concludes Snyder.

Blog: HP’s latest laptops, displays, virtual workstations

By Cory Choy

I started my career as a sound designer and re-recording mixer, but as independent film imploded in the early 2000s and was beginning to be replaced by Internet video, I found myself adding more and more “work hats” to my collection. In order to succeed in this business I needed to adapt to the ever-changing NYC film and TV landscape, and that meant adding more disciplines to my professional offerings.

So now, in addition to post sound, I find myself also post producing — mostly color correction, but I do a bunch of other things as well.

While I have access to state-of-the art sound workstations at Silver Sound, a New York City- Continue reading

Review: Krotos Limited’s Dehumaniser

By Robin Shore

Dehumaniser’s aim is to make the usually time consuming and esoteric process of designing creature vocals into something as simple as twiddling a few knobs and flicking some switches. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to create the voice of dinosaur, alien or troll then this software is for you.

I first used Dehumaniser about a year ago when it was available as a free-by-request beta version from creator Orfeas Boteas’ personal website. Even with this early version I was impressed by how easy it was to transform a fairly dopey sounding recording of myself groaning into a massive King Kong-sized growl.

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Subtle Sounds: The Diary of a Sound Designer

By Cory Choy

I often find people asking: “So what does sound design and mix actually DO for a movie? You know, other than adding cool explosions and alien noises…”

It’s true that we sound folks really get a chance to shine during ninja fights and robot wars, Continue reading

Cool Tool: The AATranslator

We recently reached out to sound engineer/head of production Cory Choy, who helps run Silver Sound Studios (www.silversound.us) in NYC, and asked him about gear he uses as part of his day-to-day workflow. He was happy to share his experience with a lesser-known tool by an Australian-based company, called AATranslator.

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