A womanly figure in a rock. Asbjoern Andersen


Sound can take your project to new heights - but how do you make that happen? Here, film sound legend Randy Thom shares insights and hands-on tips from his decades in sound:
Written by Randy Thom and reprinted with his kind permission
Please share:
 
Sound designer Randy ThomFor me, taking “Sound Design” seriously means essentially one thing: allowing sound ideas to influence creative decisions in the other crafts. If sound (basically music and sound effects — though I resist the idea that there is a clear boundary between the two) is merely a decoration to be applied to a pre-determined product, then it isn’t collaborating on anything, and the likelihood of sound being an organic part of the whole experience is near zero.
At the beginning of a project the Director will probably tell you, the Sound Designer/Composer, that sound is extremely important to the film. He/She is probably being sincere, but what they really mean is probably something like the following:

“The sound in this movie has to be great. I don’t have time to put much energy into it myself, and I didn’t learn much about the creative aspect of film sound in film school where I got the impression that sound work is a series of boring technical operations you don’t understand unless you’re a physics major, but I’m hiring you because you’re supposed to be a genius. You’re so brilliant (I hope) and have access to such hi-tech gadgets (I pray) that the track will miraculously, without benefit of actual collaboration, (no time for figuring out what it might mean to let sound collaborate) fill the gaps left by the visual effects and dialogue.”

For me, taking ‘Sound Design’ seriously means essentially one thing: allowing sound ideas to influence creative decisions in the other crafts

What passes for collaboration will usually consist of you, the Composer/Sound Designer, being handed the Editor’s temp track and asked to make a 5.1 channel version of it which is somehow basically identical to the original, yet simultaneously transcends it, makes it breathe, and fills whatever gaps have been left by the other crafts. Sure, we can do that. But it won’t be what it could be. And no, it will not, has not ever, saved the picture.
On a little less cynical note, some progress is being made on the path toward collaboration. I can give you one very good example from the movie Contact

Bob Zemeckis is one of those rare Directors who sees the value in allowing sound to do what the other major crafts do: affect other crafts. There is a sequence in Contact when the Jodie Foster character is “flying” through a tunnel in space-time. When I saw the early experiments done by the visual effects people I noticed that there were typically ten to twenty “objects” of roughly equal size flying through the frame and around her at any one time.
I knew that if we cut a sound for every one of those objects, and panned those sounds through the frame and into the surrounds, we would wind up with so much happening in every speaker at all times that we’d get no sense of movement and no articulation: pink noise. I mentioned this to Bob. It made sense to him, so he asked the people doing the visuals to design them so that the audience would tend to focus on one or two objects at a time flying by the camera. I don’t tell you this in order to make myself seem brilliant.

Bob Zemeckis is one of those rare Directors who sees the value in allowing sound to do what the other major crafts do: affect other crafts.

There were no doubt lots of better suggestions I could have made if I’d had the brains to come up with them. The reason I say it is that I believe we as sound people should encourage each other to consider the possibility that our collaborative suggestions may, and sometimes should, be taken seriously and acted upon by members of other “departments.” Mere sound people, unless they happen to be high school buddies with the Director, (a status I can’t claim with Mr. Zemeckis) would typically never dare to make a suggestion about the way anything should LOOK in the film, even if it has a direct bearing on their sound work. That seems ridiculous to me.
 


Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • Human Vandria 2 – New Dawn Play Track 670 sounds included $129 $99

    TH Studio Production presents the Epic Cinematic Vocal Library VANDRIA 2 – New Dawn, featuring the voice of the Bulgarian singer Megi Angelova.

    Born in Bulgaria, Megi Angelova is a singer/songwriter based in London, UK. Coming from a background of musicians and artists she always has been fascinated by art and music which inspires her to look beyond the frames and to experiment with different styles of music, vocals, lyrics, musical instruments and sound effects.

