Creation and Development of a Film Soundtrack
Cinematic environments are created through image, dialogue, music and sound,Â but the craft involved in creating an environmental soundtrack often goesÂ unnoticed by the film viewer. Soundscapes are rarely just background: they areÂ powerful storytelling vehicles in their own right, of equal importance to the visuals.Â This article examines the process of creating an environmental soundtrack forÂ cinema from the perspective of a sound designer. Particular attention is given toÂ how sound is created and layered to enhance, embellish and produce the film’sÂ narrative.
Using contemporary Australian films, notably Australia (Baz Luhrmann, 2008) andÂ Happy Feet (George Miller, 2006), the article examines the different challenges inÂ creating an environmental soundscape for both an animation and a live action film.Â The films Avatar (James Cameron, 2009), Little Fish (Rowan Woods, 2005) and TheÂ Magician (Scott Ryan, 2005) are also cited to highlight various approaches toÂ environmental representation in film sound. While both Australia and Happy FeetÂ rely on the landscape and environment as integral storytelling components, theÂ approach to creating their respective soundscapes requires not only naturalÂ recordings, but also the creation of many previously unheard sounds usingÂ synthetic sound design.
Sound design, Australian film, soundscape, environmental representation,Â animation
Soundscapes have the ability to transcend the social and cultural barriers thatÂ sometimes thwart language and even music. Creating an environmentalÂ soundtrack for cinema is as much a technical craft as it is an aesthetic art form.Â
Often overlooked by the audience, the sounds of the environment in manyÂ contemporary films are based on the synthetic design and recreation of manyÂ settings. Environmental soundscapes are some of the most intricate to create. TheÂ combination of image, dialogue, music and sound help create the overallÂ soundtrack, however the film viewer is often unaware of the intricacies andÂ craftwork used in the creation of these aural environments. Furthermore,Â narrative of the film is carefully considered in the creation of these environmentalÂ soundtrack elements.
This article examines the process of creating an environmental soundtrack forÂ cinema from the perspective of a sound designer who has worked in the AustralianÂ film industry for over 15 years (Fig 1). The article’s focus is on the use ofÂ environmental recordings and sound effects to create a landscape, as opposed toÂ the use of dialogue and music in the soundtrack. Using two contemporaryÂ Australian films, Happy Feet (George Miller, 2006) and Australia (Baz Luhrmann,Â 2008), this article examines the different creative process used for anÂ environmental soundscape for an animation and a live action feature film.Â
Figure 1: The author at work at Australian Clay Target Association, Wagga Gun Club, Wagga Wagga, Australia. (PhotoÂ courtesy of Tony Turner.)
From earliest societies to contemporary musicians, sound has been an integralÂ communication component to convey messages, express emotion and to tell aÂ story. Communication through the use of sound has been significant to humanÂ social evolution. Although spoken language is the predominant form of sonicÂ communication in our society, other oral and aural methods include rhythm,Â melody, percussion, humming, the mimicking of sounds through vocalisations and,Â in the modern era, by the recording and creation of music and sounds through theÂ use of technology. As David Sonnenschein states, “[by] giving meaning to noise,Â sound becomes communication” (2001, p. xix). Through the use of recorded soundsÂ and the creation of new sounds, the art of sound design has become an importantÂ approach to screen based storytelling.
Although landscapes appear to be ‘natural’, creative liberty is often given to theÂ aural representation of these settings as required by the film narrative. While bothÂ Happy Feet and Australia rely on the landscape and environment as integralÂ storytelling components, the approach to creating their respective soundscapes requires not only ‘natural’ recordings, but also synthetic sound design andÂ creation. Whether natural or synthetic, neither approach is less significant thanÂ the other. In this paper my definition of ‘natural’ recordings pertains to sounds that are created organically through such elements as winds, ice, land mass, water,Â animals, vegetation and various other sounds naturally occurring without evidenceÂ of human or industrial influence or activity.
Difficulties such as accessibility and noise pollution make our most pristineÂ locations increasingly difficult to capture sonically. Although not always theÂ preferred method, synthetic aural environmental design will continue to develop asÂ a necessary addition to assist in crafting the aural illusion of cinematicÂ environments. Using a recent trip to Mount Kosciusko as an example (Fig 2), I wasÂ surprised at the amount of noise pollution tainting the sound recordings within theÂ National Park. Many of these sounds were distant sounds, including small planesÂ and agricultural sprinklers: however they still managed to appear faintly in theÂ background of some of the recordings. When used in the context of a film theseÂ edited recordings appear to be ‘natural’ when first listened to by an audience, butÂ they are unaware of the use of equalisation, filtering techniques, frequency bandÂ compression and other such technological solutions in eradicating this noise. ThisÂ processing of the original recordings in turn transforms these ‘natural’ recordingsÂ to new artificially designed ‘pseudo natural’ sounding environments.Â
Figure 2: Yarrangobilly River, Kosciuszko National Park. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Candusso.)
