“Sound workshop”: How to create sound design for the movie
Photo by Iñaki de Bilbao / CC
In the 32nd release of the Sound podcast, we prepared for you an unusual continuation of the movie theme - a story about how sound design is created for TV shows and movies. As part of this release, Yevgeny Pereyaslavtsev spoke with us , he studied filmmaking at Santa Monica College in Los Angeles, worked (and works) on various projects as an independent sound producer and sound engineer.
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Alina: I want to start with your profession. What is a sound engineer for a movie? What do these people do? Is there any one word that calls it all?
Yevgeny: There is the word "sound shop". A sound shop is a common definition for a group of people who work on sound during the period of production, the so-called production, and in post-production - this is the editing period.
Alina: I see. That is, it is precisely those people who are engaged in sound in the film industry?
Eugene: Yes. The production usually employs at least 2 people: the sound engineer who controls the mixer, recorder, monitors the recording levels, and the microphone man - the person who holds the microphone, fixes the buttonholes on the actors. The name speaks for itself.
In a large production, there are often several mikrofonchiki, if you need to record several channels, when one person can not cope. It also happens on the production that a third person is also attributed to the sound shop - sound engineering. He is responsible for cables, switching and other technical parts.
Alina: That is, for the infrastructure.
Alina: Are these people somehow connected with post-production? Or are these different teams?
Eugene: In general, these are different teams. The sound engineer and microphoneman work at the site, on the recording, and in the installation, the sound department deals only with the recorded and already assembled material.
Meanwhile, the moment when the sound was recorded at the site, and when it gets into the assembly shop to the sound engineer, noise maker, this sound was already cut, synchronized with the picture. There are no crackers, this is already “closed” the finished picture, so it will look on the screen.
Alina: And where are you in this whole story?
Eugene: Since I am not involved in a big cinema, not in a film studio, I do a bit of everything.
Alina: So you are everywhere?
Eugene: Yes, I am everywhere. I travel from recording on the ground to sound engineering of rewriting, that is, the final stage of the whole sound.
Alina: An interesting profession and extremely nontrivial. Tell me, please, how did you get the idea that you want to do just that?
Eugene: It's a long story. I am a musician. I was always interested in music not only to play, but also to record it, to create. Back in school, I began to get involved in sound recording, I wrote something myself, tried to record my own compositions, the compositions of other guys-musicians.
After school, I decided for myself that I wanted to do sound engineering. Initially, in general, I wanted to enter St. Petersburg for a musical sound engineering.
Alina: Is there a strong sound engineering school in St. Petersburg?
Evgeny: We have two strongest film schools in Russia: VGIK in Moscow and SPbGIKiT in St. Petersburg. And I, initially planning to engage in musical sound engineering, decided to enroll in cinema, because music is still quite a narrow specialization.
There is, of course, a concert sound engineering, but this is already entirely from another opera. Work at the studio, sound engineering activity is much more extensive in the cinema.
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Alina: It turns out that the sound producer, who works with musical groups, himself writes something, knows in fact less than the person who does the same thing for the movie, a person who has a broader view of this process. ?
Eugene:I would not say that he knows less. But I agree that the filmmaker has a wider view of editing in general, the creation of sound. Musical sound engineering is very highly specialized. It is much more important to understand the frequencies, harmonics, resonance, pan instruments. It is important for a music engineer to understand where and which instrument may conflict with another frequency.
In the movie, these things are not so critical, because the sound mix for the movie is created from hundreds of tracks. And it is simply physically impossible, firstly, to track down conflicting frequencies. Secondly, all these sounds are non-linear and do not have either a single tone or a single timbre. For example, if you compare the sound of an explosion and the sound of a violin string, these two sounds have a completely different structure.
Alina:It seems to me that it’s still a matter of the fact that in the cinema the “super-adjustment” of individual sound nuances is not so important. At the same time, I do not detract from the abilities and talents of directors who work with film material, but still the film product is a complex product. There is a visual component, and sound.
And all this in the complex should be beautifully combined. And when a person works exclusively on musical material, he is more immersed in the nuances and subtleties of the musical sound theme.
Eugene:Yes, I agree with that. If a sound engineer works purely “by ear” in music, when for him the main task is to create a perfect sound, because sound is a 100% component, then in a movie, in addition to a good sound, this sound is also required to correspond to a picture. There must be complete synchronization. I should say, sweetening some visual moments with sound.
