If you hear it in a movie, and it’s notmusic or dialog, it’s sound design. It’sthe sounds of a street with honking cars, people yammering, and raging ambulances—the sounds of life movie goers expect to hear in a scene.For this article, we will design a lake side scene, using the famous paintingby Georges-Pierre Seurat, “SeineGrande Jatte.” I am using this stillimage because it’s readily available to view online, making it an easy referencefor the sound cues to follow. Inthe real world, this would be a film snippet of a few seconds or more.
When you view the painting, you’llnotice a number of elements that require the sounds of motion: thewater, the sailboat, and the oars man.We also have a number of things inthe scene that don’t require primary motion-oriented sounds, but do need to provide background sounds andambience, such as the wind throughthe trees, the flag in the distance, andoverall environmental sounds.
Let’s start with the ambience, as ourscene is going to need some “environmental tone” and some “water tone.” Icould go out on location with a mic anda field recorder to capture these elements, but it would take too long,and all the trouble wouldn’t buy me thatmuch. So I go online to one of the many free sound effects libraries(such as www.pacdv.com/sounds/ambience sounds.html ) and pick someoptions to use as sonic foundations.
First up are the water sounds. I chosean outdoor audio clip with a quietambience because the lake in thepainting is still. To build on the sourcesound—and to create the appropriatesense of oars in the water and a sailboatcutting across the surface—I fillup my bath tub with water, and set up aShure SM57 on an articulated boomstand. I use a SM57 because of its narrow harmonic range and tight pattern. An articulated mic stand is also animportant tool, because it allows me toput the mic in different positions around the tub and room to capture allthe water sounds I need.
I decide to design the sound for thesailboat first. This is a very leisurelyboat, so I drop the mic as close as possibleto the surface of the water, and Imove my fingers slowly through the water. First one finger, then two, and soon until I get a variety of “bow throughthe water” sounds. I track this with alight compression setting of a 2:1 ratioat a –10dB threshold—just enough tomake my “hand waves” sound evenand lazy.
Next up is the oarsman. Oars slappingthe water are more aggressivesounds with herky-jerky natures, so Imove the mic up about six inches,and place it off-axis from the tub’swaterline. Then, I make a fist and pullit through the water to make somemore violent waves. For this sound, Iuse a heavy compression setting of 15:1and –30dB, and I also crank up the micpreamp to capture all of the nuancesof the water motion.
Lastly, I move the mic about fourinches from the edge of the tub andabout eight inches above the waterline.This position is to capture the sound of wate...