Sound Design in Film


A sound designer at work.

Usually – but not always – filmmakers fall in love with the medium because of the visual aspect of film. Photographers, for instance, sometimes grow up to find themselves interested in cinematography or videography. While this is all fine and dandy, the issue becomes a problem when budding filmmakers neglect sound in their productions. In fact, it’s not rare to find young directors who have a camera but not a microphone. While that’s not a crime, this does illustrate the problem. In a nutshell, sound design is the many flavors and colors of the sound spectrum of an artistic work:

“Sound design is the process of specifying, acquiring, manipulating or generating audio elements. It is employed in a variety of disciplines including filmmaking, television production, theatre, sound recording and reproduction, live performance, sound art, post-production, and video game software development. ” (Wikipedia)

In filmmaking, the most important audio element is… You guessed it: Dialogue. Dialogue is big part of the narrative and the actor’s performance. It is the dialogue, unlike music and sound effects, that hooks the audience and carry the story forward, so a lot of emphasis and money is placed in getting the audio recorded in optimal quality.

Take it from a guy who’s watched hundred of student films. Hell, I even made some myself! Sound is of paramount importance and must be taken seriously. This guide by Simon Norman illustrates just how important sound design is:

Part 2

Thank you, Mr. Norman for the great video tutorial, which aptly demonstrates the common flaws with the unedited, raw audio captured during principal photography:

  • Story-relevant dialogue is not clear
  • Unwanted background noises, like wind and cars, can overwhelm audio
  • Inconsistent audio levels, varying according to mic proximity, can be obnoxious.
  • Some sounds lack weight. Hence the need for foley.

How Can You Do A Professional Sound Design?

sound design in film

Audio Editing Software Interface

It’s important to remember that audio quality begins in pre-production. That’s right. Don’t be the amateur filmmaker who forget and ignores sound. Here are a few reminders:

  • During location scout (that’s before principal photography), take a sound expert with you to focus exclusively on the sound qualities of your potential set.
  • Rent or buy a boom microphone.
  • Hire a dedicated boom operator and sound mixer.
  • Don’t count on ADR to fix your sound in post. Get it right during principal photography (if you can).

These are tips to get you in good shape for the production phase. Post-production is a whole other game that also fall under the umbrella of Sound Design. Some sound elements that are exclusive to post-production are:

  • foley sounds: sounds created in post-production to mimic an action in the footage.
  • music: scores used to augment emotions
  • sound editing: the process of editing and mixing several sound components to form the final soundtrack of a film.

This video is a bit longer, but it also goes more in-depth about the topic:

What is the Importance of Sound in Film

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