Making Waves: The Art Of Cinematic Sound

Recently I watched a documentary called Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound by Midge Costin. The documentary explores visionary directors work with sound designers to create the most exciting cinematic experiences.

Importance of Sound in a film

Traditionally when we watch a film, a lot of our focus tends to be on the visuals but not many people notice or appreciate what is unseen – the sound design. Sound is used to not only there to compliment the visuals but also to provide a whole new level of immersiveness to the film experience. Making Waves draws on these importances and how sound has become a massive part of prodiction. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the documentary said by some of the biggest names in the film industry:

‘People always talk about the look of a film… sound is equally as important’.

– David Lynch, The Elephant Man

‘Sound is half of the experience’ –

– George Lucas, Star Wars

‘Our ears lead our eyes to where the story is’

– Stephen Spielburg, Saving Private Ryan

These quotes for me sum up just how significant the sound is when it comes to films and why there is such an emphasis on having good sound design. If we thought about it, visuals alone are not enough to tell a narrative and are no where near as interesting when they are not accompanied by a sound experience.

Alfred Hitchock created a sound script for his films. Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space oddessy made sound his main focus. George Lucas started sound collecting of charachters a year before shooting in order to charecterise the story. All these examples from some of the most well renowned films and their directors show that sound is not something that should be neglected and it was their impeccable sound design that contributed to the success of these films.

The term Sound Designer first came from Walter Murch’s work on Apocolypse Now which was also the first time a film focused on their sound design as much as visuals.

‘We wanted very much to credit Walter [Murch] for his incredible contribution— not only for The Rain People, but for all the films he was doing. But because he wasn’t in the union, the union forbade him getting credit as sound editor—so Walter said, will they let me be called “sound designer”? We said, we’ll try it— you can be the sound designer.[…] I always thought it was ironic that “Sound Designer” became this Tiffany title, yet it was created for that reason. We did it to dodge the union constriction.’

– Director Francis Ford Coppola

The Sound Componants of Film

The documentary also broke down the different componants when it comes to creating the sound design for a film. It also talked about what the functions of these sounds were.

Ambience – setting the enviroment/atmosphere

Music – has a direct connection to emotions for the charecters and audience.

Voice, Sound Effects and Music – three componants of sound in a film

Production RecordingSFXMusic score
Dialogue editingFoley

Sound mixing brings all these elements together. Adjusting their volumes, their positioning and having them play harmoniously.

This breakdown was really helpful for me in understanding sound and all the different elements that go into creating the sound design for a film.

Overall this documentary gave me a real insight into the way sound is used in films to tell a story, emphasise the action seen on screen and provide an aural experience for the audience. Without sound, we would only have half of a story, half of an experience and half the excitement. I didn’t quite realise how significant sound was and how much attention it is given during the production process, making me question how much attention I myself pay to sound when it comes to creating my own pieces of work. It’s definately somethnig I will be more aware of for future projects and I will be taking on all this new information and guidance for the sound design artefect I will be producing over the next few weeks.

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