When the sound designer commences production on a film, they study theÂ environmental landscape, location and the period in which the film is set. ThisÂ becomes the foundational building block of the soundtrack and determines theÂ approach to creating the overall narrative for the film through sound. In the filmÂ medium, sound design purposefully communicates to an audience throughÂ recorded and created sounds that augment the onscreen visuals. In contemporaryÂ cinema, dialogue is the primary auditory component used to convey a story,Â however the sound ecology of the landscape and the sound effects are of equalÂ importance. Sound design does not merely replicate what is happening on screen,Â it is an additional storytelling component. An example of this occurs in AustraliaÂ (Baz Luhrmann, 2008), in the scene where we first learn of the impending attackÂ
on Darwin by the Japanese. Here for the first time a soft, almost whispering ofÂ wind is heard. The plane approach has no engine sounds, only the sounds of theÂ wings slicing through the air. This was a brief from the director who wanted theÂ first plane to replicate a shark surfacing with only the fin piercing the waterÂ surface. It is not until the plane is revealed and peels off to the right of screen thatÂ we start to hear the sound of an actual engine, the roar of danger, the sound of anÂ advancing Zero threat. The sound does not give away the shot before we see theÂ plane, in fact it adds to the curiosity. The sound of the wind makes the scene evenÂ more menacing and, in this instance, the sound has foreshadowed the action on anÂ emotional level before the visuals have presented it.
In cinema history, advances in sound technology have given filmmakers theÂ opportunity to take advantage of the creativity of sound and allow it to play anÂ equally important role as the visuals in storytelling. As George Lucas has noted,Â “Sound is 50 percent of the movie going experience” (2004: online). Hollywood hasÂ increasingly relied on sound to contribute to the contemporary film viewingÂ experience. Audience expectations of sound place greater emphasis on the craft ofÂ sound design.
Approaching the Task of Environmental Sound CreationÂ
With many factors contributing to the use of ‘authentic’ sound recordingsÂ (including budget, availability of personnel, deadlines etc.), often sounds need to beÂ fabricated. These sounds may make up the entire soundtrack, or they may onlyÂ make up elements of the soundtrack that blend with other recordings of actualÂ environmental sound. If the soundtrack is created well, it will not appear to be outÂ of place and the audience will not be aware of any disparities. It is only when theÂ soundtrack jars that the audience is alerted to the sound and may question theÂ legitimacy or integrity of the sound sources. A fictitious alien landscape scene, forÂ example, containing recognisable sounds from our world may elicit a sense ofÂ disbelief.
When we see a storm onscreen, we routinely hear thunder; when we see a dog, itÂ often barks; a door usually creaks; a car might skid when stopping; and explosionsÂ may shake the room. There are many sound clichÃ©s consistently used in theÂ contemporary soundtrack. Through developments in cinema sound technology,Â many Hollywood film soundtracks are created to deliver what an audience expectsÂ to hear, rather than represent the ‘actual sounds’ of the real world. Also sounds areÂ pared back from all of those that might be in a specific setting to emphasise thoseÂ most relevant to the narrative. With the use of high quality speakers with a wideÂ frequency response, the introduction of the various surround sound formats andÂ powerful computers with an array of software options, technology is allowing forÂ greater creativity and flexibility in the soundtrack.
