Character Required
Ian Stynes, October 2012

Based in New York City, Softube endorser Ian Stynes works as a re-recording mixer, sound editor, composer and sound designer for numerous TV shows, films, computer games and commercials. We asked him to share his thoughts of sound tools with and without character in his type of work. Here's what he wrote.

When working with various post production projects for film, television and video games, there is a bare minimum that you need to accomplish to get a mix sounding "right" or to sound design anything that is considered acceptable in post. The dialogue levels have to fall within a certain range and be intelligible first and foremost. Then the program needs to play "smoothly" (ie not have bad edits or holes in the tone that distract the listener from the story) and the hard effects need to be there (unless there is a creative choice made to leave something out).

I don't always know exactly what's going to happen when I turn a knob and that's part of what I like about Softube.

Completing these tasks for various projects can definitely be very rewarding. But what I am most interested in, and what really gets me excited, are the projects where I get to go above that and add my viewpoint or unique set of sound sensibilities. We all curate the music or movie soundtracks we've heard throughout our lives and pick the ones we enjoy most and would like to emulate or build upon. Then if we are lucky enough to get paid to do this for other people we hopefully are adding this viewpoint along to those base technical parameters. These are the parameters that dictate how to get a job done within the specified range of popular acceptability. Beyond that, we're adding "character".

Getting creative
For example, I do a lot of sound design for animation and this type of sound creation can be even more flexible and open to creativity than others. You can always be creative with sound design but in many cases (ie in a narrative feature) the sound serves to mostly enhance the on set recordings. It is your role to use sound to draw the viewer's attention to certain elements that support the story - a chair creak may clue you in to the fact that someone is uncomfortable with the situation, or it may even be as simple as you will hear birds chirping to denote morning time or you will hear footsteps coming down the hallway.

The more you can mangle, distort, crush or just give the sound a unique stamp the better in many cases.

With certain types of animation or a sci-fi/action films the sound can have more room to be interpretive and play more of a key role in the movement of the story (what does a 60 foot tall evil alien robot really sound like anyway?).

It's up to you to help bring the client's vision to life. The more you can mangle, distort, crush or just give the sound a unique stamp the better in many cases. This type of sound design can be very much like composing and there is a lot of experimenting going on.

The tools
To accomplish the first tasks, getting the sound smooth and the dialog intelligible, I use a lot of clinical or modern "clean" sounding processing - I fully take advantage of their capabilities. For post work they are absolutely necessary. There is a lot of clinical restoration that takes place.

Adding color or character is the next step, but it has to be the right kind and it has to not distract the viewer (unless that's what you want). It's hard to find a plug-in that adds a unique set of variables that is actually useful in this way. For instance, I constantly use the Softube Trident A-Range - these are a perfect example of this - they are on all my post production starting templates. The saturation in these plugins is the best I've heard and really gives me that sound of driving an analog console hard that I've been looking for. It will round out the edges without sounding squashed. And the EQ:s are very "musical", which translates to "quality over quantity" - they definitely won't do everything you might expect a clinical modern equalizer to do but they sound good no matter what you do. Like many high end analog EQ:s I've used you can actually add instead of subtract and still have it be pleasant sounding. And in my opinion it doesn't sound like other any software EQ:s out there! That's character. I don't always know exactly what's going to happen when I turn a knob and that's part of what I like about Softube. Some of the gear of yesteryear has its quirks and the people at Softube embrace that.

© 2012 Ian Stynes
Ian Stynes has worked as a re-recording mixer, sound editor, composer and sound designer in New York City for the past 14 years. Ian has mixed, edited and produced audio for HBO, The Weinstein Company, 40 Acres & A Mule, Sony Pictures, Focus Features, MTV, NBC, The Coca Cola Company, The Discovery Channel, Rockstar Games, Spike TV, IFC, The Sci-Fi Network, AMC and The Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Ian recently completed work sound supervising, sound designing and mixing the audio for the third season of Ugly Americans - an animated television series on Comedy Central. He also recently sound designed, mixed and sound supervised the 2010 Oscar winning film The New Tenants starring Vincent D'Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan. Ian has had movies in Sundance, The Berlin Film Festival, SXSW and Tribeca. In 2011 he was re-recording mixer, sound supervisor and sound designer on the Spike Lee produced Focus Features film entitled Pariah, as well as So Young Kim's For Ellen which stars Paul Dano and Jon Heder and premiered at the 2012 Sundance film festival.
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