Creative Sound Design and Film Sound Asbjoern Andersen


In this insightful piece by film sound legend Randy Thom, he shares his thoughts on the creative process, inspiration, discovery - and what sound design is all about:
Written by Randy Thom and reprinted with his kind permission
Please share:

Reorganize accidents. That is the basis of your creative work. When an artist does work that seems innovative, we say that he or she has created something. The more I think about the process we call “creating,” the more I’m convinced we use the wrong word to describe it.

Articles on film sound usually stay clear of questions as basic as “What is creativity?” and “Is it possible for an artist to become more creative?” Questions like these are usually considered too messy, or too abstract and subjective. I appreciate those arguments, and don’t discount them. On the other hand, I think we do know a few things about being creative. One theory is that each of us is given a bag of creativity at birth, and that the bag doesn’t grow or shrink much for the rest of our lives. But even if our bag of creativity doesn’t change in size, our ability to dip into it varies constantly. Ask any artist or performer.

– Inspiration, insight, and luck are difficult entities to describe, and all but impossible to quantify –

We can interview an artist and chart the sequence of events by which a given set of raw materials was fashioned into to a specific art product. But most of what we get from that kind of examination will be information about craft (technology and technique). We know intuitively that a great artist is more than a great technician. In fact, it might be argued that a great artist doesn’t even have to be a very good technician. So what is it that guides the technique?

– The Tyranny Of Competence –

The frame of mind in which interesting things germinate is often more confused and desperate than organized and confident.

In the movie industry a high value is justifiably placed on technical competence. It is assumed that every craftsperson should know how to use the tools of the trade and be able to perform on cue, under pressure. The trouble with paying so much attention to skill and technical prowess is this: The frame of mind in which interesting things germinate is often more confused and desperate than organized and confident.

Being creative is balancing precariously between, or shifting back and forth between, these two extremes. It is not surprising that a high percentage of very creative people have manic-depressive personalities.

When you begin a project, the surest way to guarantee nothing interesting will happen is to go into it with the assumption that you know exactly how to do it. The best you can hope to do within that frame of mind is to duplicate work that you or someone else has already done. Of course, the first step in mastering a craft is to learn the traditions and conventions, the tools and techniques that have historically produced good work and bad. Having acquired those skills, the challenge is to look freshly at each new project, making as few assumptions as possible about how to proceed.

The best creative ideas usually arise in the process of doing the work itself. They don’t usually form in our minds while we stare at a blank piece of paper.

It’s generally acknowledged that a good film begins with a good script. On the other hand, even a very good script is nothing more than a vague blueprint for the eventual film. The locations, actors, and other collaborators will add depth to the story that the writer is not in a position to anticipate. The serendipity that allows it all to come together will only happen if each collaborator is open to it, and clever about making the necessary adjustments. One thing seems clear: the best creative ideas usually arise in the process of doing the work itself. They don’t usually form in our minds while we stare at a blank piece of paper.

– Complexity –

People often say that “truth is stranger than fiction,” as if we should be surprised. Why wouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? A few moments of human activity in any ordinary supermarket, if fully examined, would no doubt be hilarious and horrific beyond belief. On the other hand, given a supermarket as a location, a very good writer might be able to invent a few amusing and trenchant scenes.

We operate in two worlds:
(1) reality, which contains profundities and comedy unimaginably wild and deep, but on the surface is mostly deadly boring and
(2) fiction, which isn’t too hard to make superficially appealing, but is difficult as hell to make profound or deeply funny.
 


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    From a small BMW 114i through to a powerful Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 with Magna Flow exhaust, up to a fast twin turbo BMW 640D F12. In addition to cars there are also files covering big machines like tractors and excavator.

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    You can see the metadata and sound list below.

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  • Environments Rare Winds Play Track 102 sounds included, 233 mins total $149 $74.50

    From all 4 earth’s corners, air streamlines the environment and shapes our stories. Discover the cinematic world of rare winds!


    This sound library is the ultimate achievement of a really ambitious project of recording winds from very remote places across the world.

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    These were recorded either in urban settings, countryside, or complete wilderness.

    Included is a set of useful synthesized, tonal, and designed winds.

    The sounds are categorized into 3 folders: Designed, Indoor & Outdoor.

