CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Creating a Galaxy of Sound

Uncrate: Everyone loses it over visual effects. The realism, or sometimes lack thereof, is what captures audiences and sparks conversations around the watercooler. But what you see is only half — and possibly even less — of what makes a film great. Close your eyes and you can imagine the action and movements on the screen. Mute the sound and the entire context of a scene can be lost. Star Wars broke the mold not just in its visual effects, but in the depth and complexity of its sound design, creating characters and vehicles whose aural design is as recognizable as its visual design.

6 comments:

Simone Schneeberg said...

I agree and disagree with the point made at the end that we should reject the idea that good sound design is invisible and felt only subconsciously. I think that good sound design should leave an audience member thinking that everything was so seamless an integral that it was virtually invisible, but then when they actually think about the sound they are able to pick out the heightened moments that become those iconic sounds we all remember. No one thinks about the sound lightsabers make as being a huge innovation or a monument to creativity because they fit so well in the Star Wars universe; they seem so natural that until you truly think about the fact that light doesn't really make noise nothing seems challenging about them. I don't think that the belief that good sound design is essentially invisible stifles the creativity in sound design, but I do agree that when you think that "invisibility" means that sound plays second fiddle to sight you are devaluating the magic that sound design can do.

Claire Farrokh said...

I recently did a NFTRW podcast during which I babbled for a while about how oftentimes when sound design is really good, you do not notice it at all. Sound design (usually) aims to make everything in an artificial world sound as natural and as close to realism as possible (usually). I think that is something that is extraordinarily hard to do, but it often does not get a lot of appreciation because no one notices it. Yes, if you removed all of the background music from a movie, it will absolutely change the entire film. You will have no idea if you are supposed to be scared, or sad, or happy, or sentimental. Horror movies definitely definitely definitely utilize sound design to create an atmosphere for that world. They use loud noises to accentuate jump scares, and they use screechy music to build suspense or anticipation. They use complete silence to keep you gripping the armrests on either side of the seat, waiting for that one loud note that will cause you to fall over. No one really stops to think "Hmm.. these noises don't really happen in real life," because the noises match the feelings that one experiences when they are nervous or frightened.

Tahirah K. Agbamuche said...

I love how informative and educational this video is. It is so cool just how much of Star Wars is built off of its sound. Of course sound is important, but just to really drive home the point, I watched a couple clips from the films without sound, recalling memorable sound effects, and just how many of those effects are unique to the franchise. What a wonder it is to create something that has never been heard before and have it become so memorable! I was really amused with the narration and construction of the video itself. I really appreciated the brief history of sound design in Star Wars since I am such a fan so this is really interesting insight. It is really amazing that although R2-D2 and BB8 have no spoken lines, I feel most drawn to them emotionally. Another beautiful thing is that when character is communicated through sound, there is even more possibilities for diverse interpretation.

Julien Sat-Vollhardt said...

Sound is really something that can make or break any show, movie, play or piece of media. Just like the bass guitarist in a rock band, while one doesn't necessarily notice the depth that it brings , the body and fullness it represents, it is sorely missed when we do not hear it. As far as Star Wars sound design goes, I was supe used to see and hear the ingenuity and creativity that the sound designers had when creating their sounds. The lightsaber sound itself is possibly one of the most iconic sounds in the entire world, a sound which we can make with our mouths and which instantly transforms any object we're holding onto a weapon composed of pure light. That power to bring up memories and a spirit of playfulness is the true and subtle power of sound.

The power to set tone is one of the largest responsibilities of sound and a responsibility which is often abused on simpler big budget action movies. In Those movies, the backing sounds are meant to literally represent what is happening on screen, which makes the sound fade into oblivion. Truly remarkable sound is when motifs fit so perfectly, yet stand on their own, like Inception's Time, and the use of Edith Piaf's Rien de Rien.

Helena Hewitt said...

The narrator of the video makes an interesting point towards the end which, as a huge fan of Star Wars I was obviously aware of, but had not internalized on a conscious level. He states, “ the sound of Star Wars as iconic as the visuals.” Which, thinking about that statement, it makes perfect sense. The sound of the Star Wars universe is just as instantly recognizable and as integral a part of the world as any visual. I agree that insisting that good sound design be invisible is hobbling a movie or theatre experience by unnecessarily restricting half of the experience. One thing that has always impressed me about the Star Wars sound design is how creative the team was when creating sounds for this completely different galaxy. I am trying to recall a CMU production where the sound design was allowed to be as prominent and innovative as what the video is describing here, and apart from Lord of the Flies, nothing is jumping to mind. I would love to see more shows where our sound designers are challenged to push their limit and really explore what is possible within their discipline.

Cosette Craig said...

I am the last person to talk about sound. I understand its importance and I appreciate its value but I just don’t have the ability to pick out or create this soundscape that they talk about in this video. Sound tells a story just like every other element onstage but since its not visual it washes over the audience rather than assaulting their vision. This was made evident to me when I went into arcade boxes before they had their sound set up. I didn’t know how to feel or what to do and the suspense of the moment was gone. Props to the narrator for calling R2D2 a trashcan on wheels with feelings because most people in 33 including myself would describe ourselves that way. I used to think sound was one of those things where if the sound designer is doing his job really well, the audience doesn’t even notice it, but the sound carries everything. The sound moves things forward maybe more subconsciously than objects literally traveling offsateg for example but its still evident to the audience.

Pics from CMU Drama