I grew up watching cowboy movies on TV, and my enduring memories from those films are the sounds of creaking saddle leather, horses hooves on rocks and bullets ricocheting. Without those sounds the movies would not have been nearly as credible. Fast forward to the Star Wars era and, even though we all know there is no sound in space, soundtracks full of exploding Death Stars and burning space drives are etched into our psyches and without them our favourite films and characters would not be the same.

Many of the sounds that we hear and take for granted in films are created by sound designers from complex sources and melded to images on screen to form a complete entity. Who knew what a Wookie was supposed to sound like? Or the voice of Jabba the Hut or a phaser set on “stun”?

In these streamlined times of DIY media creation, an editor often serves double duty working these sounds into an edit, as well as their primary duty of getting the story across in the time allotted.

The main point here is emotion. Music has an impact that weaves itself into a storyline and wraps up the whole package, making our filmmaking fantasy into reality. Your film has a sonic signature that defines it and creates the finishing touch that makes it unique. Listen to the interwoven sound design and music in the original version of Blade Runner.

In the first 30 seconds, the ambient sounds of the city and the rising aero car melt into the underscore, distant voices and swooshing traffic noises become part of the music and Vangelis takes his time to create a mood for us of futuristic ambience.

This next clip is the crash scene from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The editor uses classic sounds of accelerating engines and screeching tires to build tension and when the music comes in at the 10 second mark we are prepared for the tension that builds with it. The music forms a bed for the alternating machine sounds that come and go as the edit cuts back and forth, and when the crash comes just over a minute in, the mechanical sounds stop and the underscore takes over and finalises the mood. The underscore takes on it’s own life under the sound of her footsteps and the explosion climaxes the scene.

These examples show how sound design, foley art, and underscore can blend to become the sound of a movie.

What does this all mean for you, as a film maker?

A sound designer/composer on your team can make your vision a sonic reality and draw your audience into that reality.

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About 

Jim is a sound designer, composer and recording artist based in San Diego, California. He divides his time between creating soundscapes for video, editing his video projects in FCPX and Motion, and performing live music. He plays jazz guitar and pedal steel as well as various electronic gizmos. His hobby is playing Hawaiian music on acoustic and electric lap steel.
His website is http://jimfiegen.com