Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sound Design Demo - Towers of Midnight

Whenever someone asks me what I did on a film or video and I answer that "I did the sound," the most common follow up question I receive is some variant of "What does that mean?" I define sound design as the sum of everything you hear coming out of speakers while you're watching a motion picture. In one way or another, everything you hear in a film was manipulated by someone who worked in the sound or music department. I will delve further into what jobs make up the sound department, and what each person does in future posts, and I will also tackle the term "Sound Designer" at a future time. In this post I want to show an example of a video in which most of the sound design was created in post-production, meaning no sound was recorded on set during filming.

A surprisingly few number of people outside of film and tv production understand that what you hear in a movie was not how it sounded like on set or on location. The primary purpose of recording sound on set is capturing the dialogue spoken by the actors as cleanly as possible. Most of the the ambiences and sound effects (including footsteps, slaps on the back, birds, dogs, explosions, airplanes, crickets) are added on separate tracks in post production after picture editing so that they can be placed "out of the way" of the talkedy-talk-talk. Likewise, music is added in post-production as well.

Several months ago I sound designed a book trailer  for Tor Books' soon to be released TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time epic fantasy series. The book series has a huge dedicated fan base (this particular volume would go on to reach #1 on the New York Times Fiction Bestseller List just after release), so a whole lot of people already had built up in there heads what this fantasy world should look and sound like. This trailer is an example of movie sound that was completely created in post-production.

The video below is the trailer with sound as I had received it from editorial once picture was locked (meaning the cut would not change). While there is no synchronous dialogue in this video, this piece relies heavily on Voice Over (VO). In this case the picture editor cut the actual VO pretty close to where it would end up in the final version. Kate Reading, the actress who happens to also perform the audiobooks, recorded her VO at home and emailed it to the director. The director then picked his favorite takes and cut them to picture. You'll notice the VO recording quality sounds very flat and distilled, like an old NPR radio program.

The music, chosen by the director, was purchased from a website dealing in royalty-free synthesized instrument film scores. You'll notice in the unmixed, unedited audio in the video below just how synthesized the score originally sounded, especially the strings, and how contained separate the audio sounds from the world you see in the images:


The video below is the result of Sound Design. Luckily the score was delivered in separate stereo track stems (i.e. drum track, string track, brass track, vocal track, etc). I manipulated each instrument grouping's EQ, added reverb and changed volume relationships of the different groups to make the "orchestra" sound richer, fuller, and a bit more natural (as opposed to sound like some dude playing a synthesizer from the back of church). I also EQed the Voice Over and added reverb to make it sound richer and bit more ethereal to convey that this woman has a power within. I then layered in the sound fx. A massive lightening storm happened to be hitting where I was working at the time, so I went outside and recorded some pretty fantastic winds and rumbles. As you can see in the video, there's a massive storm gathering overhead, and there are embers floating in the atmosphere. So I layered in threatening winds to give the soundscape what I like to call "the feeling of epic." Then I layered in all the horse sounds (i.e. hooves, whinnies and breaths) and other "magical touches." I layered in the thunder strikes to match the lightning hits you see on screen (audiences have trouble with lightening hits followed by delayed thunder resulting from the slow travel of sound, so when there's a lot going on I sync the sound to the flash).

Finally I created the sound of magic gathering around the woman on screen, then exploding forth, a sound that's actually made up of electricity, explosions, implosions and voices. The director and producer asked that I make this moment holy, and that's what I tried to do in a very short amount of screen time. When all's said and done, what you hear in the final video below is over 60 separate tracks of sound.


Hopefully this little demo of before and after gives you an idea of what Sound Design adds to a film.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Soundhenge Sound Design Blog Commences to Start ;)

Welcome to the Soundhenge Sound Design Blog. Here you will find news on what Soundhenge is up to, as well as thoughts and other posts relevant to the art of sound design for film and television.

Soundhenge Sound Design was founded in 2009 by USC alumni Patrick Knipe (that's me!) and Stephanie Willis. I believe we bring an interesting perspective to sound design because we're as passionate about writing and directing as we are about creating the sound for stories. We've also had the good fortune to work with a lot of very talented up and coming filmmakers (including producers, directors, cinematographers, picture editors, composers, actors, production designers, makeup artists, costume designers, grip and electric, colorists, mixers and boom operators, foley artists, the list goes on and on), and hopefully we'll have the opportunity to highlight some of their work here as well.

Thank you for visiting!

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