It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the postproduction of Ren. Postproduction is a process that starts out with one person – in this case director Kate Madison and co-creator/editor Christopher Dane at different times – sat alone at a computer, wrangling the filmed material into a story. Then it expands outwards to encompass visual effects, sound editing, music and grading (a process in which the colours are corrected, balanced and pushed in certain directions to achieve a “look” for the show). With episode one near to completion, there are over a dozen people working on it all over the country, and indeed the world.
One thing that many people don’t realise is how much of the sound you hear in a film or TV show wasn’t recorded at the same time as the picture. A good proportion of the dialogue – maybe over 80% on a big action movie – will have been dubbed after the fact, and everything else – from the subtlest rustling of a dress to the most bombastic explosion – will have been painstakingly recorded or sourced, matched to the picture and carefully mixed so it sounds completely natural. This process gives the filmmakers complete creative control over how everything sounds: rubber armour can clank like the real thing; a villain’s footsteps can be beefier and more resonant; the mood of a scene can be adjusted through the addition of tweeting birds or a tinkling stream.
On a more mundane level, sometimes it just isn’t possible to record clear sound on set. Ren‘s Caxton studio was plagued by light aircraft passing overhead, and its warehouses echoed in a way completely at odds with the small interior sets built in them.
So we turned to ADR, which variously stands for Additional Dialogue Recording or Automatic Dialogue Replacement. Actors come in to a studio (or Kate’s living room!), watch their original performance and then recreate it for the microphone. Actors dubbing their voices in this way over the last week or so included Sophie Skelton (Ren), James Malpas (Baynon) and Suzanne Emerson (Ida).
A variation on ADR is the Loop Group – a team of vocal extras who provide the background chatter for scenes like those in Lyngarth’s market square. Around ten of Ren‘s loyal supporting artists and volunteers convened last week to record this burble. Somehow the conversations kept coming back to vaguely suggestive vegetables, with the result that more than one take descended into fits of laughter.
On Monday Kate and director of photography Neil Oseman travelled up to Manchester to work with Andy McKee on grading episode one. Grading can have a huge impact on the feel of a show – it could be dark and desaturated like a Zak Snyder movie, bright and colourful like a romantic comedy, contrasty and stylised like a music video, or anywhere in between. Today’s technology allows incredible precision: for example, a character’s face can be easily tracked as it moves through a shot, and the contrast and colour of that face adjusted separately to the rest of the image; or the bright red of Kah’Nath uniforms can be isolated and tweaked.
Kate had a clear idea of the look she wanted, and after working through the episode with Andy they arrived at a natural look with plenty of colour that would make Ren’s world an inviting place for the audience and leave the series somewhere to go later as darker elements come into play.
Meanwhile, work continues on music and visual effects, not to mention the editing of later episodes. There’s plenty left to do, but the show that you will see and love later in the year is gradually beginning to take shape.