Is Sound Really 50% of a Film?
Updated: May 25
At 344 Audio, we often hear Directors say that Sound is as (or more) important than the visuals in storytelling. In this post, we go over situations when this can become really apparent.
Dialogue Tells Stories
Ever since 1920's when the ‘talkies’ (films with sound) started to emerge, filmmakers have been using dialogue heavily to convey emotion, complex narratives and continuity; and rightly so. There is no sound more stimulating to the human brain than speech, which is why most popular music includes vocals, as do most popular films. It is important to remember that this is why you must hire a good Location Sound Recordist and Dialogue Editor, to ensure that the audience hears one of the most effective storytelling tools at our disposal.
In this scene from The Wolf of Wall Street, the ambient sounds of the restaurant are pushed back to let the well recorded dialogue engross viewers without any musical support:
Sound Effects Build Worlds
All of those doors closing, vehicles passing, crows cawing and punches to the face help present your film world to the audience. Sound effects aren’t there to simply fill spaces and on screen cues. They are there to world build and cover off screen elements too. How will your audience know the film’s location if it isn’t presented visually? The ambient sounds within your scenes will also give a sense of width and immersion which tells the audience where the scene is set and how to feel. This often allows visuals to be simpler and less direct.
In this famous scene from Saving Private Ryan, the audience is alerted to the location, and immersed mainly through Sound Effects:
Sound Design Makes You Believe
In recent years, we have seen the most abstract and complex creatures created with CGI and Visual Effects. One thing that makes these creatures come to life, and feel relatable, is the way that they are Sound Designed. The use of animal noises, musical instruments and natural elements, taps into the psyche of the viewer, making them believe the powerful monster that they are seeing on screen could be real.
The sound of predatory animals like alligators, tigers and bears make up this monster and trigger our primal fear instincts in Avatar:
Foley Brings You Closer
Foley is an interesting art form, in that many viewers don’t notice it until it isn’t there anymore. The work of a Foley Artist is crucial in achieving a full bodied and fluid soundtrack. Each character can have a personality with Foley, from the way they walk to the way they interact with items around them.
In this scene from Snatch, the Foley gives us an impression of a creaky, beaten old caravan camp, which sets our expectations low for the character of Mickey, only to surprise us with his strength later.
Mixing Heightens The Senses
Mixing is an invaluable tool for Directors to create dynamics and flow between scenes. The use of spatial awareness with reverb and echoes provides a sense of the space that the film inhabits. The use of frequencies and pitch give an impression of the size of characters and props. The use of spatial panning extends the story beyond the screen and allows us to be immersed and surrounded with audio.
This scene from The Jungle Book puts Mowgli in the space of the creepy, deep jungle with heavy reverb on his voice. Kaa is brought closer to us by her echoey dialogue sound, which is accented with reverb only on specific words - adding to her guile and quiet ferocity.
What do you think - is Sound really 50% of a film? Let us know in the comments section below.
If you enjoyed this article please check out our ultimate guide to audio post- production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design