May 2021

Sound Design often means different things to different people; however, it is largely viewed as the art of assembling sound effects, ambient sounds and music to create an immersive experience. Filmmaker Sam Kench recently defined its value as "It is impossible to overstate how important a role audio plays in the film viewing experience. While it is perfectly natural to be drawn to the visual side of filmmaking, those striking visuals don’t hold the same weight without strong cinematic sound design to back them up. Whereas a painting is purely visual, and a song can be purely aural, cinema combines sight and sound for a unified experience where one bolsters and elevates the other."

The importance of Sound Design has increased thanks to technology. What you perceive as ambient sound and effect is always highly manipulated. As images can be created and enhanced with CGI, sound is following a similar path. When done properly, Sound Design is an indispensable addition to the visual storytelling without which a film would lack dimension. The bulk of the Sound Designer work takes place during post-production; however he/she will be called to large projects pre-production meetings in order to give an opinion. On small projects, the Sound Designer will be an all-encompassing role, taking care of everything connected to sound while on larger productions, he/she will often work with a team of Foley Artist, Dialogue and Sound Editors, Recording Engineers, Music Supervisor and Composer.

The Sound Designer does not work in a linear way. The process is a succession of trial and correction, starting with a sequence, moving onto the next and coming back to improve. The danger is over processing sounds to the level they become totally artificial. Sound Designers work in layers, focusing on the most important sounds first, getting it right, then working on the other layers until the sequence works perfectly with the picture.

Sound Designers are highly trained magicians, able of removing a persisting ambient noise or adding a subtle background sound that viewers will not pay attention to but will make the sequence more realistic. The Sound Designer is not only a technician very well versed in technology, but also an artist capable of understanding the filmmaker’s vision.

Sound Design is not a monolithic discipline, so work approach varies from project to project.

Designing sound for a romantic comedy is different than for a war movie. The challenges of re-creating authentic sounds for a period movie are different from the design of an intimate drama and will require different processes. The magic of Sound Design is also in the editing of the sound. For example, the technique called "Shepard Tone" can edit the volumes and frequencies of a soundtrack to elevate the tension of a sequence, tricking the audience into feeling progressive tension and suspense.

Designing sound for real life drama calls for existing sounds an audience can recognize, but it is much more challenging to create sounds for something that does not exist in real life, and thus, has no recognizable sound to use as a starting point. Specific sounds and effects can be found in SFX libraries but a Sound Designer will often create them from scratch using software or synthesizers or mixing multiple sounds recorded the old fashion way with a microphone in the wild or in an urban environment. A good Sound Designer is an artist with lots of imagination, always finding ways to create new sounds. A great deal of experimentation and creativity goes into crafting cinema’s most noteworthy SFX.

The role of a Sound Designer for a Sci-Fi or horror movie is clearly more challenging. Who has ever heard an alien vessel slowing down to land on earth? This is where creativity comes into play to produce the special sounds necessary to enhance the vessel landing.

Sound Designers are also working on the soundscape, meaning the sound environment in which dialogue, effects, and music rest on. A soundscape is key to create a rich overall atmosphere.

Anything connected to sound from dialog to music to soundscape is one of Filmmakers primary focus. All of them acknowledge that a slight mistake in photography does not have the same negative impact as a sound mistake.

When it comes to music, we at Music Partner understand from our work experience how important it is to work with Sound Designers while creating full sounding soundtracks in which elements work seamlessly together.