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How Do Sound Effects Enhance a Film?

On set sound recorder holding a boom mic

Do you get enthralled by what’s happening on film screen? Did you know that it is as much about the visuals as it is about the sounds that you’re hearing? The key to perfectly mixing sound effects is by blending them in with the other audio elements, allowing them to fit in such a way that’s effective yet not distracting. Just like the eyes, the ears are constantly doing fine-tuned detail work that the conscious mind is often completely unaware of.

It’s safe to say that sound effects in movies are doing much more legwork than passive audience members might give them credit. But that in no way minimizes the tireless work of sound designers, who put their all into crafting the perfect sound experience for movie lovers.

The paradox in creating the perfect movie soundscape is that if you’re doing your job perfectly, the audience won’t even notice your work. Discerning moviegoers and critics, on the other hand, make a habit of scrutinizing and analyzing these cinematic elements, and that’s what inspires people to pursue this rewarding and challenging work of sound design.

What is Sound in Film?

The layering process of sound in modern films is multifaceted and complex. The casual moviegoers are generally unaware of the big “picture.” Each audio element of a movie must work in confluence with the other parts, creating an overall mix that’s balanced and dynamic. So, the multitudes of professionals working behind the scenes must work closely to make everyone’s contributions sound cohesive.

When taking in a movie, the main categories of sound that you’re hearing can be broken down into four categories, including music, dialogue, sound effects, and background noise and ambiance.

Music

One of the most defining emotional influences of a movie comes from the musical accompaniment. This takes a variety of forms depending on the type of film and the budget, among other factors. Some movies are accompanied by a full orchestral score, while others use music sparingly and allow the moments to breathe and develop naturally.

A film score doesn’t always have to mean a full John Williams-esque symphony orchestra. Directors like John Carpenter have been known to add significant musical impact using little more than synthesizers and an electric guitar. Films taking a more classical approach might use a solo piano, hearkening back to the era of film noir or even the silent movies in which the live piano was the only sound the audience heard.

Most modern movies will have a soundtrack of popular songs to either add a specific tone to a scene or accompany a montage to help move the story along. In most cases, there’s a combination of score and soundtrack to create a balanced experience. Regardless of which form of music is used, the music informs the audience on how they’re supposed to feel, and with the profound emotional powers that music has on the human mind, heighten those feelings as much as the film calls for.

Dialogue

It might seem like dialogue takes a backseat. However, there are layers of emotional cues that come from the delivery of dialogue based on inflection or word choice. Beyond emotions, of course, dialogue is mainly there to communicate information about the story and the characters themselves. It’s the main way that the audience can relate to the people and events that they’re seeing on screen.

Sound Effects

This encompasses a broad range of sounds that are used to elicit a variety of responses from the audience. Some effects are added to enhance the production value of the movie, making it come across as fully produced and sonically complete, up to today’s cinematic standards. Other sounds are there to heighten the dramatics of a scene, elicit specific emotions, or simply create a greater sense of realism.

Ironically, what’s truly realistic in the real world isn’t always what sounds realistic in the movie world. The level of exaggeration that these sounds take on may vary depending on the genre of the movie and the soundscape of the scene that they take place in. Quiet, subtle films might stay closer to the actual sounds you’d expect an object to make in real life, such as a kitchen knife chopping vegetables in a sentimental romance movie. For the big box office action flicks, on the other hand, you can expect any sharp-ended object to take on as much sonic dramatic flair as possible.

Background Noise and Ambiance

Background noise and ambiance are a part of sound design that you might not notice until it’s taken away. For any setting and situation, a scene doesn’t feel complete until there’s sound layered into the background. This is obviously the case for loud stadiums or epic battle sequences, but it’s just as true for a quiet dinner scene or a dreamlike moment in a peaceful field. Room tone is the natural ambient sound of a silent room, which is often captured by itself before filming a scene. The reality is that no room is truly silent, and a film must represent that for it to feel alive.

How Do Sound Effects Enhance a Film?

The right audio effects have the power to completely transform the feel of a movie. It’s what generates emotional investment, inviting audience members to fully immerse themselves in the unfolding story and pull the most from the experience. Some effects even add a distinct quality that viewers associate with the movie and recognize as easily as some of the character’s names, the lightsaber sound from Star Wars being an excellent example.

How Can I Learn How to Make Sound Effects in Film?

Like all facets of the audio and film production world, the technical skills required to succeed are advanced and highly specialized. It’s difficult to learn the ropes solely through independent research, although it is possible. However, this often takes a considerable amount of time scouring the Internet for the right information, and there’s still the chance that you won’t be learning the most up-to-date information or gaining the industry-standard skills that modern sound designers are accustomed to. As well as the skills that professional directors and producers expect of their team members.

The best way to set yourself up for success in sound design is by taking a film and sound design program. Attending a creative arts college and pursuing these studies gives you every opportunity to learn what you’ll need to know and gain the appropriate skills.

What Do You Learn During a Film and Sound Design Program?

World-class educators, like-minded peers, and state-of-the-art equipment are all things you can expect to find in a sound design program at a creative arts college. You get hands-on experiences that give you a clear idea of the work that you will be doing once you start your new career. Under the guidance of experienced teachers, you will create projects that bolster your confidence and give you something to add to a portfolio. Career services and student counseling sets prepare you with work opportunities to transition into, the moment you graduate.

What Do You Use to Make Sound Effects in Film?

Digital audio workstations (DAWs) are the main tools that sound designers work with daily, Pro Tools being the industry standard. You will become well versed in Pro Tools, learning how to navigate a variety of features to maximize your workflow. Beyond software, you also get hands-on experience with the physical tools that are used to create Foley effects, practicing the techniques that make movies sound as real and engaging as they look.

Film and Sound Design Program

Ready to learn more about enhancing films with sound effects? The Film and Sound Design program offers an occupational degree that immerses college students in the world and industry of film and sound design. IPR’s condensed program allows students to earn a multi-skill, multi-functional Occupational Associate of Applied Science Degree in as little as two years. Students learn hands-on, entry-level skills in every aspect of the film business: story, preproduction, production, and post-production for video and audio. Work as a part of a team to produce your own film- from concept and storyboard to production and editing – you’ll graduate with a portfolio of work to showcase your creativity and launch your career in the exciting Film Industry.

If you are interested in a career in film and sound design you should tour our Minneapolis creative arts college, see the labs, and meet our staff. Call 1-612-351-0631 or contact admissions to make arrangements.