Sound Advice

Is sound the unsung hero of animation?

Sound is important across the film industry, and I’m not just talking dialogue, from the bellowing roar of Jurassic Parks T-Rex to the gentle vocal score that accompanies Gladiators grand finale, it is the sound that can make or break a good film. If you don’t believe me then just then just, for a moment, pretend you are swinging a lightsaber… did you make the Vwoom-vwoom sound? Of course in the world of animated film this becomes a lot more important because unlike live action for a animation the whole sonic world needs to be created from scratch.

A good sound track can be the thing that makes or breaks a good animation, the right sound can be the thing that brings it too life and the wrong thing will make it sounds like a joke. Audio ques are a big part of the audience experience and though they are expected – we knew that Monsters vs Aliens Insectosaurus should sound big and the acoustics on Carl’s porch in Up should sound very different in flight to when its on the ground – but they can also heighten the emotional experience of a viewer… or put another way, get the sound right and you can play your audience’s heart strings like a fiddle!!

Just think of how you felt when Toothless, as Hiccup stands over him with the dagger, makes that pitiful, low, rumbling moan, or how comical the little noise of the Terrible Terror sounded and that was no accident as sound designers Randy Thom, Jonathon Null and Al Nelson told designingsound.org about their time making How To Train Your Dragon. Alternatively think about the world that WALL-E inhabited sounded, with it’s swirling sand storms, and how different the world aboard the Axiom. These sonic worlds were created by sound design legend, Ben Burtt – remember the lightsabers, vwoom-vwoom sound? That was his handy work! – who has become known as the father of modern sound design, check out the WALL-E special feature on sound to find out more. Sound tells us who to like, where we are and what to feel – it is as vital as texturing to any animated landscape or character design.

And all this without even touching on the musical score, the masters of which like John Williams, Hans Zimmer, John Powell and James Horner have played us all for years, their iconic themes making as jump, laugh and cry.

And yet sound design seems the last consideration, I am currently fighting to research sound production for animation for a university project and its tough, so far I have found only one book that has proved any real help – that’s Robin Bauchamp’s “Designing Sound For Animation”, just so you know – and compare that to the amount of “Art of… insert film name here” or How To guides for ZBrush, Maya or 3DsMax! So my fellow animation students, it may not be what you focus on, but don’t forget sound either, it has too much power to be ignored!!

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