The year 2018 has been one of many great articles, interviews, and discussions here at Designing Sound and we want to thank all of our readers for their attention, suggestions, contributions, and overwhelming support throughout the year(s). There have been so many great films, shows, games, and events in 2018 that we thought we would share some of our favorites for you to go back and check out in case you missed them!
This post is full of links and Youtube videos, so please be patient on the loading. I assure you it is worth it!
Rev. Dr. Bradley D Meyer
Another year chock full of beautifully crafted sounds– most of which I still haven’t gotten around to listening to (I’m looking at you First Man, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and a never-ending list that won’t stop growing!) So here’s an abbreviated list of some of my favorite sound moments from the year:
A Quiet Place
A ubiquitous choice this year, not unsurprisingly because it’s a story about trying to not make sound. As a suspense/horror film, this mechanic makes every subtle sound all the more intense whether it’s a toy’s fatal beep, a terrified scream, or a muffled whimper. Can you actually imagine being in labor while your life depended on you being completely silent? The characters’ struggles with sound and the repurcussions of making sound are both felt and heard which elevates the film from a rote monster movie to a deeply personal, intimate internal struggle we can all imagine horrifically. The creature design was also superbly done with a level of detail and terror that make these strange creatures all the more real. Lastly, the design had space to breathe due to the importance of silence, and one of the more emotionally intense scenes was made so, due to its complete lack of audio.
For me, VR has largely been a novelty. There’s been a handful of interesting, cute or kitschy games and movies, but nothing had really put a spotlight on the potential of the media until I played Moss. The world feels alive with vibrant and lush soundscapes with just the right touch of magical wonderment. It’s the first time I ever felt completely enveloped, not just because I was wearing a headset, but because the beautifully crafted world was breathing and living around me. The character of Quill feels like she occupies the space thanks to a suite of incredible animations, the voice work of Elise Kates, and nothing less than perfect foley courtesy of Stephen Hodde. Hodde’s sound design and audio direction help us see how affecting and meaningful a VR experience can be.
God of War
Listening to the reboot of God of War is a masterclass in Game Audio. The level of detail in the sound design, from the very first axe hit on a tree which starts the game to the magnificently layered vocalizations of the World Serpent proves its high-production value was a labor of love. The cinematic approach with a single non-cut-away camera keeps the user feeling present in the world, and even the incessant banter between Kratos and his son does a stellar job of both teaching the player Norse lore and developing the slow, sometimes painful arc of father and son learning to express their emotions to each other.
A Bat Repellent Alarm?!?!?!?
I like to post one of my favorite sounds that I’ve experienced in the field, and this year I was exceptionally fortunate to travel a lot and hear and capture some absolutely incredible sounds around the world. This one though, is especially interesting and unique to me. I entered into a cave in Dambulla, Sri Lanka and heard a godawful high-pitched tonal sound. I looked up and saw a device above the cave entrance responsible for the crazy sonic emission. I realized it was a means to keep bats out, and decided it must be emitting at frequencies way higher than what I was hearing. I switched my recorder to 192kHz and captured the alarm and then pitched it down to 48Hz and 24kHz. Samples are above, just make sure to keep the volume down as the raw sound is a bit piercing, but I absolutely love the synth-like quality the tones take on as more of them shift into the audible range on the pitched versions, sounding more akin to an electroacoustic composition.
It’s been a few years since I’ve participated in this, and my contributions to this list will be far more limited than others’. That’s simply because I haven’t had a lot of time to consume media this year. Seriously, I haven’t even watched A Quiet Place yet. The disc is sitting right underneath my TV. If I can’t get to that, forget getting any reaction from me for games!
So here are the items that caught my limited attention.
Sangatsu no Lion (March Comes in Like a Lion), Season 2
I DO get the chance to watch a lot of anime. It works well with my schedule, because the episodes are short. I actually find the time to sneak them in. I really enjoyed the first season of Sangatsu no Lion (March Comes in Like a Lion), and the second season aired earlier this year. The series has a minimalist and often subdued approach to sound that works extremely well with the style of animation and the pace with which the story unfolds. That gives it all the more opportunity to have some serious impact when it suddenly leans in the other direction for the bigger story moments.
