How It’s Made (Of Fail) – Star Trek: Galilea, Episode Five

I do tend to get a lot of questions on how to set up podcasts and similar projects – it is, after all, why I made the podcasting tutorial that I’m proud to say still gets a lot of shares today – and with the positive feedback I’ve been getting for Star Trek: Galilea, I figured I’d go over the process of creating an episode!

The first step is the Writers’ Room Meetings. As I do not write Galilea on my own, I have multiple writer’s meetings with Noel, Alina, and Adam every month to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of not only the episode we’re working on, but the season as a whole.

We trade off writing the scripts each month; for example, Noel wrote the script for Episode Five, Alina’s writing the script for Episode Six, and I’ll be starting the script for Episode Seven pretty soon. We then get together for revisions and continuity, and several drafts are passed around until we settle on a final revisions.

Once we have a finished script, I compile it in my script-writing program – I use Celtx, which is free and pretty easy to use, but there are other alternatives, including a few Word templates floating around the internet. The settings I use for Celtx include auto-numbering the lines, which eases editing immensely. I then export it to a PDF format and prepare to send it to my voice actors.

When we have new roles, I put up audition information, which we then use to fill the roles. Once we have all the roles filled (including the same actors for the recurring roles from previous episodes), the scripts go out with a two-week recording turnaround. The actors are encouraged to send me multiple takes of each line, with all the takes for the line together and each line in a separate file. These files are then labelled with the line number, so for example I’ll get a folder from Paulina Logan, with BE_34.mp3 and so on, where the 34 refers to the line number. That way I can quickly load it into Audacity without having to hunt through the script to see which line is what.

The basics for putting together an episode are the same as what I have listed in the podcasting tutorial; the main things I do are all listed there.

I always have the following open at all times when I edit:

  • The script, usually in a Celtx window open in the background, but sometimes it’s easier to just print it out and have it next to me.
  • iTunes, where I have my movie/TV/game/etc. soundtrack collection open (since this is a fan project and non-profit) (I couldn’t use any of it for an original series) (anything royalty-free or public domain would work for that though).
  • My sound-effect folder and the folders I have the line readings saved in.
  • The internet for, Sound-Bible, and other sound effect websites.

There are multiple editing processes that you can do, including Scene-By-Scene (processing each scene separately and putting them together at the end), Incremental (doing it in small bits at a time), and Multi-Pass Elements (processing all the speech first, then going back and putting in music and sound effects later), and all of these are valid ways to edit. Learn what makes you comfortable and play around with it! I personally like to do it All In One Pass, where I do the whole thing chronologically, layering in the music and sound effects as I go. It takes a long time – I average about one hour for every five minutes of audio for Galilea. As a comparison, the Made of Fail podcast took about one hour for every fifteen minutes of audio, and that was when I learned how to go in and clean out my own stuttering.

Every episode requires the basics for the final construction: Every actor records their lines separately, so I have to put them together and arrange them conversationally. Most of the actors record multiple takes, with varying inflections, mannerisms, and vocal patterns, which allows me to select which not only sounds the best, but also flows well with the surrounding audio.

The fastest way to do that is to put the whole line in, listen to all the takes, then highlight the segment I want to keep and select Trim. This functions similar to a photo editing’s “Crop” function: It removes the surrounding bits and leaves what you want to keep exactly in its place.

Next is the cleanup. Some people (WESTON) have a bit more background noise or microphone feedback in their recordings than others, so sometimes I need to run the Noise Removal tool, as detailed in the podcasting guide. The next part is basic audio balancing; I used to do this all by hand, but there are a few tricks I’ve learned since then.

For each line, I run them through Compressor, which smooths out the irregularities in the file, and the Normalize, which brings it roughly within a standard volume level. I then play with the individual gain sliders on the tracks, but I don’t spend a lot of time tweaking the balance to be perfect because I can get it all balanced at once in the end. To run whole tracks or individual segments through an effect tool, highlight what you want and then run the tool. Most have default settings that don’t need to be changed, so it’s pretty easy.

Next is the fun stuff.

Episode Five had parts where voices were played through speakers. Depending on the quality of the speakers, you can mess with the audio to get different effects. While Star Trek had pretty much perfect sound quality when people were speaking through the viewscreen, there’s the visual distinction that lets people know it’s being broadcast. In an audio-only medium, we need that distortion to clue us in.

The High-Pass Filter tool strains certain wavelengths and gives the audio the tinny warble that speakers would give. I usually leave the default settings where they are (1015hz) and give it two passes. You can tell the difference in the cold open of Episode Five, where Captain Surak is speaking over the viewscreen and we’re “on the bridge” with Romulan Commander Valkon.

For more distortion (interference, lower-quality speakers and military/helmet radios), I use the FFT Filter. There are specific settings I researched, and this distorts the audio nicely. I usually interweave these with the High Pass filter for added effect, and just repeat it over and over for more distortion.

The setting you want for this effect looks like this:

The last fun effect I used was the Loudspeaker Reverb for when Commander Brunhilde Engelstadt and Chief Petty Officer Variel Wallace were using the Waverider Shuttle’s external speakers to address the Romulan demolitions team on the ground. This uses the same speaker and distortion effect as above, but before I did any of that, I added some reverb. I played with the settings on this tool until I got the effect I wanted:

Then I ran it through the speaker effect filters as described above.

Sometimes the music you want to use has an irregular audio balance throughout, and as you put it in, it’s nice and soft at the beginning but then reaches a loud crescendo, but then goes back really soft. You can manually go in with the Envelope Tool and shape the segments to give the volume you want, with very fine control over any distortion you might get from an auto-balancing tool. It requires a bit of trial and error, but it comes out pretty nicely in the end.

Once you have all your vocals in, you can Quick Mix them into a single track by highlighting the tracks you want to use first. Once you have them in a single track, you can highlight it and Export Selection as .WAV. This gives you a large high-quality audio file which can be run through Levelator, a wonderful and free program that auto-balances audio. This is why I try to get everything close enough earlier, but don’t bother to spend the time getting everything perfectly matched against each other, because I can just use this. I run it through, take the output track and put it back into Audacity, and get rid of the old unbalanced track. It matches up perfectly.

After going back and giving a quick listen to make sure everything’s the way I want it, I can go and put in the MP3 information.

Then I compile it all to an MP3, upload it, and make the post!

And that is how we made Episode Five.

2 thoughts on “How It’s Made (Of Fail) – Star Trek: Galilea, Episode Five

    • You should write the city planner’s office. See if they can reduce the Motorcycles Per Square Inch ratio a bit.

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