Alina: Of course. For example, when the actors “squeeze a tear out of us,” everything is so dramatic on the screen - and here the music began to press, sad, you think that you will cry.
Eugene:Yes of course. It is important to competently select a soundtrack, competently synchronize it in the right places, as you said, in dramatic moments. Or, as I said earlier, the sweetening of some visual components - I will cite as an example those images for which, in principle, there is no sound in nature, but in order to create a complete picture, some sound must be invented.
Alina: This is very interesting!
Eugene: For example, it is often used in cartoons, in science fiction films. Everyone is surely familiar with this image, when some futuristic creepers, plants, start to grow out of the ground quickly.
We, of course, know that there is no such thing in life, but the task of the sound producer and the sound suppressor is to come up with the right and “delicious” sound in order to “throw” even more colors on the visual image created by filmmakers.
Alina: I wonder how fast-growing lianas are voiced? I immediately remembered the film "Jumanji".
Eugene: I will give, by the way, an example from my practice. We had to sound one short cartoon in which there was just a scene where a guy rides a dragon, a forest of lianas suddenly grows in front of him, and he needs to break through this forest, chopping them with his sword.
Portable recorder TASCAM DR-07 MKII
Eugene:The sound of growing lianas made complex. We recorded several different tracks, different sounds, and put them together. There was a slow sound of running water from the shower several times, the sound of roasting scrambled eggs ...
Alina: Is that how the vines burst, broke out of the ground?
Eugene: Yes. The voice, of course, does not portray it. But if you look at the cartoon, it is a very good high-frequency component with a crash and a burst of bubbles, with a boil. And a small rustle of paper, also slowed down several times.
Alina: But how to think of it? You, by the way, mentioned another profession or direction in film production - sound insulation.
Eugene: Yes, [what I have described, is engaged] noise maker.
Alina:Is this a separate person, or do people combine professions, for example, a sound engineer and a noise worker, and someone else?
Eugene: Depends on the scale of production, of course. In large film studios, production companies, where there are large budgets and large teams, there is an individual in the sound department for each profession. Everyone does their own thing.
If you take independent projects, small indie-production, there all the roles of creating sound will be performed by one person. I, for the most part, do just that.
Alina: You, in fact, were engaged in both sound engineering and post-production ...
Evgeny:He was engaged in sound design, sound insulation, music, and rewriting sound engineering, that is, all the tracks were musical, noise, background, interactive, brought together into the final mix. Has ever worked in all areas of cinema sound.
Alina: But it is precisely the sound registration ... Tell me, please, some other interesting examples from there. This is an area that requires a lot of imagination and creativity - to imagine what an action will look like, what sound it will accompany. It is not so easy, on the one hand.
On the other hand, one thing is to imagine what kind of sound it should be, another thing is to decompose it into separate components and extract these components in some household, let's say, way. Well, do not make you pocket dragon spew flame to record it on the microphone.
Eugene: Absolutely. Shumovik, in my opinion, is a profession with the most creative approach from the entire sound shop. There are many examples. Most of all, of course, noise work in animation. There is no sound from the site, you have to create everything yourself.
Here, the shumovik is fully revealed in its environment. If these are existing noises, for example, a riding bicycle, a car, a closing door, there are no problems. Live sounds from libraries are taken and recorded and synchronized.
If this is something unreal - you need to dodge, turn on your wit and creative imagination. For example, in the same cartoon to which I wrote noises, there was a moment when a ladybug flies from a distance and sits on the glass. It was necessary to pick up the sound for her wings.
Understandably, there are no such sounds. And as a grotesque cartoon, I would say, a bit psychedelic, the sound had to be something more than it is in living nature. Upon reflection, we came up with the idea of recording the sound in this way: we took a plastic card and drove it along the piano keys.
This plastic mechanical crackling went very well into the film picture. When we see this flying ladybird, it is the crack of the plastic card on the piano keys that sounds.
Alina:It's very funny, especially when you know how it was received. You say that the sounds of the real world come from libraries. As far as I know, sometimes they do it wrong.
I saw different movies about noise making in films. They talk about tons of cabbage heads, which is used to play the beats in the fight scene, or about the starch that is trampled on or pressed to reproduce the crunch of snow. Do they do it now or do they usually use libraries?
Eugene: Of course, they do. And the more professional the approach to production, the bigger the budget, the more uniqueness they want, the more sounds they record specifically for this film.
Surely everyone had such a moment when, when watching a movie or while playing a computer game, a person notices that somewhere he heard the sound of an opening door or broken glass.
