Producing a film or an animated video often requires the talents of a stable of professionals. We’re talking about experts in scripting, storyboarding, camera work and even special effects.
This list, however, neglects an often overlooked aspect of filmmaking: the soundscape.
A well-crafted soundscape is a lot like a good IT team – no one notices when things are going well but the culprits are apparent when things go south.
Let’s make a slight detour from our usual articles about animation and motion graphics and focus a little more on sound.
What kind of sounds are we talking about?
Are you thinking about the thundering impact of a gazillion-vehicle chain collision? Or is it the subtle pitter-patter of rain which you instinctively associated with sound?
Well the good news is, you’re right either way. Anything you register with your ears can technically be considered some form of SFX. But if this isn’t technical enough a definition enough for you, we have also consulted Wikipedia to produce the following gem:
“A sound effect (or audio effect) is an artificially created or enhanced sound, or sound process used to emphasize artistic or other content of films, television shows, live performance, animation, video games, music, or other media. These are normally created with foley”
This brings us to the next question: What in the world is Foley? And would you consider a ludicrous sound effect an example of folly in foley?
Foley is named after revolutionary sound effects artist Jack Foley – and refers to the reproduction of everyday sound in a studio with creative means to enhance videos and films. Some examples of this would be the use of coconut husks to simulate the sound of hooves clattering on the ground and the shaking of massive pieces of tinfoil to create thunder.
Foley also plays an important role in concealing undesirable sounds captured in the audio recording of the film – for instance, passing traffic. In fancy-schmancy sound engineer terms, this is very creatively referred to as “noise”.
The term “Foley” can also refer to the studio where these sound effects are recorded.
Now that we’re done with Foley, let’s talk about isolated sounds.
Isolated sounds can be defined as the actual recording of real sounds as they happen. For instance, the rustling of leaves can be captured by literally sticking a lapel mike really close to a pile of leaves in a strong wind.
That’s right; they’re really the exact replica of the sounds you hear in the real world – car horns, doors slamming, and sounds of the sort.
However, these isolated sounds aren’t quite as popular as foley – after all, it can be legally problematic to engender an accident or fire a gun just to capture the screech of metal or the crack of a gunshot.
Rather than use a real gun – most filmmaking companies, production studios, or even a video animation company use a heavy staple gun instead.
Other times, it’s whatever you can get your hands on at a hardware store.
Now that we’re done with foley, let’s move on to background music.
Even back then when silent films were a thing, they rarely hit the big screen without some musical accompaniment. This should demonstrate the importance of music in setting the tone.
Whether by conditioning or instinct, most of us can pretty much tell if a piece of music is intended to foreshadow an amusing sequence or generate tension.
Back before modern software became available, sound engineering was a real pain. The sound artists of yore had to practice for ages just to ensure that their sounds came out at the right time.
The importance of sound effects
Despite the prevalence of sound, it’s often taken for granted. With the exception of certain voices (I’m thinking David Attenborough and Morgan Freeman) – few sounds will be able to catch your attention as well as a series of stimulating pictures.
Though most would, without a doubt, consider films a visual medium – just a single click of the mute button can cause your entire movie to crumble in pieces. A film depends heavily on audio to convey emotion and set the atmosphere. If you’re still not sold, consider watching a horror movie with the soundtrack removed!
How sound ties in with other components of a video
In Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan didn’t want the movie to sound like a science-fiction – no “bleeps and bloops” to simulate life aboard a spacecraft. What he was looking for was something realistic; something the audience would accept as reality.
The supervising sound editor and sound designer, Richard King, understood exactly what Nolan wanted. What King and his team did was put together sounds in an aeroplane fuselage in a junkyard with other kinds of effects to create the illusion of a bouncing spaceship.
It was an effect that could only be created by bringing visuals and audio together successfully.
Audio is absolutely imperative in any film or video. Location, time period, and character – can all be checked out by audio alone. It can even make us burst into laughter (or tears) with an amusing argument between two characters or an unfortunate farewell to a beloved character.
Heck, a clever mix of visual and sounds can even lead to unexpected emotions and feelings that you never thought would have been possible in a film or video.
Let’s talk about talking.
Just picture Pulp Fiction without the conversations. I’m thinking Honey Bunny and Pumpkin planning their heist in the diner, Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson discussing foot massages en route to their mob hit and Butch and his cab driver just after the boxing match.
On a very obvious level, no verbal conversations can take place without sound. But delivery and intonation make quite a bit of difference. If we also take the incongruity of the characters’ conversations with the actual plot into consideration, sound actually adds quite a bit to the entertainment value of a movie.
This brings us to the next point: The Voice Over. The narrator isn’t always a staple in all movies but when it does appear, it often plays a very important role. Case in a point: Netflix original You.
For those who have yet to catch this, here’s the lowdown – a book manager’s (Joe Goldberg) obsession with an aspiring writer (Beck Guinevere) compels him to use every means possible; from social media to the Internet to get close to her. This series is narrated from Joe’s perspective.
But that’s old news – Joe eventually (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) murders Beck to death and moves to Los Angeles to start anew. He then meets the newest love of his life – the very creatively named Love Quinn.
It would not be an exaggeration to say things became pretty awkward without Joe’s narration.
Oh, Joe. Silence isn’t always golden.
While Joe might not be a shining beacon of morality, his voice definitely helped to move things along quite a bit.
Words help reel in your viewers – it allows them to understand your story better and creates some degree of empathy. Which is exactly what You achieved with Joe’s narration.
It’s no wonder that what would otherwise be considered incredibly reprehensible behavior by an antihero begins to appear borderline justified in You.
Applying sounds into a corporate video
There are many valuable lessons that can be gleaned from the best films and we hope you now see the value of embracing good audio inside your corporate videos.
The problem with producing a video is that there are lots of variables. Choosing between 2D or 3D character animation or motion graphics, selecting the appropriate resolution, or even making a choice to do projection mapping – all these things require quite a bit of research and thought.
So, while you’re experimenting with all these different animation styles, please remember not to overlook sound. After all, both sight and sound must come together to produce a polished product. Here’s to your next video – we hope it hits all the right notes!