A Step Towards Sound Design

But what really is Sound Design? How would we define Sound Design when it comes to the film/tv/games discipline? Most people would just think of it aesthetically as a collection of sounds in space, which is true to an extent. But then whats the design in this?

Practically speaking, I could just take a bunch of sounds and mash them up to create a sound scape or an effect or whatever we’re trying to do.

The design factor in this whole scheme comes alive when you organize these sounds. Speaking in terms of music/film/tv/games, whichever sound you choose to put in, it should have a very distinct relation with what is happening on-screen. Now if we delve in stuff like diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, then this will be an endless conversation. BUT! To help explain better, let me walk you through my workflow when I am cutting backgrounds for films.

First and foremost, I see whats happening on-screen. This is very important that you take a look at the scene/sequence and absorb what it really needs in order to shine. By observing the elements on-screen, you can have a fair idea of what should be there in your sound scape. These things are needed and are essential. For example, you may see some birds pass in the background during the scene so you can take a decision to put some birds in. You want it to connect to the visual. You can have the frequency of the bird chirps/whatever to be somewhere around the frequency of the birds seen on-screen. Very basic stuff. But someone inexperienced would just put in some chirpy little birds and let them run for the whole scene. A. Its monotonous and B. it doesn’t go with what is happening on-screen. You gotta cut your sounds in a way that you can relate the sounds to the visuals. So I guess you understand this bit now.

Secondly, see what is not shown on-screen but can probably help enhance the visual imagery and/or emotions. Like for example, there a grass field shown. You can take the liberty to put some wind with dry leaves or a field insect/cricket here. If you cut it and integrate it the right way in your existing sound scape then it will feel right at home. Not all field have insects buzzing in them. But maybe here it helps the scene. If used the right way then these kind of elements can be used to create that feeling of eeriness in the audience or to calm them down after an intense sequence. Totally depends on what you want the audience to feel.

With the combination of these two techniques, you can have a pretty decent sound scape going that gels with the image on-screen, provided you edited everything the right way.

Now again, we come to the same point. So I saw whats happening and mashed up a few sounds and I think it sounds great. This was pretty simple.

Well, it’s not so simple. Sound selection is very important. Which bird you chose out of tens of thousands of bird sounds in your library? Which field insect did you choose? What was its frequency? These are factors which are essential to a successful sound design. You need to have a sense of what sound to choose and what not. You might get a background layer in your library which you think has all the elements that you need in the scene and you instantly import and cut it up to your scene. This is okay but there is no depth, there is no control. How do I spread that sound in space when am making pre-dubs? What if I want the wind to be at a lower level? You need to choose individual sounds that fill/make up the sound you are trying to create. They all need to have a reason to be there and all should have their own individuality. This way you gain control over the elements. Now you can tweak around the volume/pan and do crazy stuff with it and get it to a nice place! If you creating a sound effect, then in the end when all layers are played back together then the whole sound itself should sound one as if they all came from the same place and yet you should be able to listen to all the sounds that you put in to make that particular effect.

The great Walter Murch once said,

Sound has a great power but it is a conditional power. It places the image in a physical and emotional context, helping us to decide how to take the image and how it integrates itself into everything else.

Food for thought.

And in the end, all these technical things aside. The one thing which is the most essential to your sound design.

Its your heart. You need to feel the emotions, in your heart, that you are conveying. The culmination of the dialogue, foley, sound effects, backgrounds and music, mixed masterfully, should convey this emotion.

 Some places on the internet to help you discover more:

SoundWorks Collection

Designing Sound

Film Sound.org

Sound Design Stack Exchange

Find Sounds

Free Sound

Pro Tools Expert Blog

Sound Designers French Forum

E-Home Recording Studio


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