Notes on reverb and dialogue mixing for film

Wow, realistic reverb plugins for film are expensive.

I’m currently doing the dialogue mix for Chicken Surprise, and am finding that Resolve’s built-in Reverb plugin isn’t great for matching dialogue recorded in different places (i.e. ADR). A quick Google search reveals that the best way to solve this problem is to record an “Impulse Response” (IR) with each mic setup at the location, and use a “convolution” reverb plugin with those IRs to match the exact acoustic properties of each room in post. There are ostensibly quite a few good, free convolution reverb plugins out there. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this technique two years ago when we shot Chicken Surprise, or else this would have been a great time and money saver.

There are plugins out there that come with lots of IRs pre-loaded, like those from Acoustic Ease. These seem to be the industry standard in reverb for post-production. Indoor looks particularly cool; it has a Sims-like isometric 3D GUI for controlling the distance and relative positions of your sound source and pickup in various real-world locations. Unfortunately, Audio Ease’s plugins are in the high hundreds of dollars each.

As previously mentioned, there are also free CR plugins, which can be combined with IRs downloaded from the internet. This potential solution merits further research.

Convolution reverb plugins stand in contrast against so-called “algorithmic” reverb plugins, i.e. those that have a bunch of knobs that control things like “room size” and “decay,” to let you design a sound that might not exist in any real-world space. Resolve’s built-in Reverb plugin is this type. Neoverb is another, which seems like a better fit for music than film due to its exaggerative properties.

Eventually I settled on Valhalla Room, which is a popular, realistic-sounding reverb that I’m finding works well for the ADR in Chicken Surprise. The kicker is that all of Valhalla’s plugins are $50 USD, which is actually pretty cheap. In other words, an order of magnitude cheaper than the industry-standards. It sounds great with very little tweaking, which I credit mainly to presets that are named sanely.

(Aside: why do so many audio plugins name their built-in presets things like “bottom of a goblin’s drinking well if it was made of a pringles can” or “scroingo boingo like to party!!” instead of anything that makes sense??)

Another audio revelation this evening: Resolve’s Dialogue Processor is great for fixing off-axis or mumbly recordings in few clicks.