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David Cornwell

David Cornwell
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David Cornwell lives in Cape Town, where he writes fiction, films and features for a variety of publications. His debut novel, Like It Matters (Umuzi, 2016) has been long-listed for the 2017 Sunday Times Fiction Award.

An inside look at the film and television makeup industry

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Makeup artists fulfil one of the most important – and certainly one of the most under-appreciated – roles on any film or television set. These professionals are responsible for distinctively styling our favourite characters; for bringing them to life and transforming them as we experience their hardships and victories; and for maintaining crucial continuity as the narrative unfolds.

In Screen Africa’s first feature on this aspect of the industry, we spoke to film and television makeup professionals Maritsa Maritz and Sarah Blatcher about some of the job’s most interesting quirks, its key challenges and rewards.

STARTING OUT IN THE INDUSTRY

Both respondents describe similar paths into the professional makeup world, characterised by intensive training, hard work, grit and persistence.

After majoring in makeup and props building, Maritz left Pretoria Technikon (now the Tshwane University of Technology) and immediately stepped into “a three-month unpaid internship on Isidingo.” Her good work on set was noticed, and from there she “ended up working for Endemol for two years on a live show called Play TV” before being snapped up by Red Pepper Pictures on a full-time basis. Now a freelancer, Maritz can reflect with pride on a 15-year career that has seen her work on “countless TV shows, music videos, corporate and photo shoots,” and – just in the last two years – act as makeup and hair HOD on three films: Vuil Wasgoed, Thys & Trix and the highly-anticipated remake of Fiela se Kind.

Similarly, Blatcher was “a fresh graduate of Performing Arts Technology” when she started out, a process she describes as follows: “In between my full time job at the time, I was trying to build my experience and portfolio on my days off and weekends. I took every single job that I could get. My very first job was an M-NET short film called André Metstrepie. Eventually, one makes a name for oneself – and by word of mouth, the jobs became more frequent.”

INDUSTRY CHALLENGES

As Blatcher puts it: “I have always been a drawer and a painter and I swung towards makeup as it fulfils my creative needs. I love film and, in the same breath, I often get to help woman feel more confident in their own skin – which has always been a huge job satisfaction point for me.”

But what do these professionals wish that outsiders understood about the role of makeup artists within the industry?

“Makeup as a career in South Africa is not really taken seriously,” Maritz says. “People outside the industry usually think it is a hobby and not something that actually pays the bills. But it is a sustainable career; you can make a living from it. We are workaholics with lots of stamina who can stand on our feet for more than 10 hours a day. Usually we carry our own body weight in makeup boxes. We can survive anything, from freezing cold to sweltering heat, trekking through impossible locations, ADs breathing down our necks, all the while still doing amazing work.”

Blatcher adds: “I wish people outside of the industry realised just how much prep goes into each movie for a makeup artist, as well as all the other crew members. Studying the scripts, researching the characters and developing their ‘looks,’ as well as ensuring your makeup inventory is correct for the specific roles or characters or scenes, all takes a lot of prep work which people don’t always know about.”

And Maritz points out that, “Aside from doing transformations with makeup, we are also the emotional support to the cast. We see them at their most vulnerable – first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We are the ones who wipe away tears, provide comfort and reassure them.”

TECHNICAL FEATS

We’ve all witnessed convincing transformations on screen – as a recent example, Christian Bale’s astonishing embodiment of Dick Cheney in Vice – but what makeup tricks are the most difficult to pull off? And how do makeup artists manage continuity in appearance over long shoots, where scenes are more often than not captured in a non-linear fashion?

Blatcher says: “Reverse ageing is the most difficult application to overcome. Reverse ageing requires a significant budget – and in reality, the budgets in South Africa are marginal, a lot less than what you would get overseas. We are often asked to make a very well-known actor a lot younger without being given the necessary amount of time to prepare prosthetics, even if the budget allowed for them.

“I manage my continuity by maintaining detailed face charts and constantly taking photos throughout the day of the specific characters and categorising them. As you can imagine, the paper work also becomes quite a challenge; however, if you are diligent and stay focused it is manageable.”

Maritz echoes these thoughts, saying: “Every different aspect of makeup comes with its own set of challenges. The key is to identify and plan for those challenges to the best of your ability in pre-production. Eighty per cent of the time your plans go out the window on set and you need to troubleshoot and adapt on the fly. I think anything realistic, like ageing, is challenging. Doing realistic ageing on a young actor takes a lot of skill and practice. Anything in the fantasy realm usually gives you a bit of leeway.”

Maritz also agrees with Blatcher about the need for thorough preparation to ensure continuity on set. “Pre-Production is key for makeup continuity. Making sure you know your script off by heart, doing a complete breakdown of every scene. Sourcing and fabricating everything you will need for every actor in every scene. Liaising with the continuity supervisor and director. Checking shooting schedules to see when you need to do what on a specific actor. It takes a bit of brainwork and juggling to make sure you think of everything, so that the day you start principle photography you are well prepared. There are not really many programs or systems you can use for makeup continuity. The most popular one is Makeup Pro, but it only works on iPads. So we usually create our own systems by logging digital and written data of every scene and taking a million photos.”

She concludes by adding, “You also need to surround yourself with an incredible team of assistants and standbys that you can trust. Film is a team sport. They need to be able to keep the wheels turning without you there.”

MILESTONE TRANSFORMATIONS

To wrap up our discussion, we asked the respondents to share their proudest makeup transformations with us, as well as some key pieces of advice for those looking to make their way in this unique industry.

For Blatcher, her highlight to date was “In 2014, when The Avengers sequel was filmed in the Johannesburg CBD. I was one of the lucky makeup artists to be selected to work every day of the 10 days of filming. The scene is only eight minutes long in the film and is mostly shots of the South African Police Service trying to keep the peace in the city streets as the Incredible Hulk tears up the tar beneath him. During this time, we had approximately 25 stunt men that could do the job, and each day we had to transform them to look like new police men with limited coloured wigs and hair pieces. But we managed to transform them each day to look like completely new police men by flocking on moustaches, flecking freckles and changing hair colours with the use of our airbrushes and other techniques. It was a first-class set and I was very proud to be a part of it.”

“One that really stands out for me is a film I worked on last year,” says Maritz. “A remake of Fiela se Kind written and directed by Brett Michael Innes. We had the same vision of where we visually wanted to go with the characters. Creating the dirty, weathered Knysna woodcutter characters was definitely a highlight, as well as changing their ages for the different timelines. Also, a couple of years back the rapper EVE was in SA for a tour and I was her personal makeup artist. That is also a fond memory.”

