Sound design for animation

It’s all about the audio

When it comes to effects work, the job has only been done right if the viewer doesn’t notice you’ve done anything at all, and that includes the often overlooked world of sound design. Everything has to fit just right so you truly believe that a certain object on screen is making that sound. If the sound doesn’t, fit it bursts the bubble and destroys the audience experience.

A great example of how powerful sound can be, is this binaural sound scape called “Virtual Barbershop Haircut” (be sure to wear a decent pair of headphones before listening): https://soundcloud.com/tmayne/virtual-haircut

I’ve always been interested in sound and music. When I was a teenager I was in a band for 3 years and I’ve studied sound design for film.  The band has split up a long time since but I’m often involved in sound work and music editing for our client work at Distant Future.

Occasionally we do get outside help for larger projects or where there are specific custom sound that need to be made and through that, I recently had the opportunity to visit Andrew Cleaton at Epiphany Music whilst he was working on the sound design for one of our up-coming films.

Andrew is a composer, producer, sound designer, educator… you name it, if it’s got something to do with sound, chances are he does it.

After I arrived, he finished recording some extra crunchy guitar riffs that he’d just been working on and then we watched the whole film through from the beginning and listened to what he had done so far. We decided to focus on a scene that takes place in a fridge to make it sound like an Arctic environment.

Andrew uses a combination of Adobe Audition, and Logic Pro. He explained to me that Audition is generally better for sound effects editing and collaborative work, whereas Logic is primarily music editing software. We found an Arctic wind recording, and used that along with Logic’s Space Designer Reverb plug-in to make it seem as though the sound was coming from within the fridge. The plug-in has a vast multitude of reverb settings for all sorts of environments. You could easily spend a whole day just playing around with the different settings. It really opened my eyes as to just how much of a powerful effect reverb can be. The same reverb was applied to all of the sounds within the fridge to make them match.

Something else I learnt whilst I was at the sound studio, is the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Diegetic is sound which comes from objects or a source within the film (e.g. characters voices, objects or music coming from an object like a radio). These sounds should be directly affected by their environment.

Non-diegetic sound is generally a musical score, or a narrator. Anything that is clearly not coming directly from the portrayed world. These sounds would typically not be affected by the environment that the film is set in.

Andrew showed me how he has previously recorded a large library of car sounds by going to a special garage where they can lift the car off the ground and set up multiple microphones around the engine and exhaust. They then record multiple takes of going through all the various gears and speeds. These sound of the engine and exhaust are used together to give a fuller sound rather than just hearing them individually. A trick Andrew mentioned was to turn the bass down and treble up on one sound (the engine sounds for instance), and then do the reverse on the music. This way the sounds layer together nicely rather than all of them blaring over the same frequency.

I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day at the sound studio, because for me, sound has always been one of my favourite things about animation. Many people only focus on the visuals and think if it looks good, it’s done. But visuals only make up 50% of the movie-going experience and shouldn’t be overlooked. The same is true for animated and filmed marketing materials and other communications you may be considering.

If you want to make sure your animation is as effective as possible, ask us how we can use sound design to help.

 

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