    [Please note: The full Kontakt 5 plugin is required to use the Kontakt instruments, and is not included. The stand-alone .wav files can be used without Kontakt]

    23 %
    OFF
    Ends 1583708399
    Add to cart
  • Ambisonics Sounds of Belgrade Winter – Ambisonic Play Track 29 sounds included, 69 mins total $49 $39

    The library is the collection of atmosphere recordings in the city of Belgrade during the winter months. It’s a gathering of 29 ambisonic atmospheres recorded at many different places in Belgrade. There are atmospheres from famous places in Belgrade, parks, busy streets, traffic, underground passages, pedestrian streets, atmospheres on Ada Isle, below and on the Ada bridge, Ada Lake, two rivers Sava and Danube.

    All atmospheres are recorded at 96kHz/24Bit with condenser ambisonic microphone Rode NTSF1 and Zoom F8, in FuMa format.

    You can convert ambisonic FuMa format in real time with free SoundField plugin to stereo, 5.1, 7.1, 7.1.4, or any other surround format. You can also change the panoramic view of the sound because they are 360 degrees recordings, as well as automate the panoramic perspective.

    All recordings have metadata.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1582844399
    Add to cart
  • This sound pack features the perfect transition and movement sounds for any film, tv or animation project. With 91 sounds in total, they have all been carefully sound designed using a variety of top class plugin processors.

    All files are meta tagged in Soundminer so you can easily find them with simple search terms. See a full list of the sound pack below:

    • Ambient Sub Movements
    • Downlifters
    • Flybys
    • FX
    • Gleams
    • Risers
    • Shutter Oscillations
    • Whooshes & Swishes

    62 High Quality WAVS (8:30 mins)
    Size Unpacked: 540MB
    Sample Rate: 96kHz/24bit
    Gear Used: Sennheiser MK416, Soundtoys, Altiverb, Pro Tools
    Other Info: Meta-Tagged

    Add to cart
  • Ambisonics Room Tones USA Play Track 97 sounds included, 420+ mins total From: $109 From: $87.20

    ROOM TONES USA – 3D SURROUND AMBIENCES
    Our fourth entry of our famous sound effect series 3D SURROUND is now available: After ROOM TONES EUROPE comes ROOM TONES USA.

    As you’d expect from a library labeled “room tones”, the sounds come without much action in the foreground but with a very detailed acoustic image of each room, giving you the perfect basic noise layer to break the silence in your post production project. The recorded rooms vary from hallways and warehouses over cafes, offices, basements, apartment rooms, laundry and boiler rooms to industrial rooms and even an underground bunker. ROOM TONES USA covers all different scenarios you could possibly need, delivered fully surround with unprecedented precision, spatial impression and clarity. Undoubtedly, this can be easily used in stereo productions as well. Either chose the angle yourself or use the stereo version (included in 3D SURROUND).

    20 %
    OFF
  • Destruction & Impact Krypton Play Track 300 sounds included $65 $45

    Your search for the one outstanding cinematic sound FX pack is complete with KRYPTON. This set of high-end FX can turn a homemade reel to a professional Hollywood cut. DARK AND LIGHT ATMOSPHERES, HITS, BRAAMS, RISERS, GLITCHES, DRONES, BOOMS, WHOOSHES and more are just a click and drag away from setting your work above the competition.

    This library was developed in cooperation with our partner VAMIFY.

    31 %
    OFF
    Ends 1583103599
    Add to cart


Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 
Want more stories like this? Follow A Sound Effect:
 
                              

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that there is an individual, the Director, who gets to determine, to the degree physically possible, what the movie is going to look and sound like. I hate working for committees. And obviously it isn’t appropriate for everybody working on a film to be constantly tugging the Director’s sleeve with suggestions. That said . . . While it’s considered entirely appropriate for the Production Designer and Director of Photography to make suggestions about diverse aspects of the movie, it flirts with professional suicide for the Composer or Sound Designer to do the same.

In a further perversion of the old idea of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, it’s assumed that because the “visual” preceeded the “aural” in film history then sound should forever simply follow the picture in every respect. The best Directors of the last generation, people like Scorcese, Coppola, Kubrick, Bertolucci, Lucas, and Spielberg know this is a false idea, but even they aren’t sure how to deal with it. How do you treat sound as an equal collaborator? There are holes in every rule. I hate rules. But here, Sound Guys (notice nobody ever says “camera guy?”), are some, let’s say, “necessary conditions” for using the power of sound in “your” (YOUR) movie.

