I caught up with Looper’s composer Nathan Johnson to talk about the dynamics between his sound-based score, the sound design of the film and between himself and director Rian Johnson. What follows is part of the transcription of our Skype conversation.
Can you talk about the dynamics between your sound-intensive soundtrack and the sound design of the film?
For any movie, I come on board mainly with the predominant thought to serve the director’s vision. I think that everyone involved in the movie is hopefully following that same approach. Rian (Johnson, director on Looper) has such a clear direction and such a clear idea of where everything is going…but he’s really open to collaboration as well. I think that’s probably a testament to Rian because he’s the ‘master in the middle’ pulling everything together and bringing all these disparate elements to the same park to play nicely together.
Compressors have become more than just gain control units, they can be just as important as EQs in shaping a sound and sometimes even more so. For the mathematically inclined, a compressor works with a transfer function, or in plain speak, it changes its input in a predictable way. The controls of a compressor help specify this transfer function. The most common controls include: threshold (specifies when the compressor kicks in, usually in decibels), ratio (the amount a signal is compressed once it crosses the threshold), attack (the time taken for the compressor to begin compressing once the signal crosses the threshold), release (the time taken for the signal to return to ‘normal’, i.e., for the compressor to stop having an effect) and make-up gain (a post compression gain). It is quite common for a compressor to have other controls like specifying an alternate side-chain signal, filtering of the side-chain signal, choice between RMS and peak detection or look ahead (where the signal is delayed and then compressed).
Building a compressor in Pure Data (or Max) can be fairly straightforward – depending on the functionality you are looking for. For the purpose of this post I will include the following controls:
- Attack and release (with a unified control to keep things simple)
- A choice between peak and RMS detection
- Make-up gain
A typical compressor works by analysing the input signal and applying a reduction in gain to this same input signal based on the parameters specified (threshold, ratio, etc). A simplified schematic:
In this exclusive SoundWorks Collection profile we talk with Sound Designer Tom Myers of Skywalker Sound about his work on Pixar Animation’s latest film, Monster University.
Be sure to check SoundWorks Collection for other great audio profiles.
Episode 11 starts with the hosts answering a backlog of listener questions, including inquiries on recording fire, large file transfers and more. Then we try something new as Rene builds a huge laser cannon blast on the fly while the creative process behind a sound effects is explored. Plus, we announce the first Tonebenders homework assignment…
Check the podcast at Tonebenders.
A message from Randy Thom…
Charles (Chuck) Campbell, whose Supervising Sound Editor credits included the Back To The Future series, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, ET, and Schindler’s List, died in his sleep a few days ago. Chuck was a gentleman statesman in film sound, in addition to being a heck of a sound editor, and he was a mentor to many, many people in our business.
From the Designing Sound team…Our thoughts go out to Charles’ family and friends. His work has had a profound influence on many a sound professional, and his presence will be missed.