    WHAT’S INSIDE:

    • 102 stereo files
    • Highly focused and meticulously edited sounds
    • Ready to use Loop
    • Urban area and Wild area
    • Useful Designed & Synthesized Wind Sounds
    • Recordings from the Boreal region (North) in Iceland & Canada
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– One thing that distinguishes fiction from reality is the level of complexity –

Any real-world situation is infinitely complex. We usually only perceive the microscopic tip of the iceberg of what is happening in our supermarket at 7 p.m.

As writers we go to the supermarket and examine it on as many levels as possible. We don’t just watch what happens, we participate in it. We get a job working in the fresh produce section. We go home with the store manager and the bag boy. By living through these situations (and by watching ourselves live through them) we begin to find threads overlapping in amazing ways. Other threads we assumed were connected turn out not to be connected at all.

The script needs to be shaped by real world experience. Shooting and editing the film involves a trip through more unanticipated reality which will frustrate, but can also improve what you thought you had.

Designing your sound (bet you thought we’d never get to sound) should be no less experimental and no less influenced by process. When we begin to imagine a scene, the first few sounds that come to mind will usually be “appropriate” in a general way, but not very deeply connected to what is really happening dramatically.

Let’s say we have a scene around a kitchen table where two guys are arguing. One eventually jumps up, pulls a gun, cocks it, and points it at the other’s head. The most obvious sound effect to feature is the cocking of the gun. Ironically, the other prop I mentioned (the table) could supply a more powerful sound. As our guy stands, maybe he shoves the table toward the other guy. The scrape of the table legs on the floor could be fashioned to evoke danger more effectively because it comes from a place we don’t expect. Knowing we may want to use the sound of the table in this way will influence everything about the way we set up and block the shots.

If the Director and Actors are really sharp, they will discover ways to use sound in the scene as they’re rehearsing.

The best way to find unexpected storytelling elements is to experiment. If I am designing the sound for the scene around the table, I will want to simulate the set as closely as possible. Then I will move and play with every object and surface in the place, listening for sounds that have the dramatic values I can use to enhance the scene. On the other hand, unless I can do this experimenting before shooting starts, there is no way I can influence the way the scene is to be shot. If the Director and Actors are really sharp, they will discover ways to use sound in the scene as they’re rehearsing. Similarly, they’ll find ways to use the table itself and the space between the two characters in the scene.

If I am directing the scene, I will want to experiment with sound in this way before the scene is shot, so that I will be able to block and shoot, and even construct the set in ways that take advantage of sound.

– A Craftsman knows how to avoid accidents — an Artist knows how to use them –

Writer’s block is not the inability to type. It is the inability to type something of value.

Nothing paralyzes an artist more than fear of screwing up. The first step toward curing writer’s block is to begin writing, even if the most you can manage is to type random words. Writer’s block is not the inability to type. It is the inability to type something of value. So you begin to cure it by typing anything. If nothing else, you copy the phone book, or the Bible, adding a word or two of your own now and then. Another approach might be to tear a page out of a book or newspaper, cut the page into pieces, rearrange the pieces and see if any interesting juxtapositions occur that might beg for elaboration. Sound editing and design can use the same sort of trick. I often begin working on a movie by listening, more-or-less at random, to lots of sounds. Many of these sounds may have nothing to do (superficially) with the movie. Eventually I hear a sound that makes an interesting connection between two moments, characters, or places in the film. Out of this kind of technique you try to form a style for the sound in the movie, and you try, when appropriate, to get other collaborators (including the Director) to help you by modifying the cut, the dialog, the music, etc. in order for all the elements to play off each other. That is what sound design is about. Most people think sound design is making alien vocals, ray guns, and space ship sounds. The same people probably think that film editing is about cutting stuff out of the movie that’s boring.

Rehearsing is not mainly for the purpose of “memorizing” what needs to be done. Actually the best reason to rehearse is to discover what needs to be done.

Mistakes, accidents, and the unexpected often provide the spark that leads to great work. The trick is to plan and execute your creative process in a way that makes room for lots of experimenting and lots of mistakes early. Rehearsing is not mainly for the purpose of “memorizing” what needs to be done. Actually the best reason to rehearse is to discover what needs to be done.

– We may not create or invent — we always discover –

For me, the creative process is about reorganizing things which are already there.

