Sound Design


Critical Reflection – Vexille

Assessment Task 5 – (Criteria 4.1 & 4.2)

Critically Reflect on the Process and Final Productions you have Created.

Overall I think this project went alright. I enjoyed the recording process at the beginning and found it a very creative and interesting process. Trying to create a sound from scratch proved more difficult than I thought. However, I found the editing process to be quite difficult and time consuming. If I were to do the project again I would definitely start the editing process as early as possible, I didn’t realise just how long it would take to import all of the recordings and synchronise them, let alone adding EQ, reverb and effects.  There are ares in my final piece that I am pleased with but there are areas which could do with improving. Some of the sounds are synched up fine but don’t sound realistic because of the characters environment, for example the ADR on the plane is all synched up but is lacking the metallic echo that you would expect to hear from a place like that. There were so many different aspects to think about in order to make a life-like  and natural sound. During the ADR recording sessions, we had to think carefully about the characters tone, volume and environment. Some of the ADR suits well and matches the character’s tone, but in some places it sounds as though it is being read so it gives a false, forced feel to it. This doesn’t really matter too much because we were focusing on the actual recording and editing process rather than the voices of the characters, plus we used people in our class instead of actors. Sourcing the sounds we didn’t record proved difficult because some members of the group did not complete the tasks they were assigned, leaving it to the individual to search through pages of sounds to find something suitable, which took  long time and I for one could not always find the sound I was looking for. This entire project has made me realise the importance of sound design in film making and how important sound design is to all films. It also made me realise why sound design is often the longest process in a film production.

The biggest issue for me in this project was the editing process, specifically the final export. Because I did my final edit on my laptop which runs on Windows, I encountered a lot of problems with settings, playback and uploading. After trying several times to export the video in many different setting, I eventually had to export my video in a format I didn’t want, although as previously mentioned, I felt it would be better to submit something in any format rather than nothing at all. I will be looking for solutions to this problem so I can export my video in the format specified in the brief.

Although the sound design process is a long and difficult process, I would still like to try and use this method of sound design in the future instead of recording sound on set because the difference in quality is quite noticeable and a good sound design can really elevate the production quality of the entire film.

Vexille

Assessment Task 4 (Criteria 2.1 & 3.1)

‘As a whole group you will act as a re-dubbing sound design team for the Science Fiction Anime film ‘Vexille’ (2007). Your brief is to create a new sound design for the English language release of the film.’

Create a sound design for the first 13 minutes of: ‘Vexille’ (2007)

Brief – As a whole group you will act as a re-dubbing sound design team for the Science Fiction Anime film ‘Vexille’ (2007). Your brief is to create a new sound design for the English language release of the film.

You will be given a muted version of the opening 13 minutes of the film (with subtitles as a guide for dialogue). Therefore, it is your task to research, plan, record, edit and mix the production to the clients specifications.

Your group will be split into smaller satellite teams which will be responsible for different departments in the Production and Post-Production phases. You will then all individually, create a completed, stereo mix of the film.

This particular unit is focused on sound design so therefore you will be graded on your ability construct a coherent and technical competent sound design for the production. You will be expected to use correct equipment to capture audio and also use sound design techniques to enhance the production aesthetics.

 

For this task, our group was split into several groups consisting of 3-5 members. Each group would be responsible for creating and recording certain areas of the sound design for the opening scene from Vexille. The film required a team for ADR (Additional Dialogue Replacement), Atmosphere, Foley and SFX which was split into three subsections of weaponry, impact and machinery. After the recording process, everybody was told to create an individual edit using the sounds created. If anyone wanted extra sounds such as music scores or additional sound effects they were able to do so by sourcing the royalty free sounds online and crediting the artist.

I was in the Foley team and the SFX team but helped out a few times with other groups. I was in a group with Richard and Jordan, both excellent to work with. They created some very creative sound effects that worked well and were really easy to work with. Although the majority of the groups did well and recorded some good sounds, unfortunately not all groups had the same level of commitment. Some members of the group did not record any of the sound effects which made things difficult for everybody else. This meant that several sounds throughout the film were missing and had to be sourced by everybody else. Admittedly there were some sounds that I was responsible for that could have been better but overall I feel the recording process went well with my groups. I think some people in the group did not contribute enough to the project which was a shame as it was meant to be a joint effort by everybody.

