Sound Design & Sweetening

As failed musicians CLAi have a deep and profound love of music and all things sound...

Which is why music, background sounds, audio positioning and, of course, voice plays such a prominent part in many of our programs.  Wherever possible we take our projects through a sound design process.  The aim is to create a soundtrack with three layers – natural and background sounds, plus sound effects that should allow you to get a feel for where you are and what is happening without seeing the visuals; a music track, where this is appropriate, that enhances the feel of the video, provides more atmosphere, and helps to push the viewer’s reactions to the action and environment faster, or slow it down; and voice, which might be on screen characters speaking or a voiceover artist, or a combination of the two.

Having built our multiple layers of audio – usually between 8 and 12 – we then filter the various original sound recordings.  This lets us get the right tone for the piece, cut out unwanted sounds like the buzz of a light fitting or air conditioning, or the clicks and pops made in someone’s speech pattern, and play with the nature of each sound to ensure that it has the right quality for the track.  This idea is a little difficult to explain, but it can be as simple as saying “do we want a voice of God” and adding reverb to spread the voice out and make it larger sounding, or “do we want it to cut through a strong low register orchestral music track” by filtering out some of the low frequencies of the voice and pushing the mid and treble characteristics in the range where there isn’t much competing sound.  It’s effectively doing the same as you would with a band, if you are going to be a heavy metal bass and drums band with high guitar pieces then you need a singer whose voice is fairly high to fit in the hole left in the audio register.

Finally we do a computer automated mix of all of this material to create an audio tapestry that works with the pictures, the pace of the editing and the action, and the style of the program as a whole.  We do this live, initially, with the video running so that the audio reflects what the viewer is seeing – if we cut to a shot of a dog barking at a mailman then we want to push the click of the gate, the stamp of his feet and the barking higher into the mix while the shot is on screen to help the audience understand what the action is and make it more like real life.  Then we go back in and fine tune everything, allowing for the final delivery media of the film or video – if it is going to a theater it will be heard through large speakers with lots of bass, on a laptop it will be very small slightly tinny speakers, and the mix for each of these is different.

The sound design part of this equation is the creation and refinement of all of the different audio tracks (some of this may be done by the composer, if there is one – and that is a skill we don’t possess in-house but we do have some great composers in our database of production associates) and this is generally done at the later stages of the production phase of the project.  The final mixing and audio enhancement part is sound sweetening, which is done at the end of the post-production phase, often as part of the finished editing.

CLAi handle sound design only on full productions that we are asked to create, but we take on sound sweetening work as part of a finished edit or color grading contract on a film or video (and this is really something that every video should have done, regardless of whether it is film or video, corporate or narrative)…

It’s not the same as being a world famous flamenco guitarist, obviously, but then you don’t have to grow the necessary six extra fingers to be able to play that well!