• Rose Smith

More Than Meets the Ear: Creating Sound in Film

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

When movies tell stories, one of the first aspects of the work we think of are the visuals. While visuals are certainly an essential part of film, sound design is another integral part of making sure a movie comes together. The way we create sounds for films is not always as intuitive as you may think, and it lends to an interesting world of creating filling in the blanks that only having pictures would bring.

Sound effects help tell stories. Even though movies are driven by the pictures, sound helps add context to a scene. Good sound design keeps you immersed in a story, and terrible sound design easily ejects you out of it. Even before movies, live performances in the 1700s implemented things like thunder sheets to add more flavor to a scene (Ric Viers).

There are different elements of sound design in film, and one important aspect is foley effects. Foley effects are the incidental sounds that you hear in a movie, such a foot steps or the swishing of clothes (Open Culture). When filming a scene for a film normally, if the microphone is focused on recording dialogue, the other accompanying sound effects that you would expect will not register correctly, so sound effects need to be added back in to create the scene that one would expect.

The process of creating sound effects is not always as simple as simply recording foot steps with a microphone. Sometimes the microphone will not record that sound effect correctly, and in other cases, it is impossible to create that exact sound in real life (such as the sound of a dinosaur stomp or the swish of a lightsaber). This lends to some interesting substitutions and innovative thinking on the foley artist’s part. For instance, one might recreate the sloshing of ice in a glass with running your finger through a glass of pearls or the cracking of knuckles with the cracking of uncooked lasagne sheets (BBC Culture). To make the famous lightsaber hum, sound designer Ben Burtt used the sound of two projectors harmonizing with the sound of the transmission whir of a television (Vinyl Factory). Foley work requires a great ear and constantly surveying your surroundings for what might be a good sound for an action in a movie.

Sound design is an integral part of film. We consume movies with our eyes and ears, and if the sound doesn’t match what we see on the screen, we don’t believe in the story as much as we might otherwise. Producing sounds for a movie is an art, and foley artists are a part of that tradition of sound design. Whether it is the sound of some footsteps or the swishing of ice, these designers sometimes have to come up with more unique solutions to capture the feeling and sound desired. Movie production is a multi-layered process that comes together to create a story, and sound design is simply another important aspect of that puzzle.