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What are some tips and techniques on recording paper, pencil, chalkboard and other often harsh sounding foley?

Many times I'm designing an animated piece that requires organic foley elements like pencil drawings, chalkboard writing, paper moves, shuffles and such that need to have solid presence in a mix but often times record very harsh.

Aside from applying EQ to work out harsh frequencies, what other techniques are folks using when recording, designing, and mixing (like mic choices, distance etc) to capture and design these elements that can often sound harsh when recorded?

4

Well they are harsh sounds...

First make sure that what you do as step number one is to control the source, change material (paper/board type, different pen or chalk etc) until you get a sound you really like. Authenticity is rarely important, fake it!

Second, mic choice can go a long way, try a dynamic mic. Stay away from regular dialog/boom mics, use softer sounding mics. But if they get to soft you will loose the harsh qualities that are really needed to carry the sound.

If none of the above works you can always try plain old processing, notch eq, frequency dependent compression etc. back to square one...

4

To get rid of harshness at recording try the following:

  1. Record with a distance. Rarely do we hear a paper get torn from a distance of 20-30 cm. More so 50cm+++
  2. Go off axis. This will get rid of directional and thus high frequency material a bit.
  3. Try DeEssers or Multiband Compressors to get rid of peaks in the 4000 and 8000 Hz region
  4. Use dynamic mics instead of condenser mics.

Moreover, sometimes you think a sound is very harsh if you hear it on your own, when you have some ambience and other sounds, you can change the relative volume and so the harshness might be less of a problem.

Good Day

  • Also one thing I forgot to mention: Reverb (Early Reflections!) and small Delays can smooth out harshness if you did close mic. – Tobias Schmidt Mar 21 '14 at 19:13
  • Good point about the distance - helps to do a reality check sometimes... – christiancoriolis Mar 21 '14 at 21:12
  • Hi Tobias, what kind of dynamic mic's do you use on these recordings? SM57 or more expensive stuff with wider frequency range? – Arnoud Traa Mar 24 '14 at 9:28
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Having the same problem as you, I've had varying success with using different microphones and varying the distance between the microphone and object. More often than not, I think I've always had issues with proximity effect because my microphones just aren't sensitive enough.

I'm usually my own band so I can't work out how to use a 2 mic setup. If you do have an extra pair of hands though, it helps to use a second mic further away from source and closer to a wall. I've seen Foley mixers use this setup so that they can mix the 2 mics (on the fly) to achieve a more realistic recording.

Hopefully someone else will chime in with a better answer. I'm hoping to stay in denial so I don't have to buy a better microphone!

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While everyone has provided some great answers so far regarding the recording of these harsh sounds, no one has mentioned another critical answer: Performance.

If you're scribbling with the fury of a 5 year-old with a new set of crayons you're going to get some harshness, regardless of how you mic it.

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In addition to the already great advice given: When going distant, try setting up an absorbent baffle of some kind.

  1. To kill reflections/reverb, if your room is prone to those, thereby also...
  2. ... absorb some of the harshness normally reflected and exaggerated

I had to record a whiteboard pen once - couldn't get close enough with a Rode NT2 to really nail the sound. Sometimes not harsh enough, I guess...

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