Stories from a Pro: Bill Jackson

A letter from Bill Jackson, re-recording mixer, explains his discovery of RX 2 and the transformation of dialogue audio for HBO's Entourage.

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To iZotope:

I am very excited about what I can do with RX. I had previously heard about iZotope's products, but the first time I saw someone open the Spectral Repair window in RX, I was blown away. Now it is one of my favorite plug-ins.

Recently, I worked on the first two seasons of HBO's Entourage . It was originally mixed in Dolby Stereo for those episodes, but needed to be transformed into a 5.1 mix for future releases. As I was mixing the shows, I immediately found a need to make some audio repairs. I was very happy to see that the RX suite was installed on the system I was using. It was my first time, but it is so intuitive to use that I got to work right away without needing any instruction. My dialogue mixing colleagues at Todd-AO had originally mixed Entourage in a way that retained the full quality of the sound. They never sacrificed the audio integrity to try to get rid of all the noise issues. This was 2004 and the tools for fixing audio problems were limited compared to now. When noise was completely removed, it would often result in an unacceptable degradation of the original recording. I had to work from their original 4-channel stems, so if they had made bad choices, it would have compromised what I was able to do with the 5.1 mix. But now, with RX 2, I can significantly reduce those problem noises and in many cases completely remove them.

I love using Spectral Repair. While working on Entourage, the first audio issue I had was with a high-frequency tone, often caused by interference from the lighting. I was able to completely remove it using the Frequency Selection Tool, without damaging the original dialogue sound. Being able to see the tone so clearly in the capture window makes this extremely easy. Suddenly, the sound opens up. Even more noticeable than the subtle frequency being removed is the clarity that now comes through without the oppressive tone clouding the sound. The lasso tool was great for removing odd-shaped noises that you can see, but I'm a big fan of the Brush selection tool. It lets me paint over the noises as if I'm retouching a photo. I usually use the Replace option, which allows me to paint out those sub-sonic mic bumps that sometimes happen. It is much more effective than just a filter, without the harsh side-effects they can have.

Another problem I had in an Entourage bar scene was a very prominent 60 Hz tone. The characters were walking through a bar which had music playing, but there was a hum that was killing the scene. Again, since the original mixer was good enough to not crucify the audio in an effort to get rid of all the hum, I was able to completely remove it using Hum Removal with harmonics. Suddenly, the music came to life and the dialogue was clear and open with no audible side-effects.

One issue that we often run into, especially in this digital age where the high frequencies are very apparent, is the presence of clicks, pops, and crackles. I was able to very easily highlight the problem area of an audio clip and process the clicks away. Even a lip smack sound that is a natural part of talking can have a high peak that is annoying, but using the Declicker to reduce it leaves a natural sounding smack without the high end peak that can be over-emphasized in the recording. Recently, I also used Decrackler to completely remove the scratches in a vinyl record that had been used for one of the songs in a film temp mix. I wasn't sure if the director wanted the scratches to remain, but it actually was an old recording that she only could find on vinyl. After the playback she didn't mention the missing scratches, so when I brought it up, I was happy to hear that they had always been annoying to her. I guess, after all the other repairs that I had made to the film, it just seemed natural that I would also remove the vinyl scratches. I'm still blown away that they are completely gone.

A great surprise to me is the Declipper tool. I often run across dialogue that has been overmodulated with either analog distortion from the mic pre, or digital clipping of the file. The Declipper tool has great presets that have allowed me to completely remove horrible distortion sounds, while retaining the sonic integrity of the underlying sound. It rewrites the waveform, which is much better than the high-frequency filtering method that ultimately decimates the dialogue.

"I've used other reduction plug-ins, but the Denoiser allows me to remove more of the offending noise while retaining the integrity of the sound."

But, of all the tools in RX, Denoiser is the tool I use the most. I use it so much that I have a default preset when it opens up: Advanced mode, Algorithm D, Fine smoothing at 6. I've used other noise reduction plug-ins, but the Denoiser allows me to remove more of the offending noise while retaining the integrity of the sound. What is great is that I can separately control the tonal and broadband noise reduction. Many times, I only need the broadband reduction, but if there is a tonal component to the noise, such as a not-so-low-frequency hum, I can dial it out with the Tonal slider. I hear scenes all of the time mixed with heavy filtering because they take place somewhere like a beach. The filtering can be more distracting than the noise! I ran into a similar problem in the Entourage series. The characters had a scene near the beach, but fortunately it was not heavily filtered. The scene was still problematic, especially on the angles where you could see the beach behind the actors. With Denoiser I was able to significantly reduce the ocean sound on just those angles, which allowed the smooth, consistent ocean sound effects to play clearer throughout the scene. They are near the beach, after all, so it is OK to hear some of the ocean.

I even used Denoiser to remove the tape hiss on some of the older songs from those first two seasons of Entourage. Even if the noises don't particularly bother the listener, removing the background noise opens up the sound and draws you into the original clarity that was intended.

Thank you iZotope! 

Bill Jackson

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