Contrary to popular belief, ADR doesn’t require a giant studio to get good sound for your dialogue. Here’s how to do it with just a computer and a microphone.
So you’ve recorded something on set, but the audio you captured is unusable. Now please, don’t hunt down the sound engineer — there’s still a way to save this. It requires a technique called ADR, or Automatic Dialogue Replacement. It’s a technique that almost 100 percent of major studios use, and for good reason — it works. ADR is the process of dubbing over existing audio recorded on set with audio recorded in a studio — or off set. This secondary recording happens in a controlled environment, so you don’t have to worry about the elements like you would on set.
Today, we’re going to show you how to record ADR for your own project
Let’s get started!
When Would You Need ADR?
Well, obviously, if your audio sucks, ADR is a great option in post. You can also use ADR for dubbing second languages on films. You might also use it if you have a wide shot that you need dialogue audio for, but have no way to capture clear sound. When you’re close up on an actor, you can place the boom mic almost right next to their face and get good audio. But if you’re wide, there’s nowhere to put the boom mic and still get good audio. The farther you move it away from the subject, the worse the sound you’re going to get.
So if booms don’t work, what does?
Sometimes, lavalier mics can get the audio you need, even in a wide shot. The only problem is that with movement, they rub against clothing. But, they play an important part in the ADR system. Lavaliers on wide shots can record the scratch track — or the track you use as a reference when re-dubbing the dialogue. When doing ADR, your actor needs something to listen to so they can sync up their dubbed dialogue with the footage.
But before we get started, there is one thing to note: always try to get the best location sound you can. ADR is an arduous process, and it can take days or even weeks. If you’re on a tight budget, that means paying your actors for an extra day of ADR dubbing. So your first priority should be capturing good enough on-set audio to use in the final product.
Recording Your Own ADR
To begin the ADR process, you need to create an ADR track in your NLE of choice. This is what the process looks like.
First, take the clip you would like to dub over, and split the dialogue into digestible segments. Find small pauses in the dialogue, and split it there. Now, create another sequence and copy your first segment from the timeline. Paste it four or five times in your ADR sequence. This will help your voice actor get familiar with the audio clip before recording.
To lead your actor in, create a countdown. You can do this easily in Premiere. Just create a new bars and tone clip and drop it in your timeline. Size that clip down to two frames, and duplicate it four times. Now, just space the hits out about 15 frames apart. To help the voice actor visualize the countdown, create a text title segment to count along with the hits. You’ve now got a countdown sequence that you can just copy and paste for the rest of your clips. Repeat the ADR sequences for the rest of your clips.
At this point, we are now ready to record the ADR. All you need for this is your computer, a mic, and headphones. I recommend using the same mic that you used in the field to record audio so it matches up in tone and capture footprint with the field recordings, if you have them. You can just record to an audio recorder, or if you have an audio interface, you can connect directly to Premiere and record to your timeline.
If you’re recording indoors, try recording in a “dead” room — or a room with as little echo and reverb as possible. It makes it easier to manipulate the audio later. My office has soundproofing panels, which help deaden the sound. If you don’t have panels like mine, you can also invest in a Vocal Recording Panel. This will prevent vocal reflection during recording.
Try having your actor in the same body position that they were during the on-screen take because sitting and standing can affect how your voice projects from your body. When you are all set, all you have to do is press play on your ADR timeline and let the actor speak along with the track. It may take two or three times to get the right take, so be patient.
Tidying up Your ADR
When working with ADR, you should layer it with other sounds to make it appear more natural. Layer in any sort of diegetic noise that may appear in the footage. For us, it’s the weed whacker and the leaf blower. Now, pop in some outdoor tone, and maybe some birds chirping for effect. Now, the ADR track has a nice little audio bed to get comfortable in.
So there you have it! DIY ADR. This method is how the pros do it. The only difference is that they have higher-quality mics and soundproofing materials. So try it out, see if it works, and hopefully it will save your skin one day if the sound engineer forgets to put an SD card in the audio recorder.
Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?
- “Military Camp” by Haim Mazar
- “Hop Skip Jump” by Max Brodie
- “Timeless Rose” by Aulx Studio
- “Retro Vibes” by Wolves
- “Mellow Mallets” by Origami Pigeon
- “Funky Fun” by Material Music
- “Laid Back Vibes” by High Street Music
- “Star Drive Engaged” by Emmett Cooke
- “Sunday Morning Groove” by Mattijs Muller
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Cover image by New Africa.