Sound Design: Task 1

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 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