The sound designer needs to balance between telling the story using the availableÂ tools, and delivering a soundtrack that is credible for the story and setting. WhileÂ the overall soundtrack needs to be treated with careful consideration, so too shouldÂ the individual sound components that contribute to it. It is not uncommon for theÂ sound designer and editors to research the authenticity of various elements withinÂ the film to provide a guide as to the legitimacy of the sounds and the sound setsÂ required. For example, if we see a shot of the Statue of Liberty, New York and, place of the sound of pigeons, the only birds we hear are kookaburras, theÂ audience will be distracted from the story, and continuity of the film will beÂ disrupted.In both Happy Feet and Australia, extensive research was conducted into theÂ environments and locations of both film settings prior to the editing of any sound.Â Particular attention was given to the study of the wildlife, especially birds andÂ insects, and the seasons. Other research investigated the locations on a largerÂ scale including the weather of Antarctica-which notably does not develop thunder.Â Careful sound choice allows the audience to be situated within the depictedÂ environment. At the commencement of sound post-production, one of the most importantÂ preparatory steps is to read the script or to watch an edit of the film in its entirety.Â
Depending on the film, the sound team may have the luxury of reading a scriptÂ during the film pre-production phase or in other instances a rough edit may beÂ given to the sound team to view almost immediately after shooting has completed.Â In some instances they may be given both. Providing either a script or an early editÂ of the film allows for the planning of the dramatic journey of the film, and theÂ mapping of the narrative dynamics through sound. This can be in the form ofÂ physically drawing a chart or a graph mapping the drama and dynamics of the filmÂ over time. This allows careful designing of sounds to build up to the climacticÂ scenes in the film, and then to use quiet moments to increase dramatic impact.Â Having a graphic representation of the film allows for the nuanced planning of theÂ soundtrack, which will follow and often assist the onscreen narrative. DependingÂ on the director’s approach to the film, this method can also be helpful for creatingÂ juxtaposition between the onscreen drama and the aural drama. Sound has theÂ power to emphasise or soften a story depending on the director’s decisions. HappyÂ Feet has a scene depicting a leopard seal chasing the central protagonist, Mumble,Â underwater. Due to the visual size and menacing teeth of the leopard seal theÂ original sounds edited for the scene had to be re-crafted to suit the targetedÂ audience of children. Many of the original growls were replaced by less aggressiveÂ grunts, and more breaths were added to soften the chase and viciousness of theÂ antagonist.
Every film has its own challenges and requires its own approach to the soundÂ design. Some films are created to imitate reality and often contain sounds ofÂ ‘actual’ location sound recordings of what the audience is seeing on screen,Â recorded on set from the filmed locations. In the films Little Fish (Rowan Woods,Â 2005) and The Magician (Scott Ryan, 2010) for which I was a sound effects editor,Â sound designer Sam Petty aimed to recreate the actual ‘real’ sound of the locationsÂ in both films. Petty retraced the shots of The Magician and recorded the filmÂ locations throughout Melbourne. On Little Fish I retraced and recorded many of theÂ film location environments including several locations in Cabramatta, Sydney (FigÂ 3). Both the Cabramatta train station and the featured shopping mall are central toÂ establishing the locations within this film. Having to recreate these locations fromÂ either library sounds or unauthentic recordings would have been very timeÂ consuming, and still may not provide the desired authenticity.Â
It is important to note that the shooting schedule does not generally allow enoughÂ time for the location sound crew to capture many sounds of locations duringÂ filming. The primary concern of the location sound recordist and crew is to captureÂ the dialogue and the actor performances. The audio post-production crew thenÂ need to seek permissions to re-record after initial filming, which requires furtherÂ time and funding that are rarely included in the budget. Â
In contrast to films like The Magician and Little Fish, many films require the use ofÂ exotic, rare and even previously unheard or fabricated environmental sounds. WithÂ the increase in films based around visual effects, films can be located in fictionalÂ lands with entirely contrived characters and creatures.Â Depending on the context of the film, an audience will have preconceived ideas ofÂ
what the sounds should be for particular scenes. This is the case even for animatedÂ films that are set in entirely contrived locales. James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) is aÂ well-cited contemporary example. No one has physically experienced this mythicalÂ land of Pandora, although we have some sense of what we would ‘expect to hear’,Â for example, by associating the forest with familiar rainforest, or by the appearanceÂ of certain creatures. The environmental sounds alone comprise many previouslyÂ unheard insects, specific and unusual animals, other background animalÂ vocalisations, and types of vegetation.
