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Sound Design for Film with Juma Tayari

Sound Design for Film

Have you ever wondered how the sounds and voices of the Autobots and Decepticons in the Transformers movies always sound so REAL??
Well, thanks to sound design, we get to experience our favourite films through certain sounds and inspiring music used that makes you feel like you are actually present in the movie itself. 
First of all, sound design is the process of recording, acquiring, manipulating or generating audio elements. It is employed in a variety of disciplines including filmmaking, television production, theatre, sound recording and reproduction, live performance, sound art and video game software development. Sound design most commonly involves the manipulation of previously composed or recorded audio, such as music and sound effects. In some instances, it may also involve the composition or recording of audio to create a desired effect or mood.
Sound design is an important element in film production. It comes in at the post-production stage where all the footage that was captured is edited together, then graded, and finally, the audio is added. This is where the sound designer comes in. His/her work is to ensure that all the sounds used are mixed to blend well, making sure that they are not overwhelming.
 Sound Studio 2-2
Students working in the ADMI Sound Engineering Studio
Sound is what drives a picture. It is what gives emotion to an image. That’s why it is said that sound makes up 70% of a film. As part of learning the basics of sound design for film, it’s important to get an understanding of what makes up an entire film soundtrack. These elements are: 
  1. Sound Effects: They are created artificially or by enhancing a sound. They are used to depict the mood, simulate reality or even create an illusion in a video. For example, if a glass bottle smashed, that sound of the glass breaking is recorded separately and enhanced to sound as realistic as possible. 
  2. Foley sounds: Unlike sound effects, foley sounds are the sounds that are added near the end of the production of a video. These sounds are caused by human interaction, such as footsteps, picking up or dropping an item, the sound of clothes rustling, or cutlery sounds. They are used to give weight or oomph to subtle sounds that appear on the screen during an actor’s performance and other scenarios.
  3. Music: Music in film achieves a number of things. It establishes the setting. It creates an atmosphere. It calls attention to elements. It reinforces or foreshadows narrative developments. It gives meaning to a character’s actions or translates their thoughts. It creates emotion. More often than not, the music used is not produced by a source in the filmic space.
  4. Dialogue: This plays a big part in the narrative and the actor’s performance. Unlike music and sound effects, this hooks the audience and carries the story forward, so a lot of emphasis and money is placed on getting the audio recorded in optimal quality.

Sound designers and composers begin their work by studying the script, gathering as much information as they can about any sound or music it calls for. An early meeting with the film director and the rest of the involved team is essential to get a clear understanding of the production concept.
Some directors will already have very clear ideas about what the sound effects and/or music should sound like, while others may request that the sound designer/composer sit in on rehearsals to assist with developing effects and music to fit the specific contexts in which they will be used.

In order to be successful, a professional sound designer must have a huge array of creative and technical skill sets, including:

  • a well-developed sense of hearing
  • a comprehensive understanding of musical history and genre
  • a musician’s sensitivity to timbre, rhythm, melody, harmony, and musical structure
  • a deep understanding of psychoacoustics, system engineering, acoustics, computer networking, component integration, and of the systems for sophisticated audio distribution. 

Technical skills across a variety of computer operating systems and software are fundamental, as is the ability to learn new concepts and equipment in a world of fast-paced technological development. But perhaps most importantly, sound designers understand the tremendous power of sound to aid the storytelling process, transport an audience directly into the vortex of the performance, and to make that performance a truly unforgettable experience.

Interested in learning how to design sound for films? Join our sound engineering course today.


About the Co-Writer

Juma Tayari is a Sound Engineer with over five years’ experience in analogue and digital audio processing, specializing in live sound reinforcement. He has worked in many projects within Africa such as Breath Sunshine Music Conference, Death of Bryan Barns, Freddy McGregor, Kenyatta Hill, Kaya Documentary and The Mighty Culture. He is the Founder and Director of Tayari Soniq, which specialises in live sound reinforcement, audio post-production and studio recording. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sound Production from the SAE Institute in South Africa.

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