The subtle but obvious art of Sound Design

sound design

Aren’t we all amused when we watch a film on the big screen? The visuals put us in awe and elevate our senses to feel something different from our regular feelings. A film makes us feel something that we have never felt before, it is impossible to describe but can the visuals do this alone? Have we ever taken a pause to think about all the elements that complete a film? I am talking about something that we can’t see but are in the presence of all the time- yes I am talking about the art of Sound Design.

Sound is present all around us at all times. It is impossible to imagine a life without sound. All music is sound, every movement has a sound, its faint but it is there. So why do we forget about it when we watch a film? When we come out of the cinema hall, we always say:

“Amazing editing”
“Ohh man.. that shot was just too good”
“The places they can put the camera nowadays is amazing”

We never talk about sound even though it is more than 60% of a film. Try watching a film without sound, see how interesting it looks. Even silent era films had some kind of sound. During viewing usually, a pianist or violinist either performed from sheet music or improvised. The silent era films existed because of the technical challenges of recording sound at that time (1890-1920) but eventually as technology caught up, live sounds made their way into the film. Suddenly actors job became more challenging as they had to learn and speak dialogue, combined with the inferior sound technology of that time, speaking as an actor was particularly challenging. These films that had people talking were aptly called ‘Talkies’.

Let’s watch a video:

Use headphones and volume up for this one.

If you’d have noticed, every sound till the Djembe is completed is the location sound arranged to form a rhythm. This video is years apart from the first film with live sound and the interesting thing to note here is that sound is directing the edit of the visuals. Sound has made its way deep into the art of filmmaking. There are sound scripts being made and it is more than just an element of the process. It is just as important or some might say even more important than the visuals.

It is true that there are films with no sound at all but it really isn’t true. Nothing being audible does not equate to sound being absent entirely. In fact, the absence of sound is a sound and there is ambience present at all times.

Sound design is now an integral part of the filmmaking process. We have reached a point where when it gets difficult to record the on-location sound, we use something called the Foley sounds. Foley sounds or the technique of creating sounds for a film after it has been shot is called Foley recording named after Jack Foley. Jack developed this method of recording sounds in a studio over the visuals. The sounds are recreated using different techniques and the people who do this work are called Foley artists. The following video explains it further:

These were the artistic aspect of sound design in a film and we haven’t even hinted of music even once. The technicalities of sound design really reveal themselves when we move to the post-production stage. Here we don’t just deal with what can be heard but also what can be seen on the screen in the form of waves. No sound editor can work without looking at the wavelengths on the screen. Operating a digital audio workstation (DAW- A program that can manipulate, create and edit sounds) is a skill in itself and demands a lot of diligence. It’s here that lines between art and skill are blurred. A sound editor in part is a sound designer and vice versa.

I will conclude this article with the films that I think have amazing sound design: Whiplash, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, The Lord of the Rings, Arrival, Ponyo, The Lives of Others, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. This is a very conservative list and there are definitely many other films with great sound design.

Finally adobe has a great library of foley sounds that is free to use.

Author avatar
Ronak Parmar
Art, Design and Technology excite me and keep me busy all the time, I am constantly in search for new things to learn. Having a curious mind, I have taught myself Music Production and web design and development. I can say one of my hobbies is to learn new things.

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