Different types of sound editing
Sound editing for picture can be broken into different elements (and job titles):
- Dialog editing (dialog editor)
- Music editing (music editor)
- Sound FX editing/sound design (sound designer, sound fx editor)
- Foley editing (Foley editor)
These roles could be different people or it could be one person doing all of the above. In credits, if someone is listed as “Sound Editor” they likely worked on multiple elements.
As we saw previously in What is an AAF and Why Does it Matter, the materials are brought into an audio workstation from a video workstation (through an AAF or OMF) and then “split” so that each element is placed on appropriate tracks. The dialog editor is responsible for going through all of the dialog tracks for the following:
- Organizing files within each set of audio tracks
- Sorting through tracks and removing regions so only usable or preferred/best mics are remaining.
- Once the appropriate mics are in place: adjusting fade ins, fade outs, cross fades, and filling in holes as necessary.
- Removing unwanted sounds such as pops, clicks, hums, thumps, or other noises that can’t be removed by real-time mixing. Sometimes the dialog editor can remove other non-desirable sounds like dogs barking or sirens.
- Repairing sounds that can’t be fixed by real-time mixing (such as mic dropouts)
- Editing ADR (actor’s lines that were re-recorded in the studio) and voice-over narration
The fundamentals of dialog editing
Here’s an example of a very basic dialog edit; The above track is edited while the grey track (lower) is how it was delivered by the picture editor (via AAF).
Most dialog clips will need a fade in/fade out to make the ambience come in (or shift to another mic) more naturally. Production dialog naturally has an audible noise floor (from background noise). For an exterior shot, this could be distant traffic or light wind; interior might be an air conditioner running or a refrigerator hum. In the above example, there’s a small spot where a mic is missing (on the “DIA ORIG” track). The dialog editor would need to “fill” that – in this case, the original audio in that area was clean so the region was extended to fill in the hole.
Towards the end of the clip (the 5th region), an edit was moved slightly to clean up a bad dialog edit in the middle of a word. At the very end, the original audio had something going on (a noise or start of a new word). That had to be edited to add a clean fade out using audio from earlier in the track.
Before dialog editing
After dialog editing
This is a before and after look of two tracks of dialog. It’s two people with separate mics talking at close proximity. Even just looking at the regions (without listening) you can get a general idea of when one person (or both) are talking based on the size of the waveform. Even though it may appear obvious, it’s still a good idea to listen through each track to make sure you’re not removing anything important that’s hidden in the waveform (like a quiet word or laugh). In this example, the second region of dialog came from another scene (this was added by the picture editor or assistant). That had to be replaced with fill that from this scene to match sonically. Sometimes an audio replacement sounds fine in the picture edit bay but not work at all on the mix stage. Sometimes issues like that aren’t audible unless you’re listening with professional-quality headphones, studio monitors, or with a compressor on the dialog.
There’s a lot of different ways to organize dialog and the style can change depending on a few factors (like the genre of the project or the mixer you’re editing for). For example, when working on reality tv shows (or documentary), I like working with two sets of dialog tracks: interviews and in-scene dialog. A scene could switch many times between action (in-scene dialog) to an interview of someone talking about what’s happening. Here’s an example of a show that uses that style: