Thinking Before Design
With news of a new plugin or new software feature every other week, it is easy to get lost in a myriad of technological ‘solutions’. It is easy to get lost in the “What plugins can I use?” thought. It is easy to forget that sound design is more about communication.
It might be interesting and rewarding to take a step back from the computer to pause………………..and……think.
What is the scene (or gameplay situation) about? What is it trying to communicate? Is anything else (acting, animation, music, voice over, dialogue) already communicating this? Can you support it, supplement it or add another dimension to it? What value is the sound adding to the scene?
It might be more rewarding to take another step back and grab a piece of paper – before you let yourself loose on your sound library. Write down ideas! Don’t be judgemental yet! Allow your mind to create. Allow yourself to be creative without boundaries.
Recently, I have started solving design problems by associating words with the ‘problem’. I find myself usually using cliches and then making them more sophisticated/different as I progress. For example, if I need to come up with a sound for a ‘lightning spell’, I ask myself these questions to begin with:
- Does it do good or evil? EVIL
- What sounds can be evil/frightening/powerful (its lightning afterall!)? Use of low frequencies, animal/monster growls, groaning metal, piercing higher frequency sounds, wood creaks.
- What is the ‘life-plot’ of the sound? (It must begin and end somewhere): If it is lightening, it must crack and then resonate. Quick attack, some sustain, longer release. Most of the power must be communicated in the attack/decay. Must the lightning be literal or can I create something that can be strongly associated with lightning?
Once I have a prototype, I ask myself:
- Does this sound communicate my intentions? (This is usually the best time to get feedback from someone else).
- Is there anything else I can do to make my intentions more clear?
- Must I rework my ideas? Must I think fresh? Do I need more information from the director/designer/supervisor?
I might end up using all of those ideas or none. But, what it forces me to do is to think about the intent of the sound before the process of design. Once I have ideas, I can move on to thinking about the plugins/editing techniques/microphones/tools that help me realise these ideas.
Maybe writing down ideas or associating words might not work for you, but it will be worth the effort to pause………………..and…….think, even if it is for a few minutes, before beginning on a (intimidating!) canvas of nothingness.