For Maritz, the secret to a successful career in the industry centres on “continuous education. Never stop learning and bettering your techniques. Do a business or entrepreneur course. Learn how to manage yourself , your money and your career. And be a team player, it takes a village to make a film.”

And in Blatcher’s view: “If I could give anyone starting in make-up some advice it would be to keep a thick skin and stay humble. Some jobs will be extremely challenging, and others will be very rewarding. Working in a country where the film industry is still developing, one can’t be too fussy about which job you take, especially when you are still starting out. You never stop learning in this life so get out there and paint some faces!”

Why Blockchain technology could revolutionise the entertainment industry

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Even those with no interest in financial technology will have heard of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, with stories of their meteoric rise (and sharp recent decline) making headlines this year.

However, these currencies’ underlying technology – known as Blockchain – has, in fact, caused even more disruption within the fintech (financial technology) sector, and promises to have a similar impact on the entertainment industry in years to come.

As Paul Mitchell – Fintech and Blockchain lead at leading professional services company PwC – explains, “Genuine disruption comes when we reinvent business models, and this will be the case with Blockchain, too.”

In this article, we take a look at this cutting-edge technology, which – according to some estimates – is expected to grow from a $210 million annual market in 2016, to a staggering $2.3 billion in 2021.

HOW DOES BLOCKCHAIN WORK?

In essence, Blockchain is a particularly innovative type of ledger.

All financial institutions – such as banks, insurance companies, traders, etc. – require ledgers. They are vitally important, as they allow the institution to keep a record of all its financial transactions. The implications of this extend to the operations of the company, of course, but also to the realms of taxation and other forms of financial compliance.

As the financial industry has adapted to the digital revolution, ledgers have evolved into electronic format. However – and this is the crucial factor about Blockchain – for the most part, these electronic ledgers have remained centralised in storage, ownership and maintenance, meaning that all the transaction records are still kept in one place and maintained by one person or group of people

Blockchain, on the other hand, is a form of distributed ledger.

In basic terms, a distributed ledger is an encrypted database that is shared and synchronised across multiple networks. Technologies such as Blockchain do not operate as single, centralised servers that process calculations and then record the various transactions in the particular institution’s private ledger: instead, the ledger is distributed through a network of (more or less) 1000 different nodes, with every one of these nodes storing a copy of the ledger. When a new transaction is lodged – and a new block is formulated – the different transactional nodes will compete against each other to perform the necessary cryptographic calculations.

Although this is slower than regular payment processing – Bitcoin can process between five and seven transactions per second, while major credit card networks can process up to 2000 – this form of network is extremely resistant to fraud, a key consideration in both the financial and entertainment sectors.

This is because, as opposed to a centralised ledger – where there is one database that needs to be hacked – in order to make any changes to a distributed ledger, you need to subvert a majority of the transactional nodes (51 per cent for Bitcoin; two-thirds for Byzantine networks). Simply changing one ledger entry will not affect a change across the entire network, making distributed ledgers far more resilient to cyber-attacks.

APPLICATIONS FOR BUSINESS

When asked about how businesses can go about implementing this sophisticated technology, Mitchell responds with an interesting perspective on the challenge: “Well, I think the technology is not the hard part.

“When we work with businesses, our concern relates to strategy. This involves introducing partners to the technology of Blockchain, and asking what can it do; what are the implications for your industry; what are some interesting applications emerging in similar industries?”

He describes a time of cross-industry disruption and experimentation, when “playing around” with these new technologies is key to discovering their optimal utilisation. “A lot of industies are at the stage of piloting new ways of doing things,” he says, and explains that the transformative potential of Blockchain turns on the concept of “unique digital assets.

“A unique digital asset, represented as a non-fungible token – or NFT – might be a unique or limited edition musical recording, a piece of artwork, or any other asset. A non-fungible token is a crypto-asset that is non-divisible and unique. The token might be linked to a real-world asset, or represent the relevant value itself, and these can be sold and transferred from person to person on a Blockchain network.”

However, he also points out that once businesses discover an implementation that works – a new way of selling news features, for example – “the technology itself tends to fade into the background, and the business model becomes crucial.”

BLOCKCHAIN AND THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY

Blockchain has already begun to make the process of sending money across borders cheaper and more convenient – a key innovation on the African continent, where remittance fees can sometimes eat up more than 20 per cent of the transfer value – but its potential to disrupt the entertainment industry extends far beyond this.

Distributed ledgers offer a more transparent, more direct, cheaper and more secure way to conduct transactions, and developers are harnessing these benefits in increasingly innovative ways.

“Blockchain as a technology is designed to enable peer-to-peer transfer of value, leveraging consensus-driven networks and cryptography,” Mitchell says. In most sectors of the entertainment industry, “there are many large intermediaries between the producers and the consumers of content. Alongside this is the concern that digital assets need to be protected from illegal copying and distribution. Blockchain-based companies are starting to test new models that might change the current landscape.”

One interesting example of this relates to digital rights management. With its permanent and unfalsifiable record-keeping capacities and decentralised nature, Blockchain could be a global solution to tracking and enforcing worldwide rights and royalty payments. Its potential in this sphere has recently been underscored by Spotify’s acquisition of Mediachain, a digital rights management startup company.

And yet the biggest potential disruption that Blockchain poses to the entertainment industry must be in the realm of direct sales.

Because Blockchain allows for revolutionary disintermediation – while, at the same time, providing a secure and transparent method of recording transactions – it is now possible for artists or production houses to sell media directly to fans, without the need to work through intermediaries such as distributors and subscription platforms, or financial gate-keepers such as PayPal.

The reduced cost of processing Blockchain transactions has allowed for this “microtransaction” model – and this innovation “creates a stronger artist-to-consumer link”, ensuring that the ones who create the content can be directly remunerated by its consumers. Disintermediated transactions of this nature could, potentially, also lead to greater savings for customers as well as higher profits for the creators of content.

EARLY PIONEERS

Grammy Award-winner Imogen Heap represents an early success story for Blockchain in the entertainment industry.

According to Forbes magazine (“How Blockchain Can Transform The Future Of Entertainment”), Heap “recently teamed up with [South African-founded] Ujo, a company looking to be the one-stop shop for independent music distribution and payments, to release the first song on the Ethereum blockchain. The concept of smart contracts is at the core of Ethereum and allowed Heap to enjoy absolute control over how she and her collaborators on the track were paid and under what circumstances – for example, buying licenses to download, stream, remix and synch the song.”

All considered, this is perhaps the most attractive feature of Blockchain technology: how seamlessly it blends with current consumption standards.

