It is genuinely astonishing how much we take sound in television and film for granted. I am sure to the average, haven’t-done-an-audio-degree, haven’t-heavily-researched-audio human being, the sound within film is almost just a given! We often just do not pay second thought (or first?) to the full extent of work that's put in behind the scenes of what we’re encountering – how much of the whole soundscape has actually been captured in a studio, extensively manufactured, edited, mixed, engineered…
Which I guess is a good thing – practitioners in this industry are working to suspend disbelief. The only instance you would ever really separate the sound as a distinct addition, the diegetic sound more specifically, is if it negatively stands out (something like scores and soundtracks though, the non-diegetic sound more, are naturally more conspicuous). If the sound in a film is done well it should so seamlessly present as within the whole product.
These are thoughts I have considered more heavily recently, after having just finished a post-production intensive, where we replaced all the sound in a four minute clip of a film (an activity I have done before, but each time offers greater understanding and appreciation). We chose Hot Rod (the classic comedy that it is), and writing the cue sheet for every single sound within just the first four minutes was a colossus task! It took a few hours – there is so much more sound within scenes than is acknowledged when we experience it for entertainment.
This is probably the exact level of dedication my group and I had in the studio.
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tr6dukTeTI
Working on the Hot Rod clip was absolutely hilarious. It helped that I had a group as fun and uninhibited as a film the likes of this one necessitated. Like the need to replicate vomit sounds for example (we ended using water being convulsed onto gravel). The most enjoyable part, for me, was recording the dialogue. It was greatly entertaining having voices of people you know matched to entirely different characters. I realised how important the initial performance is here – it is very fiddly to edit words to fit a visual mouth pronouncing them – it's so much easier if they work well to begin with.
I’d say the foley was the most challenging aspect – it calls for unreserved creativity. It is quite fantastic though that even when a sound in itself may not exactly match that of the desired (natural) sound, once you put it to the image the connection is made by our minds and the genuineness is plausible.
Here is a short clip I enjoy (not ONLY for the scene at 6 seconds) that, though a little vintage, illustrates well what foley artists do:
The Foley Artists: Los Angeles Times. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNvKhe2npMM
Actually I have changed my mind - THE most difficult aspect of this project was session maintenance. We ended up with an absolute beast of a Pro Tools session - there is ridiculous amount of tracks - working through them has been a brain strain to say the least.
I have duly noted that in any future post-production sessions I work on, I will do anything in my power to stay right on top of any possible method of organisation, so when the time comes to work through them all my future self can thank my past self for being orderly and sensible.
Working on the D-Command was great too – it’s basically a control surface for ProTools. It was strange at first reminding oneself to not attack the mouse straight away for everything we wanted to do in-the-box, but use the board in front of you. The longer the project went on the more I felt comfortable using all the controls, but it still never became extremely natural. I do think though that once one is used to it it would make in-the-box work much faster and easier (even just having actual faders and knobs to physically adjust).
Our product isn't entirely finished, so I won't share at this time, but soon I will be able to link to the clip we created the sound for.
Something I have found, with all previous post-production assignments, is how incomparably invaluable the atmos sounds are - a scene really doesn’t feel real, whole or complete without that underlying ‘sound of scene’. There’s always this strange hollowness and manufactured-vibe until you put in the reality-based background sounds, and apply a suitable, believable reverb.
It’s weird, because some of these sounds you certainly wouldn’t explicitly notice in real-life, but all spaces have their own sound - spaces affect our perception of the sound waves within them - even a classroom, a corridor, a garden, a quiet street… There is an underlying aural familiarity to each of them.
This is a brilliant educational video (with some great facial expressions) that covers in interesting depth a range of aspects of sound design, including atmosphere and ambience beginning at 1:29 (ELEPHANTS):
Holey Foley: Sound Design at Earth Touch. YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Li6TSwybqjU
It’s funny how much I focus in on sound now! Thankfully though, it hasn’t yet wrecked films for me, despite intently singling out the foley, special FX, atmos and ADR when I watch them. (I may have accidentally become annoying to watch films with though - I focus too excitedly and comment on features that are better left undistinguished I am sure). But it’s more just allowed me to appreciate when it’s been done well! I admire the work of sound recordists, foley experts and engineers now, and everyone involved in the behind the scenes goings on. It’s an unreal industry really… A magic industry.