Mac Setup

The recording process was done using Jon’s Mac and Garageband, and a selection of microphones (pictured above). The Mac we used was connected to an audio mixer that helped us to establish a decent signal strength before recording. After we learned how to record a decent sound, it was just a case of getting in to the right routine. Garageband was user friendly and I enjoyed learning how to set up a proper recording. After a few attempts at recording footsteps and listening back to the results, I was comfortable with the software and could set up a recording on my own.

Although the recording process sounded simple enough, after a few attempts at recreating certain sounds, we learned just how difficult it can be to create a realistic sounding recording. For example recording the footsteps sounded easy but we had to find the correct surface and layer pillows, shower curtains and many other items we found on top just to create the effects of walking on snow. We had to go through this process many times depending on the surface characters were walking on. Thinking of surfaces and creating them in a studio environment proved to be a creative process that gave rewarding results when done right. Pictured below is myself on the recording desk and Richard, Jordan and Craig creating the noises by the mic.

After all of the sounds were recorded, the sounds were synched to the video by Jordan and Richard who did us all a huge favour and saved everybody a lot of time. Below is a screenshot of the editing process.

My Final Video

At first I tried to export the video at college but the export settings weren’t quite right. It was taking hours to export so after asking Jon, we changed some of the settings and tried again, this seemed to be much better however at 99% a message appeared saying there was not enough disk space to complete the export. By this time it was approaching 5pm so I decided to delete some sounds and videos to create enough disk space and try again at home. I deleted enough to make space and began the export again. However when I tried to play the finished video I was not able to because it was in an unsupported format for my laptop. Annoyed, I tried to upload the video to YouTube but couldn’t (Screenshot Pictured), then I tried Vimeo which didn’t work either (Screenshot Pictured). It was getting late by now so I decided to just try and export anything that I could submit in time. After reading YouTube’s recommended file formats I tried to export the video as an FLV which didn’t work either. So eventually I decided to export using anything just so that I could submit in time. Hence, my video is not in the correct format but I felt I should submit at least something. I’m not sure what the problem was with the exporting of the video but it might have been because I’m using a Windows laptop instead of a Mac seeing as nobody else seemed to have problems. Final settings pictured.

 

‘From The Ground Up’ & ‘The Mirror’ – Building a Sound

Assessment Task 3 (Criteria 2.1 & 3.1)

‘You will build 4 test pieces that focus on particular areas of sound design:

A.D.R, SFX,  Foley and Atmospheres

Each test piece will be an originally filmed narrative sequence, photographed by the entire group. You will then work in small groups to record, edit and mix the sound design for each. Emphasis will be placed on the art of ‘building’ a sound or a series of sounds in layers; from the ground up.’

For this Sound Design task we were given a muted scene from the 1975 Andrei Tarkovsky film ‘The Mirror’. We were then told to build up an atmos track for the short sequence. There was no foley or dialogue, only atmosphere. This was a good exercise because the atmos track is something that is usually done first in the sound design development because the sounds don’t have to be synchronized or even directly associated to on screen action. Hence why this part of sound design is often started before principle photography has even begun.

I worked with Frankie for his project and after watching the scene we both agreed on the kind of feel we wanted to give the video. The video is a very eerie, dark and almost dream like sequence so we wanted the atmos track to match this. We scrolled through pages and pages of sounds from various different websites and used a combination of sounds that gave the impression of a dark, dank and unrealistic experience. Below is our final video after experimenting with different sounds, pitched, EQ, effects and pace.

 

The following videos are taken from our Vexille project.

 

 

 

For more information on the recording process for the clips shown above, please see the Vexille Sound Design page.

Sound Design: Analysis of Sound Design in Different Genres and Formats

Sound Design, Assessment Task 2 (Criteria 1.2)

‘Individually analyse 3 (create a written or digital document) sound design’s from the following 3 categories (1 from each): Film, Animation and Computer Games. Select 1 scene from each text that exemplifies great sound design. However, if you are unable to access any of the titles below please discuss this with your lecturer so that an alternative can be assigned.’