With viewers and listeners continuing to migrate away from traditional, channel-based consumption, we can expect to see a lot of activity in this space, as the gap between creators and consumers becomes increasingly narrowed by innovative technologies such as Blockchain.

Mitchell says: “The potential for Blockchain to disrupt entertainment and media is huge, and with the pace of development in this space, we are seeing new ideas and new projects emerging week on week.”

He concludes by encouraging businesses to embrace the opportunities that this technological sea-change presents, reminding local players that “It’s about the process as much as the outcome. If you go through the innovation process and you create something new – that’s great – but that thing you’ve created might not work. The point is getting to that thing is a learning and changing process – and creating the ability to be agile and adaptive is as important as what you build at the end of the day. Because that capability lasts forever.”

 

Sound Investments: How Urban Brew built one of the most sophisticated audio studios in South Africa

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Urban Rhythm Factory is the dedicated audio and post-production wing of Urban Brew Studios, one of South Africa’s longest-standing production houses with a track record of quality output that stretches back nearly three decades.

When Urban Brew recently completed their new move and studio upgrade, Urban Rhythm Factory also took the opportunity – in the company’s words – “to make its creative capabilities and workflow efficiencies equal to its high-profile projects.”

Tshepo Mashishi, the head of Urban Rhythm Factory, explains the origin of the company: “Urban Brew was already well established by the year 2000, which is when we started to supply them with music and mixes on a regular basis. Urban Rhythm Factory was a small studio out in Lonehill – they used to send people over from Urban Brew in a production van to get the mixes – but we formed a strong working relationship this way, and eventually we moved on site and became an official division of Urban Brew.”

According to Mashishi, Urban Rhythm Factory’s nine state-of-the-art studios are mostly tasked with “television production, from kid’s shows to reality series, movies and ads. We’ve just done two advert campaigns for Vodacom and Standard Bank, and we’re busy on some others.”

In addition to the full suite of sound services – from composition to recording, mixing, mastering, editing, publishing and rights management – Mashishi explains that the “future-proof” design and cross-compatibility of the new Urban Rhythm Factory studios offer many unique value propositions to clients.

“Our recording booths are much larger now – and, because we’ve spotted that there’s a huge need for foley studios in the country – we converted one of our recording booths into a foley studio. We have a dedicated foley artist now, and so that’s one service that emanated from our new studio environment.”

The wide-reaching technology upgrade of the new Urban Rhythm Factory studios saw them become the first audio facility in South Africa to feature the new Pro Tools | MTRX audio interface. Avid’s most current release, the MTRX features a modular design capable of hosting a number of newer technologies such as MADI and Dante, as well as the ability to record up to 384khz DSD. With Pro|Mon 2 included, the MTRX gives you control over monitoring, talkback, summing and fold-down, whether mixing mono or producing a 64-channel ATMOS mix.

Moreover, each studio at Urban Rhythm Factory has been equipped with the tools that best fit its specific purpose. While some studios feature Pro Tools | MTRX interfaces, four others are dedicated to audio post production supported by Pro Tools | HD Native systems and other studios cater to music composition and production through Pro Tools | HDX systems. As well as being able to record and mix in higher 32-bit, 192 kHz resolution (with more headroom) and track and monitor with extremely low latency, the Pro Tools | HDX systems allow Urban Rhythm Factory to handle large, complex productions that might involve multiple audio sources and thousands of tracks and sound clips.

As Mashishi explains, “Our recording studios and control booths are seamlessly connected. We’re all on the same, integrated technologies and our studio rooms are cross-compatible. So if an engineer is missing for whatever reason, another can jump in there and continue with the work; you can move a project from one studio to another; and, just like the booths, the control rooms are interchangeable. So you can link through to the studio next door and operate it, and with the Avid S3 Dock you can even control your DAW remotely, using an iPad.”

In practical terms, these improvements enhance the studio’s capacities and improve its workflow efficiency, and can result in some unique recording benefits. “Of our five music recording studios,” Mashishi explains, “two of them are actually paired. So if you have a large choir, you can split them into two groups, and record them into one control room for greater isolation and balance in the mix.”

Not content with their busy production schedule – which includes Yo TV, the longest-running children’s show in South Africa and Khumbul’ekhaya, which is in its 14th season – Urban Rhythm Factory are also in the process of launching an exciting web-based music library project.

“The website will be a comprehensive music library, with all songs [encoded with metadata]. Sound designers and other production houses will be able to go to the website and search by instrument, tempo, mood, genre, geography – it will be an amazing resource to find the right music and sounds to match to your project. It can also be a clear way for people to identify the texture of the sound they want for our in-house team of composers to work with.”

Regarding this aspect of Urban Rhythm Factory’s operations, Mashishi says: “We have four in-house composers that have been with the studio for more than eight years, but we also have a pool of external composers that send us new music on a monthly basis. This is because we want to stay at the front of the pack from a procurement perspective, as well as keep our library sounding diverse and fresh.”

There is certainly a fresh and exuberant atmosphere around the studio, and Lerato Moseki, marketing manager at Urban Brew, speaks about the importance of always being on the lookout for new talent, and of developing the next generation of technical engineers through internships and training programs.

“With the move, and our new increased potential, we are currently optimising the overall brand strategy of Urban Rhythm Factory, but we know – with our facilities and our personnel – that we are sitting on gold here,” she concludes.

The New Black Renaissance: Highlights from Jenn Nkiru’s 2018 Promax BDA keynote address

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Delegates at the 2018 PromaxBDA Africa Conference were treated to a closing keynote address by British-Nigerian filmmaker Jenn Nkiru, who – through examples of her work and resounding words about identity and representation, as well as the centrality of the continent of Africa to the story of the world – outlined her vision of “a new diasporic black renaissance” in global art.

The session – co-presented by the SABC – began with a show reel of Nkiru’s work, including her collaborations with the musician Kamasi Washington (such as “Hub-Tone” and “Fists of Fury”) and the short films Rebirth Is Necessary (2017) and En Vogue (2014).

With their bold compositions, dark, arresting colour palettes and hypnotic rhythms, the films have a curious quality of being both highly cerebral and powerfully emotive. As a director, Nkiru is blessed with the ability to communicate complex ideas about culture and identity in clear and emphatic images; a talent that has been keenly appreciated by audiences around the world, and one which forms the backbone of her artistic vision.

Her interesting treatment of colour – particularly in low-light settings – is showcased in the dance-based film En Vogue, where sequinned performers are backed by a snappy grime soundtrack. The nascent concerns of identity and representation in this video are given fuller expression in Rebirth Is Necessary, which opens with a sampled quote from Afro-futurist pioneer Sun Ra and uses archive footage and filmed dance performances to both tell the story of black resistance and find new modes of expressing these politics on screen.

