When it comes to reverb in the music world, we are usually trying to elevate dry tracks by adding exquisite virtual acoustics. Presets and models are usually geared toward this goal, presenting a selection of amazing-sounding spaces that add desirable color to the source. However, when working on films, we are forced to serve the visual and make the acoustics match the space portrayed on screen. Because of this, the typical “plate, hall or room” choices of most reverbs leave us looking for that elusive hallway, car, conference room or apartment.
For these reasons, Audio Ease has created Indoor. Available in VST, AU, and both AAX DSP and Native formats, Indoor features impulses recorded using a nine-microphone system in various rooms at different locations, designed to be useful for film mixing. With an intuitive GUI and elaborate controls for selecting the balance of different microphones, Indoor is arguably the most comprehensive tool to date for placing dry sounds into onscreen acoustic environments.
The Indoor GUI features a large window, effectively broken into two sections. On the left is a narrow control panel featuring more traditional knobs that are common in plug-ins. On the right is a large, graphic representation of the location that has been modeled. When loading each of the 10 locations, a 3D model of the structure, with all of its rooms is displayed. Locations include several homes, furnished and unfurnished, three vehicles, as well as a restaurant, auto workshop and hotel.
During the recording process, the engineers would move a speaker to six or seven unique places within a structure, and then move the mic array to record impulses from different spots in the building or space. In the 3-D visual model, the user can see all speaker and mic locations, then place a virtual speaker and virtual mic to gain access to that combination’s corresponding impulse response.
For example, the speaker can be placed in the kitchen with the mic right in front of it, or the microphone can be moved upstairs to the bedroom, radically changing the sound, despite the fact that the sound source remained in the same space. When setting the Flat/Natural control to Natural, the level is even compensated to correlate to the additional distance between the mic and sound source.
In the 3-D map, the user can open and close virtual doors to explore the sonic differences. This makes the SUV location very useful and interesting, as the mic or sound source can be placed inside or outside of the vehicle, in the front seat, back seat or trunk, with the doors open or closed. In fact, they even included impulses recorded through the car’s stereo so that audio can be futzed through it and captured from any mic position, inside or outside of the car.
All of this is expanded when addressing the control panel on the left. When operating Indoor in Direct mode, dry, unprocessed signal is combined with reverberations to create the overall sound. This is useful when using Indoor as an insert on an audio track. In this mode, another representation of the speaker and microphone appear, but this time with a circular control that can be used to either point the speaker directly at the microphone, or rotate it 360 degrees, giving you access to modeled but very realistic- sounding off-axis sounds.
IN USE ON A FILM
I received Indoor at a perfect time, as I was working on a documentary, a relatively straightforward, dialog-heavy series, and a more experimental, artistic short film. These projects presented different situations for exploring the various facets of Indoor. All of the projects featured reasonably well-recorded production sound, in every case recorded with a combination of lavalier mics and boom mics. Certain scenes contained nice, tight shots in relatively dry-sounding acoustic environments, allowing the boom mic to be used as the primary sound source. Naturally, in other cases, the boom was too ambient because of the width of the shot, or the character of the location.
In scenes where the boom wound up sounding too ambient, switching to the lavaliers cleaned and tightened things up, but in every case, certain movements of the actors caused their clothing to rub against the mics, making those recordings unusable. If the boom was clean and tight enough on that particular line where clothing rub occurred, it made an effective substitute. However, the tonality was never a perfect match. A big part of this was the fact that lavaliers consistently sounded much dryer than the boom mic, as the boom picked up a lot more of the natural acoustics of the environment.
This has always been a problem that I’ve attempted to solve by adding a mono reverb, inserted on the lavalier track, and then tweaking ’verb parameters and wet-to-dry ratio until the lavalier sounded more similar to the boom. Coming up with anything close enough to pass acceptably as a match always took far too long. When inserting a mono Indoor on the track, I could look at the space on screen, quickly find a room that looked similar in the software, and by turning off the “Direct” mode, a wet-to-dry ratio was revealed, allowing me to fine-tune the balance to match the width of the shot.
The whole process was so much more efficient and intuitive than anything I’d done in the past. On top of that, the processed sound was consistently a near-perfect match to the boom. When using other processors for this type of fix, a combination of equalization and reverb was usually necessary, and the results were often satisfactory, at best. With Indoor, I rarely had to use any more than the tone controls provided within the plug-in to achieve far superior sounds.
