BSc Sound Design


Sound Design: No Country For Old Men

Sound Design:

Aims and Objectives:

The purpose of this sound design project is to plan, produce and deliver a 5 minute 5.1 sound design piece for an exert from the 2007 Coen brothers film No Country for Old Men. During all stages of production I hope to achieve a greater understanding of the sound designing process and develop my skills as a sound designer for my own future films. I also hope to achieve a finished product that meets a high standard necessary for successful film sound production, meaning that it needs to add something aesthetically to the film whilst being technically perfect with no playback or format issues. Whilst researching my sound design project I was inspired by a video called ‘Portrait of a Sound Designer’ on Vimeo, this video made me look at sound design in a different way. I really like the way Ali Lacey works and how he creates his sounds using anything he can find. This creativity and professional workflow is something I hope to replicate when creating my own sound design. Ali Lacey uses anything he can to create brilliant sounds and I plan to experiment as much as I can with anything I can find in order to make accurate sounds that compliment the action on screen. During my research I also became inspired by Craig Henighan, the sound designer for Daren Aronofsky’s 2010 psychological horror Black Swan. Craig Henighan inspired me in a completely different way to Ali Lacey in that his sound design for this film in particular really adds to the cinematic experience of the film by taking what’s on screen and giving it a mood, entirely through the sound design, a great example of this is the club scene where Natalie Portman’s character, Nina is dancing with Mila Kunis’ character. Here we see how Henighan begins with loud music to set a mood of normality in the club but then the scene takes on a sinister tone when the dance music is replaced by eerie circus-like music infused with ghostly sounding laughter and voices that surround Portman’s character connoting a sense of entrapment and teasing mockery. The sudden cut back to the loud dance music leaves a sinister aftertaste on the scene that remains with the audience throughout the film, foreshadowing the characters mental state. Ali Lacey and Craig Henighan are two sound designers that inspired and influenced me in my own sound design projects, I wanted to replicate Ali Lacey’s creativity and experimental approach to creating and recording sounds and I wanted to replicate Craig Henighan’s creativity in adding mood and atmosphere to a picture through sound design.

Craig Henighan – Black Swan Sound Design

Portrait of a Sound Designer – Ali Lacey

Black Swan – Club Scene –

Equipment List: Recording Equipment: Zoom H2N, Mini tripod.

Logistics and Planning

Knowing that the recording process of sound design would take a long time and that I would have to record a lot of sounds from home I decided to buy a microphone for myself rather than having to depend on frequently booking out equipment from college. I decided to buy a Zoom H2N microphone as I had used one at college before in practice sessions and found it easy to use and it delivered a great recording. Our second session on Sound Design in class provided enough test footage to know that I was getting a decent microphone. (http://www.garethskinner.co.uk/sound-design-session-2/).

Before recording anything for my sound design I watched the 5 minute sequence from No Country for Old Men a few times over just to familiarise myself with the theme of the film and begin thinking of ideas for the recording process. After I felt comfortable with what I had to create, I created a rough list of the sounds that I would have to create,these sounds were strictly used to denote the action taking place on screen – ‘see sound hear sound’ aspects of the film such as footsteps, gunshots and impact sounds that were evident on screen. On a separate list I wrote down any ideas I had for connotative sounds such as ambience, music and non diegetic audio.

See sound – Hear Sound List: Footsteps – road, pavement, wooden floor. Gun click, lock shootout, impact sounds, gunshots, breathing, windows smashing, doors, opening/closing, foley, car engine, car crash.

The initial list for my denotative sounds seemed short but the sounds i noted down required multiple variations. For example, although I only noted down ‘footsteps’ this would include footsteps on wooden floors at different speeds, different footwear for each character, changes in location and many more factors I would need to take in to consideration when recording. This list was simply used to separate what I would have to create from what is seen on screen and what I would have to imply, suggest or connote what was making sound.

Connotative Sound list: Ambience/ music? Radio? Background Sirens? Voices? Impacts? Again, this list was used purely to separate areas of sound.

Recording/Post Production After I had created the lists of sounds I needed to create, I got straight on with the recording process. I chose to record my sounds in chronological order so I always had a clear idea of what I had left to do. Whilst this workflow worked well for me in terms of keeping track of what I had done, it did have drawbacks. There were times where I had to go back and create the same sounds on different days where I could have done it all at once. For instance, I recorded footsteps on multiple days at different times when in hindsight it would have been easier to record all the footsteps at the same time. During the recording process one of the most frequent occurring problems was noise when recording. Because of the nature of the scene, a lot of the recordings sounded more realistic outside but this meant having to deal with background noise and weather conditions. As I found out during our first session in class, having complete silence during the recording process is of vital importance to get a good, ‘clean’ sounding recording. (http://www.garethskinner.co.uk/sound-design-session-1/).

