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Inside the World of Professional ADR with Julie Altus of Todd-AO

08.5.13 @ 9:00AM Tags : , , , , , ,

Audio gear xlrIt’s that hidden aspect of movies you may not think about, but can become the distinguishing factor between a real film and amateur hour: ADR. What gear do the pros use? How does a director prepare for an ADR session? What does ADR mean, anyways? Below, Julie Altus, who has been on the ADR stage at the illustrious Todd-AO for about ten years, gives us a glimpse into it all.

Disclaimer: A few weeks ago, I walked onto an ADR stage for the very first time to record narration for my long-term doc project. I had written the script myself, and I was voicing it myself. (Glutton for punishment?)

As the three beeps sounded for my first take, I was so nervous, I must have set a record for how many words can be said in under a minute. And I almost moved on without another take!

Luckily, we had the talented Julie Altus on our side, and she coaxed us through a multi-hour recording session with excellent results. Afterwards, Julie took the time to jot down the following insights on a plethora of topics regarding the world of ADR.

The “A” in ADR Doesn’t Stand for “Audio”

Altus: Automated Dialogue Replacement is what ADR stands for. Often times in film/tv there is a lot of back ground noise that has to be fixed in ADR. It can be done to correct an actor’s accent, clarity, Voice Over/Narration, line changes, to clean out bad production noise on lines, and to add loop group (a group of back ground voice actors used to fill scenes and do vocal pick ups.)

How to Prepare for Your ADR Session

Altus: ADR is a great time to make changes and improvements, but also can be very time-consuming and difficult for many actors. You are basically trying to get them to recreate exactly the feelings and voice match and emotions of the scene that is being recorded.

But, it’s a large empty stage and can be hard for actors to get back to the “place” they were at when shooting a scene. I would say, have a solid spotting session with your actors, with good notes and proper explanations or reasons as to why they are re-doing the lines, so that they don’t get frustrated — so they know what needs to be changed.



Altus: Low budget ADR is a hard sell. Without a stage and proper rigs to keep timecode, it’s not the easiest thing to sync all those things in line. But, a good microphone can be very helpful. If it’s super low-budget, record the best you can, and try playing with some “plug-ins” if those are more available.

Favorite Recording Gear

Altus: We have a few mics on stage here that we switch between (indoor, outdoor, breaths and efforts, and VO mics.) Our most common mics are a U87, a LAV, a Sennheiser 416 and a front and back boom mic.

Advice for Getting in to the Biz

Altus: As far as getting into the sound part of this business, I would say learn as much as you can about production recording and post. Understanding production sound really helps you understand what sound you will be working with in post.

I knew in high school I wanted to do work in film/tv, but I wasn’t sure what area. I attended Columbia College Chicago and took a variety of classes in different areas of film (lighting, sound, camera etc.)

ADR_02After doing a few different jobs in production sound recording, I started checking out the other end of sound, the post side. I really enjoyed this area and decided to take more classes to get my all-around post sound training. In college I started realizing how much I enjoyed doing ADR and foley more so than dub mixing.

After finishing school and working random jobs here and there, I found myself at Todd-AO as the vault person. This was a great opportunity for me to spend extra time after my work shift on the dubbing and ADR stages here.  I have now been on the ADR stage here for almost 10 years.

Overall Philosophy on Sound in the Pictures:

Altus: Sound, to people, should be half of the film/tv experience. Visually the picture and actors are responsible for getting their role across and sound is no different.  We want people to enjoy the movie as much as possible, so making sure that the sound works with the picture and helps carry the film instead of distracting from it is very important. In ADR, the goal is getting a good recording so people can NOT tell that something was re-done.


Thank you, Julie!

Have you had experience recording ADR on a stage, or in a DIY setup? Share your tips, or preferably any horror stories, about recording your own ADR or narration.

Link: Todd-AO


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Description image 23 COMMENTS

  • Some film studios (USSR/Russia, Bollywood) rarely record live sound and everything is VO’d in the studio. Moreover, there’s never an attempt to recreate the spacial relationships of actors during a shot. It’s basically equal to a singer recording over a rhythm track of a band. I hate it so much.
    PS. This doesn’t apply to the narrators, obviously.

  • As long as you’ve got a sound editor who knows what they’re doing, good ADR is totally do-able on a low/no budget. Here’s a behind-the-scenes video from the ADR session of my short film Stop/Eject: We got a day in a live room for free and the sound editor recorded it all on his laptop and 416.