When doing a mix for the series, the goal was a stereo track that would translate well to release in different markets and different online formats. For that reason, there was nothing too adventurous panning- wise, and most of the dialog stayed pinned to the center. Despite that, when mixing a scene in a large, empty restaurant, I played with some stereo ambience using Indoor. I approached things similarly to the mono example, using the reverb to help lavaliers occupy the same space as the boom.
However, in this case, I snuck a little bit of the boom into Indoor, instantiated on a separate stereo Aux track. Placing the speaker and microphone in the dining area of the Indoor restaurant model, the sound was a perfect psychological match for the space seen onscreen. Even in subtle amounts, it added this warmth and richness that had a night and day effect on the feeling that you were in that restaurant with those characters. The difference was remarkable. Lines where the lavaliers were the preferred recording opened up nicely into the stereo Indoor instance. Again, with very little effort, the lavaliers became a proper sonic analog to the boom.
I really got the opportunity to explore the far reaches of Indoor when working on an indie short film. One great example of the power of the software came about in a scene where a real estate agent was showing a swanky Los Angeles apartment to another character. The long natural reverb tail of the agent’s high heels in the empty space sat all over the dialog in a distracting way. The lavalier had far less of the shoe sound but sounded extremely dry by comparison. However, despite walking around the apartment, the lavalier had no noticeable clothing rub, so it proved to be the superior recording.
In this case, it was a no-holds-barred mix, so I was free to experiment with panning of the dialog. The scene was all Steadicam, so the camera moved about the characters, and the characters moved across the screen when the camera was parked. There was just a lot of movement, in general. I started out by automating panning of the voices, relative to the viewer’s point of view, and things started to take shape. Next, I fed the mono signal into a 5.1 Aux with a surround instance of the Indoor plugin. The empty house model had a few rooms that seemed to be a good fit.
Immediately, the panned sound entering the surround space sounded good. From there, however, working in Direct mode, I automated the speaker relative to microphone to mimic the character moves and camera moves. The result was hauntingly realistic. The scene was already a little creepy, with an unsettling performance from the main character. Indoor really drove it home, as its realism really made you feel like you were trapped in that apartment. It was this perfect uneasy feeling.
In general, automation was impressively smooth. As advertised, there were never any clicks, hiccups or glitches when moving the mic in real-time during an automation pass. That said, you could click from one mic position to the next, and it would cleanly jump there, but I never found a way to glide from one point to the next. For example, if a character was talking while walking from the hallway into a room, they could either be placed in the hallway, or in the room, but never smoothly in between. The only way to pull it off was to use multiple instances and fade one out while fading the other one in. Aside from that, rotating the angle control, opening doors, jumping to a different point at a scene change—all could be done perfectly smoothly. This encouraged a lot of experimentation, which resulted in interesting sounds.
A MUST HAVE
I have spent a lot of time wishing for a tool exactly like this, a true post-production reverb. That said I had never imagined the elaborate graphics or the role they would play in quickly finding a sound, let alone the ability to powerfully pan sounds into that environment. Considering that power, the plug-in is also remarkably CPU-efficient, and I could run many instances without a significant processing load. Despite the lack of 9.1 Dolby Atmos support in Pro Tools, Audio Ease found a clever way to pair a 7.1 track with a stereo track to produce two extra VOG channels for Atmos use. This is a plug-in with a perfect combination of ease of use and superior sound. If you work in audio post-production, you must try this.
COMPANY: Audio Ease
PROS: Fresh take on a reverb GUI, great-sounding impulses.
CONS: Automation following Steadicam or dolly shots comes up a little short.
I have always been a fan of using a funky room mic when tracking drums. At a studio where I used to work, there was a loading dock with a garage door for load-in to Studio A. Drums would bleed from the studio into that sound lock, and if you recorded it, you had this great trashy sound that would add something to a mix. Try running drums or guitars through the Auto Workshop in Indoor. That model, in particular, has some great, nasty room sounds that will add some character that you won’t find in any other reverb.
Brandon T. Hickey is a professional recording engineer specializing in sound for film and studio work.