I don’t think the word “create” describes very well the process of trying to do fresh work. Creating implies making something out of nothing. For me, the creative process is about reorganizing things which are already there. The sound artist John Cage often used what he called “chance operations” to decide what to do at each step of his process of composing music. Sometimes he would use the I Ching. Sometimes he would write instructions on a sheet of paper, then cut up the paper, toss the pieces into the air, then try to follow the instructions that randomly formed as the pieces landed. I don’t think Cage’s techniques always produced wonderful work, but they can be a good way to begin. My approach is to use chance only as a starting point, not as the sole mediator of the work.

So, Uncle Randy’s simple rules for being more creative are:

  1. Learn your craft thoroughly, reading everything you can about the traditions and conventions of the craft, as well as experiments on the modern cutting edge.
  2. Begin each project with few assumptions about the methods you will use. Let the needs of the project, most of which you won’t know until after you’ve gotten your feet wet, determine your approach.
  3. Experiment as early and as often and as inexpensively as possible. Make lots of mistakes when mistakes are cheap.

 

A big thanks to Randy Thom for the insights, and for letting us share this post from his blog!

 

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  • Environments Rare Winds Play Track 102 sounds included, 233 mins total $149 $74.50

    From all 4 earth’s corners, air streamlines the environment and shapes our stories. Discover the cinematic world of rare winds!


    This sound library is the ultimate achievement of a really ambitious project of recording winds from very remote places across the world.

    Included are authentic recordings from the Boreal region (North hemisphere: in Canada and Iceland), from the Austral region (South hemisphere: Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and the Last Hope province in Chile), on Islands in Mediterranean region (Thira in Greece), in the Sahara desert (Marocco), Isle-aux-Grues (Canadian winter), and more (see file list for more details)


    These were recorded either in urban settings, countryside, or complete wilderness.

    Included is a set of useful synthesized, tonal, and designed winds.

    The sounds are categorized into 3 folders: Designed, Indoor & Outdoor.

    WHAT’S INSIDE:

    • 102 stereo files
    • Highly focused and meticulously edited sounds
    • Ready to use Loop
    • Urban area and Wild area
    • Useful Designed & Synthesized Wind Sounds
    • Recordings from the Boreal region (North) in Iceland & Canada
    • Recordings from the Austral region (South) in Argentina & Chile
    • Recordings from Islands in Greece & Canada
    • Recordings from the desert in Marocco
    • Abandonned houses and shelters
    • Marina, lake, forest, car, flags, arctic, metal pole, prairie, street, mountain, grass, …
    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
  • City Life Nature Ambients Bundle Play Track 263+ sounds included, 683 mins total $160 $80

    This bundle includes 4 different libraries.

    The Baltic Sea sound library is compilation of 56 WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, Sony PCM-M10, two Oktavas MK012 set in MS, XY and ORTF setup. All the sounds were recorded far away from the cities and roads. Since most of the sounds were recorded in late winter, there are no insects or birds in background. There are few files that includes the sound of birds, but I left them on purpose, because of the overall feel of the files. In this library you will find beautiful sound of waves crushing on the rocks and shore, recorded from different perspectives in different stereo configurations, during calm and windy days. In addition to those sounds, there’s foley like walking, running and swimming in the water.

    The Harbours Of Norway sound library features 25 files with ambients recorded in Myre, Sto and Nyksund, very small towns with direct access to the sea. Most of the sound effects were recorded at night, but since it’s a polar day time of the year, it was very pleasurable to walk and look for convenient places to set up my gear. Everything was recoded with ORTF setup built from two Sennheisers MKH 8040. Inside this library, you’ll find a lot of seagulls, waves crushing on the rocks and plants, windy ambients from the cliff, industrial sound from port in Myre with ship unloading the cargo, walla with steam engine boat and additional sounds from boat engine market and air cooling aggregates from food containers. Every file was recorded in 96kHz, edited (i removed any unintentional bumps, pops and unwanted sounds). I limited EQing to removing harsh frequencies, or enhancing a little bit the good sounding ones. At the end of the chain there is a small compression, for louder sounds.

    The Summer Ambients sound library contains 33 beautiful WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, two Oktavas MK012 in MS and stereo XY pattern. All sounds were gathered in different and beautiful places like forests, lakes, meadows or swamps. You can expect amazing ambients, textures, different birds, insects, forest during rain, calm and windy days. It’s a perfect library for designing background sounds. Everything was recorded in amazing Masuria in Poland.

