Did you know that when filming for VR you can’t use most audio equipment typically used for film because nothing but the talent can be anywhere near or around the shot, confusing right?
What’s in a VR Audio Kit
Pixvana’s own XR Creator and in house audio specialist Lauren Kohler is here to explain how she is able capture such incredible audio with such tremendous limitations. But First…
Before diving into Lauren’s audio kit a basic understanding of VR audio is needed to understand the specific tools she uses and why. Filming in 360 means the shot is all around you instead of just what’s in your field of vision. Ambisonic audio adds much more to the 360 experience than a stereo mix because it delivers a fully 360-degree soundscape that is responsive to a visual field. So, when you move your head in one direction or another, the audio will then change to reflect that movement. This is why Lauren’s job poses many challenges, she has to be able to produce ambisonic sound based upon your personalized and unpredictable movements inside of a VR headset.
Aside from ambisonic sound, when filming in 360 the scene is everywhere. There is no such thing as “behind the camera” because that is also in the shot. For this reason, Lauren does not have the option to use a boom pole with a shotgun microphone attached as her primary source of recording audio. Everything has to be hidden, incorporated into the scene or wireless otherwise it will be in the shot. These hidden mics can be attached to people, under tables, the ceiling and many other creative locations that Lauren thinks of as the best way keep the mics out and the audio crystal clear.
Now that you have a more general understanding for VR audio lets jump into Laurens kit!
The Sound Recorder:
To start off, Lauren uses a Zoom F8 which is an external audio recorder with 8 different input channels and the option to have a linked-gain system for inputs 1 through 4. This means that one input fader controls all 4 channels that are output by the ambisonic microphone. The F8 can produce a few different ambisonic formats including AmbiX and Fuma without having to use an extra plug-in, making post production a breeze.
Lauren also makes use of the Zoom H5 which is a handheld audio recorder that has 2 XLR inputs and exchangeable head capsules which gives her the option to make it a shotgun mic or a stereo pair. Lauren often uses this device to capture audio that a Lavalier mic isn’t able to pick up.
Ambisonic Microphone – Spatialized Audio:
Ambedo 3D VR:
The Sennheiser Ambeo 3D VR is Lauren’s microphone of choice. When it’s used with the F8 a AmbiX audio file becomes immediately available which can be used to edit and render out fully functioning ambisonic audio files without leaving Premiere. The Soundfield is also a great option but a bit more expensive. Lauren is able to use the Sennheiser microphone for capturing and recording genuine spatial sound as easily as a stereo recording making her task of capturing 360 sound just a little bit easier.
When it comes to capturing the talents voice and minimizing unrelated sounds the Sennheiser MKE2 Gold is Laurens top pick. She can tape these little guys onto her talent and achieve the clearest sound without the 360 camera ever capturing the microphone itself.
Another microphone that Lauren uses is the Sennheiser Evolution E1. This one she uses for more “newsworthy” content such as when Wundervu went to Comic-Con and had a correspondent interviewing attendees.
Lauren also carries around dead cats, which despite their unique name are actually microphone covers that act as a windshield to keep the wind to a minimum and the talents voice to a maximum.
Keeping with the animal theme, rabbit ears are an Audio Galaxy Band Pack Wireless N6 System. Lauren is able to use these to transmit audio back to the client while on set so they can listen to real time dialogue/talent who are on set.
When it comes portable audio receivers Lauren’s top pick is the EW100 G3. This receiver hooks up to her microphones and sends a signal to the receiver which makes her microphones wireless, pretty cool huh? Lauren also appreciates this pack for its high quality paired with the low price tag.
The Battery Kit:
Portable batteries are a very important part of any film kit because the last thing you want is to run out of battery in the middle of your shoot. Lauren likes to use the Hypercore 98. This battery pack can last up to 2-3 days without running out!
There are a couple of programs worth mentioning that Lauren uses to create and edit her audio. The first of those would be Reaper, this is a software that provides Lauren with a digital audio workstation for editing, processing mixing and more.
The second piece of software is the Ambeo Orbit Plugin which allows her to effectively position additional mono or stereo sources into the 3D sound field, thus avoiding the unwanted coloration. In fact, this plug in actually lets her choose how much of the binaural coloration she wants to apply!
Facebook 360 Audio:
Another plug in that Lauren utilizes is the Facebook 360 Spatial Audio Workstation Plug-in which she uses for designing and publishing spatial audio for 360 video and cinematic VR in a variety of formats.
No audio kit comes complete without headphones. With Lauren being an audio specialist that makes her a prime candidate for being quite particular when it comes to picking out her headphones. Laurens headphones of choice happen to be the Audio Technica 70MX over the ear headphones for their comfort and high audio quality.
The Timecode Slate:
Lauren uses a standard time slate, nothing fancy no digital numbers or anything, just a slate and a marker – old school! She is able to use this slate as a way to provide audio and visual sync points when shooting a scene.
Lauren uses a Zoom PCF-8 bag which gives her water resistant construction and a removable clear-windowed cover so she can keep an eye on the screen without getting it wet. This bag also has drawstring sleeves which allows her to access her recorders inputs and outputs while still protecting them from harsh weather conditions.
The Little Things…
When working with little microphones it can sometimes be difficult to find a place for them to go. Lauren has her own solution that she finds works well to capture the talents voice, but also to keep the little guys hidden: the perfect combination of Transpore Medical Tape and Moleskin Tape. The process is simple, she starts by taping the microphone down with medical tape and then secures it with the moleskin tape on top to deter clothes from rubbing on the microphone and capturing the talents voice with ease.
Another important item Lauren uses is a clipboard for carrying her sound reports which she uses to track what happened in each take so when she goes into the editing process she knows exactly what happened and why the audio may or may not be useable. She also carries around scripts and other various things she needs while running around on set.
Revisiting the old school theme, the final item that Lauren always has on her is her fanny pack. This is actually where she stores tape, pens, her miniature Moleskine notebook for taking notes on set and of course batteries – just in case!
About Lauren Kohler:
I am a XR Creator on the Wundervu team located in Seattle, Washington. My roots are in Michigan, where I graduated from Grand Valley State University with a BS in Film & Video Production and an emphasis in audio and animation. Diving into the world of 360 video, graphics, and audio has been a crazy fun ride. I love pushing the boundaries of both video and audio, and exploring the challenges of the field. I truly believe in the medium and hope to continue pioneering it. I am a passionate fiction film creator with an admiration for experimental film and stop-motion animation.