Alina: I immediately remember about the famous cry of Wilhelm. Why then is it still used in the movies?
Eugene: Wilhelm's cry is an outstanding sound that stands out from the general theme. I would say this is an easter egg for sound engineers. This chip, which they specifically use as a joke. Once in the film, Wilhelm’s scream will sound somewhere. This is a joke, sound engineering trick!
Alina:To calculate it, you need to know how it sounds, and remember. In my time I was very surprised that this sound, this very track, is often used in movies. What for? Films with multi-million dollar budgets can record any kind of yelling and shouting, but still ...
Eugene: This is Easter eggs.
Alina: I see. This is a joke for those who know.
Eugene: Yes. And in a serious production, if the film has a large budget, if the director wants to spend money on a unique sound, there is a whole team of noise artists who do what they create and record unique sounds for the film.
Alina: And make people scream?
Yevgeny: They make people cry, and the starch is crumpled, and cabbages beat and cut. Come off in full.
I will give an example. I worked under the direction of a remarkable sound engineer, he said that they needed the sound of a police car siren from the 70s. They were making a movie about the 70s, and they needed the unique sound of an analog siren, an analog howler.
Alina: This is serious!
Evgeny: It was probably one of the most creative approaches that I saw. They specially assembled the installation from sticks and boards on pieces of particle board, bought at the flea markets, AliExpress, eBay every detail, assembled a sound installation, a howler, who came as close as possible to the sound of the siren of the 70s.
They fixed this construction on the roof of the car and recorded exactly the car passing by to get the Doppler effect. They had a task - to recreate as many sounds as possible with a minimum of computer processing. Do not just take a clean, even tone of the siren, but also record how the car rushes past, how this tone goes down and up.
Alina: How the sound goes into the distance, and its tone changes.
Eugene: Yes. This is called the Doppler effect.
Alina: When you watch a movie, as a rule, you do not think about how much effort is applied to the design of the sound picture. In this regard, I am very interested in the following point: how is the sound recording in the movie?
I want to clarify for those who will listen to this podcast that Eugene is not just familiar with the film industry, he studied, worked and continues to work in the United States. Therefore, it really has experience and it is very interesting, rich and diverse.
Actually, how is the sound recording of the film going on during the filming?
Evgeniy: There are many solutions for recording sound on the site. Starting from the types of microphones used, ending with the places and ways to connect them. The classic way of recording, which comes from the first sound films, is a microphone on a bar.
In English terminology - boom. A microphone with a barbell is one of the most recognizable "accessories" of a person in the film industry, which occurs in people's heads.
Alina: This is a man with headphones ...
Eugene:... which holds a healthy "bait" with a microphone on the end above your head. This is a narrow-focus microphone, the so-called gun, which has been used in film production for decades. Keeps over the actors right at the border of the frame.
Photo Atomic Taco / CC / Microphone for radio and video filming Audio-Technica BP4071
Alina: When we see some kind of picture on the screen, there is a possibility that in reality we can see the microphone hanging above the place where we, as spectators, look who caught everything they say?
Eugene: In most cases it is. Especially if it is a close-up, medium plan, something that was taken from a close perspective, where you can stretch the barbell.
When the operators set up the camera, the lights put the light on, a microphone came to the platform. A microphone with an operator looks where you can put the microphone as close as possible until it is visible in the frame.
The operator looks into the camera's viewfinder, the microphoneman starts to lower the microphone, the operator commands him: “You can. Can. Can. Below. Stop. The microphone in the frame.
After this command, the microphone player raises the gun. This is the position where you can hold the microphone as close as possible without the risk of getting into the frame.
Alina:How filigree work! The fact that for the audience flies by in seconds is actually the fruit of many hours of work. I think about this more often when I hear stories about how in reality this all happens. And tell me about the microphones on the buttonholes, about the cases when they are used.
Eugene: Petlichki - a wonderful gift of modern technical progress. Small microphones, which can be seen in news releases, are attached to the clip to the lapel of a jacket or to a T-shirt. In the movie, buttonholes often hide under clothing, attached to a piece of adhesive tape to the body.
They are connected to the radio transmitter and, through radio waves, the sounds are transmitted to a mixer or recorder to the sound engineer, who has a receiver or several receivers depending on the number of microphones.
The sound engineer monitors not only the microphone microphone gun, but also the buttonholes attached to the actors through headphones. Petlichki - a great solution when it is impossible to "remove" the sound of a gun.