Inception

Inception is a fantastic example of how important sound design can be in film. Along with the epic sounding soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Inception uses sound design perfectly to suit the mood of the film. I will be looking into and analyzing a scene taken from the beginning of the film where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is washed up on the beach (shown above). This scene begins with shot of the ocean and crashing waves in slow motion, the sound of waves crashing against the rocks is also slower than normal so it matches the pace of the ocean. This immediately denotes a dream-like state, this delirious feeling continues when the camera cuts to a close up shot of DiCaprio’s character, Dominic Cobb, with his face buried in the sand and water rolling over him, the sound of the ocean lowers in volume. The slight dip in volume converts the waves to a background noise, this emphasises the visual of the character whilst portraying the feeling, emotion and confusion of Cobb as he wakes up. As the sound of the ocean continues to drop in volume to allow the sound of children playing, laughing and screaming to be prominently heard with a slight musical backdrop that subtly blends in to the atmosphere of the scene. A increasingly heavy bass sound builds up and stops immediately to signify Cobb’s return to an unconscious state. At this point the camera cuts to a shot of Cobb lying face down on the beach with a gun pointed at his back, the camera angle is pointed down at him to show his vulnerability and the cut to an officer reinforces this by the camera angle being pointed upward to show him as a dominating figure. After the officer sees a gun tucked in Cobb’s waistband, he shouts to another officer in a foreign language, no translations or subtitles are necessary as the message is already clear. Now the only audible sound is that of the waves washing up on the shore, as the camera cuts to an interior scene depicting Cobb being dragged in to a grand room, it becomes obvious that this is a flash forward, this is made even clearer by repeating the noise of an approaching bass that abruptly stops as the scene changes. We saw this technique used earlier as the camera cut from Cobb to the security man so already this sound is associated with a change in circumstance. The next scene has an ever present ambient background, a deep atmospheric noise that sits nicely behind the dialogue. Cobb is dragged in by two security guards and sat down at a extravagant table. As he is dragged in, the jingle of keys from the security guards belt remind the audience of their authority, keys denoting the power difference between prisoner and guard. Cobb is shown eating a small amount of food with his face placed very close to the bowl, this connotes his desperation for food and his tiredness however despite this desperation, he stops eating and becomes still and silent when he asked ‘Are you here to kill me?’ by an elderly man sat at the other end of the table. He doesn’t answer. The elderly man continues to talk over the ambient background music and spins a totem, a small brass spinning top that was found with Cobb when he was washed ashore. The totem continues to spin and give of a light whirring sound, which makes a small prop become something with purpose and significance. The sound of the spinning top combines with the atmosphere and gradually builds up once again, by now this foreshadows a change in circumstance – a flashback or flash forward. The camera cuts to a shot of Cobb slowly raising his head as his attention is captured by the elderly man, an overlaying audio of Cobb links this scene to the next. The connecting scene shows Cobb and a few other people, again in a grand looking room. Dressed in suits, Cobb and the other man have a conversation. Again there is a background noise; a deep and rumbling atmosphere that continues to build and build making the switch from a non diegetic sound to a diegetic sound. The room and everything in it begins to shake rattle as the noise continues to increase in volume, eventually this noise becomes very loud, similar to an earthquake it denotes an impending danger. The camera cuts to an extreme close up of Cobbs watch which is ticking unnaturally slowly at first, but rapidly speeds up to become equally unnaturally fast, resembling gunfire. This resemblance to gunfire links the viewer once again to the next scene, which in this case is a flashback to a war like environment. In conclusion, Inception uses sound design excellently, not only to portray the emotion of the characters, but to link scene to scene so it flows fluently throughout the entire film.