On occasions such as this it may be necessary to create entirely new sounds forÂ these new worlds. These original sounds may start their incarnation from theÂ recordings of sounds from our own world or they may be completely synthesised.Â
What is important is to keep these new sounds ‘identifiable’ according to ourÂ current expectations. Some designing techniques for these new sounds mayÂ include the following:Â
- transforming existing sounds through the use of pitch changing,Â equalisation, or any number of filtering processes
- using specific recordings of rare or unusual soundsÂ
- pitching or modifying electronics, machinery or vehiclesÂ
- pitching and combining various animal vocalisationsÂ
- using synthesis to create new sounds, and others.Â
Although budget constraints will influence the approach to film sound design, soÂ too does the availability and existence of-and access to-required sounds. WhenÂ creating a sonic environment or landscape for a film, wherever it is set, it isÂ important to consider what is ‘real’ to the location, what seems real, and whatÂ sounds the audience expects to hear. In summary, factors determining theÂ approach to the creation of the environments include whether the location exists inÂ the ‘real’ world, whether environmental recordings were made during on-locationÂ filming, whether the storyline is located in a contemporary setting, and whetherÂ funds and safety allow the recording of the location.Â This leads to a discussion of two contemporary feature films from the perspective ofÂ a sound effects editor1. Produced on relatively big budgets for Australian featureÂ films,2 both Happy Feet and Australia included a dedicated ‘atmosphere soundÂ editor’ as part of the sound team. This role is often absorbed by the sound effectsÂ editor on smaller productions and lower budget projects. In both films, my soundÂ effect creation and editing drove the use of the environment as an integral storyÂ component and, as such, I worked very closely with the atmosphere editors. WhatÂ distinguished my role from that of the atmosphere editor was that my contributionÂ treated the landscape as a character. Working in sound effects, I specificallyÂ designed many sounds for both films with integrated and often highlighted storyÂ elements associated with the environments.
These films differ quite considerably and provide contrasting examples of sonicÂ environment creation. The films are set in remarkable and distinctive locations; Happy Feet is an animated film set in Antarctica, while Australia is a live action filmÂ set in the Northern Territory, Australia.3 Both films pose varying degrees ofÂ complexity in terms of their sonic environmental depictions on screen.Â Creating a Sound Environment
As with the visuals, the sound for an animated film differs from live action film. With no actual filming on location, all characters are created, all sets are rendered,Â and all visuals are designed by animation artists. There is no cinematographer filming actors at an actual geographical location as with a live action film (althoughÂ voice acting is recorded for the animators). Sound recordings of the film setÂ locations are not captured as there is no filming on location.4 Therefore all soundÂ environments need to be recorded and/or created from the ground up.Â
1 In this article I focus on the environmental sounds, and a consideration of spot effects is a topic for a further study.Â
2 According to the International Movie Database (IMDB.com) the budget for Happy Feet was $100,000,000Â (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0366548/) and $130,000,000 for Australia (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0455824/).Â
3 Some scenes were shot in various locations in Northern Territory, northern Queensland and Sydney’s Fox Studios.Â
4 However some animators, notably Australian Yoram Gross, have used filmed bush background for the drawn characters.Â See Dot and the Kangaroo (1977) and other work.Screen Sound n3, 2012 128Â
Miller’s Academy Award winning Happy Feet tells the story of Mumble, an emperorÂ penguin who, instead of being able to sing, tap dances. The characters of the filmÂ also included many animated Antarctic animals, primarily penguins. TheÂ combination of an animated remote environment (Antarctica) and animatedÂ animals meant that every sound for this film had to be created.Â Through the use of detailed ‘layers of sound’, sound design is about creating a levelÂ of believability. It is not just a matter of placing a single sound into a scene andÂ hoping that the audience believes it. Ambiences in our everyday life are complex,Â with chaotic and sometimes even choreographed symphonies, with the land, theÂ wind, animals, birds and vegetation all playing their tunes within a given space. InÂ addition to these individual sounds, these acoustic spaces are important inÂ representing the onscreen landscape spaces.Â
The challenge of creating such an unpolluted, isolated and dangerous atmosphereÂ meant that the sound design had to be precise and untainted by unwantedÂ background noises. As the budget didn’t allow for a sound team to travel andÂ record actual Antarctic locations, climatic conditions and animal activities, we hadÂ to rely on pre-existing sound recordings of Antarctica or recordings made in moreÂ accessible locations such as Thredbo ski resort in Australia and from someÂ locations in New Zealand’s South Island.Â
With many shots depicting the rugged landscape of Antarctica, often the detailÂ within the sound design can pass unnoticed. If we look specifically at ‘Lovelace’sÂ Pile’ (Fig 4) the sounds can be unpacked to reveal far more detail than what isÂ initially heard.