Number One:

If someone in the scene isn’t listening to what’s going on, then the audience isn’t going to be listening either.

If a character … seems oblivious to the sounds around him/her, then those sounds are nothing but noise

Most sounds in movies are not intrinsically interesting, no matter what a genius your Sound Designer is. They will tend to be interesting and compelling to the degree that they are perceived by one or more characters in a scene, in a story context that features them. The context is more important than the sound itself. When people are talking, they are not listening. Therefore, if a character is talking constantly (screaming constantly), or seems oblivious to the sounds around him/her, then those sounds are nothing but noise, and they have little dramatic value, unless they appear elsewhere in the movie in a scene where someone IS listening.

Number Two:

The frame needs to contain some mystery, something which is not obvious.

The human brain does seem to assign a certain kind of hierarchy to the visual and aural: when we think we are getting enough information with our eyes we tend not to fully use our ears.

Therefore, it is the ambiguous image, the darkness in the frame, the slow motion, the smoke, the fog, the odd camera angle, the ultra close-up, or the slightly eccentric POV which sends the brain to the ear for help. In the process, the audience is literally more engaged, each sense teasing the other. More of her is being brought into play. How can she resist being more compelled when more of her body is engaged in the act of perceiving . . . when each sense is shaping the other sense from moment to moment.

Number Three:

Storytelling is about making connections between characters, places, ideas, and experiences.

It isn’t enough for a sound to be merely loud, or high-fidelity, or digital, or authentic to a specific place or time. It needs to remind you of, resonate with, other sounds, places, feelings. No matter how much talent you have as a Sound Designer, you cannot make these connections by yourself. They need to be set up with the writing, acting, visual design, photography, and editing. Nobody successfully forces Sound Design onto a film, or even a sequence, which hasn’t been designed (consciously or unconsciously) to welcome it. It would be great to read about other peoples’ attempts to make sound a full collaborator in movie sound. Send them to me, and I’ll incorporate them into future articles.

 

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

 

Please share this:


 


 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
  • Environments Wind In Broadleaf Trees Play Track 42 sounds included, 66 mins total $20 $15

    Wind In Broadleaf Trees is a collection of recordings focusing on wind through broadleaf trees. Recorded in a Swedish forest in October it is representative of the most common broadleaf trees in Europe and other areas with a temperate climate.

    In this collection I wanted to capture evocative and emotional wind sounds, from the soothing and relaxing soft winds, tense moderate winds, dramatic strong winds and the transitions between the different emotions or speeds of wind.

    The collection was recorded at 24 bits 96Khz with an A-B stereo setup. It contains both longer files, with two minutes and more in length and shorter files edited to be a seamless loop. The files also come with embedded metadata.

    25 %
    OFF
    Ends 1584226799
    Add to cart
  • Foley Combat Cloth Play Track 720+ sounds included $16

    Combat Cloth! is the perfect cloth movement library to enhance the sound of the fighting scenes of your project.

    The library has been recorded with a Neumann u89 (Hypercardiod) and Audient Mic Pre.
    All files contain extensive metadata to quickly find the sounds you’re looking for.

    Add to cart
  • Destruction & Impact Distant Blast Play Track 81 sounds included $18 $14.40

    Distant Blast library brings heavy explosions, impacts and detonations right into your track.

    Highlights:
    • focused on faraway outdoor explosions
    • organic, yet heavily designed content
    • wide palette of dark colours, sub-bass rich
    • 40 “Distant Blast” and 41 “Even Deeper” files
    • native 96/24
    • the preview file also contains pads from The Horrid and City Distant 192 kHz.

    20 %
    OFF
    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Human Vandria 2 – New Dawn Play Track 670 sounds included $129 $99

    TH Studio Production presents the Epic Cinematic Vocal Library VANDRIA 2 – New Dawn, featuring the voice of the Bulgarian singer Megi Angelova.

