Sound… Bigger than visuals for new age filmmakers

“Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual,” says David Lynch. And anybody who has seen the ‘Lynchian’ handiworks of this Academy Award winning director would fervently agree.

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Sound in films encompasses the dialogues, background score, ambiance sounds, music etc and is a very crucial component of storytelling. In many films, even before the visual has registered in our brains, we have already been introduced to the premise of the scene by the sound. All of us have jumped off our seats with creaking of doors in horror films or pressed our ears for those unsought footsteps of the killer in those Slasher films. That is the impact of sound in films. The sound conditions and color

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Even for a movie like Avatar, which will be known in the history of cinema as a visual phenomenon, sound design played a huge role in making the world of Pandora believable. One of the biggest challenges for the sound team on the movie was creating sound effects that would match the brilliant imagery created by Weta Digital. Every creature and environment sound that was originally created or recorded using real animals and environmental elements had to be manipulated so as to make them sound unique to the world of Pandora.

Though most of the ‘sound script writing’ happens in post production, the process of sound design begins even before the film goes on floor. A sound designer should read the script of his film with sound in mind and try to imagine the sounds as he goes through the scenes. This helps in developing the acoustic landscape of the film. Although the complete sound scape cannot be developed with the script with this approach, you still get a starting point to build on as you go ahead with the shoot.

This initial design takes it full form with tremendous inputs from the atmosphere of the visuals, which either enhances your original idea or force you take a completely new direction. Also important is capturing the highest quality audio while shooting on location. The best way to ensure your film sounds professional is to get the best quality sound from the source.

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The latest sound recording, mixing and reproduction technology has made it possible for filmmakers to have a greater dynamic range of sound. Now we can create soundtracks with more precision and intricacy. There is more control and one can do more in the cutting room. But this has brought in with it the risk of being too loud, which in some cases borders on being vulgar. And with so much control over detail, you need to work even more accurately than before and make sure all sound bites are aligned to the design you are aiming for. The true beauty of sound comes out when it is used with subtlety in perfect balance with the visuals.

Unfortunately, viewers might not notice when the sound design is good. However, poor sound rarely goes unnoticed. The trick is to use the sound as a character in the film and not noise.

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