- Basic element
- Breakdown of sounds
- Close up winds (flurries of snow)
- Distant winds to give sense of space
- Wind howling through icicles
- Movements on snow by penguins
- Melting snow
- Snow falling off cliffs in the background
- Ice-land Mass
- Movements of ice
- Ice cracks and creaks
- Ice thumps
- Background penguin vocals near and far
- Background penguin movement
Table 1: Landscape sounds in ‘Lovelace’s Pile’ scene in Happy FeetÂ
From this list the sound editor has 11 possible sets of sounds that may beÂ deployed to create the environmental backdrop for this scene. This excludes anyÂ character or action related sounds; it is only the ambient background.Â
Without access to record authentic atmospheres, many of the sounds wereÂ recorded or sourced from other locations in order to imitate the film set. TheseÂ would then be reconstructed as the sounds could vary entirely. We were fortunateÂ that we had some ‘actual’ recordings of Antarctica for the film. During production,Â supervising sound editor and sound designer, Wayne Pashley, sent a mini-discÂ recorder to the Antarctic and asked scientists to record sounds whilst doing theirÂ field studies. Unfortunately, the recording quality was not always film worthy asÂ the scientists are not trained sound recordists. Happy Feet did contain some actualÂ sounds from Antarctica, although a high percentage of sounds were either non-Â Antarctic recordings or studio recordings created specifically for the film.Â
The ‘animal’ recordings from Antarctica were used where possible to create anÂ underlying realistic bed for the film. Some of the successful recorded sounds usedÂ included those of elephant seals, adÃ©lie penguins, emperor penguins and even skuaÂ birds. These beds of animal noises gave the background environment a sense ofÂ reality upon which to layer the main characters. The main and featured animalsÂ were often recreated using studio recordings and other sources of soundÂ recordings.Â
Some of the successful Antarctic ‘environmental’ recordings included icebergÂ movements, ice winds, and slushy icy water. These were also edited and usedÂ where possible alongside additional created sounds. Again, these realisticÂ environmental sounds were primarily employed to evoke a believable backgroundÂ ambience. To emphasise the size and weight of several of the large icebergs,Â controlled recording and studio techniques helped create such large masses. ThisÂ included close microphone techniques and using ‘dry-ice’ (liquid nitrogen) to freezeÂ large objects that we could then record being dragged across the floor. With theÂ realistic Antarctic recordings serving as our bed, these additional recreated soundsÂ became the embellishments and the dramatic highlights.Â
As storytellers in our own right, creative liberty allowed for the reappropriation ofÂ these sounds. At times these sounds would be used only as a bed and thenÂ additional snow, ice and wind elements would be created and embellished to betterÂ Screen Sound n3, 2012Â 130
represent the onscreen visuals and the unfolding drama. Some of these soundsÂ came from our own original Foley studio recording sessions using props to designÂ
sounds to be used to highlight onscreen action. An example of the studioÂ recordings included creating snow for the feet close-ups where the charactersÂ dance on the snow. As we did not have access to snow, we recorded crushed ice,Â salt, cereal, sugar, sand and several other props to mimic the sound of snow.Â Recording in a studio allowed us to create our sounds specifically for the particularÂ scene. Throughout the film, the seasons changed over a one-year cycle and weÂ wanted to represent this as best we could through the changing environmentÂ sounds. We had allocated recording days where we could record specific sounds inÂ a very clean, precise manner. If we needed more grit in our snow we could justÂ change the elements we were recording, or if we needed the snow to sound moreÂ wet we could just mix in some more water when required. We were not dictated byÂ natural resources. The other advantage of having these studio recording days wasÂ that we could record sounds specifically for the big screen. What I mean by this isÂ that we could record sounds specifically for the surround sound speakers. UsingÂ the close-up of feet on snow as an example, if a character flicked his/herÂ flipper/foot in close-up, we could record different snow elements for the left, centreÂ and right hand side of the flipper and have the debris snow crumbles pan back intoÂ the surrounds. This would have been impossible to record with such precision asÂ an actual performance in ‘real’ life. By having control of individual sound elements,Â we were able to creatively challenge the cinema and screen space to highlight theÂ environmental immersion.Â
Set during the Second World War, Australia‘s storyline centres on a cattle drive inÂ the rugged terrain of northern Australia, as an English aristocrat travels acrossÂ harsh environments with her stock. From the opening moments, even before theÂ first visual images, sound is used to position the audience of Australia. From theÂ initial fade in from black we begin to hear ethereal singing, native birds, insects,Â winds and the gradual swell of string instruments.
