Indiewire has published a guest post by Dolby Institute’s director Glenn Kiser in which he talks to filmmakers about the importance of sound design from the beginning of production.
Making a movie is a never-ending series of compromises, and nothing is as good as the original concept you had in mind. But if you’re really lucky, there’s a moment of alchemy that can happen in the editing room when you put the right piece of music or the right sound effect into the cut. Suddenly something magical happens, and the thing comes to life. You forget about the perfect location you couldn’t secure and the cold your lead actor had on the day you shot the emotional scene. It stops being a maddening litany of disappointments and becomes a movie.
My first exposure to noise reduction processing was with Waves X-Noise, working clip-by-clip, finding a snippet of noise in the clear, setting the noise profile, then processing the clip before moving to the next one. This offline processing method, while effective, would end up taking a lot of time, especially on long-form projects. Similarly, if you had a processed clip that needed its noise reduction altered, you would have to restore the un-processed version, find the noise print again, re-adjust the parameters, and then re-process it. When time is short (and when isn’t it?), real-time processes begin to look like a much better option. Unfortunately, plugins like X-Noise or iZotope RX Denoiser can’t be used effectively in real-time due to the enormous amounts of processing overhead required and the unmanageable latency added to the signal. With plugins like the new RX 3 Dialog Denoiser and Wave’s WNS and W43, real-time noise processing without expensive hardware is feasible, but it requires a change in workflow to utilize effectively. As I found once I started using the RX 3 Dialog Denoiser, putting one per dialog track was an inefficient use of CPU resources, and simply putting an instance on the main dialog bus proved problematic, especially when dealing with adjacent clips that had drastically different noise profiles.
Guest Contribution by Pierce O’Toole
Writer/Director Pierce O’Toole shares his thoughts on music and sound design, and how they play into his creative process.
As a writer and director, my biggest concern on any project is the story. Every project has a story that you are trying to tell. When I approach sound, the lens I view it through – or the speaker I hear it through, I guess – is one of story. While this is true of every element of the filmmaking process, sound is unlike any of the others because it’s the only element that follows me through the entire process.
When I begin writing, music is very important. At first, it’s just something atmospheric or energetic, like The Album Leaf or Daft Punk. As I get further along in the writing process, I get a better sense of the story and the tone. At this point, the music has to match. If it doesn’t, it can make it harder to write. I build playlists that I listen to on repeat. I’ve had several roommates that hate me for this, especially when the playlist is less than ten songs. I don’t ever tire of the music, no matter how many times I listen to it, because that music helps put me in the world of the story. I’m not listening to the music; I’m absorbing it.
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.
For quite a few years, sound design for trailers has become increasingly creative and interesting. For blockbusters in Hollywood, an imaginative trailer campaign seems to be more and more important and sound is quite often utilized in inspired and inspiring ways.
One of the top sound designers of Hollywood trailers is Bryan Jerden who has worked on prominent movie trailers such as Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, Harry Potter, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Inception, among many others. Bryan has also done a large amount of game trailers including titles like Hitman, Syndicate and Dragons Dogma. In this interview, he talks about his background, creative methods, the interplay between music and sound and why silence is such an important tool for sound designers.
Designing Sound: How did you get involved in doing sound design for trailers?
Bryan Jerden: My work in the trailer world came as result from working for Tim Gedemer who is now the owner of Source Sound Inc. A little more than 10 years ago I started working with Tim as a sound editor and studio technician. It was a great match for me because I had spent almost 10 years prior to that as a sound engineer and music mixer recording rock bands. Tim is an accomplished guitar player as well as a real music guy so we hit it off in a way I could not have done with someone who was purely a post sound personality.
Right away I was attracted to trailers because I saw it as a mixed skill set. I liked the fact that it involved working directly with music. I loved that it had opportunities for designing sound, that it involved skillful sound editing, working with feature film tracks, dialogue and other disciplines all in the same package.
Sound design became a passion for me, something I just loved to do. When I could I would listen to other sound designers tracks always trying to figure out the different processes. When I was on editing jobs I would always sneak in my own designs just to see if they would stick. If I didn’t have enough time to do my editing job and try sound design, Tim would let me come in and try stuff out on my own and if he like it he would keep it.
In the last several years creating sound design and cutting sound effects for trailers and even video game cinematics have become my life, but with that there is always the inevitable music editorial and dialogue work.