    Born in Bulgaria, Megi Angelova is a singer/songwriter based in London, UK. Coming from a background of musicians and artists she always has been fascinated by art and music which inspires her to look beyond the frames and to experiment with different styles of music, vocals, lyrics, musical instruments and sound effects.

    [Please note: The full Kontakt 5 plugin is required to use the Kontakt instruments, and is not included. The stand-alone .wav files can be used without Kontakt]

    23 %
    OFF
    Ends 1583708399
  • Ambisonics Sounds of Belgrade Winter – Ambisonic Play Track 29 sounds included, 69 mins total $49 $39

    The library is the collection of atmosphere recordings in the city of Belgrade during the winter months. It’s a gathering of 29 ambisonic atmospheres recorded at many different places in Belgrade. There are atmospheres from famous places in Belgrade, parks, busy streets, traffic, underground passages, pedestrian streets, atmospheres on Ada Isle, below and on the Ada bridge, Ada Lake, two rivers Sava and Danube.

    All atmospheres are recorded at 96kHz/24Bit with condenser ambisonic microphone Rode NTSF1 and Zoom F8, in FuMa format.

    You can convert ambisonic FuMa format in real time with free SoundField plugin to stereo, 5.1, 7.1, 7.1.4, or any other surround format. You can also change the panoramic view of the sound because they are 360 degrees recordings, as well as automate the panoramic perspective.

    All recordings have metadata.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1582844399
  • This sound pack features the perfect transition and movement sounds for any film, tv or animation project. With 91 sounds in total, they have all been carefully sound designed using a variety of top class plugin processors.

    All files are meta tagged in Soundminer so you can easily find them with simple search terms. See a full list of the sound pack below:

    • Ambient Sub Movements
    • Downlifters
    • Flybys
    • FX
    • Gleams
    • Risers
    • Shutter Oscillations
    • Whooshes & Swishes

    62 High Quality WAVS (8:30 mins)
    Size Unpacked: 540MB
    Sample Rate: 96kHz/24bit
    Gear Used: Sennheiser MK416, Soundtoys, Altiverb, Pro Tools
    Other Info: Meta-Tagged

  • Ambisonics Room Tones USA Play Track 97 sounds included, 420+ mins total From: $109 From: $87.20

    ROOM TONES USA – 3D SURROUND AMBIENCES
    Our fourth entry of our famous sound effect series 3D SURROUND is now available: After ROOM TONES EUROPE comes ROOM TONES USA.

    As you’d expect from a library labeled “room tones”, the sounds come without much action in the foreground but with a very detailed acoustic image of each room, giving you the perfect basic noise layer to break the silence in your post production project. The recorded rooms vary from hallways and warehouses over cafes, offices, basements, apartment rooms, laundry and boiler rooms to industrial rooms and even an underground bunker. ROOM TONES USA covers all different scenarios you could possibly need, delivered fully surround with unprecedented precision, spatial impression and clarity. Undoubtedly, this can be easily used in stereo productions as well. Either chose the angle yourself or use the stereo version (included in 3D SURROUND).

    20 %
    OFF
  • Destruction & Impact Krypton Play Track 300 sounds included $65 $45

    Your search for the one outstanding cinematic sound FX pack is complete with KRYPTON. This set of high-end FX can turn a homemade reel to a professional Hollywood cut. DARK AND LIGHT ATMOSPHERES, HITS, BRAAMS, RISERS, GLITCHES, DRONES, BOOMS, WHOOSHES and more are just a click and drag away from setting your work above the competition.

    This library was developed in cooperation with our partner VAMIFY.

    31 %
    OFF
    Ends 1583103599
 
FOLLOW OR SUBSCRIBE FOR THE LATEST IN FANTASTIC SOUND:
 
                              
 
GET THE MUCH-LOVED A SOUND EFFECT NEWSLETTER:
 
The A Sound Effect newsletter gets you a wealth of exclusive stories and insights
+ free sounds with every issue:
 
Subscribe here for free SFX with every issue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.