Sound Design: Task 2

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 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