Post-production sound

Sound post-production is responsible for the creation and mixing of the dialogue, ADR, foley, sound effects, atmospheric sound and music that makes up the soundtrack of a film or a TV show. A sound post-production team can include a number of sound editors, sound designers, mixers, assistants, and audio describers overseen by a supervising sound editor. 

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Skills required to work in post-production sound

  • good understanding of acoustics
  • expert knowledge of sound recording and editing techniques
  • excellent aural skills
  • creativity and imagination
  • excellent communication skills
  • ability to work under pressure to tight deadlines
  • organisational and financial skills
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures

Ways into sound post-production

Competition for sound post-production is high, and most entering the industry have a degree in music or sound recording (Tonmeister), electronics, arts, maths or sound technology and may have specialised in film and television at a post-graduate level.

After studying, most begin as runners in picture and sound cutting rooms or in sound post-production houses, working their way up to assistant, mixer or sound editor and then spending considerable time perfecting their craft. Supervising sound editors must have extensive experience working in post-production, usually in specialist sound post-production houses.

Jobs in post-production sound

Supervising sound editor
Supervising sound editors' duties vary with the size of the production. They must oversee fresh recording of dialogue (known as ADR, or additional dialogue recording), foley (creating specific sounds to augment the “real” sound recorded on set), sound effects and sometimes music. A majority will work as sound designers on the same production, and on larger productions they will appoint specialist sound editors to supervise separate teams for each area of work. Supervising sound editors are responsible for the sound budget, organising workflow, and discussing sound concepts with the director and other sound editors after picture lock. 

Sound designers
The creation, manipulation and positioning of sound effects added after filming is the job of sound designers. Usually freelance or employed by post-production houses, they identify the main kinds of sound effects required: spot effects, atmosphere effects and sound design effects, and then source different kinds of sounds, often creating and recording new material. Creative and experimental time is spent enhancing or distorting sound recordings or using synths, samplers or plug-ins to make something new and interesting - whether it's the noise of alien technology of a dinosaur roaring. Sound designers tracklay all the sound effects on a digital audio workstation (DAW) to be mixed and seamlessly blended with dialogue, ADR, foley, atmosphere, music and special effects. 

Re-recording mixer
Re-recording mixers must mix a soundtrack for preview sessions. They work at large mixing consoles smoothing out sound and adding a temporary music soundtrack prepared by the music editor. After previews, when the film or show has been re-cut, re-recording mixers further pre-mix the sound and reduce the number of tracks in preparation for the final mix. In the final mix, the soundtrack is refined in consultation with the director and mixed to 5.1 Surround Sound or Dolby Atmos, both an industry standard.

ADR mixer or ADR dialogue editor
Dialogue editors review the original sound files of a production to spot technical or performance-related problems and analyse whether they could be replaced by an alternate take. Working on a digital audio workstation (DAW), they use editing software to cut between a number of takes to create crisp clean lines of dialogue. If this isn't possible they will use additional dialogue recording (ADR). This is where actors come in for a voice recording session, watching themselves on screen and re-voicing as accurately as possible. After newly recorded ADR has been edited into the original track, ADR mixers work to make all background or ambient sound smooth.

Audio assistant or dubbing assistant
Assistants help with gathering, selecting and mixing dialogue, music and special effects. They must manage the preparation and maintenance of all audio suites within facilities houses and assist in voiceover recording and audio conforming. They locate the appropriate music effects, based on editor and client selection, and order them from libraries. 

Audio describer
Audio describers are responsible for creating detailed descriptions to be provided in cinemas or as home-viewing addition soundtracks for visually impaired viewers. They use a specially designed program which simultaneously displays the film script, actual image and timecodes to enable them to write their own narration according to precise timing. Once the audio description script is prepared they will spend several days recording and mixing the new specific soundtrack, which will be reviewed by the distributor. Most sound post-production houses prefer to train their own audio describers and advertise for trainees on their websites or through other press. 

Find out more about working in post-production sound

Organisations and websites:

Books:

  • Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects Cinema, edited by David Sonnenschein 
  • Film Sound, by Elizabeth Weis and John Belton
  • Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, by Michael Chion

Some other job roles in post-production


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