Categories Menu

Posted by on Jun 26, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 26 – The Establishing Field

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

This week, I’m returning to the little thread of visual analogs that I had going for a while.

I recently finished reading William Whittington’s Sound Design and Science Fiction, and he had an interesting idea that hadn’t occurred to me before. Background sounds…ambience, the sounds of the space…are sound’s “establishing shot.” The visual establishing shot is a moment of wide perspective. It lets us see the space, what occupies it, and where the characters fit within that space. The blocking and positioning can immediately give us a number of clues as to what’s happening both physically and emotionally in the scene. It’s important to note that the establishing shot doesn’t always happen at the beginning of the scene though.

The background sounds we put into a scene become something similar, an establishing field, and we can do interesting things with that. They let us know what’s taking place outside of the frame, and help us establish the space and the actions taking place within it. This establishing field can precede an establishing shot…picture a close up shot, with the sounds of the environment, while the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the space. That type of combination can create tension. The establishing field can replace the establishing shot entirely, never allowing the viewer to see the larger picture. That can be an excellent way to lock the viewer into a character’s perspective. The polar opposite, which can have the same effect, is to completely deny the viewer of the establishing field. We can transition from an establishing field to a tighter focus on particular sound elements…which has its own implications based on the context.

Just remember that there’s a whole host of narrative effects that can be engendered exclusively through the use of background sounds. How you think about those elements will have an enormous impact on how effectively you use them.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 19, 2016 | 0 comments

Sunday Sound Thought 25 – When Less Is Not More

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

I went to see a period war film last night, and something stuck out to me. Well a lot of things stuck out to me, but one thing in particular really pulled my attention. [ed. This was an indie film from outside the U.S., so stop looking at listings trying to guess which one… ;)] There was a scene where the film took the classic approach of slow everything down ever so slightly, strip almost all of the sounds, and alternate between a montage of violence and the protagonist looking shell-shocked. It’s something we’ve seen many times in many films, and it’s become a form of cinematic short hand to put the viewer within a character’s perspective. There’s also an assumption that, I think, comes along with the adoption of this approach: that it’s going to work.

In this case, it did not.

When used properly, the concept of less is more can be a powerful story-telling philosophy. It has to work in the context though, and less is more certainly doesn’t mean strip absolutely everything out. This particular scene did just that, everything was gone except for the oh-so-favorite shell-shock sound of tinnitus. The scene lost all its pacing, it dragged and felt way too long…despite the variance in pacing of the visual edit. There was something about the combination of context, use and duration of the treatment that just pulled me out of the story and made me wonder, “How long is this going to last?” The thing that hit me, as I sat there waiting for the film to get on with the story, was that sound could have fixed the pacing in this moment…it could have given the sequence an emotional trajectory. It just actually, for a change, needed more sounds to do it.

…not many mind you; a handful would have gone a long way…but that’s still more.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 12, 2016 | 6 comments

Sunday Sound Though 24 – Proper Use of Clichéd Sounds

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

Besides the obvious answer of, “DON’T!”

This week’s post was inspired by the use of the Wilhelm Scream in the film Warcraft, and various conversations surrounding its usage that spotted last night. One of which I got involved with, despite not having seen the movie. [ed. …and no. I don’t plan to…ever, if I can help it.]

Regardless of how you feel about it (I personally want the madness to stop) clichéd sounds can have their place, but it’s all in how you use them. If you absolutely must see if you can sneak it past the director and/or producer, then I can only see two ways of doing it:

  1. Bury it. Make it so that YOU have a hard time hearing it in the piece you’re working on. Only people who are actively searching for it should be able to find it. Don’t let it draw attention to itself.
  2. Use it in an exceedingly clever way. The problem with this is that as soon as someone has done that, you can’t use that approach again…ever. Sounds like the Wilhelm have been bouncing around for decades. It’s getting harder and harder to use it in a clever/subtle way. If you can’t do something new with it, DON’T! A good example of a clever use comes from Tron Legacy (2010):

YouTube Preview Image

There’s one other instance where it can be acceptable to draw attention to a clichéd sound, and that’s by turning it into a self referential joke. If you can make people who are sick of it laugh, then people who aren’t aware of it will probably enjoy the joke without the full knowledge of what’s happening. The film Over the Hedge (2006) did this very well with a mosquito.

And that’s about it. Anything other than these three approaches is likely to earn you the ire of soundies and the general populace. You have been warned!

Read More

Posted by on Jun 5, 2016 | 1 comment

Sunday Sound Though 23 – Training the Audience?

As the year continues, many of these posts will be philosophical in nature. Some will be in contradiction to previous postings. These are not intended as truths or assertions, they’re merely thoughts…ideas. Think of this as stream of consciousness over a wide span…

I was watching Indie Game: The Movie on Thursday for the first time (yeah, I’m a little late on seeing it), and something Edmund McMillen, developer of Super Meat Boy, said caught my attention. He was talking about designing levels to train the player in the game’s mechanics. In particular, he was expressing the importance of giving the player the opportunity to discover the mechanics for themselves. He argued that throwing text up on a screen to explain it would be less effective, because most people would probably ignore or skip it. If they were forced to figure it out for themselves though, it would ensure they remember the mechanic while also giving them a sense of accomplishment.

This got me wondering. A few years ago, I wrote a two part article about semiotics and language as they relate to sound design. McMillen’s comments made me wonder…

Can we train our audience to understand the language we build in each project, so that we can affect them at levels above the sub-conscious? Can we do it in a way so that they are actively engaged in the discovery of meanings? How would that have to be structured, and how much buy in would we need from the film director or game designer to pull that off?

Read More

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 | 10 comments

The Details That Matter

Forest Scene by Narcisse Diaz de la Peña, photo by flickr user Cliff. Used under Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.

Forest Scene by Narcisse Diaz de la Peña, photo by flickr user Cliff. Click image to view source.

Guest Contribution by Randy Thom

When someone tells me that they admire the sound design work my team has done on a project they often go on to say that what they like most is the little sonic details we’ve covered in a given scene, like the sound of an object being picked up by a character in the background of a shot. I thank them for the compliment, but I’m usually left with an awkward feeling, because “details” are actually low on my list of priorities. I think sound design is an art form. I aspire to be a good artist, and I think sound work is similar to painting and other art forms in lots of ways. Great paintings are praised for the feelings they evoke. It’s pretty rare that the work of a master painter is praised for its “details.” In fact, the most intricately detailed paintings, the ones that depict a scene absolutely realistically in a straight forward “photographic” way are almost never considered great works of art. Great craft maybe, but not great art.

Read More