Avengers: Infinity War
Did anyone NOT see this? This film sounded awesome. All the more so, because I know all of the effort the team put into it. Refreshing and creating sounds for the number of main characters in this film, all of whom have their own sonic history in the broad collection of Marvel films, while maintaining distinction and space for each of them is an incredible feat of sonic acrobatics.
Wardruna – Runaljod Ragnarok
A lot of people took notice of the Norwegian Folk Metal band Heilung this year, myself included. It briefly led me down the rabbit hole exploring that genre, and I actually stumbled upon a group I like much more. This album Runaljod Raganarok, by Wardruna, didn’t come out this year, but I’m counting it anyways. Hey, I only found out about it this year…why should I restrict myself to 2018 media?! ;)
I like Heilung. They’ve got a cool sound, but it can get a little tiring listening to an album of nothing but throat singing. Wardruna brings more variation to the table, while still firmly sitting within that type of sound/genre. So it’s a lot easier for me to find something latch onto from song to song.
2018 was a busy year for me. I finished working on Silicon Beach with James Morioka. Then I worked on three narrative shorts, 4 feature length documentaries, and mixed several commercials. On top of all that, I started writing for Designing Sound and I’m very proud of the work that we did. Since I did more documentaries than I normally do, I would like to talk about a couple of them.
Dreaming of a Vetter World
Dreaming of a Vetter World produced by Steve Buscemi was a fun film to work on. When I was given the project, I didn’t realize that I would have so much fun working on a film about farming, but there were a number of vehicles, environmental sounds, animals, etc., that made the work fun. Did you know that John Deere tractors have a specific sound and sound different than other tractors? I didn’t until I worked on this film.
Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?
The next film that I want to look at is Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? A military film about a specific kind of helicopter. The film has a lot of military equipment and vehicles, and of course, helicopters. Who doesn’t like to work on helicopters? Dealing with lots of helicopters provides challenges such as panning and slight variations of pitch to separate them.
SPOILER ALERT!!! I’m about to include clips from a couple of films and talk about their endings. If you haven’t seen these films, you may want to watch them BEFORE reading the rest of my post or watching these clips. Now moving forward to films where I wasn’t part of the team.
A Quiet Place
I have to mention A Quiet Place. When I was invited to watch this film, I had no idea what I was in for. The entire movie was based on sound. What a great idea! It’s like someone realized what an important role sound can play in a film and decided to run with it. Was it overkill? Naw. It was a unique move to have a film that was all based on sound. One of my favorite parts was a shotgun blast at the end where the sound died away abruptly and then came back as reverb/feedback. Well done. A few more films like this and people might have a new found respect for sound in film.
Avengers: Infinity War
Everyone likes a Marvel movie. I get it, super heroes. Who doesn’t like super heroes? I loved this film. I grew up with the series as a kid. The sound team did an excellent job. I especially liked the sound of Thor’s hammer being thrown at Thanos, Thor pushing it deeper into Thanos, and of course, the famous snap by Thanos afterwards.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Although this film didn’t do as well in the box office as they had hoped, I thought it was great. I loved the film and loved the sound. People should watch it.
As far as television is concerned, I particularly liked season 4 of Gotham. It’s dark and edgy and a number of times I thought to myself that the sound design was really good. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
House of Cards
I also enjoyed the sound design on the final season of House of Cards. Our very own Shaun Farley was on the team. I especially like their backgrounds. Very well done.
While big blockbuster actions films like the The Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One and Deadpool 2 are a great watch for any sound designer, there were a few films with a much subtler soundtrack that really stood out to me in 2018:
A Quiet Place
I have a strange feeling this film will be on a lot of lists for 2018. A Quiet Place is one of the few films this year I made a point to see in the theatre. We typically see films at the Alamo Drafthouse, but chose to see this one elsewhere as we did not want to hear people eating through the whole film. As someone who works in sound, this is one of the few films you can physically see the effect sound has on the audience, which is oh so gratifying. In the quieter moments of the film, you could feel the room collectively get quieter as everyone made an effort to stop moving and even quiet their breath.
Aside from this, the sound was just incredibly well done all around. The foley work was fantastic, the dialogue was crisp and clean, and the balance between softer moments and the swells made for quite the sonic ride.
Starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film, The Favourite, is a visually stunning slow burn of a film. Lead by re-recording mixer / sound designer / supervising sound editor, Johnnie Burn, the audio team created a rich and dynamic soundtrack. There were a number of creative liberties taken in the sound for this film that border on experimental. There are no big action scenes in this film, but there are a number of moments where the sound swells in surprising and unexpected ways. In one earlier scene, we see two characters dancing which is cut with the syncopation of guns movement and firing from the next scene. Watching this scene in particular brought back memories of seeing Atonement for the first time. A film to watch and then watch again just for the sound.
I was fortunate enough to have seen this film while it was playing at SXSW this year. For anyone not familiar with the film or the director, it is a docu-narrative hybrid film that tells the story of a real life heist through the memories of the real people, then acted out by actors in true Hollywood cinematic fashion. As the film started with a cascade of non-diegetic animal sounds, I knew I was going to like the film. In the parts of the film that are being played out by the actors, the sound really draws you in. Particularly in the scene leading up to the heist, I could feel the goosebumps on my arms watching it for the first time.
The Race in Ready Player One
Starting off with the busiest to the quietest, I have to take my hat off to the racing scene in Ready Player One. Similar to the Mumakil attack scene in The Return of the King, the car race is filled with a ridiculous amount of detailed sound design and meticulous mix choices. Before getting into detail, I need to preface this by saying that I’m not exactly a big fan of huge explosions and over-the-top impacts, but of what follows them in addition to what could be going on in the background.
That being said, anyone who’s ever edited cars knows how challenging it can be. As a close friend would say, you’ve got to tell the story of the sound. Not only must the editor be aware of how powerful should the engine sound depending on the movement and apparent speed of the car (i.e. whether it’s accelerating or decelerating; if it’s making a turn, etc.), but also of perspective changes and all of the other details, such as tire skids, metal scrapes whooshes and such.
Gary Rydstrom has done an incredible job when highlighting details in the mix. At 1:07, we see the first car rolling and smashing against the ground. Notice that the sound that pops out is the glass debris instead of the actual impact, and only after the debris is gone the focus turns to the car’s body rattling and rolling on the ground. Next, one of my favourite moments in the scene happens at 1:26, when the train carriage approaches the screen. The mix then focuses on its honk and levels all other sounds down a notch to emphasise the resonant scrape of the carriage crashing through the bridge, followed by another carriage bursting on the right. One interesting mix decision is that the carriage action is suddenly muted to bring the focus back to Artemis’ bike when she pops up back in the center.
Speaking of tire skids, at 2:04, right after the cars fly over to the other side of the broken bridge, we hear skids that are not necessarily in our line of sight, but in the background. Many years ago David Farmer said in an interview that he realised that sometimes sound effects are not exactly in sync with the picture; rather, they are edited in some sort of cadence that makes sense to the listener.
Moments later at 2:20 comes my favourite sound of this scene: the coins. Up until this point the vast majority of the sound effects have been limited to explosions, impacts, debris and dialogue — and the sci-fi texture to Artemis’ bike –, then out of a sudden we have this Super Mario-like coin collection sound. I have nothin to say about this except this it sounds quite nice.
Remember how I mentioned the ridiculous amount of detail? At 3:04 we can hear a by-plane sound effect. The experience wouldn’t be ruined to me if it wasn’t there, but the fact that it is reminds me of why I love sound design so much. Finally, at 3:20, right before H’s tire burst, we hear the sound of the tire bumping against the rail. Also a clever attention to detail.
The Bathroom Fight Scene in Mission Impossible: Fallout
As opposed to Ready Player One, this scene doesn’t have as many details to cover. However, I do find both the sound effects editing and Foley outstanding. I’m glad that the mixers, along with the diretor, chose to keep the music in the background to a minimum and instead focus solely on the action. In addition, I appreciate that the crowd in the nightclub wasn’t left out of the soundscape. In between moments where there’s little to no action happening, we can hear the crowd cheering outside the bathroom.
The Mutant Chicken
In case you’re not familiar with Andrew Huang, he is a musician — and YouTuber — who is recognised for recording random objects and making music out of them. On the other hand, you’re definitely familiar with the rubber chicken and how hilarious it sounds. Well, this is a fresh take on it. Instead of reading my thoughts about it, have a listen for yourselves and enjoy.