  • I once did my ADR with my Zoom H4N and a simple mic inside of my car, worked like a treat :)

  • Good read. Back in 2005 we had to ADR my entire feature film The Rapture (scifi/martial arts/anime). It was a long journey that paid off. The film has continued to be sold worldwide. :) since then I have provided ADR for many independent films. :)

  • i really really really like ADR…i try to always shoot in film and get the best image quality even on lower budget jobs…ADR helps keep your costs down…when there is a sound problem and you don’t really have the budget for too many takes…..ADR makes the sound quality….GREAT…NEXT TO THE TERRIFIC IMAGE!!!!

  • c.d.embrey on 08.5.13 @ 5:37PM

    John Boorman’s “Deliverance” (1972) is 100% looped. Boorman preffered looping, he said it gave him (and the actor) more control over how a line was read.

    • The “Deliverance” was shot outdoors, so having the sound done in post was to be expected. That said, when you’re listening to the dialog in the film, it feels very natural. The voices and SFX sound muffled and directional, as they would have been under the natural conditions in each scene. Most ADR is done with the VO artist speaking directly into a (very high end/professional) microphone from only a few inches away and that’s often how it ends up in the final cut. And that breaks up the realism of the scene.

    • Oakley Anderson-Moore on 08.6.13 @ 6:52PM

      No kidding! I’ll have to rewatch “Deliverance” with this in mind. “Point Blank” is my favorite Boorman flick and now that you’ve told me this, I must find out how much of that was ADR-ed.

  • On my feature I head great ADR soundguy. He had 3 mics setup ( U87 * 2x DPA ) one upclose and 2 in distances. He would watch the cuts and mix the mics to get the natural space for wide and closeness for closeups. It added to the natural sound of it like no other thing.

    I shot whole movie in live situations, mostly outdoor and in convertible. I’ve had some sound from the camera mic, but not always.

    THE WORST NIGHTMARE and TIME WASTER in the studio is when actors improvise text and you can’t hear them. It was countless hours trying to read lips.

    Advantage of ADR is that you can recut the meaning of the scene. I had changed or added some lines where you only see the person listening and it sounded natural. Actually I had to rewrite one whole dialog, so it’s almost all looking at the person which is not talking :)

    We also ( VERY IMPORTANT ) has to do whole PERSONAL NOISE track. We had specialist do recreate all movements ) steps, cloates moving, furniture, doors, water ….

    Then added ATHMOSPHERIC noise (ocean, wind, cars)
    Then ATHMOSPHERIC music ( coming from beach bar )
    Then COMPOSED music

    And then mix it 5.1 . I can tell you it’s long, expensive and exhausting process.

    Sometimes I think we lost little “magic of the moment” in the whole process trying to be perfect. I will try to get as much dialog next time while shooting.

  • “Below, Julie Altus, who has been on the ADR stage at the illustrious Todd-AO for about ten years, explains it all.” – Umm, unfortunately, this article doesn’t even scratch the surface of the gear and technique used in ADR. What mic pre(s) do they use? What plug-ins? What console? What is the shape, size and material of their booth and/or stage? What kind of LAV mic (there are dozens). Love the energy and passion in the writing but, let’s don’t get carried away with hyperbole. “A short discussion with an experienced ADR engineer to pique your curiosity” may be a better description.

  • Fellini used adr a lot!!

  • I done a lot of VO in Hong Kong back in the 80s (horrid stuff that … most things were shot silent) to Japan from the 90s to today. Digital editing has made it easier no doubt and it’s clear that there are advantages to going back into the studio to get a different take on dialog. It certainly is hard to get back into the mood though. In the end, it has worked well and every director needs to be aware of what, when and how. I’ve done re-do audio recordings on set where the visuals worked but the dialog didn’t … that’s tricky but has worked.

  • Ah, finally a discussion about 50% of the movie!! I was in sound post for 17 years, before deciding to pick u cameras and get out into the DP world. So even though I’m now a working DP, I can offer actual real-world info into the mystery that is ADR/Sound post. Hope it helps… for a director to speak the same language as their sound guy…well, would’ve saved me a lot of days on jobs!

    Any post sound guy will break up the basic elements into these groups. This is consistent all over the world.

