David Sonnenschein Sound-Design-Sonnenschein-David-EB2370002760850

Published on November 16th, 2011 | by Jeremy Siegel

5 Keys for Using Sound Effects to Improve Sound Design — Part 2

DS 5 Keys for Using Sound Effects to Improve Sound Design   Part 2By David Son­nen­schein, author Sound Design: The Expres­sive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cin­ema

Key 2:  Look for objects and actions as explicit sounds

Scriptwrit­ing con­ven­tion pays a cer­tain homage to the power of audio by request­ing that each sound be cap­i­tal­ized in the body of the scene description:

The oncom­ing truck’s HORN BLASTS as the out-of-control car swerves vio­lently, its wheels SCREECHING.

It makes for a bit more excit­ing read­ing and a good writer can cre­ate a visual rhythm on the page that can aid in estab­lish­ing rhythm on the screen, but the major pur­pose is to help the pro­duc­tion man­ager iden­tify, sched­ule and bud­get the pro­duc­tion of these sounds.   In fact, after the sound designer has com­pleted the script analy­sis and cre­ated the sound map, the pro­duc­tion man­ager will have a much more accu­rate doc­u­ment for bas­ing his budgeting.

The sound designer’s devel­op­ment of the audio track is more exten­sive and sub­tle than the screenwriter’s, and for good rea­son.  The page sim­ply should not and can­not hold the depth of infor­ma­tion that will be on the audio track, as sim­i­larly a script should not detail cam­era angles nor all pro­duc­tion design elements.

But within every char­ac­ter, object and action on screen there can be gen­er­ated a poten­tial sound that may give fur­ther dra­matic impact to the scene and story, and this sonic col­or­ing is the chal­lenge for you to reveal.

The lit­tle boy tip­toes along the spiky tops of the rot­ten picket fence, try­ing in vain to ignore the men­ac­ing bull­dog chained just below him.  As the mad dog lunges against its restraints, the boy’s hands spas­ti­cally flap to main­tain bal­ance, his sneaker los­ing grip.

SoundDesign 5 Keys for Using Sound Effects to Improve Sound Design   Part 2So here we see two char­ac­ters, a pro­tag­o­nist and antag­o­nist, the boy and the dog.  What kind of sounds would each be elic­it­ing in this cir­cum­stance?  The boy would try to be as silent and invis­i­ble as pos­si­ble, but he can’t avoid breath­ing, which might very well be irreg­u­lar, forced and audi­ble due to his stress in hold­ing every­thing else so con­trol­lably, espe­cially when he slips.  It seems that the dog would be growl­ing at the very least, per­haps in a crescendo toward an aggres­sive bark.

The objects include a chain, which holds dou­ble intent in the scene.  The wild clink­ing forms part of the aural attack against the boy, but as it clangs taut it serves as the only thing pro­tect­ing him.  (Notice how this audio analy­sis could con­tribute to the sto­ry­board­ing and block­ing of the action if done before the shoot.)  The con­tact of the boy’s shoes with the untrust­wor­thy fence could surely gen­er­ate nerve-racking, splin­ter­ing creaks, and the slip itself may be accen­tu­ated with the weak­ness of a slip­pery rub­ber sole.

Both char­ac­ters and objects are linked to the action verbs, which cre­ate an emo­tional con­text to the scene.  Find motion, direc­tion­al­ity and moments of impact.  Sound qual­i­ties that might accent each of the verbs in the above scene could be: “tip­toes” — dainty tap-tap-tapping, “lunges” — attack­ing, explo­sive, grow­ing closer, “spas­ti­cally flap” — arrhyth­mic whooshing.

Stay tuned for Key 3 next month, and visit www.SoundDesignForPros.com to sign up for info on sound design webi­nars with David Sonnenschein.

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