Finding Nemo

For animation, I will be looking at a scene taken from Disney’s 2003 film Finding Nemo. In this scene, Nemo’s father Marlin and Dory go looking for a lost mask in the deepest depths of the ocean. This scene lends itself to excellent sound design. The scene, shown above, begins with Marlin, the sensible and cautious character, sat on a ledge feeling hopeless after a mask that had vital information on it plummets to the ocean floor. Dory, the exuberant yet slightly dim character remains optimistic and begins to swim in search of the mask. Throughout this scene and through the majority of the film there is an atmospheric sound that is used to resemble the general noise of the ocean, it also lends itself to movement, with each movement a character makes a suitable ‘swoosh’ of water accompanies it that adds to the intensity of movement. As both the characters descend into the deep, dark waters the dialogue becomes less frequent and the overall atmos sound dips which denotes their loneliness and fear of being in unfamiliar surroundings. There is also a subtle echo on the characters voices to add to the feeling of loneliness and vulnerability in a large environment. This techniques works very well in a time when the screen is totally black as the characters have swam to a point where there is no light, making the sound design even more important as there is no visual to tell the story. Eventually a small light appears in the distance, as this is seen by the characters a quiet violin begins to play, this non diegetic accompaniment adds to the curiosity of the characters as they both begin to advance toward the light.As the light approaches the music volume increases gibing the impression that light is coming closer to the viewer, the music continues to build and the tension rises with it until both the characters are pursuing the light. As the light continues to rise, Marlin and Dory follow it until the light highlights a frightening looking fish behind them. As the fish is revealed, there is an accompanying sound of an almost mechanical noise of the fish breathing, the sound is a much lower pitch compared to everything else, this denotes the dominance and threat of the fish behind them. There is a sudden electrical sound that resembles an animalistic roar as the fish is lit up by its own light trap, showcasing its razor like teeth just inches in front of our main characters. This scene is a great example of how sound design is an essential part of film, it is able to keep the viewers attention and heighten the tension when there is a minimalistic visual. This scene combines sound effects and music perfectly to control the overall pace of the tension, gradually building to the point of an exciting revelation.

The Last Of Us

For this section I will be looking into the importance of sound design in the gaming industry, specifically the 2011 game ‘The Last Of Us’. The opening to this game play begins with the peaceful sound of birds tweeting before we even see any video footage. Immediately, the audience is led to believe that this is a calm situation. As the picture fades up from black to reveal a view of sunshine through trees and leaves this peaceful vibe seems appropriate. However, as the camera zooms out to reveal a smashed window and a room with blood splattered walls, we soon learn that this is not the case. This is a good example of how sound design can lull an audience into a false sense of security. As the sound of the birds tweeting gradually fades out, the camera reveals the gruesome sight of a dead body lying on the bed. There is a few seconds of silence before the sound of blood dripping from the mans arm is all we can hear. This sound is soon disturbed by footsteps running through the pool of blood, which we later see is a young girl. She runs out of the room breathing heavily, showing her exhaustion, but this is quickly overshadowed by what sounds like a fight coming from upstairs. The distant sound of thuds, grunting and creaking floorboards makes the ceiling above her shake, which tells us she is in an old and worn down house. The girl sighs “oh man” and the lack of surprise in her voice shows an almost expected disturbance. She proceeds to run up the wooden staircase at speed, which gives connotations of panic and urgency. As she reaches the top of the stairs, she slowly approaches the doorway from which the noise is coming, before coming to a standstill. The sound of the fighting continues as she takes out a knife from her pocket. The camera cuts to inside the room where two men are revealed to be locked in a fight to the death, striking each other with pieces of wood. We see the girl calmly enter the room as one of the men is beaten to death. The comfortable nature of the girls entrance and the following conversation with the surviving man suggests to the audience they have a close relationship, perhaps father and daughter. The scene is interrupted by the sound of someone or something running towards them at great speed, as they both hurry to hide in another room, the sound of their heavy breathing denotes fear and tension. As they are hiding behind a doorway, the camera reveals a group of inhuman creatures crawling from room to room in search of them. As the male character loads his gun a subtle clicking sound followed by silence suggests impending danger and the squealing sound from another room quickly increases in volume to signify the rapid approach of the enemy. As the being runs through the door and wrestles with the man, the sound of its animal-like attack is silenced by a gunshot to the head. There is a brief moment of silence as the camera cuts to black. Gentle music begins to play, signifying a return to normality. Although the accompanying visual is of a frightened girl running away in wild surrounding, the calm overlaying narration of her voice tells us that this has become routine and normality for both her and her father. In this short trailer we see how important sound design is in industries other than film. Gaming is an ever-growing industry that, as technology evolves, is becoming more and more realistic and with these developments come the need for lifelike sound design to match the lifelike visuals.

Criteria 1.2

Sound Design – The Development of Sound Design

Sound Design, Assessment Task 1 (Criteria 1.1)

You should create a historical timeline (this can be written, graphical or video format) that critically reviews the development of sound design in the film industry. It is important that your timeline discusses the landmark sound designers, landmark companies, organisations, roles and technological developments.