Using the footsteps as an example again, I tried to recreate the sound of footsteps on pavement indoors but the surfaces just didn’t sound realistic and when dropped into the Premiere Pro timeline, it was evidently inaccurate

The recording process went smoothly and I was pleased with the sounds I had created. There were a few sounds which were difficult to recreate or source but I tried to be as creative as possible when recording and eventually got a sound I was pleased with, often using unorthodox items. For glass smashing I used the sound of a walnut being smashed, when a shotgun was fired at a door I used kindling and bubble wrap was used to recreate the sound of curtains being pulled.  Using everyday objects to create accurate recordings that fit the film sequence is definitely influenced by Ali Lacey and his workflow. The Premiere Pro sequence settings:

Sequence Settings_SD

After I had recorded all of my sounds, I spent some time labelling and organising my sound clips in to specific folders so I could easily find the clips when assembling my edit.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.23.01

 

With all my sounds recorded, labelled and imported to my project I started my edit. Like the recording process I tried to edit my sounds in chronological order. The most common problem I found was timing and synchronising. Footsteps in particular were difficult to synchronise and on occasion I had to use effects to make it work. Although I watched the footage at the same time as recording to try and match up the timings, the recordings were sometimes too fast or too slow. This usually meant having to speed up or slow down parts of the recording using the speed control in Premiere whilst maintaing the pitch.

 

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Because of the way I had clearly labelled my sound recording and set up my project, the editing process went well and I had a smooth and fluent workflow. In the space of a few days I had a completed edit that I was pleased with and all I had left to do was some minor EQing and to export my finished product. To make sure I was happy with all of my sounds I went through my timeline on Premiere and solo’d each individual sound to make sure it sounded natural and suited the film. The main thing that stood out to me was the voice clip I recorded for Josh Brolin’s character when he got in the truck. Because I recorded the voice in the sound booth for a clean sound, it sounded too ‘clean’, there was no atmosphere in the background and it felt and looked unnatural. So I added a Low Pass effect to the clip and altered the setting a small amount which gave a much more true to life sound.

 

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In order to export our final 5.1 mixes, we had to export through a few programmes so we could bypass the setting in Premiere that prompts you to purchase the ability to export in Dolby 5.1. After I exported my project through Premiere, Audacity and Encore I played back my finished 5.1 Sound Mix in the sound booth a few times just to double check there were no problems and overall I was very pleased with what I had produced.

 

Critical Evaluation: In order to gain objective feedback for our finished products, as a classed we arranged to come in to college and spend some time viewing each others finished projects and offering feedback and constructive criticism. The general feedback for my finished sound design was positive. I received some really useful feedback and people were honest with their opinions on what worked and what could have been improved. Everybody seemed to agree that aesthetically it worked, I was told by Jon that I had ‘accurate acoustic qualities of foley’ and that I ‘created a three dimensional world through richness of tone and depth’. The feedback for the car scene specially was largely positive, with the EQ of my voice recording sounding correct and natural, this was really pleasing to hear because I took the time to edit that sound accordingly so it would sound right. I also received feedback on areas that could be improved which was very useful to hear.

There were moments in the film where the foley was ‘too pronounced’ which after hearing it played back through a proper 5.1 stereo system is something I agree with myself. I think this could have been improved by simply dropping the entire volume level slightly on the footsteps toward the end of the scene. There were also times when the panning of a sound was too obvious and unnecessary, again this is something I completely agree with after hearing it played back. Footsteps in particular were panned from right to left throughout the film when I think it would have sounded more realistic being just left in the centre. Panning any sound really accentuates the movement of a character and sometimes this can become off putting. Finally there was slight issue toward the end of the scene where there was a slight earthing buzz that must have come from one of my recordings. This was a little disappointing for me because I checked through my final export so many times to make sure nothing like that could be heard but I think I must have not heard this because of the quality of the headphones I used to edit and mix my sounds with.

Playing back our final products in a very high standard 5.1 system was always going to sound very different to what we’ve heard before. However this is something that has to be thought about when taking on sound design, the quality of 5.1 playback allows you to hear frequencies that you can’t hear on low quality headphones. This is definitely something that I’ll consider in future sound design projects. Overall I feel very pleased with my final sound design. I think I accomplished what I intended to produce and I learnt a lot about the process of sound design for film. I became a lot more comfortable with recording and editing equipment and now have a completely different outlook on the importance of sound in film. It’s an extremely creative process that can really elevate a film and create an aesthetic that can’t be made using images alone. My influences, Ali Lacey and Henighan, definitely helped me to accomplish something I was proud of. Using everyday objects to create sounds was something I thoroughly enjoyed doing and something I’ll look forward to doing again on future projects. I also learnt that sound design is not simply a case of recreating the sound you see on screen, it’s often the sounds you can’t see that make the biggest impact and alter the way we look at and experience films.

Finished Video:

 

Appendices

Sound Design: Session 3

9th October 2014

This weeks task task was to mix and deliver a 5:1 mix in Premiere Pro using third party sounds.