The Sushi Scene in Isle of Dogs
If you haven’t seen Isle of Dogs, don’t keep it out of your list! Wes Anderson’s stop motion techniques are impeccable! Plus, it’s a good and entertaining movie. While the entire soundscape of the film had an impact on me, it was the Foley performance that caught my attention the most. What’s more, Alexandre Desplat’s score is incredible and it adds a lot to the picture. The interesting aspect of this scene is that the music works extremely well with the Foley, and because the music is already percussion-based, the effects sound as if they belong to the music and vice-versa.
The Waves and the Mix of Breath
Breath is an Australian movie directed by Simon Baker. Among all of the above candidates, Breath comes at last and the quietest because of its light, albeit intense use of sound. There’s a moment in the scene where the mix filters the high end to prepare for the huge impact of the wave. The reason being, I suppose, was due to the context of the story, which develops the character’s fear of big wave surfing. Sure, it’s a simple effect, but one that truly adds up to the story. Breath is also beautifully directed and it’s one of those films suited to simply sit back and relax for a change.
I usually enjoy the ambiences that cushion David Lynch’s projects, and those in Twin Peaks: The Return did not let me down. The thick, ominous rumbles and windy howls engulf the forests of the Pacific Northwest while dark rhythms settle in the background of tense wordless conversations. Each episode has something new to bring, and it’s no surprise that David Lynch took credit as Sound Designer.
Though I haven’t been able to get into the Far Cry games like I have with other open-world shooters, the ambiences in Far Cry 5 are what I strive to capture in nature and design in-engine. From the rich bird choruses to the beautiful day/night cycle to the ever so subtlety evolving soundscapes, my only wish is that there was a volume slider so I could turn them up and daydream my hikes in the Teton.
I am consistently behind on the Battlefield games (actually, most of the projects I mention here are from 2017), but in Battlefield 1 the sounds of the Bristol F2.A really shine through. The roaring engine cuts through the emotionally-driven theme and responds gently to the controls. When you sprinkle in the blasts of the rockets and hammering of the Lewis gun, you feel like you’re playing a less-deafening version of Dunkirk.
And for another quick mention of Far Cry 5, the flyovers are fantastic!
Warning: Spoilers for Get Out in this video clip.
Get Out came out last year, but after watching Black Panther, I was blown away when I realized Daniel Kaluuya was not speaking with his original accent. Though Americans actors are notorious for bad English accents, my ears struggled to find their footing with a few British actors I saw this year, like Kenny Ireland as Ben Landless in House of Cards (1990) and Benedict Cumberbatch in his otherwise great portrayal of Dr. Strange (though Peter Serafinowicz’s Alan Alda impression on Comedy Bang Bang was uncanny). Daniel Kaluuya, however, reaches another level of accuracy, consistency, and individuality.
Also, as some people know, I’ve wanted to hear more spoken text in games, and I was pleasantly surprised by the spoken messages in The Rise of the Tomb Raider and Perception. Though these games are not blind accessible, their dramatic readings not only depict the authors but also take off some of the visual load for gamers with disabilities. They give me hope that we will see more spoken text in the years to come.
And on the AI side of spoken text, if you haven’t already, listen to how far Siri’s voice has come. I’ve been a fan of Alexa, but Siri reaches a new level of affable intonation at conversational paces and surprising clarity at fast speeds. Though her nasal qualities remain, and some don’t care for her younger voice, I think Siri’s new frequency range makes her easier to comprehend in general.
Always Be Recording
This year I was lucky enough to do a lot of travel that was not attached to conferences (which are fun in moderation), and I was able to take advantage of some recording opportunities that were special in their experiences alone. I was able to record AT4 rocket launchers, Mk19 grenade launchers, and M2 machine guns (along with the more common M249 and M240B) during a military competition for my last year as a Drill Sergeant, and I got to visit the surprisingly quiet regions of Northern California during a road trip from San Francisco to Seattle.
After finding myself going to Dawid Moroz’s whoosh samples time and time again, I decided to take advantage of the Black Friday sales and pick up a few of the Soundholder libraries. Swipes and Whooshes, Water Flow, and Summer Ambients are incredibly detailed libraries, and I wish I had picked them up sooner.