Since the first talkies were produced in the 1920’s, sound has become a hugely important aspect to film making. Sound design in film is now a complex and creative part of the filming process that requires creative innovation and absolute precision. Without sound design, film making would not be the successful industry it is today.

I will be looking into the sound design industry, the landmark pioneers and practitioners who have helped sound design become what it is today and how essential the industry is to film making.

Sound design as we now know it began in the early 1920’s with George Groves, an English sound engineer who is today credited with being ‘Hollywood’s first sound man’. In his early career, Groves was part of the research team at Bell Laboratories and played a huge role in creating the sound-on-disc process, a process that uses a phonograph or other disc type item to record sound to be synced with a motion picture. American film company Warner Brother bought the Bell system in 1925 and a year later Groves was put in charge of recording the soundtrack to Alan Crosland’s ‘Don Juan’ – the fist ever feature length film with synchronized sound.

From here, George Groves went on to record the sound for ‘The Jazz Singer’ in 1927 and many more films including ‘Sayonara’ in 1957 and later ‘My Fair Lady’ in 1964, these two films earned Grove two academy awards for his work. In a career with Warner Brothers that spanned an impressive 46 years, George Grove is now widely recognized for being a real pioneer for sound design in film.

Jack Foley is also a pioneer for modern sound design; know for his real life sound effects. Jack Foley’s process was adding sound effects to films in post production by imitating the actors’ movements and recording suitable sounds such as footprints and environmental surroundings and then syncing them up to the motion picture. The first film Foley used his signature sound effects on was the 1929 film ‘Show Boat’ and his techniques are still used today, hence the term Foley artist. Adding real life recordings in post production is something that is used commonly in most feature films today, so without Jack Foley, who knows where sound design in film would be today.

As film and technology has evolved, so too has sound design. Recording equipment such as microphones have greatly improved throughout the years and with new software there is no limit to the effects that can be created with post production.One man who uses modern technology to create his iconic sound effect is Ben Burtt, arguably the most well known and credited sound designer in recent times. His work includes the sound design for huge motion pictures such as Star Wars, E.T and Wall-E. Ben Burtt is very creative when it comes to his sound design, he is responsible for the famous sound of the lightsabers in the Star Wars films, which were created by Burtt hitting a guy wire on a radio tower with a wrench. This created one of the most iconic and recognizable sounds in modern cinema. The humming sound of a lighbsaber was created by an idle film projector and a broken television set. Burtt is renowned in the film industry for the creative way he discovers sounds, for example in Wall-E, Burrt used a slinky toy to create the ‘zap’ sound of a lazer gun.  This just goes to show how the most seemingly useless objects are often very useful for sound designers in their pursuit for unique yet accurate sounds.

The video below is a short video of Ben Burtt talking about his work on the Star Wars films, Specifically the famous lightsaber sound effect.

After Ben Burtt was hired by George Lucas to work on the Star Wars films in 1975, Skywalker Sound was born. Skywalker Sound is a state of the art facility located in California and used by only top quality professionals.  The facilities at Skywalker sound enable sound designers to create sound effects, edit, mix and record to the highest standards necessary for big budget film. Similar to Skywalker Sound, American Zoetrope is an American film company based in San Fransisco. The company was founded by Director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Cappola. The studio started with low budget films but now handles every aspect of filming and sound design from pre production to post production. The company is now jointly owned by Cappola’s two children Roman and Sofia Cappola. Walter Murch worked with Cappola on the 1969 film The Rain People and then later The Godfather. Working with Cappola was the start of Walter Murch’s sound design career. For his work on Apocalypse Now, Murch won his first academy award in 1979, ten years after his first sound design work.

Skywalker_Studios

Skywalker Sound Studios pictured above.

Sound design has enabled films to access new and exciting heights. Since sound design was created, it has become an art form of itself and when combined with the motion picture it can create realistic and powerful scenes. With the ever growing advancements in technology, sound design will continue to be an essential and artistic aspect of film making in the future that will only become more experimental, creative and artistic. These sound designers show how interesting the sound design process can be. I think the sound design industry will continue to grow with more and more films being produced and with the ever expanding gaming industry there will be more places for sound designers than ever before.

Criteria 1.1