    Summer ambients Update – library got 2x bigger and heavier than the original library. 59 additional files, 123 minutes of high quality audio recorded with Sennheiser MKH 8040 ORTF setup, Rode NTG3, Oktava MK012 XY setup plugged into SD702 and Sony PCM-10. It features ambients from the forests, ponds, swamps, meadows, lakes and suburbs recorded is very quiet locations, mostly just before the sunrise, during the day and before sunset far away from the cities.

    Water Flow sound library took me about six months to record, consumed about 15 thermoses of tea and 42 litres of gasoline to get to all locations. It offers 90 BWAV files recorded in different locations. Huge part of this library is based on the recording sessions on the rivers. Two completely different locations, recorded regularly for the last 5 months allowed me to create this unique sound library. Most of the recording sessions took place during winter just before the sun was rising to reduce the amount of unwanted sounds. Almost all recordings are completely clear and only few have birds in background, since it was my intention to record some location ambients with natural backgrounds.

    You can see the metadata and sound list below.

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
  • Cars Cars In Motion Play Track 561+ sounds included, 340 mins total $150 $75

    The Cars In Motion sound library gets you exterior sounds of cars driving at different speeds, slow/medium/fast/very fast pass-bys, reverse sounds, accelerations, braking sounds and a lot of additional files. You’ll find different engines, and cars with different character.

    From a small BMW 114i through to a powerful Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 with Magna Flow exhaust, up to a fast twin turbo BMW 640D F12. In addition to cars there are also files covering big machines like tractors and excavator.

    The library features 561 WAV files with total length of 340 minutes, recorded in 96kHz and 24 bits with a Sound Devices 702, two Sennheisers MKH 8040, Rode NTG3 and Sony PCM-M10.

    Here are the cars included in this library:

    • Audi A4 Allroad 2.0 TFSI – 73 files – 73 minutes
    • Audi A4 B8 2.0 TDI Avant – 11 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 114i E87 – 20 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 530D E60 – 55 files – 21 minutes
    • BMW F12 640D Gran Coupe – 87 files – 49 minutes
    • Excavator MF 860 – 30 files – 20 minutes
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 – 62 files – 51 minutes
    • Renault Kangoo 1.6 16V – 71 files – 32 minutes
    • Renault Master II 2.8 dTi – 21 files – 13 minutes
    • Renault Master F3500 dCi135 – 30 files – 12 minutes
    • Tractor Case II CX90 – 15 files – 10 minutes
    • Volkswagen Golf II – 26 files – 13 minutes
    • Other Cars – 60 files – 23 minutes

    50 %
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  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Dirt & Asphalt Series: Motorbikes Bundle Play Track 365 sounds included, 305 mins total $116.66 $99.17

    Dirt & Asphalt Volume 1 is the first addition of vehicle and transportation recordings from Output Audio. This library contains a selection of recordings from 3 road bikes, with additional bonus content from other road motorbikes. The library also contains acceleration ramps for use in granular playback engines.

    Road bikes included:
    • Yamaha 450cc Thumper
    • Triumph 600cc Dual Fuel Injection
    • Aprillia RST 1000cc Futura
    • A selection of bonus pass-bys and externals from a range of high performance bikes

    Dirt & Asphalt Volume 2 is the second addition of vehicle and transportation recordings from Output Audio. This library contains a selection of recordings from two motocross events and two practise sessions, with additional bonus content provided as race atmospheres.

    Library highlights:

    AMCA Motocross Classes Included:
    MX1/MX2/Experts/Seniors Unlimited classes

    Engine Sizes Included:
    85cc/125cc/250cc/450cc engines

    15 %
    OFF
  • User Interface (UI) Ui Two Play Track 377 sounds included $45 $30

    Ui Two is the sequel to our overwhelming popular Ui One collection, this collection contains 377 original sounds uniquely crafted for creating user interfaces, telemetry, gadgetry and more.

    Empty Sea’s Mark Camperell, carefully crafted these sounds using a variety of beepers, boopers and other sonic tools. A sample of which include synths, samplers, spectral editors and more. Each sound was recorded at 48k/24bit. Planned, processed, mangled and otherwise destroyed, every single tone was tweaked until it was something new, original, and exciting.

    As usual, we meticulously edited, mastered and embedded the files with metadata. This collection is priced to move, so don’t hesitate. If you’re tired of the your same old UI inspiration, Ui Two from The Library by Empty Sea is a great addition to your library.

