Hey guys, I will be starting work on a film which is set in a 1930's in two weeks. The director wants the dialogue to have a 'film' like quality to it. I suggested passing the stems through a tape and back in pro tools just to get the warmth and the quality of the tape. But due to budget constrains, it was not possible. A few of my colleagues suggested that you can achieve that similar quality with the VCR. Although I have never tried such a process with either the tape or a VCR, I was wondering if any of you guys know how to go about or have done anything like this before. Are there any specific sites I might look up to find how to achieve this. I could just use a plugin which might help me achieve this effect, but since I have the time, resources and control over the sound department on this film, I thought its worth trying. Thank You in advance.
It's encouraging to see that sound people are still thinking outside the "plug ins" box. The concept of using outboard gear in an attempt to alter your source material is certainly worth pursuing, and what you would capture might indeed be something quite special and unique. I wholeheartedly recommend that you undertake the effort!
Bear in mind that, using this type of process, you will be limiting your ability to "untreated" the dialog and go back to something cleaner or less processed. This, of course, is the wonderful thing about plug ins; that you can go back non-destructively to the original source and start fresh, if need be. But there's something to be said for committing to an approach, right?
Getting a 1930s sound from a videotape transfer may not be ideal. You're talking about two very different eras and technology - but both are analog, so that's a step in the right direction. Maybe VHS has too high headroom and too low noise floor? It may not give you the tape saturation you're looking for. As an alternative, try to gain access to some other analog machines (aka. a cassette deck) and maybe create for yourself a daisy chain, passing through one and then directly into another, and then back into Pro Tools. That will get your noise floor up and possibly increase any tape saturation. Also, don't forget about Craigslist - depending on where you live, you might find someone selling (or giving away) an old reel-to-reel deck complete with some old tapes that you can re-record over.
Sounds like fun - have a blast experimenting!
It seems to me that a good choice would be a Nagra tape recorder, which was a recorder very much used starting in the 1950's until digital recording took over in the 1980's and 1990's. While this technology would be significantly better than the optical soundtrack you'd find in the 1930's, I think it would be a pretty flexible option. Since Nagras are designed for professional recording, they have VU meters on them and an I/O that could be adapted to your Pro Tools interface. You would have to record into the Nagra and then play it back into Pro Tools to a record-armed track there.
While Nagras aren't used anymore, I'd imagine that you should be able to find one with a little digging, as they were a really dominant recording format for so long in the film industry.
If considering going to tape, one option might be to use a Tape Echo e.g. a Roland 201 Space Echo, but use it with no delay & no feedback, so the dialogue is effectively being printed to tape & replayed - there will be some delay, between record head & replay head, so you would have to print it & then resync it, but the delay should be consistent. Might be worth renting a 201 space echo for a week, each tape loop is meant to be good for 300 hours....
AFAIK (well it's not even a guess, but almost a certainty), VCR does not do the kind of lo-fi that you're looking for. It's too hi-tech and you can see the specs to verify that. The "real" choice (without stretching to carving your own record) for old audio quality would be a reel to reel tape recorder or (but you may lose quality in this) a cassette recorder.
I would suggest trying tape emulation plug-ins and "vinylizer" plug-ins. Grungelizer that comes with Cubase works pretty well if you equalize the "wet" signal (because the plug-in on it's own can sound harsh). Reason has the Scream unit with a good tape emulation. iZotope Vinyl is useful. Also: http://www.toneboosters.com/tb-reelbus/ http://www.toneboosters.com/tb-ferox/
Also, bass and guitar pedals/amp simulations may work for what you need (when applied sparsely), depending on what you're looking for. Even a bit crusher can work for your favor (it can actually sound not that digital, depending on what's fed to it or if you equalize the wet signal).
Remiking (or miking) could also be an option, maybe even a good one. Given that the dialog sound of 1930s is most likely caused mostly by the microphones that were available, not that much the recording equipment, which although is important as well. Go read some history and see if you can find out what kind of recording gear was used in the time period and how the technology was limited.
All of these are excellent suggestions, but if I make one more relating to workflow... Whatever method you use (re-record, pass through old analog gear, amps, plug in chain, etc), try doing a pass where you push that to it's ultimate limit... make it the grungiest, nastiest, ugliest version of that particular chain. Now bring that back in WITH the original untreated dialog (either by re-recording it or via auxes depending on the method)... you can now bring in JUST the right amount of grunge for the particular project... kind of a play on the old "dual compression" trick. You'll want to be very aware of the delay of the grunge track... start with it lined up exactly, but you can also play with varying it slightly to get interesting effects when the phasing starts.
An Issue that may arise if going to consumer tape decks of any sort, Cassette or VCR is drift. They don't run on the same quality clock and frame accurate sync isn't really needed. I think when you import your files back in you would have some shots running slow and some fast. A Nagra or other high quality deck should work fine since you can resolove them to clock sources.