Why add sound design?
Sound design is one of those things that is often overlooked at first when you begin your filmmaking journey but it’s no doubt the most important supporting role to your visuals. Remember the only two senses we use when watching a film is sight and sound.
We often obsess over the image and neglect the use of basic sound design which can add a crucial layer of depth and emotion into our films, also offering a higher production value that we all strive to achieve.
Having great sound will often go unnoticed as the audio tends to impact our subconscious more than the images themselves, although bad sound will most definitely be noticed and taint your film no matter how good the visuals are.
Sound design has an extremely important role in adding emotion to your film, a viewer can get a great idea about the mood from a particular scene just by the ambience alone.
For instance a close up shot of a man smiling and walking down a city street could have the sound of some traffic, general city ambience and maybe a few birds tweeting inn the background to create a peaceful scene. However if we were to add some sirens, hooting and distant crowds shouting to the same close up shot of the man smiling and walking, this would have a completely different emotion of unrest. The sounds would tell us more about the scene than the visuals themselves in such a case.
Apart from the ambience, the use of sound design elements such as drones/atmospheres, risers etc can add another layer by giving the viewer more information. An example of this could be a slow deep distorted riser that builds suspense to the scene and for the viewer to anticipate a climax at the end of the riser. The clever use of audio can guide your audience towards a particular feeling or impression about the character or general scene.
SEE WITH YOUR EARS – how Spielberg creates emotion and shifts the audiences focus with sound design.
Realism vs emotion
While sound design is often added to make a scene more realistic and lifelike by offering foley sounds that appear obvious and intentional, these sound elements can be manipulated in post production to invoke a certain emotion from the scene and help the viewer get a better sense of the situation.
This is where you get more creative with your sound design and instead of trying to replicate sounds exactly as they would sound in real life, you add a slight twist so that the sound feels different yet still familiar enough for the audience to have a connection with what they are hearing.
A great example of this is in Sci-fi movies such as Star Wars where the sound of the ‘Tie Fighters’ was made from the roar of elephants but also resembled the sound of German dive bombers of World War II which subtly reminds us that they are the bad guys. Creating a new sound using other natural sound elements but with the intent of conveying a specific feeling.
Exaggerating certain sounds more than others in a scene could be deemed unrealistic or unnatural but it really helps to guide your audience through the film and invoke an emotion without distracting them from the story.
LYING TO YOUR EARS – how different sounds are manipulated for different uses.
Movement in films can be further accentuated by sound design elements such as whooshes, swooshes, suck-backs, hits etc. These sound elements can be layered on top of foley to make the movements seem more dynamic and rich.
This could be an action scene where a character is punching another and by adding a subtle bassy whoosh everytime the subject swings their arms, it accentuates the speed and velocity of the swing and makes the overall scene feel more detailed and put together. This does not specifically have to relate to the subject within the shot but also the camera movement itself.
These days we have some pretty dynamic camera moves and the inclusion of flowing sound design elements can help guide the audience to feel the sense of speed of a tracking or pan shot as we whoosh past close objects. When we manipulate speed in post production, one could add a slow motion design element to further accentuate the slowing down of time or even amplify the speed of the clouds within a time-lapse.
Transitions seem to be the hot sauce for a lot of travel montages. The use of movement related whooshes help sell these transitions and make the cut as seamless as possible without the audience noticing or it feeling out of place.
Sound design can really be the glue when combining different shots as it helps them feel connected by the audio even if they are very different visually.
Impactful but subtle
Now a common mistake when deciding to delve into the sound of your film is to go a bit over the top. It’s not about complicating your film or trying to be loud but rather how to be as subtle as possible while having the greatest impact and direction to your incredible visuals.
If you get your sound wrong, people will notice and mention it….if you get your sound right, your audience will often applaud the film and not your sound design.
It’s a fine line and these skills are developed over time, weather you’re working on an indy film with a dedicated sound engineer or you’re a run and gun filmmaker doing everything yourself, it’s extremely important to understand how sound can impact your film and the subconscious of your audience.
Record your own vs Sound library
Recording your own sound effects is often a good idea when possible, using a simple shotgun mic (Rode video mic) or an external recorder (Zoom series) is something small enough to carry with you at all times. Having recorded your own specific sound effects (ambience at the very least) is great for unique scenes that may be harder to replicate in post production.
This obviously depends on what you are filming, if it’s a scene you have control over and that can be repeated by actors then there is more time to concentrate on capturing high quality sound but if it’s a run and gun solo documentary and you capture an unplanned moment that can’t be repeated then you may have to look at using sound libraries to add that layer of depth.
There is no doubt we are spoiled for choice these day’s with more than enough libraries available, it all depends on your personal needs and what your budget is. If you are looking to get a few odds and ends for one project then using a service like AudioJungle or Pond5 can be handy.
If you need some royalty free essential design elements such as risers, atmospheres, whooshes, slow-motion and time-lapse effects etc then take a look our complete ‘Essential Flow’ pack.
There is no doubt that sound plays a pivotal role in filmmaking and can add a lot of production value when done correctly. Sound will draw your audience in deeper and add another layer of emotion and movement to your visuals.
It’s worth taking the time to experiment and exercise the use of sound in any form of visual storytelling, you’ll be surprised how well it compliments the visuals and can be used as a storytelling tool to further guide your audience.