    Foley: Foots (footsteps), moves (clothing) and spots (things humans touch, move or activate). They were mentioned above, but this is what they’re referred to professionally in a sound suite.

    Atmos: (atmospheric sfx. usually to give mood. Don’t be fooled – having a 5.1 surround mic will NOT give you the atmos your mix engineer needs!!)

    Dialogue: would include both ADR and location recorded material. On a feature film, the mix engineer will want BOTH to be available to him in the final mix. Tip: I have so many times heard this mistake… when you’re recording ADR, keep the distance of the actor to the mic in mind, as well as how loud that actor would’ve needed to project his/her voice to the other actor. I often ask an actor to project to something like a mic stand meters BEHIND the mic. I’ve even worked with recordists who have laser sights on mics, to ensure a good vocal capture. It’s a real art.

    Music: self evident.

    SFX: The zips and caps, the ‘designed’ stuff. Often confused with ‘Spots’ (see foley above).

    The last feature film I was sound supervisor on was ‘Acolytes’. I decided to ADR the whole film… as the three young actors were mumbly, and the producer wanted an ‘international’ film (i.e.: one that could be understood by any audience, not just an Australian one). in ADR, the director actually had one of the main characters change his delivery completely, which made his character solo much more likeable. Yes – things can be fixed in ADR, if you find someone who knows what they’re doing.

    Oh, and with ADR: do yourself a favour, if you can afford it. I cannot stress the difference between a ‘dialogue director’ and a ‘director’ enough… the films director might make, what, one feature film a year, if that? A dialogue director (as I’ve been) makes possibly 15 dialogue tracks for films a year (plus TV shows, plus TVCs etc etc). It’s a different art.

    You may ask… why do I now shoot?

    It’s because productions ceased to have the budget to do the sound well, and I got tired of trying to explain the process to clients who would spend $20K on the shoot, and have $1000 for the sound post. So I traded careers for one in the sun ;)

    My two cents….


    Ex Sound designer/Dialogue director and editor/Mix Engineer/Sound Supervisor
    now happily shooting RED, PMW-F3 and GH2 ;)

  • Kearon – given the expense and/or time constraints, how often does the ADR turn into the “just say your lines, so we can all get out of here” process without the mix, a complicated foley/atmos mix, etc?
    I know, from the Soviet/Russian/Bollywood films and the US TV, that the basic VO was often the final product.
    PS. As far as I know, the pro audio recording began to do the spatial tricks sometime in the mid-60′s. In the lush sound era, the mic placement and the sound mix was designed to be as perfect as possible. Then, with the likes of the “Beano” album, the mics were shuffled to the back end of lobbies while the amps themselves were on full blast and that added natural reverb over and beyond to what amp itself provided. In films, however, it seemed the sound was still very clean.

    • @ DLD: I can only speak from my own experience, but never. I would use high-end films as your guide to what is possible, rather than low-end film as a guide to what crap was acceptable! ;)

      Referring to the spatial discussion, I’ve not heard of anyone in film dialogue mixing using that process – I’ve only heard of it being used in music production in the late 60′s and 70′s (David Bowie was a big fan of it).

      Regards to the Beano album, I’m not familiar with it. Just sounds like recipe for feedback!

      • Right, I’ve got a question.

        I’ve worked at a post-house for years (having a technical music production background) and I have recorded various VO’s for promos and some foley & atmos stuff, but never worked on a ADR project.

        When I watch behind the scenes/read posts about ADR and about multiple microphones, microphone placements etc. all I can think of is surely, in this day and age, and especially as we live in the era of convolution reverbs (and an easy capture of a space for convolution, i.e. the set that you shot in); isn’t that enough with some proper mixing and EQ’ing to achieve pretty much each position convincingly within the variety of shots that you might have within given space?

        I’m well aware of proximity effect on condenser mics etc. and of course on loud dialogues you’d have to get the talent to step back so not to overdrive the mic but to get the talent behind the mic?

        As I said, I’ve never worked on an ADR project so I might be totally wrong and I’m open to any corrections/points of view and I’ve really enjoyed all the comments here and learned a lot from them and the post.

        Maybe it’s just peoples working preference and taste and potentially about the not ‘fixing it in the post’ (i.e. massive EQ’ing / Reverb tweaking).

        P.s. I have massive respect for sound engineers/foley artist/etc. as that side of mixing desk is very close to my roots.