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05 MARCH 2017

written by Mike

WHAT IS SOUND DESIGN?

 

Sound design is an art of creating a soundscape for a movie, game or any other creative production. This short definition may resemble the art of Foley, but the sound design is a bit different.

Sound design is your choice for something that you can’t record or does not exist. It would be hard to record a sound of a dragon or space ship. And to fill that gap we need a team of skilled sound designers.

A Sound designer is a creative job position. It is down to your imagination how certain things will sound. Just think of work of Ben Burtt and his design work on Star Wars or Wall-e. These sounds alone have become a huge part of a cultural impact.

Of course, sound design is not just ideas and creative freedom. It can be a laborious and tiresome task too. Designing a great sounding product requires a lot of time. The time during post- production is scarce, but there are always a few steps that are worth knowing before you start.

  

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RECORDING AND DESIGN

 There are several ways to create great sound effects. You can record sounds and then process them with different plugins. You can create sounds from scratch, or you can use available sound libraries as your fundament.

The sound library is a collection of already recorded and prepared sounds you can use. It is important to remember that the libraries are usually licensed, and you must pay for them. There are websites like Freesound with free available sounds that people upload too; these places can be a good start when you are in need of sounds.

Sounds from a library can usually benefit small and low-budget productions. They are inexpensive and don’t take too much time to put in place.

The downside is that using the sound library can leave to a generic and bland sound design. It is always better to strive for originality and innovation. But sometimes using the same audio can be fun too.

Recording a basis for sound effect is the most common and also most fun way to design a great sounding scene. Imagine you need to create a cave ambience. First, you can record the drops of water from your tap. Then wind and surroundings of an empty garage, and maybe a movement of your clothes.

It may not sound and look as much in the beginning. But when you layer it in your editing software and process some of the effects, it will be a different story. Drops of water coming from the walls, quiet wind passing in the distance and atmosphere of obscure movements will make the whole place alive.

Another option is to create the sounds from scratch on the computer. For this, you need a MIDI keyboard and collection of different software synthesisers. For example software from Spectrasonics is awesome for designing sounds. By connecting your MIDI keyboard with the software synthesiser, you can design anything you want. You can start with already saved presets.

You can create laser gun or magic spells’ sounds by playing with different options of the synth. 

EDITING AND IMPLEMENTATION

 After the sounds are ready, it is time for your editing and implementation. This stage is where you will synchronise sounds to the scene in a project.

Editing is a simple task of cutting, cleaning and moving audio around. For example, a scene in the eerie cave is shorter than anticipated. The atmosphere and ambience that you designed before need to be shorter. What if a fast paced car chase scene has changed?

And the director wants an extra off-screen sound in there too?

You will need to sync the sounds again and add another layer of effects too. Such is a life of a sound designer. Implementation of sound design is a bit of a different undertaking. When we talk about implementing sounds, it usually means placing it in a game or application. The same rules for recording, design and editing apply. You can do it all in the software like Avid Pro Tools. 

Implementation requires programs called sound engines. The sound engine can be a bit more complicated to use. It is a sort of a stop in the middle that connects your audio editing software to your final product such as a video game. The reason sound engines exist, is that implementing a sound into an interactive project like an app is different to linear movie sound design.

The game or app have to send a signal when a certain sound needs to be played, at what volume, in what context. Imagine playing a game where you walk on grass field then you pass on a wooden bridge. And then into a mountain cave. Listen to the footsteps of the character. You will notice that they will sound different in each environment. 

 

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SOUND EFFECTS MIX

Once the sound effects are ready it is the time to mix them into the projects. Now, it is different to create a linear, movie mix to an organic game mix. Movie sound effects mixer will work together with music and dialogue mixers. As a team under a supervision of a director, they will decide on the volume and impact of SFXs in the project.

A big explosion sound can take up the whole space and shake a room. Other time the sound is muffled, distorted and presented from the point of view of main character.

For the games and applications, the mix works in a different way. A set of scripts is written and implemented, and the mix happens in real time. One player can fight a monster, and the dynamic, heroic music kicks in. The other player can hide in the shadows and avoid the fight altogether. Different kinds of sound effects will take place then.

In the design field, you can find a lot of different specialisations. Big projects will have a monster sound designer, ambience sound designer, interface sound designer and so on. In each one of these positions, you will have to come up with innovative and exciting ideas for the project. And then implement them into the scene.

Next time, when you are playing a game or watching a movie listen to sound design.

What creative decisions sound designers made?

How different it feels when you mute the sounds for a bit?

You will realise how much of a big role a great sound design plays in a success of the production.

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