What is Sound Design? Q&A with George

The Lion King, Jaws, Frozen… one thing all these films have in common is incredible sound design. When sound design is executed correctly, it flows with the visuals and simply just fits, but when not executed correctly, it’s very obvious. We sat down with our resident sound expert, Production Manager, George to pick his brains on this fascinating area of production.  

First things first George, what is sound design?

Sound design is the art and practice of creating soundtracks for a variety of needs. It involves specifying, acquiring or creating auditory elements using audio production techniques and tools. Essentially it is identifying, finding and putting together all the sound elements (not just music) in a video to create a full story and atmosphere. Imagine watching a horror film with no sound elements, it wouldn’t be the same!

How did you get into sound design? 

I studied Audio Engineering at university and always had an interest to combine my love for creating audio and video. I think of it as a big puzzle where all the pieces come together to make something bigger.

What are the benefits of sound design in media production? 

When music, voice-over and SFX are shaped to match the tone on screen it enhances the immersion and ultimately the viewer’s experience. Also, brand guidelines dictate the role that visuals play in maintaining an identity, and audio can do the same thing. McDonald’s “I’m loving it” is a great example of this.

What skillset do you need to be able to work in sound design?  

A basic understanding of audio engineering helps but generally, anyone can do it. To create a sound from scratch you need to be able to imagine what something might sound like, then be able to craft it from basic sounds using basic tools such as noise and oscillators. Different types of oscillators give you different sounds and with further manipulation, you can really create something cool. Tools such as EQ, compressors, distortions and reverbs will get you some of the way, but then there are specialist tools that unlock the ability to make something really interesting.

Foley is another really powerful way to bring the motion to life. Again, the skills again lie with the ability to see something on the screen and say; “oh I know what makes that sound” or “that would sound like…”. For example, in horror movies, the squashing of watermelon is commonly used to imitate gore or famously, Ben Burt created the lightsabre sound for Star Wars by recording motors in a movie projector and TV static!

What’s involved in the sound design process?

First, we’ll watch through and write down all non-diegetic sounds that may occur. Then we’ll create custom transitions such as wooshes and impacts. After this, we will use sample libraries, foley and synthesis to further add sound. It’s important to know when sound is needed and also importantly when it is not needed. Next comes a full mix with voice, music and sound design.

 What’s the difference between sound design and sound engineering?

  1. Sound design is the recording, acquiring, manipulating or generating of audio elements.
  2.  Sound engineering is the technical aspects of sound during the process of recording, mixing, and reproduction.

How did we piece together all the sound design elements of the iManage animation project?

If you see the three main elements of the audio in the animation (music, SFX and voiceover) separately they don’t make sense. However, when pieced together they create a fuller story. Watch the video to see it all come together.

So there you have it! Sound design might seem like a dark art, but when broken down it’s about creating an audible experience for the viewer that enhances the whole story.

Keep an eye out for the other Q&A discussions we’ve had with the team on our news and insights page.