Have you ever found yourself imitating the sounds of a lightsaber or a t-rex? Do you actually know what they sound like? We all think that we do, but actually nobody knows.
We believe that these sounds exist simply because we have heard them in movies. These sounds do not exist in our universe, the sound designers of Star Wars and Jurassic Park created them. The process of manipulating recordings from the natural world to create new sounds is referred to as sound design – think Indiana Jones’ whip crack, the Star Trek transporter or Darth Vader’s breathing.
Sound design is a very important aspect of storytelling that every filmmaker should understand. When used correctly, it can be a very powerful storytelling tool. To maximize its potential; include sound in the writing process, practice hyperrealism, and use sound to create an immersive environment for your audience.
INCLUDE SOUND IN THE WRITING PROCESS
The story is the most important part of any production. You can hire the best cinematographer or sound designer, but nothing else matters without a strong idea and story. We began telling stories with cave drawings, moved to oral tradition, then written words, and now technology and media. The best filmmakers take advantage of this technology, writing in powerful scenes that use sound design to enrich their story.
Sound can be used to help set the mood, differentiate characters with themes, and help portray a character’s feelings. For example, say you are writing a scene about a couple’s argument. You have the opportunity to place the characters in an environment that may subconsciously cause tension like a room that contains crying babies or place an aggressive door slam upon an exit to elicit the feeling of anger.
When Francis Coppola and Walter Murch teamed up on Apocalypse Now, they consciously discussed in the writing process how they would us sound to tell the story creatively. They aimed to cross the boundaries between sound and picture. They wanted to create an immersive experience that made the audience feel as though they were next to the characters in the jungles of Vietnam or riding in a helicopter into battle.
This attention to the film’s sound design was a great success and the film has been captivating audiences for over thirty years. The opening sequence is one that clearly incorporates the use of sound design to enhance the story:
This practice of thinking about the sound aesthetic while writing a movie is a common theme among the more advanced filmmakers/storytellers of this century. A few examples include Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones Trilogy, and George Lucas’ Star Wars Trilogy.
When writing a script, invite a sound designer and composer in on a brainstorming session. Focus on creative ways that incorporate sound design and music that engage your audience. This is how the pros create more than just another movie. They create a full sensory experience.
With Netflix streaming about 3.5 years of content and Hollywood cranking out summer blockbusters like candy, audiences are becoming very smart. The expectations continue to grow as the filmmaking technology grows. We have come a long way since the day of silent movies.
Audiences want over the top sound effects. They want the earth shattering explosions and the powerful punches that make them cringe. This concept of hyper realistic sound design has become synonymous with movies and when used correctly can be a compelling storytelling component.
To take advantage of sound design, it is important to consider the genre, mood, theme, and general aesthetic of your project. Typically, the sound design of a comedy will be light and subtle only using hyper realistic sound effects to tell a joke or enhance the story. These keystrokes from this scene in Super Troopers are clearly louder than usual and add to the comedic value.
Sci-fi and action movies require a different approach. The Matrix is a great example of hyper realistic sound effects. In a world where a man can fly and machines run a computer generated reality, sound design is key. Take a look at this punch sequence.
The first punches thrown by Agent Smith feature hard impacts, but when Neo throws a slow-motion cross the impact is soft and the focus turns to Agent Smith’s agonizing gurgle. Then it switches back to normal speed and Neo’s punches sound sharp and hard. These designed sound effects help tell the story and show us who is winning the fight.
Find the right balance of hyperrealism and use sound design to tell your story.
When the most imaginative movies travel to different universes and create completely new worlds, movies have to convince the audience both visually and aurally. As the technology to capture and and manipulate audio develops, directors continue to find new ways to incorporate immersive sound design.
When there are entire battle scenes using CGI, there is often no production audio other than dialogue or ADR. The sounds of massive armies or giant monsters must all be carefully designed. To help convince the audience, filmmakers turn to the sonic storytellers – sound designers.
The Revenant won the BAFTA Best Sound award and was nominated for 12 Academy Awards including Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The director, Alejandro Iñárritu, has a special appreciation for music and sound because of his DJ’ing experience. All of his films have a unique way of telling stories through sequences of no dialogue that feature the blurring lines of sound design and music. He is known for entrancing long shots that keep his audiences on the edge of their seats.
Iñárritu often uses a made up term “cacayanga” when talking with the sound team. In an interview with Randy Thom, supervising sound designer for The Revenant, he attempts to describe what Alejandro is looking for when he uses the term,
“a kind of noise or complexity, the source of which is not readily apparent. He would often ask for noise, that isn’t related necessarily with anything that is showing on the screen.”
Iñárritu seeks the abstract to help set the mood of a scene or give the audience sonic clues. This technique helps keep the audience focused and locked in the moment.
Correct use of sound design is imperative when selling a new environment to an audience. Find ways to capture your audience’s attention through sound design. This video gives a great behind the scenes look into Iñárritu’s thought process and use of sound design.
At the core of any good production is the story, but innovative sound design will complete the sensory experience every filmmaker and audience seeks. Sound and music help provide the emotional context for your story. Enhance your story by including sound design in the writing process, practicing hyperrealism appropriately, and using sound to create an immersive experience.
The Sound Jack offers sound editing, sound mixing, sound restoration and sound design for all video, film, and podcasts. If you like this article please share it or leave us a comment. For more sound help, check out our other articles on sound editing, sound mixing and sound restoration.
Did you ever get so deep into Star Wars imitations that you wanted to become this kid? Enjoy this Sith Lord’s skill and mouth-made sound effects.