    33 %
    OFF
    Ends 1578005999
  • Cars Hyundai Kona Electric Car Play Track 428 sounds included, 98 mins total $100

    An electric car sound library with a range of FX from the Hyundai SUV, Kona.

    The library includes numerous driving FX on both gravel and asphalt including pass-bys, take offs, corners, approaches and skids.

    It also contains a large range of interior recordings from driving at highway speed all the way to buttons and switches.

    Multiple FX on each track – recorded in Sydney, Australia

  • Cars Car Interiors Play Track 430 sounds included, 14 mins total $69 $38

    car interiors library is a great supplement for all the car engine sounds that you already own. That way the action on the inside of the car is not stale at all. Dashboard buttons, seatbelts, automatic windows, switches, switching gears, brake, clutch and gas pedals, vents, turning signals. They’re all here!

    Got a whole bunch of roaring car engine sounds but then realised that you’re not equipped with all of the boring stuff like:


    car door handles, seatbelts, turn signal, air vents, buttons and switches, seats, storage compartments, horns, windows, pedals (gas, brake, clutch), handbrakes wend

    and all other Car Interior sound effects? Well then.. look no further! This is just the pack for you.
    160 wav files with over 400 single sounds in total. Car Interiors will spice up that car interior scene with real, crisp sounds, recorded from over 6 cars in total!

    45 %
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    Ends 1574981999
  • Destruction & Impact Cinematic Strikes Play Track Up to 4140 sounds included From: $119 From: $95.20

    ENORMOUS SOUNDING PERCUSSIVE HITS

    CINEMATIC STRIKES joins the BOOM Library Cinematic Series – and it focuses on big sounding drums. A whole world of cinematic percussive sound design lies a few clicks away: From devastating cracks and stomps over crisp swells and rolls to epic ensemble hits – you will be sure to find and build just what you are looking for.

    With the ultimate flexibility of different microphone positions, single and ensemble hits, flams and swells using various drums and beaters, you couldn’t be better equipped to design huge blockbuster and trailer hits – or simply place ready-to-use DESIGNED sounds into your timeline and feel the earth shake.

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – CONSTRUCTION KIT:

    FLEXIBLE SOUND DESIGN TOOLKIT

    The Construction Kit offers you one of the most comprehensive drum hit packages ever recorded. Carefully planned to satisfy and complement every spot in the frequency range, you will never run out of low end booms, aggressive cracks, mid-range body impacts, reverberant tails and excellent sweeteners to top it off.

    PERSPECTIVE & RHYTHM

    Not only are you able to produce impressive sounding hits, but also transition into, out of and between peaks. Control the attack and release of each sound, using rolls, flams, double hits and other meticulously performed techniques. Three coherent microphone positions make spatial adjustments a breeze.


    Files: 618 • Sounds: 3708 • Size: 13 GB


    CINEMATIC STRIKES – DESIGNED:

    MAXIMUM PUNCH – AND THEN SOME

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – Designed is what you get when layering and processing Construction Kit sounds BOOM Library style.

    From rumbling low-end BOOMS, soft and natural sounding WHOOSH HITS to aggressive, frontal CRACKS and PUNCHES, the Designed library showcases what’s possible, while saving precious time and budget on a tight schedule.

    This package is particularly useful for filmmakers and trailer sound designers.


    Files: 108 • Sounds: 432 • Size: 1.4 GB

    CINEMATIC STRIKES BUNDLE:

    THE BUNDLE – The best of both worlds at a discounted price.
    The Bundle gives you the full sound design power as it contains both – the DESIGNED and the CONSTRUCTION KIT edition at a discounted price.


    Files: 726 • Sounds: 4140 • Size: 14.6 GB
    Included sounds – keywords:

    BASS DRUM, BOOM, BOX, CAJON, CONCERT TOM, CRACK, CRASH, DAIKO, DOUBLE HIT, ENSEMBLE, FLAM, FOOT, GONG, HARD BEATER, HIT, JAM BLOCK, KICK, KODO, LOG, MALLET, BIN, PUNCH, ROLL, SINGLE, SNARE, SOFT BEATER, SPLASH, STICKS, STOMP, SWEETENER, SWELL, TABLA, TAIKO, TAMBORA, THUNDER SHEET, TOM, WHIP, WHOOSH HIT, WOOD PERCUSSION, WOODBLOCK
    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1575500399
 
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