The term sound design is often misused. Typically it conjures up visions of science fiction or fantasy films that feature people, places or things that do not exist in our reality and thus need to have their own sounds created (or “designed”). However, the term sound design is more appropriately used to describe an all-encompassing, top-to-bottom, start-to-finish overview of what a film is going to sound like. From that point of view, most supervising sound editors who work closely with the director and picture editor of a film project can be considered sound designers, but many of us prefer to reserve that term for a select number of our peers. Indeed, sound design is not the domain of the synthesist or plug-in junkie. The best approach to sound design is considering what sound is needed during every frame of a film, and that process is best started by looking at what is in each of those frames at any given time. There is a commonly used, self-explanatory phrase amongst sound editors that reads, “See a dog, hear a dog.” My challenge to all editors (or designers, if you must) is to go a step farther – “See what kind of dog? Well, hear that kind of dog.” This is a deceptively complex task at times.
The most successful track for a feature is one that does not distract from the entire viewing experience, so we must endeavour to make our tracks fit seamlessly with the images on the screen. That is not going to be achieved by, for example, cutting the sound of a muscle-car engine for a Reliant K-Car. You say that muscle car engine is the only one you have in your library? Well, time to expand your library! Go out and shoot (record) one. You will only ever be as good as your library, and note that off-the-shelf libraries will rarely have exactly the sound that you are looking for.
Now, of course, it may be that in the script for the film, a scene is described where a throaty V8 engine block and exhaust system is fitted (somehow!) into a K-Car. Well, the supervising sound editor who has been in touch with the director from the pre-production planning stage through to the last day of the printmaster will have to figure out how to pull this off in the track. In short, they will have to design the sound of this vehicle…
Stephen Barden is a Supervising Sound Editor for Sound Dogs Toronto, who recently brought home a Genie award for their work on the film Treed Murray. The company also recently completed work on Men With Brooms, which had the largest theatrical opening for a Canadian film in history. You can contact Sound Dogs at (416) 364-4321, firstname.lastname@example.org.