Meanwhile, her collaborations with US jazz musician Kamasi Washington reveal Nkiru’s sensitivity to the interplay between sound, image and idea. “Hub-Tones” is as astonishing video: consisting of a nine-minute single shot, the footage shows a woman in sparkling traditional garments dancing with her eyes closed in rapture to music that flits in and out of rhythm with the seething jazz beneath it, prompting searching questions about roots, heritage, belonging and dislocation in contemporary society.

Although the event was, for many audience members, a first taste of Nkiru’s work, the filmmaker pointed out that she has spent much time in Johannesburg, one of “her favourite cities in the world.”

Nkiru began her keynote address by explaining that, in her view, her work is part of a global movement – a “new diasporic black renaissance” – that is seeking to subvert and reinvent tired, stereotypical concepts of Africa (and of blackness, more generally).

According to Nkiru, “artists who fall into this movement are taking up space and reshaping contemporary images of blackness within art, film and culture like never seen before,” and she was quick to foreground the continent of Africa in this process of re-imagining.

“Anyone who meets me quickly realises Africa is the holder and the key to my heart. It is my constant – and in my view, central to any understanding or exploration of the world must include Africa. This continent is all that was past, and it contains the present and what can be possible in the future. The most diverse place on the planet, Africa has to be central to any conversation on art, culture, film, politics, the environment and all other forms of progression.”

Quoting the academic Margot Natalie Crawford, Nkiru explained that black artists are moving beyond “mere rage” and are “immigrating into self, family and nationhood – and celebrating the process. We are at such a transitional time globally, and with any great transition in history comes the introduction of a more focused, unified voice [and process of] art-making. The general conversation echoing throughout the world is that we all want change and are finally willing to do the work to see that change that we want to happen. The New Black Renaissance sums up just this.”

Reflecting on her unique style of filmmaking, Nkiru commented: “It is my duty to ask questions and encourage my audience to do so, too. I sometimes refer to myself as an archaeologist: a cosmic archaeologist. I’m constantly searching, excavating those lost codes to get us back closer to ourselves.

In her view, as a contemporary filmmaker with her roots in Africa, she occupies a similar space to that of the griot, memorably defined by Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambetey as “a messenger of one’s time, a visionary and the creator of the future.”

Expanding on this point during the keynote, Nkiru stressed that “we have now the choice more than ever before, to envision and create the future that we want to see. After so long spent not seeing the images that are so familiar in our day-to-day life projected within the media, we are now instead exercising the often under-valued importance of imagination, rejecting what we are told we should be and instead choosing to explore what we could be. The people truly hold the power and now is a time everyone is expressing and exploring that.”

After taking some questions from the audience, and expanding on her sources of inspiration and her legal and academic background, Nkiru left the stage with a probing question for everyone in attendance.

“I invite you all to keep in mind the ideas and thoughts I spoken about here when awarding, commissioning, championing and creating new work. Are your choices tapping into our greater global concerns, and are they getting us closer to where we all collectively want to be?”

What could immersive technology bring to the film industry?

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SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

When film industry professionals think of virtual reality (VR), it is usually as another content platform: a cutting-edge form of entertainment that, many predict, will one day rival ‘pure film‘ as an artistic medium of its own.

However, Mark Hocker, the managing director of Johannesburg-based The Boiler Room Productions, is eager to point out that this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what this technology could offer the film and entertainment industries.

Australian-born Hocker was instrumental in introducing 3D animation to South Africa when he first moved here in the 1990s. This included producing content, but also training staff at SABC and M-Net and installing systems all over the country.

After this, he was approached by SASOL to produce animated training videos, and this is where – in his words – he began to build “the largest industrial library in the world for 3D models.”

Somewhat ingeniously, 3D modelling systems are “backwards-compatible, so even models you developed 20 years ago can be read by the software and used within a VR world today.“

This cache of know-how and 3D stock led Hocker to “take the plunge into VR four years ago. I found some animators who showed an aptitude for programming, got them up to speed, and we have turned out some truly ground-breaking products since.”

Hocker takes a moment to clear up some terminology.

“When I say ‘VR’, people immediately think of a rig with goggles. That’s just one output mechanism of VR – we call that immersive technology – but I have apps here on my phone that can provide a full VR experience, to run simulations or explore an area remotely.”

To demonstrate the difference, Hocker hands me an Oculus Go headset.

He tells me that his team is involved in developing motion-control rigs that will soon replace rides (such as the Cobra roller-coaster) at Cape Town’s Ratanga Junction amusement park.

He fires up the VR headset and lets me experience the virtual version of this roller-coaster ride, captured using a 360-degree video. Even in a static desk chair, the experience is exhilarating: involuntarily, I clench my stomach before we fall into the first drop and wince as we fly around corners.

The only way to describe it, as Hocker says, “is that it’s like you’ve been teleported; it’s like you’re really there.”

The conversation then turns to the area where Hocker believes that – beyond pure entertainment value – technologies such as this can have the biggest impact on the local production landscape. “The training industry has gone beserk for VR,” he says.

He shows me a couple of thick catalogues belonging to a company called Sandvik and explains that they are “the largest producer of underground mining equipment in the world. We developed a simulator for them that allows their engineers to get hands-on experience of the equipment, perform checks and run through maintenance drills via a headset.”

He shares a 3D animation with the computer screen in the office – it shows a large industrial complex seemingly by the ocean – and he says, “This is a sand dune mine out in Richards Bay. We re-built this whole site out of photographs and drone videos – so it’s visually accurate.”

The animation reveals a 3D environment that can be explored as if on foot. As key sites and pieces of equipment are passed, they light up, revealing important safety information and virtual tasks to test the user’s knowledge. Items of machinery can be viewed in the minutest detail – including exploded views and demonstrations of how pieces of equipment fit together.

“With places like this, you’re dealing with situations where safety is crucial to the success of the industry. With VR and immersive technology, we make training cheaper, quicker and more effective: the ability to retain and use new information goes off the charts when you have a ‘real’, hands-on experience of it.

“Not only this, but we are often needing to train people for high-pressure, high-stakes situations that are impossible to recreate in reality.”

Hocker thinks the possible implications of this for the production and broadcast industries are clear.

“Think of an OB (outside broadcasting) van,” he says. “We could build a CAD model of the van, including all the equipment – all the routers, all the switches, everything – and have people train virtually to become comfortable with how to operate all the complex gear in there. We could do simulated faults, and run tasks where people have to fix them; we could build programs that show people how to properly clean, store and maintain the equipment and the van.

