Guest Contribution from Randy Thom
It was announced that the people who run the Tony Awards have decided to cut two of their awards categories….the two sound design categories.
This is a sad piece of news for all of us in sound. It’s yet another slap in the face for an important art form that struggles for recognition. The people who run awards shows feel constant pressure to populate those shows with pretty people, famous people, and people who are highly entertaining when a camera and microphone are pointed at them. Advertisers pound their fists on tables in anger when their ad follows an unglamorous and unknown statuette recipient’s earnest “thank you.” One year when I attended the Oscar telecast, and left the building at the end of the show in my tux, a guy ran up to me in the middle of the street with a pen and paper in his hands screaming to me “Are You Anybody? Are You Anybody?” I said “Sure!” and he smiled big as I handed him my illegible signature. Though the Tony Awards have promised that they may, in the future, occasionally give an award to an especially noteworthy job of sound design, the message we should get loud and clear from their announcement today is that as far as they are concerned we, sound designers, are not ‘anybody.’ How sad, how dumb.
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.
Photo by flickr user James Whatley. Used under Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.
Guest Contribution by Randy Thom
During pre-production on a film it’s common practice to gather lots and lots of still photographic images, and video as well, that might relate to the story. The stills are often displayed on walls for everyone preparing the film to see and talk about. It’s basically an “idea board.” The purpose of gathering these images is to stimulate thinking about the way the film should look, or about some other element of the story taking shape. Shots of potential locations for shooting, or locations evocative of those in the story, images of objects and props, shots of people similar to those in the story, animals, food, vehicles, landscapes, structures, etc. are compiled as concrete starting points of reference for constructing the look of the movie. Eventually a storyboard artist will draw images representing almost every shot in the film. It’s a way to help the filmmakers pre-visualize how each shot will be designed.
Image by flickr user woodleywonderworks. Used under Creative Commons license.
This article is not what I originally intended. I started it, nearly completed it and then decided to rewrite it from a different angle. It’s core subject remains intact, speaking to our collaborators…the people who hire us to make their pieces of media “sound good.” Whether we work in film, television, games, mobile applications, interactive art installations or any other existing or emerging medium, the majority of us work in service to another. Many a sound professional can be found lamenting the working situation they find themselves in; proclaiming, “ if only…”
The Carpetbagger, a New York Times blog dedicated to the film awards season we are now in the flush of, has spoken to Steve Boeddeker and Randy Thom at Skywalker Sound.
“Before there was a here here, I was here,” said Randy Thom, the director of sound design at Skywalker Sound, part of George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch complex outside of San Francisco. “It used to be called Sprocket Systems, in the earliest days, and it became Skywalker Sound in the mid ’80s,” said Mr. Thom, who first worked with the company on “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Randy talks a little bit about the history of the Ranch and Skywalker Sound, and there’s a 5 minute video that includes interviews with both Steve and Randy.
Check it out here.