Week 9 - Class One
In this class, we explore the areas of environmental sound and sound effects (SFX). While the previous two topics (musical soundtracks and dialogue) are foreground items, environmental sound and SFX are there to be in the background - and specifically to make the illusion of the video/film complete. Let's look at some details.
In many cases, environmental sound is considered part of sound effects. But I like to split it out - because it is critically important for the quality of the end result. Films without proper environmental sound seem 'plastic' or 'fake', and are completely unsatisfying. In order to properly deal with environmental sound, we may have to depend on field recordings - or perhaps depend on someone else's recordings.
There are lots of places to go to get environmental sound that might be appropriate for your soundtrack. In addition to searches available within Freesound, there are also loads of YouTube videos that provide long-form background ambiences:
There are a few rules about what makes good background ambience:
- Be careful about looping - this will activate the brains pattern-matching system.
- Keep it in the background - way in the background!
- Be legit - you never know when your viewers will *really* know the environment you are showing.
- Keep the audio out of the midrange - this is where the soundtrack, dialogue and SFX will live.
Sound Effects - the Bombastic Kind
Hollywood owns the franchise on bombastic sound effects, and this video kind of discusses the most famous of them:
In most cases, the over-the-top sound effects found in Hollywood movies generally come from heavy-duty synthesis, combinations of existing sounds and massive amounts of audio effects. While I'm not a huge fan of the 'huge' Hollywood effects, the best sound effects masters actually can produce subtle and wonderful sound effects that make a movie come alive. Probably the best of the sound effects editors is Ben Burtt - the sound designer for Star Wars, Indiana Jones and (now) many Pixar films. This documentary talks about Ben:
So, as you can see, Hollywood-style effects can come from many places: existing sound libraries, in-the-field location recordings or the creation of sound-specific hardware for creating interesting sounds.
Sound Effects - the Subtle Kind
The area of film sound design that I think is most responsible for the 'realism' of a project is the area of Foley sound. This is where the details of images are reinforced by subtle use of sound. This can include cloth rubbing, papers rustling, switches clicking and shoes squeaking. In this video, Leslie Bloome goes through the process of doing a good job of providing Foley sound for a short film segment:
Foley work can require a lot of specific props, but you can just as easily get away with just a few. Some necessary tools will include:
- Cello wrap (for fire, leaves, crunchiness)
- Aluminum foil (for almost anything metallic)
- Cellophane and electrical tape (for tears and rips)
- Corn starch (for almost anything needing footfalls)
- Some denim material (for almost anything clothes related)
- And, of course, a decent microphone (if you can...)
In order to work with a limited palette of sound making tools, you will also need to use effects - particularly pitch and time shifting - in order to tweak the sounds into something usable. If you have the time and/or money, you can get function specific tools (like the Zube Tube) to do interesting sounds:
But however you choose to do your Foley work, you also have to make sure that you are careful about keeping these sounds subtle. It's tempting to 'feature' the Foley sounds, because they can be inventive and will actually push you into new sonic territory. But if the sounds stick out too much, you will just reinforce the fact that they were added on later, and the illusion you are trying to protect will be completely broken.
Next class you will be presenting your audio-for-video work with a complete audio replacement of the video we worked on last week. Be selective about what you Foley into the scene, then spend a lot of time balancing the audio tracks to make for a convincing - but entertaining - video piece for next class.
The first hour of the next class will be a period where I can help you finalize your work and help correct any problems that you might be having at the last minute. But come to class prepared; at any moment, I might decide that I've had enough of helping and want to see to video!