For example, if the actors are far away, on a very general plan, where the gun is either not stretched, or, no matter how you stretch, it will always be in the frame. Petlichki not visible, and the sound is removed from a close perspective from the speaker. But here there are also disadvantages. The first and main disadvantage is the noise from the clothes, especially if there is movement in the frame.
Eugene: Of course. When the microphone is fixed on the body under several layers of clothing, as soon as some movement begins, it is likely that the rustling will be recorded. This thing does not remove.
Alina: Actors should just stand like mummies.
Microphone for radio and video filming Audio-Technica AT803b
Eugene: By the way, about the motionless standing of the actors, there is, I would say, a meme from the old days of the first sound film, when they started writing sound on the set.
The microphones were bulky, imperfect, there was no talk about radio microphones at all. Actors, to be able to record a good sound, had to sit, not move and speak at one point. It killed the whole movie dynamic.
Alina: Yes, it was quite strange.
Eugene: In English there is even such a concept from those times, called “bank theater”, literally “theater in a bank”.
Alina: Is this a preserved state in which the actors had to be?
Eugene:When two actors are sitting at the table, there is a flower pot between them, in which a microphone is hidden. If the actors turn away from him, the sound will not immediately.
Alina: I see. Hard work. Just like in silent films, when all the emotions had to be expressed by a face, which is also not easy. How much easier to modern actors.
Eugene: And sound engineers.
Alina: Tell us about the situation when the decision on not to record sound is made on the set, and then to record or re-record it in the studio. Why do they do that if there is everything to record it live?
Eugene:Despite the presence of equipment and the presence of people who can record this sound, more often this decision is made for technical reasons, such as environmental noise. For example, the scene is filmed at the airport, where the actors are standing under the helicopter's screw.
The noise of the helicopter engine will “steam up” the entire sound. It is technically impossible [in such conditions] to record a “pure” dialogue. And the main task of the sound engineers on the site is to record exactly the pure dialogue. All noise can be drawn later.
When there is environmental noise, the sound cannot be recorded purely. Therefore, a rough sound is written, dirty is written, and then the same thing is sounded in the studio by dubbing actors.
Alina: Can the dubbing actors and actors in the film be the same people?
Eugene:To this I just wanted to bring. Usually they are the same people. But there are situations when for some reason the voice of the actor is not pleasant. For example, the actor speaks with an accent. Or the director wants the hero of the film to have the appearance of one person, and the voice of another when the voice of the actor does not fit his appearance.
Yevgeny: The whole film is being voiced here, the voice of this actor is duplicated
Alina: It seems to me very sad for an actor, because the voice is a part of individuality. To erase a part of individuality, because the actor is otherwise seen on the screen, is very sad.
Yevgeny: The owner is the master.
Alina:But what else seemed interesting to me: I recently came across information that dubbing a movie into other languages, as a rule, is performed in a worse quality than the original track. That is, if you want to watch movies in the recording, of course, from a good source, from Blu-ray, for example ...
Eugene: Yes, of course, with a good multi-channel audio system ...
Alina: ... then films that were originally recorded in English are better look in English in order to feel all the power and beauty of the sound that accompanies this picture. Do you think this is true?
Eugene:I agree with this opinion. When I watch foreign films, I watch them with original sound. If I do not know this language, I look with subtitles. I know English perfectly, I look without subtitles, but still with the original sound.
I, as a sound engineer, believe that all the work that has been invested in the creation of an original sound is the only option for listening, enjoying the product of film production. I completely agree that the sound in a movie when dubbing to another language loses something, even if only in trifles.
My favorite movie, for example, in French. This film by the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski “Three colors: Blue”. For the first time this film I looked in French with English subtitles. Later, I listened to him in the English dubbing.
In quality, it is not inferior to the French. But such an important thing as the sound of the French language is exactly what puts the last point in the unique atmosphere and sound of this film. I think if I had originally watched this film in English or another language, he would not have made such a strong impression on me.
Alina: If you leave aside all the sound effects, it turns out that the language chosen for the narration itself, the language spoken by the characters in the film, is crucial for feeling the atmosphere of the work?
Eugene: Of course. Sure. Totally agree with that. Let me give you another example - computer games. It happens, you play computer or video game, the game is in English, and suddenly the Russian language sounds.