“For live events – where you have a big crew and planning and synchronisation are everything – we could rig up every crew member and allow them to get a feel for the venue where the broadcast is going to take place.”

He speculates about some more potential uses – such as location scouting and casting, where the need for physical travel could be mitigated using immersive technology – and he says that these possibilities will only grow as the next phase of VR becomes developed.

“Augmented reality, known as AR, is the next evolution of VR,” he says. Devices, such as the Microsoft HoloLens, will start to operate like “QR code readers on steroids”, allowing users to layer a virtual environment onto a real one.

It is clear from our conversation that Hocker is passionate about the rise of VR and immersive technologies, and the impact they can have on training and skills development across all industries. He shows me a virtual reality app his company are producing for Vodacom to help train forklift drivers.

“People often think of VR as ‘the future’,” he says, “but it’s not. We have it now, and it works.

Skyworth launches G6 Android TV in South Africa

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

New products come to market all the time, but it is rare when a new category of product is launched. The new G6 from Skyworth, however, is precisely this: a sophisticated Android TV with integrated Google technology, the kind of device that will be the hub of smart homes of the future.

At an event held in the offices of Clockwork Media in Bryanston, Johannesburg, Bridget Meyer – the marketing manager of Skyworth in South Africa – gave an introduction to the company and its global operations.

“While Skyworth is new to the South African market, it is a well-established brand internationally. It’s 30 years old, and though headquartered in Shenzhen in China, it employs between 40 and 50 thousand people globally.

“In 2006, the company developed China’s first recordable TV, and by 2008 – only twenty years after launching – it ranked number one in the Chinese product market, both in terms of volume and revenue. This was followed by the development of the world’s first full colour gamut TV in 2013, and the first OLED TV in China.”

As Skyworth key account manager Jaco Joubert explains, with the launch of the G6, the company can now add a South African first to this impressive list of achievements.

“The biggest difference between the G6 and its competitors is that other companies take the approach of building a TV first, and then they add features like Wi-Fi and an operating system, and perhaps a custom app store.

“What Skyworth have done is different. They decided to take a global approach: they acquired Google’s Android operating system first, and then built the G6 around this user interface.”

He switches on the TV and reveals the home screen, which contains a few familiar apps – such as NetFlix, Showmax and DStv Now.

“This is what most people get out of their smart TVs,” Joubert says.

He then pushes a button on the remote control and simply asks the TV to open the Google Play Store, before continuing: “But with this being a Google product, you can now also access the Play Store. With this, you’ve got up-to-date access to the world’s selection of apps” – he scrolls past Spotify, a Washington Post video service, Chelsea TV – “as well as whole libraries of movies and TV series.

“Because these are instantly updated the moment a new product comes on board with Google, you’re never limited to what the manufacturers installed on the TV when you bought it.”

Joubert shows the functionality of the remote-operated Google Assistant by asking about the weather in Shenzhen, and points out that this feature has been programmed by the company’s engineers to recognise South African English, Afrikaans and isiZulu.

He continues: “Another great thing about the Play Store is its range of hundreds of games. Single-player, multi-player, online, offline, it’s got everything.”

He picks up a PlayStation-like controller – a device which comes in the box with the G6 – and explains, “when Skyworth was developing this product, the engineers at Google were very insistent that, if they wanted to use the software, they needed to make sure the hardware was up to scratch. So the G6 has a quad core processor and in-built graphics card, as well as 4GB and 16GB onboard memory. This means that users don’t need to invest in a separate gaming console – they can do it all from the TV.”

As appealing as these entertainment features are, perhaps the G6’s greatest attraction is its hyper-connectivity. In addition to three physical HDMI connections, the TV boasts integrated Bluetooth technology and in-built Chrome Cast, meaning users can wirelessly share content from any device directly to the TV.

This also means that the G6 is a “future-proof” piece of technology: ready and able to function as the hub within smart homes of the future.

“At this year’s IFA trade show in Berlin, Skyworth won a gold award for Innovation for their AI TV, which will launch in South Africa next year,” Joubert says. “But, when you consider what an in-built Android system gives you, you already have a lot of these AI features. You have voice recognition, you have Google Assistant, and you have an interface that can talk to any smart device. If you have a smart lighting system in your home, with the G6 you can dim or brighten your lounge by talking to your TV.”

In terms of construction, the G6 sports a sleek and attractive design with a full metal frame, an IPS panel to reduce glare and a built-in Dolby surround sound bar, which is impressively powerful and clear even at high volumes.

The picture quality is excellent, offering crisp UHD viewing, and this initial offering of G6 TVs will come in three sizes: 49, 55 or 65 inches.

Meyer explains that, “Skyworth is able to be competitive from a pricing perspective because we have a factory here in South Africa that manufactures the units. We import the components from China and the TVs themselves are made here, which is far more cost-effective than importing the full units.”

There is much excitement surround the Skyworth G6 Android TV, and the product promises to be a resoundingly successful introduction to the South African market for the Chinese company.

Meyer concludes by saying, “With the G6 – and the ongoing AI research that Skyworth is conducting through their partnership with Baidu – the company aims to remain at the forefront of entertainment technologies, by outperforming their competitors from a technology and innovation perspective.”

A Second Chance to Get it Right: A look inside Automated Dialogue Replacement

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Film sets are noisy places. With scores of people bustling around in the background, the constant hum of generators and other electrical equipment – not to mention uncontrollable environmental sounds like strong gusts of wind or aeroplanes flying overhead – it is unsurprising that, at the end of the day’s shooting, sometimes technicians will discover that important lines of dialogue have been spoiled by these audible interferences.

This is where Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) – the process of re-recording dialogue after filming has been wrapped – can play a key role in the post-production process.

Karabo Mafojane is a dubbing engineer at Cape Town Audio Post, a company which has recently expanded its operations, moving to new premises located within the business complex of Airport City. He says that although most ADR requests relate to “cleaning up audio quality control issues that are flagged by the production studio”, there are a number of other potential ‘fixes’ that sometimes need to be done during the post-production process. These can include correcting imperfect accents, adapting the tonal delivery of certain lines to help them convey a different meaning, even changing lines of dialogue to aid the clarity of the unfolding story.

Ben Oelsen, managing director of Presto Post, a comprehensive post-production studio in Melville, Johannesburg, explains that, “ADR and foley engineers are found at the beginning of a long road which eventually leads to dubbing mixers, who are in charge of the final mixing process.” The director, the sound team and a dialogue editor will review what has been captured during the filming process, and then compile a cue sheet with written instructions for both the ADR engineer and the actors who are required to re-record their parts.

“Once this has all been decided,” Oelsen says, “the ADR engineer needs to manage the dubbing process. They have to loop the correct footage for each line that needs to be re-recorded, and then capture each take. They need to manage this workflow in an organised way to make editing and mixing as efficient as possible. Once each line is recorded, the engineer synchronises the audio and then plays the clips back for the director, who checks if the take is good enough, and if it matches the mouth movements (lip-flaps) of the performer.”

As far as Louis Enslin, head engineer and owner of Produce Sound, is concerned, a good ADR engineer possesses “a good eye, good communication skills and patience. Depending on the artist and the material, this process can be painstaking work.”

Rohan Olwage, production manager at Cape Town Audio Post, agrees that one of the key skills of the job “is being able to work with people, since you are most likely going to connect with different studios, whether they’re in Europe, or the States or here in South Africa. You need to be able to communicate effectively with different people and understand exactly what it is they’re looking for – and then it’s about attention to detail, following the proper process flow and building your understanding of different sound environments.”

In terms of the technologies and softwares involved in ADR engineering, Enslin says, “there are quite a few on the market, and often it depends on budget and personal preference. There are plugins like VocAlign that work pretty well with Pro Tools, and then you get tools like Sounds In Sync’s EdiCue and EdiPrompt. The latter works great for long-form work. On the short-form commercial side, often doing a manual synching process work faster and better for me, and I prefer to do it myself, rather than leave it to software.”

Olwage and Mafojane explain that, on the hardware side of things, although sometimes studios will supply a list of the microphones that were used on set – or else a list of preferred equipment they recommend to the ADR engineer – “a better approach is to invest time into understanding how different microphones operate in different room environments and recording situations.” That way, according to Mafojane, “you can rely on your own knowledge and experience base to get the quality of sound you need.”

Oelsen says that there are a variety of techniques that ADR engineers need to become familiar with to problem-solve some of the key challenges involved with the process, which he frames as follows: “Much like how cameras all have their own distinct looks and features, microphones all have their own characteristics and sounds. It’s highly unlikely that the microphone set-up in your ADR studio will ever be an exact match to the mic set-up that was used on set.”

Among these techniques, he mentions the need to EQ for differing bass or treble levels; the addition of what is known as ‘room tone’ (background ambience); and ensuring that the “right amount and the right quality” of reverb is added to compensate for the fact that most ADR recordings are done in soundproofed studios – which naturally produce a very ‘dry’ sound in recording situations.

As far as current demand for ADR is concerned, Olwage says that “most of our ADR work is based overseas, and there is a growing interest in what local studios have to offer. Over the last few years, the standards of local studios have improved and lots of overseas clients are bringing in work. Currently, there is not that much local content within the ADR industry, but this is also changing – there is a lot of growth and interest in the local production landscape.”

Enslin supports this idea, saying he doesn’t “believe there’s enough work out there to have a stand-alone ADR ‘shop’, as there are many great audio professionals who have all the tools and expertise to handle this aspect of the post-production process.”

However, both Olwage and Enslin are optimistic about the rise of video on demand (VOD) platforms – and especially the impact they might have on the related industry of dubbing, where entire vocal performances are replaced (most often recorded into a different language).

Enslin says, “I do believe that more work will be generated because of the VOD industry and the emergence of more production studios.” He also points out that, at the moment, “a lot of communication and entertainment remains primarily distributed in English.”

Olwage sees great opportunities for growth in this sector. “For companies and broadcasters, having a local content base is an increasingly important trend. More content always means more work, but in South Africa – where we have 11 potential language markets – there are some very interesting possibilities for the adaptation and distribution of content.”

Wired for Success – A behind-the-scenes look at Protea Electronics in operation

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Protea Electronics has been in the business of providing engineering solutions for more than 70 years. According to Shaun Kerr, the manager of Broadcast Sales at the Protea Technology Group, the reason for this longevity can be attributed to a number of factors.

“First and foremost, it’s about making sure we are partnered with international leading brands, and – following on from this – it’s about the relationships and the partnerships we form with local suppliers and our customers. If we didn’t have these strong relationships, we couldn’t have the longevity in the business.”

Kerr also talks about the “importance of listening to the customer’s wants and needs, while at the same time being able to understand what the anticipated and expected outcomes are.” He points to Protea’s ability to “adapt to changing circumstances in the context of changing technologies. We have a versatile, vertical structure to the business and it allows the company to adapt very quickly. On top of that, we have to be – and we are – a very financially disciplined company, and this leads to financial strength. It all goes hand in hand with the goal of listening to customers, engaging with their needs and delivering realistic outcomes.”

The company had an opportunity to test these credentials recently, being contracted to rig up Urban Brew Studios’ cutting-edge new studio spaces, an exciting project that is leading the revitalisation of the former Brightwater Commons entertainment centre.

Verona Duwarkah, the CEO of Urban Brew Studios, made it clear that they were looking for a space that would “equip the business as much for the future as for the present. A space that would remove the ceiling for growth.”

While this might have been a challenging prospect in and of itself, the timelimes on the project were extremely tight. Jacques Welthagen is a Pre and Post Sales consultant at Protea, but acted as project manager on behalf of Protea and Systems Integration for the Urban Brew Turnkey Project. In his view, “the team performed wonders in a very short space of time.” The move, which included an extensive redevelopment aspect, kicked off in September 2017. As Welthagen puts it, “We had an immovable deadline: we had to go live on 1 April 2018 – and we did it.”

“By the time we arrived at the new studio spaces, most of the building was up but it was still a construction site, so we were all in hard hats,” recalls Kagiso Mabe, who deals with Pre and Post Sales at Protea, including demoing kits and equipment, installation and training.

In terms of the system’s design and set up, Welthagen explains that “although we represent a wide range of products at Protea, we are pretty much agnostic to specific models of equipment; that preference usually resides with the client. Our process is always the same: once we finalise the bill of materials, we compile the final workflow and plug in the pieces to make it all work. It is so important in the role of Systems Integrator to be open-minded about solutions and not be forced into preconceived ideas and habits.”

As part of the strategy for making the new studios ready for tomorrow’s markets, Urban Brew opted for fibre-optic over triaxial connectivity, one in a series of upgrades that saw them overhaul outmoded SD systems to achieve HD, 4K capability. As Theunis du Toit, acting head of Facilities at Urban Brew, points out, the switch to fibre also allows for “a modern, streamlined operations system, where studios are not physically linked to individual control rooms. You get a much more fluid and efficient use of the space by being able to seamlessly link footage from one studio to a different control room using fibre.”

From a project manager’s perspective, Welthagen notes that “the facility is rather expansive and – because you need to manage large data streams over large distances – fibre is ideal for the scale of economies within the studio.” Mabe adds, “We catered for the future by focusing on the backbone of the studio, as most equipment runs on fibre connectivity. So when it comes to broadcasting in 4K – probably in the near future in South Africa – the studio will be ready, their infrastructure already allows them to achieve it.”

For tech junkies, Urban Brew’s new studios feature a lot of products to be excited about. Mabe explains that, “All the equipment we installed was familiar to us, so it was really just a matter of hooking up the component parts to satisfy the system.”

But this system is certainly impressive – Welthagen describes it as a “perfectly attuned orchestra, with each element contributing its own nuances to complement the rest” – and he provides us with a look under the hood. “The core is built around a Grass Valley Korona K-Frame V-series 2M/E recording onto Grass Valley K2 Summit 3G Production Servers. The K2 Summit’s 3G MPEG-2 Multicam option can record up to four video streams with K2-Dyno S Replay Controllers. The CGs (Character Generators) are Ross Xpressions and communication is from Clear-Com and Mirror Image Prompters.”

On the camera side of things, “Acquisition is via new Grass Valley LDX-82 CMOS imager-based cameras and Focus-75 triax-based cameras, as well as some Legacy Sony triax systems to convert the signal to fibre. HDX-PLUS and some Cobra units convert all SMPTE fibre signals to dark fibre in the server room. When a studio is not in record mode, it is not making money, and so we wired for 26 camera control units and XCUs, with more to be added soon.”

However, Welthagen is clear about what he considers the “flagship of the new facility”: its high-tech data centre. In his words, “This represents the culmination of the traditional Master Control Room in broadcasting. All signals merge and are distributed from the data centre; all mainframes and storage reside there. During Phase Two of the Urban Brew project, the Network Operations Centre will also attach to the data centre to give a helicopter view of operations, as well as status reporting. Key to this will be iTX and iControl integration, with OOYALA displaying the dashboard on Grass Valley Kaleido multiviewers. This will give a real-time snapshot of the whole facility, as well indicating faults via Kaleido’s Penalty Box feature. This is a powerful, rules-driven engine designed to flag errors and events that require operator or engineer intervention.”

From Urban Brew’s perspective, du Toit describes the new facility as “our piece of gold. Because everything is fibre-based, all our footage is fed directly into the servers in the data centre. From there, it goes straight to the adjacent ISP room where we have two transmission lines, which gives us good redundancy, and a failsafe in the event of one going down unexpectedly.”

Reflecting on the project, Kerr admits it was “challenging in terms of the timelimes and the deadlines, but also because changing technologies require change management; there is a human element to them. So in the end it was a great project, because we were able to install this international-standard studio infrastructure, and the success of the venture depended on the excellent working relationship we formed with Urban Brew Studios. We look forward to a long future partnership with the group.”

The rise of mobile TV in South Africa

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Mobile television is one of the fastest-growing media markets in South Africa, with video on demand (VOD) platforms such as Netflix, Showmax and Cell C’s black beginning to surpass traditional broadcasters as the nation’s preferred content providers.

This article takes a look at the rise of mobile TV in South Africa, from its inception to its rapid evolution in recent years.

THE EARLY DAYS OF MOBILE TV IN SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa’s first introduction to mobile TV broadcasting came in 2010, with the trial launch of DStv Mobile. This service sought to take advantage of two growing technologies at the time: DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld), and 3G, the ‘Third Generation’ of wireless mobile telecommunications technologies. These options reflected the two main ways in which television services could be transmitted to mobile devices, a technological breakthrough first made by South Korea in 2006.

DVB-H is a form of terrestrial broadcasting, where a station will encode content and forward it – as data – to a streaming server. The encoded data, usually H.264 for video and AAC for audio, is then sent to broadcast towers, which ultimately deliver the data to mobile devices, where it is processed and played as video or audio content.

What is important to note is that, in a sense, DVB-H remains a ‘traditional’ form of broadcasting, with a ‘one-to-many’ style of transmission and a ‘uni-directional’ mode of broadcast. Simply put, this means that – although content can be delivered to users via mobile devices, affording some freedom and flexibility – many viewers are still ‘tuning in’ to watch content produced by one station at a pre-arranged broadcast time.

THE SHIFT TO VIDEO ON DEMAND AND INTERNET STREAMING

Although in the South African context it remains hugely popular for sports, concerts and other live events, this ‘traditional’ broadcast model has been severely disrupted in recent years by the emergence of video-on-demand (VOD) platforms and internet streaming.

Internet streaming is different from terrestrial digital broadcasting in several key respects. Firstly, the mechanism is different: with internet streaming, content producers encode and upload audio and video data (often via content distribution networks) to global internet servers, which are then accessed independently by viewers from their mobile devices.

Of course, this mechanism relies on an integrated system of mobile technologies. Cheaper handsets, greater access to network coverage and continually falling data prices have all contributed to the development of mobile broadcasting in South Africa. At the same time, the ‘cloud revolution’ has made it a viable medium for broadcasters wishing to engage with audiences.

Deyasha Sukdeo is head of Television Broadcasting at Global Access, a company which uses “television broadcasting, digital signage, web-streaming and other technologies to distribute relevant and impactful content.” She underscores the importance of technological advancements, saying that “the expansion of broadband internet access and the increase in fibre networks have contributed to better reception of mobile broadcasting.”

However, Sukdeo goes on to say that “a shift in mindset, where mobile content consumption is encouraged, has also been beneficial” – and this reveals the key difference of mobile TV as a mode of broadcasting. In contrast to the traditional model, mobile broadcasting has a ‘one-to-one’ style of transmission and a ‘bi-directional’ mode of broadcast, meaning that although users may be restricted by bandwidth or data limitations, they can view content on demand, either by streaming it from the internet server, or downloading it to watch at a later time.

THE STATE OF MOBILE TV TODAY 

The importance of this “shift in mindset” cannot be overstated. Around the globe, viewers have responded to this ability to watch not only the content they want to see, but also when and where they want to consume it. A 2015 Nielsen survey estimated that nearly two-thirds of the world’s viewers regularly access some kind of VOD service.

One of the leading South African platforms in the mobile TV revolution is Cell C’s black. The CEO of the company, Jose Dos Santos, highlights the incredible potential for growth in this sector throughout the African continent, stating that in comparison to the global Nielsen average, “the same mobile content is only being served to one-fifth of African viewers.”

