Recently, Brian Storm of MediaStorm.com was a guest at my school and my class had the opportunity to receive a lecture from him. The guy prides himself on telling stories, which is a quality I admire.
While we discussed enough topics to type up a plethora of posts, he said one thing that particularly stuck with me:
In multimedia, sound is just as – if not more – important than the visuals. Great sound can take a decent project and make it amazing. Without it, you may as well be playing static.
A visual can be striking, haunting or empowering, but sound is what stirs emotions and creates tension.
In horror films, as the protagonist tip-toes down the creepy hallway to see if her companions are still alive, good sound design can make that ten second scene seem like ten minutes.
A good soundbite in a documentary can connect viewers to the subject. But when a mother is speaking about the death of her child, the long pauses in between words and phrases as she attempts to maintain her composure illustrate the pain of loss better than her explanation could.
So it’s not just about having sound; it’s also about knowing how to use it.
The benefit of sound versus sight in multimedia is how it’s interpreted by our bodies. Sound is projected and absorbed by the viewer (listener?), where even a simple stereo set-up of left-and-right channels adds a layer of depth that video can’t provide.
Unfortunately, video is confined to the restraints of the screen, which also is confined to the direction our eyes are pointing in. Sometimes we have to choose between objects or actions to focus on.
Sound also benefits from the space provided by two our more sources, being able to pan from one side to the other, rising and lowering in volume. It can immerse a viewer into a video as he watches a sports car whip by, with the roar of the engine softly getting louder and louder from the left side until it finally passes. The car booms, but only for a moment, and the sound starts to fade from the right side while the vehicle drifts further and further away. This is a simple yet engrossing use of sound.
Many of my projects from film school remain unfinished to this day simply for the reason that the sound isn’t good enough. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my films, which also means I end up doing most of the work myself. And sound design is a difficult thing to do on your own.
Films require recording natural sound, dubbing the dialogue in post-production, adding foley (sound effects such as footsteps, explosions, doors shutting, etc.) and either music and/or an originally composed score. Then everything has to be mixed together, individually set at particular values, so as sounds don’t blend and the flow of the film doesn’t become jarred.
It’s a difficult task, which is why the curriculum at Scottsdale Community College required completion of a sound design class. One of our projects had us create a short story told only through sounds. We weren’t allowed to use spoken dialogue, and the use of music was strongly discouraged. Our teacher wanted us to be able to convey a message without it being directly stated.
The project was difficult, but it tested my abilities and my thought process as a storyteller. Up until that point, I’d always thought visually and verbally. Telling and showing were my two specialties. But this challenged me to learn these new techniques that I now apply in many of my creative endeavors.
Final project from my SCC sound design class, created Oct. 2007. No video, just sound.
My instructor enjoyed my work, despite my use of music. In my defense, the music is only supplemental to the story and it makes sense in the context of it all. Plus I wanted to reference the end of the Sopranos, so, shut up, classmates who nitpicked.
I’m sorry. Let’s move on.
Take a listen to the project, aptly titled “Garage Story,” and let me know what you think about sound and storytelling in the comments.