But you understand that Russian speech is some kind of nonsense, these are not Russian guys, but some kind of misunderstanding with incomprehensible diction, an incomprehensible accent. Perhaps this is one of the few cases where I fully support dubbing in my native language, dubbing in not for the audience, but for the plot. If the plot is Russian, they must speak Russian.
Alina: You mean when you try to portray the Russian language, but at the same time you, like Russian, do you hear utter nonsense?
Alina: It’s something like a “cranberry” in a movie like “The Bourne Identity”, when Bourne’s passport is simply a set of Cyrillic letters. Clear. But on the other hand, sometimes it is also funny - when you realize that what they recorded is complete nonsense.
I wanted to ask you one more thing: which of the latest films that you watched seemed to be the most interesting from the point of view of sound engineering?
Eugene: A difficult question. From the latest films it is even difficult for me to pick out those that “hooked” me in the sound. I can describe those films whose sound is “tastier,” or, conversely, poorer. For example, in most recent Nolan films, the sound is, I would say, poor.
Alina: Poor? Here is the “Beginning”, “The Dark Knight” ...
Eugene: If you take the dialogues, you can hear that the voice, especially where it is dubbed, is very “jammed”, very compressed, sounds like in a typical American trailer. Such a bright attack, but absolutely no dynamics.
Alina: Interesting. Do you mean dialogues?
Yevgeny: Yes, as an example of how, I think, there is no need to do dialogue. I believe that there should be a dynamic range. The more speakers, the greater the difference between loud and quiet sounds, the “tastier” the overall sound picture sounds.
Alina: If you professionally pay attention to how the film sounds, you should pay attention not only to the music that accompanies it, but also to how the actors sound - how loud their screams are, how quiet their whispers are, whether there is a range between their emotional , expressive utterance and very calm quiet and even voice.
Eugene: Dynamic range is our everything. Dynamics decides. If everything sounds loud, but sterile and licked, without a noticeable difference in volume, it will be boring, dead and poor.
Alina:By the way, regarding Interstellar, I immediately recalled the moment. He was criticized for the fact that from the point of view of music, it seems that Hans Zimmer just fell asleep on the organ.
Yevgeny: I watched on Youtube an interesting video about how exactly this organ music was written to Interstellar. Hans Zimmer said that the organ itself is such a tool that has absorbed the entire dynamic and the entire frequency range of existing instruments.
He can sing softly like a flute, or he can shout with all the power of a symphony orchestra. With those who said that Hans Zimmer "fell asleep on the organ," I do not agree. In Interstellar, music fits well [into action] and, in terms of its dynamics, approaches those or other moments.
Alina:It seems to me that the very choice of an organ nontrivially falls on the topic of space. When it comes to space, we used to imagine the sound in the style of the 60s ...
Eugene: Electronic instruments, synthesizers. By the way, I am also an adherent of electronic sound in space and sci-fi subjects.
And that was exactly the reason why I was very afraid to give up on Interstellar. In a modern space theme, a symphony orchestra suddenly sounds, not electronic instruments.
Alina: And then there is the absence of a symphony orchestra. The mono choice in favor of the organ gave the cosmic depth to these frames.
In general, I am curious how a sound engineer can evaluate a film in terms of sound. The average viewer pays attention to the plot, the dialogues, to how beautiful the picture is in some places or not, but more to the plot component. And you, as a sound engineer, can even become disillusioned with the film due to the fact that it is poor in terms of sounds. Here it amazes me. Is this the curse of the profession?
Eugene: I would not call it a curse. It is rather a developed critical hearing.
Alina: And from the point of view of the Russian cinema, what films and serials that you should watch in your native language and in good sound quality would you recommend from recently shot films?
Eugene:Definitely the series "Method" with Konstantin Khabensky. This is one of the really cool examples of great camera work, great pictures and sound from the very beginning.
We start watching the screensaver: the music sounds, the main theme of the film. In the course of the screensaver, we hear sounds. Most of them, as I said, for sweetening. These are either nonexistent sounds, or “sweeteners” to lively visual images: a lit up light, a blooming flower, translation of the focus on the frozen glass.
Alina: This whole sound picture enhances the visual picture.
Eugene: Yes. She is "delicious." The sound should be "delicious." And in the "Method" it is just that.
Alina:In your opinion, “Method” is the very series that you can watch in the original recording without translation, any dubbing, and at the same time enjoy high-quality sound?
Eugene: You need to watch!
PS If you found our conversation interesting, suggest in the comments possible topics that you would like to hear in the next releases of the Sound podcast .
PPS A couple of our publications on the topic: