Technology

Tovusound Edward Ultimate Suite

Playable, Foley Instrument Plug-in
The Edward Ultimate instruments are set up to be playable on a 25-key controller.

Foley is a rather specialized and precise audio production process, with many inherent challenges. First, quiet is a must. Final, synched sounds often require several passes with several elements. As layers are created, background noise builds. Also, for footsteps, the signature sound that most people associate with Foley, numerous surfaces and shoe types are needed. Few studios can commit to such a range.

Tovusound’s Edward Ultimate addresses these problems by presenting a flexible, interactive, playable Foley artist in the form of a software instrument for Native Instruments Kontakt 5. Previous versions of Edward Ultimate required the purchase of the full Kontak5, but Edward Ultimate SUITE can run on the free Kontakt Player 5.

The SUITE includes one module set up for performing footstepswith a selection of shoes and surfaces. The other module provides cloth sounds and props. Using any MIDI keyboard controller, these sounds can be performed in real-time, in sync with picture.

THE INSTRUMENT

When creating Edward, Lara Dale and Josh Reinhardt, an accomplished Foley artist and Foley editor, respectively, recorded a wealth of footstep samples, from five shoe types recorded on dozens of surfaces. For each shoe/surface combo, samples of walking at various speeds, running and jogging, and climbing stairs were all capturedas were various stomps, scrapes, jumps and landings

The sheer number of samples used to create this instrument makes it unique; so does the velocity-sensitive, randomized triggering of samples to break up artificiality. The plug-in interface makes it incredibly easy to create natural-sounding performances, with a GUI somewhat resembling a pair of turntables. Two “decks are provided, and each can host a unique combination of shoe type and surface.

Each deck has controls for tweaking the sound  to fit the character and scene. Because every performance was recorded with a Sennheiser MKH416 and a Neumann KMR 81i, a blend control allows the user to scale the balance between the two. A pitch control cleanly shifts the tonality of each sound, and a three-band EQ with fixed-frequencies is accompanied by highpass and lowpass filters.

During a performance, the modulation wheel on the connected keyboard acts as a crossfader, for shifts and blends between the two decks. This function serves multiple  purposes. For example, if the character crosses an asphalt road, steps up onto the curb, two steps on the grass, two on the sidewalk, and then back onto the grass, it’s easy to adapt to the changes. Alternatively, a custom blend of two textures or shoe types can be sustained throughout a performance, creating an altogether new sound.

All of the sounds in the Edward Ultimate instruments are set up to be playable on a 25-key controller. A map of the keyboard layout sits along the bottom of the GUI, spelling out which sound will be triggered by the stroke of each keyboard note. For example, the low C and D produce slow steps, while E and F produce medium-paced steps, all the way up to the middle D and E triggering stair-climbing sounds, with jogging and running at different speeds in between. In most cases, the sounds are grouped in pairs like this, for performing left and right steps with two fingers.

In some cases, it becomes a long stretch of the fingers from slow walking, up to the stomp key, or frostairs down to jogging. In these cases, the pitch wheel is your friend. In the center of the instrument’s GUI, there are settings to program what will happen if the pitch control is turned up or down. In each case, an alternate sound, or pair of sounds, within the same shoe and surface set can be cued up. So, if walking sounds are being played, but a quick foot slide is needed, the pitch wheel could be pusheup and the same keys will now create slides. There is also an integrated convolution reverb, including impulse responses of 15 spaces, in both mono and stereo versions. “Distance and Size controls seem to serve as a wet/dry ratio and decay time controls, again allowing the sound to be tailored to the scene.

SOFTWARE FOLEY ARTIST

I have an M-Audio Oxygen 8 that I use for sound design, and I used that to control the software. I am not a proficient piano player, but I can play one-handebass lines or melodies. When I first fired up the Edward Ultimate instrument, I spent some time getting comfortable before trying it with picture.

The samples sounded very good. There are great full lows and superb detail in the highs. If listened to at high volumes, a small bit of room tone was audible, but this is almost always the case with Foley recordings.

Getting used to Edward Ultimate was like learning any instrument—a little clunky at first. Trying to perform timing and dynamics while using the mod or pitch wheel took a lot of practice. After regular use, however, I could create the sounds that I wanted, matching the onscreen performance.

The first time I tried it with picture, I chose a scene where two men with similar shoes were walking on dirty pavement in an alley. In a traditional Foley session, the artist would watch the scene and then nail the performance in one or two takes, subject to a little bit of editing. With Edward Ultimate, I would have to practice a few times, then tweak some settings, then practice again before I could do a take. But by the time I recorded a take, it was usually spot-on.

If walking went on for a long while, at the same pres- sure, the samples could start to sound a bit repetitive, but in most cases, the modulation wheel fixed this. I would walk on the same surface with two similar but slightly different shoe types and subtly rock the mod wheel to create more variation. Alternatively, I could load asphalt on one deck, and dirt on the other and do the same rocking of the mod wheel for realistic textural variations.

I tried going big and worked on a scene where a character clumsily scuffed his way down a hill. I wound up having to use the pitch wheel to switch between steps, slides, scuffs and stairs to get a good-sounding take. However, there was no way to do my mod wheel randomizer trick while also riding the pitch wheel. An actual Foley performance of that complicated sequence wound up sounding superior. Then again, how many sound designers have access to professional pits?

I first tried the Clothing and Props module in combination with the footsteps instrument. Setting both to receive a signal from the same MIDI channel, the two synched up, with the clothing simulator adding a nice extra layer of movement to the steps. The samples had a nice sense of decay, which continued to play after the key was released. One problem with this method was, I couldn’t perform separate head turns or arm movement without simultaneously triggering a footstep.

Changing up the workflow and doing cloth and footsteps in separate layers proved the only solution. In one case, to create the sound of a man in a suit, I paired a dress shirt with a peacoat, and the sound was convincing enough. While quick staccato moves read well, I could never pull off long, flowing legato perfor- mances. For more dialog-heavy projects, the quick, loud sounds are all you need, so this is no problem.

Overall, the biggest sounds were the most impressive. The creaky leather jackets, military armor and the backpack sounded convincing. The props were also successful. Performing sound for a character running with a machine gun and then stopping, drawing and aiming it, Edward Ultimate produced a preferable sound to the previously recorded Foley.

NEW WORKFLOW?

Foley artists needn’t feel threatened by Edward Ultimate. I believe most supervising sound editors will choose real Foley when it’s an option. However, for sound designers with limited time or budget for Foley, this is the best option I’ve heard. I’m a fan, and because the pitch and modulation wheel make it, I recommend checking out the full Edward Ultimate SUITE.



TR
Y THIS

For a character walking in a creaky old house, load the “Carpet” or “Creaky Wood” on one deck and the “Creaks 1” on the other. The “Creaks 1" sound has no attacks, just long creaking sounds. Use the mod wheel to slip in some creaks during walking and then push all the way to the creaks deck for pivots, turns and weight shifts.

Product Summary

COMPANY: Tovusound
PRODUCT: Edward Ultimate SUITE
PRICE: $399
WEBSITE: https://tovusound.com
PROS: Quick, believable Foley can be performed in an acoustic environment.
CONS: Complicated, subtle sounds might require supplemental Foley

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