Overall Sound Design
Finally, during a long flight to South Korea, I saw Isle of Dogs and immediately wanted to watch it again (though I ended up watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox). Between the “good enough” quality of the in-seat player and the cabin’s oppressive white noise, I was kicking myself for not seeing it in theaters. But I was able to enjoy the memorable taiko and sax-driven music, amusing synchronous responses, and intricate Foley with my lovely home receiver. Just like Rushmore, this is a film I will end up watching every year or so, and it had my favorite sound design of the year.
Leviathan Axe Runic Attacks, God Of War (2018)
Warning: Slight spoilers for endgame gear in the video
Ice is in my opinion one of the hardest kinds of magic to effectively design sound for, especially if you are trying to go for something unique, or in this case, layer it with a weapon. With ice, there’s a pretty consistent set of source sounds used–rocks, ice crackles, whistling wind, tonal metal, glass, etc.–but it’s so difficult to have them blend together in a way that sounds clean and satisfying, but also reads clearly as ice and magic. Because of the noisiness of ice, it’s also difficult for the character of anything else, like the axe in this case, to effectively cut through without masking the ice layers.
Chris Clanin absolutely nails the ice for the bifrost runic attacks in God Of War in a way that I’ve never heard before. It’s incredibly clean, with very few noise elements and a strong emphasis on the tonality of ice, helping all the character from these runic attacks stand out even in the sonic chaos of a big fight. Listen closely to how tonal all the ice elements are, and how the changes in pitch closely follow the motion and make the different stages of each attack clear.
The other key detail that I think makes these sounds so satisfying and effective, is the emphasis on the sound of the axe itself. Many of the attacks, particularly the heavy ones, have a low tonal metal ring that blends perfectly with the tonal ice. This low resonance in the axe, and the big clean low end on all the movement also helps gives us a sense of the massive power behind all of Kratos’ swings.
Out of all the bifrost runic attacks, my favorite one is probably Ivaldi’s Anvil (~1:55). A small detail that particularly stood out to me that adds so much to the sense of weight is the small bass whoosh immediately after Kratos pulls his axe from the ground, accenting the shockwave in the animation. The biggest thing with the sound in this attack, which exemplifies something that is a big part of what makes me love the sound of all the runic attacks, is how the tonality in the axe and ice go up and down in pitch in a way that closely resembles a musical cadence. This tonality and musicality in the sound are not only very functional at helping the sounds cut through well in the mix, but giving a strong sense of the motion and weight of Kartos’ actions.
If you want to read about the sound in God Of War in more detail, check out this great article: https://www.asoundeffect.com/god-of-war-sound/
2018 was a whirlwind of new experiences and new endeavors, a year full of growth and change. One minute I was at GDC in San Fransico, and, the next thing I know, I’m shopping for Christmas presents. But, here are a few of my favorite sounds from 2018.
Pacific Rim Uprising.
Like many people, I’m a sucker for giant robots and monsters. I was a huge fan of the first Pacific Rim, so I was excited to hear about the sequel. The fight sequence between Gypsy Avenger and Obsidian Fury was entertaining, to be sure. And, the sounds of the rockets and Gravity beam stand out for me. They are tight, and really give some authenticity to that sci-fi hi-tech weaponry.
The sound for Halloween 2018 was done just right. The sounds used (or not used), enriched the feelings of tension the scenes were aiming to evoke. It was both enjoyable and unsettling, but not overdone at all. There is a true art to keeping things simple and effective.
Francis Preve and Scapes
This is truly great sound design in its purest form. Francis Preve did a series of synthesized field recordings using Ableton’s Operator synthesizer. The level of detail that went into “Scapes” is extremely impressive. I would highly recommend that you download them, to see how he did them. And, the bonus is, they are free to download at https://www.francispreve.com/scapes/
The Beer Can
Last, but not least, I have to give a shout out to Oscar Coen and his Beer Can Plasma Gun. This was a great example of taking an everyday item and creating art with it. Well done.
This year was a great year for sound in all forms of media. Many of my favorite sounds of 2018 were covered above much more eloquently than I will ever be able to vocalize. With this last “Our Favorite Sounds of…” article I will point out just a couple of this and every year so far. One of those being the giggle of my fiancee Vanessa. The other being all of the kind words all of you readers and contributors have given to me about DesigningSound.org. It has been a joy and pleasure to help build and grow this community with you all.