Before we started sourcing our sounds, we learned about the six surround sound design fundamentals; ambience, flyover, horizontal rotating, presage effect, sound shower from top and close effect.

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I was paired with Frank and we decided to try and make a sequence that would include as many of these techniques as we could fit in. We decided to create the sound of a war zone as there are a lot of royalty free sounds available in this category and it would give us a good opportunity to use these six techniques creatively.

We made a list of all the sounds we wanted and how we would want to use them and set about sourcing them from freesound.org. After we had collected all the sounds we wanted, we began the edit. We used a combination of sounds to try and tell the story of a boat landing on a beach in war time. We used the rain sound effect with the ‘sound shower from top’ technique to try and make it sound as though rain was actually falling. We did this by centring the sound in the middle to begin with and then dispersing it to the left, right, surround left and surround right. We also used a helicopter sound with the ‘flyover’ effect to denote the helicopter physically flying overhead and off in to the distance. To create this effect we have three identical clips starting at the left, center and right, the left then gradually moves to the surround right, the right to the surround left an the center just moves back.

We continued to play around with sound effects, using horizontal rotating with bullet ricochets and water sounds as ambience and in the afternoon we had a finished result that we were pleased with.

Sound Design: Session 2

2nd October 2014

Creating a ‘Sound Picture’

This week our task was to create a ‘sound picture’. To do this we have to tell a story solely through sound, no visuals. We were split in to small groups and told to choose a Grimm fairytale to portray through sound alone. We would then all listen back at the end of the day and the rest of the group would try to tell which story we had created. The emphasis would be on how we added effects to the audio to create a good story, rather than the quality of the recordings.

Myself, Richard and Frank were in a group and we chose to tell the story of Hansel and Gretel. We felt this story had the most potential to create a good story through sound because of the frequent change of environment and action that takes place.

We sourced almost all of our sounds from freesound.org as they offer a wide array of royalty free sounds and anything we struggled to find we recorded ourselves. The first thing we did was sit down and discuss the sounds we would need for the edit. We created a list of sounds that would tell the story and set about sourcing them online. By the afternoon we had sourced all the sounds we would need for the edit so the rest of the day was spent putting the sounds together and adding effects to paint a mental image of the story. We began with the footsteps and gradually panned from left to right to give the audio some depth and perception. We layered the sounds on separate layers so we could play around with the effects and volume of each individual recording. We experimented with panning, volume, key framing and increasing and decreasing bass with the sound and by 4pm we had a finished product that we thought told the story well.

Layering the Audio

We played back our edit to the rest of the group and everybody seemed to guess that our chosen story was Hansel and Gretel, which was pleasing. It was an interesting process playing around with the effects of the audio to portray depth and perspective and is definitely a process I plan to introduce to my work in future.

Our finished ‘picture sound’:

 

Sound Design: Session 1

Creating an explosion sound from scratch:

Our task this week was to create the sound of an explosion from scratch. We were split in to two small groups and located ourselves in the E block which gave us the freedom to be as loud as we wanted without disturbing anybody and we didn’t have to worry about damaging any expensive equipment.

We used a Zoom H2N microphone to record the sounds in the morning and in the afternoon we edited the sounds together to create our finished explosion sound.

The first thing we did was sit down and talk about what sounds we needed to create. By thinking of an explosion sound in layers, we were able to diagnose the individual sounds we needed. An initial impact, the ‘blowing up’, and the resonating aftermath.

The initial impact sound was made by hitting an old wooden door that was balanced over stairs. We recorded this sound a few times just to make sure we got a good recording. We also recorded the sound from different points. First we recorded the sound by the door which gave us a loud recording with heavy bass but we also recorded from the end of the corridor which gave us a longer lasting sound that resonated much longer than the other, but we also lost a lot of the bass and volume from being further away from the impact.

For the sound after the impact we needed a lower, rumbling noise that would resemble the explosion expanding. For this sound we placed the microphone underneath a plastic bin and hit the top of it. By essentially turning the bin in to a drum, we heard a low booming sound that we thought would give us the sound we were after. Although it sounded ideal to us, the recording sounded completely different to what we heard. The recording sounded like a soft tap with very little fall off so we had to think of something else to make the rumbling sound. We moved the bin to a different room with a softer, carpeted floor and recorded the sound from outside the bin this time which gave us a much better recording that we were pleased with.

Recording

After these sounds were recorded, we had the bulk of what we needed so for the rest of the morning we experimented with recording various things to see if they would fit in to the explosion sound. We recorded the sound of Jon kicking a metal pip that echoed nicely through the corridor, this gave us a great metallic sound that resembled the sound of metal falling on the ground after an explosion.

 

 

In the afternoon we edited the sounds together in Premiere. We layered the sounds so we could individually play with the sounds volume and effects and eventually we came up with an explosion sound that we were all pleased with.

Editing Screenshot