According to Dos Santos, “the pricing and flexibility of black will change that” – and the platform has already seen great uptake in its app-based VOD service, while a set-top box for home TV viewing is also available. Affordable data packages and a premium selection of content are central to the platform’s goals, and black has already established some high-profile content partnerships with major networks and sports organisations. Their November 2017 agreement with the Fox Networks Group (FNG) of Europe and Africa to launch the FOX+ VOD service in South Africa is a “momentous deal” in the words of black’s chief executive of Content, Surie Ramasary.

Although things are improving, Sukdeo reminds us that “data costs remain a big challenge to people viewing on mobile devices. Mobile video content is data hungry, and connectivity isn’t always available, stable and reliable for the viewing experience.”

Thankfully, in addition to platforms like black, there are companies – such as Tuluntulu, an online radio and TV content distribution platform launched by Pierre van der Hoven – that have emerged in recent years with innovative solutions to these challenges.

While most VOD platforms stream content at 140 or 280Kbps to ensure high-quality visuals and audio, this can prove too much for what Tuluntulu calls “the developing world’s congested networks and low-bandwidth environments.” As a response, the company has developed “rate-adaptive” technology, where mobile devices can still deliver content with a streaming rate as low as 50Kbps.

With a willing market and increasingly sophisticated technologies to aid its development, mobile TV is set to continue its disruption of traditional broadcasting formats, both within South Africa and throughout the continent.

Pictures built on sounds: The interesting world of Foley

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Foley artists perform a crucial and mostly under-appreciated role during any post-production process.

There is no Academy Award given for outstanding Foley work, for instance, but – if the old maxim of ’70 per cent of what you see in film is sound’ holds true – then the importance of the Foley artist, whose work underpins the soundscape of cinema, becomes abundantly clear.

Pete O’Donoghue, an experienced sound artist and founder of Upstanding Productions, provides a sense of the history of Foley and its current role in the post-production process. “It is important to understand the difference between sound effects and Foley,” he says. “Foley – invented by and named for Jack Foley – is the process of recording specific sounds to a particular picture. If I then put Foleyed sounds from a project into my library and use them again in a new project, they are no longer Foleys, they are now sound effects.”

“Traditionally,” he explains, “a Foley artist is the person who makes the noises with [various props] in front of the microphone, while the recordist captures the sounds and, from there, the sounds go to the sound editor. But then guys like Ben Burtt –who invented modern sound design and made all the sounds for the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones films – started going out into the field and compiling libraries of sounds and effected sounds to add to the process, and from there the need for sound designers and sound mixers grew. Nowadays, it all kind of rolls into one job – usually called ‘sound design and mix’ – but on bigger productions with higher budgets and/or tighter turnarounds, the work is still split up into those separate roles.”

One of the world’s busiest Foley artists, Marko Costanzo, famously described the job as requiring a combination of ‘good hands and a creative imagination’, and our local experts shared some interesting views about this point, as well as about the challenges of the recording and synching processes.

In the opinion of Michael Broomberg, lead Foley artist and sound effects supervisor at Sound and Motion Studios – who has over 160 feature film credits to his name, earning six Emmy nominations and an Oscar win in the process: “A creative imagination is most important because you have to think of how something that doesn’t exist would sound. Having good hands will enable you to delicately and sensitively use the props that you have pulled from your imagination.”

In terms of which aspects of the job he finds most challenging, Broomberg says, “Recording the sounds is very difficult because you have to EQ the prop to sound different from its actual sound, so a symbiotic relationship develops between a Foley artist and the recording engineer.” He is, however, able to offset some of these difficulties by recording within a Dolby-designed cinema at Sound and Motion Studios. “Meanwhile, synching sounds perfectly requires a very good feel for ‘reading’ body language, because if you’re synching footsteps and it’s a close-up where you don’t see the feet, you have to rely on your sense of that body/shoulder movement to figure out where the sound of the footsteps should land.”

Paul Geddes, sound engineer and operations director at Madhaus Media, says that, “A great deal of the sounds you need to match the footage require creative thinking from the Foley artist. Once you have the prop to make the sound, though, you need great hands and ears to synch and create the sound.” He agrees with Broomberg that “recording the sound is probably the more challenging aspect, and the hardest part of all is normally finding the right prop to create the exact sound you need.”

Foley work is, therefore, an equipment-intensive business, and it is unsurprising that all three respondents have clear preferences when it comes to gear, not to mention an arsenal of specialist props they call on in times of need. O’Donoghue uses “a Pro Tools Ultimate Native Setup with an Omni, Adam AX3 Fogg 5.1 Monitors, and KRK Rockit 5s for contrast – because if it sounds good on Rockits, it’ll sound good on almost anything! In terms of mics, I switch between a Neumann and a Sure condenser for voice over work, and I have a Sennheiser 416 for ADR [Automated Dialogue Replacement] matching and Foleys. For field recording, I use the 416 with a Zoom H6. In my Foley box you’ll find cat litter, cassette tape, and – as my studio is a home set-up – my greatest asset is all the props I have access to in the kitchen.”

Geddes namechecks similar microphones – “the Neumann U87, shotgun microphones and the Sennheiser MKH416 to get a more isolated direct sound” – and says that although they “have many different mixing consoles available at Madhaus, the main one we use for mixing film and Foley is the Avid ICO| D’Command 24. Synching the sounds is mostly done by feel, with the eyes and ears. There are a few plug-ins that can help with synching, especially ADR, but it always comes down to the Foley artist’s eyes and ears in the end.”

As far as editing software is concerned, all three are consistent in their use of Pro Tools. As Broomberg says, “It is the industry standard for this type of work, which helps with compatibility when transferring session data to clients locally and abroad. We also like Nuendo because of its stripping capabilities,” he says, while O’Donoghue adds that “Cubase is amazing for composing.”

Foley work is subtle and painstaking work, and its fundamental paradox, as O’Donoghue explains, is that “the whole point of good sound design and mixing is that it should go unnoticed – at least, until the experience is over. If people notice the sound design, it means the fluid continuity with the picture has been interrupted, and the illusion is broken.” In a similar vein, Broomberg says that “Foley is part of what I like to call the ‘sonic fabric’ of a movie because it’s mixed in with sound effects, music and dialogue – and if not mixed properly, it will stick out like a sore thumb.”

For those who are interested in the work of Foley artists, but feel like they have been missing out on this aspect of their appreciation of films, we asked Broomberg to name some of the favourite projects he’s worked on. “Some of my favourite movies that I have worked on and that I think sound good are 300, Watchmen, where the beginning fight scene was mostly Foley except for the punches, Spider-Man 3 and The Legend of Zorro, where the wagons, horses and guns were mostly Foley. The Dark Tower was fun to work on – we did some really cool stuff for the last gunfight and also the bullets loading in hyper speed; Jumanji was also a fun project…I’d better stop now!”

 

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