In these opening scenes, the sounds of different winds, animals and insectsÂ intertwine with an emotional journey across an environmental backdrop thatÂ transforms, as the audience witness the death of Lord Ashley, from above groundÂ
and into the muffled and mysterious murky underwater drones and whale song.Â Playing in slow-motion the images show King George (David Gulpilil) telling NullahÂ (Brandon Walters) to ‘make yourself invisible’ as the ‘white fellas’ are herding cattleÂ across the river onto the Carney property. Although music is also playingÂ concurrently with the sound effects, the effects design specifically aims to makeÂ reference to Aboriginal dreamtime. As Lord Ashley is killed and falls to the waterÂ above Nullah with a spear through his chest, the water turns crimson, the soundÂ hints that Lord Ashley has been killed by the people moving the cattle, the sameÂ people Nullah is also hiding from. Visually it isn’t until we see the snakeskin bootÂ of Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) that we realise that he is the killer.Â Although the sounds chosen for this sequence are simple environmentalÂ recordings, what is important is the way in which they have been reappropriated toÂ form part of the narrative. Through transformation, including pitch and otherÂ manipulation techniques of the original recordings, these evolve into new, unheardofÂ sounds that yet seem familiar.
When designing such delicate sounds, much time was spent experimenting withÂ the creation of sounds that morph unnoticeably from one sound into anotherÂ throughout the opening sequence. Tonal frequencies, recording quality and mixingÂ techniques were constantly balanced and adjusted to create a single fluid flow ofÂ environmental sounds. At the same time, although continually transforming, theÂ sounds needed to contain characteristics of the original sound sources, allowingÂ the audience to connect the aural with the visual. Throughout Australia, designedÂ sounds are used very subtly. Overall the film uses actual location and naturalÂ sounds to convey the Australian landscape, with the designed sounds beingÂ reserved for scenes with Nullah, the death of Daisy and for King George, as theseÂ relate to the dreamtime and spirituality.Â
With vast landscapes of Australia’s Northern Territory depicted throughÂ cinematography, natural sounds are needed to convey the impact of theÂ environment. Supervising sound editor and sound designer, Wayne Pashley,Â retraced many of the original locations in the film during the sound postproductionÂ phase. Using a Soundfield ST350 ambisonic microphone, Pashley wasÂ able to record in surround sound an entire three-dimensional landscape onÂ location. Until recently, creating film surround sound was only possible during theÂ post-production process, but this particular technology allowed for a pristine,Â natural recording of the environment. These recordings in surround were thenÂ decoded, edited and used as beds for the atmosphere tracks of the film. PashleyÂ observed:
We also wanted to be true to the landscape of Australia. So often in bigÂ productions like this, the sound design guys just reach for ‘BushÂ Atmosphere Number Three’ [library effect] or whatever, and everythingÂ comes out sounding the same. Also, what you hear is usually completelyÂ unrelated to the environment you see on the screen. We wanted this to beÂ different. Australia is, I think, the first movie that sounds correct, that givesÂ a true sense of how this country sounds. (cited in Soundfield, 2008:Â online)
With many scenes depicting broad vistas, having the atmospheres recorded inÂ surround from the outset allows the sounds to reflect the vastness of the actualÂ locations. In sound editing, the atmosphere tracks are often edited from existingÂ stereo recordings, thus limiting the detail within the acoustic space. In mostÂ instances, artificial reverb is introduced to make the sounds appear to be widerÂ within the acoustic space. Recording in surround sound reduces the need for andÂ use of these contrived techniques.
All animal sounds for Australia were purposely recorded for the film. WorkingÂ remotely and living in regional New South Wales, I was able to record many of theÂ animal vocalisations of cows and horses for the film at locales situated near where IÂ live. The cows were particularly challenging to record as they are often difficult toÂ get close to without them running away. Having the livestock saleyards proved toÂ be a very convenient way to record cows at close proximity. Also having so manyÂ cows in such a small space allowed the recording of mass group cows to be used inÂ many of the backgrounds. Situated within a livestock pen meant that the beastsÂ were particularly vocal, which allowed for high quality recording and performanceÂ and, later, for flexibility in editing their bellows.
Often overshadowed by dialogue and music, the environmental atmosphericÂ sounds of a film are often overlooked by audiences. These aural landscapesÂ comprise either actual recordings or synthetic recordings constructed toÂ acoustically represent the onscreen locations. Both Happy Feet and Australia relyÂ on the aural landscape environment as essential storytelling characters withinÂ each film. Based on very distinct locations, the films differed notably in theÂ approaches to their environmental landscape sound design. In a generalÂ comparison Happy Feet featured far more ‘inauthentic’ and syntheticÂ environmental sounds as opposed to Australia, which contained many moreÂ environmental recordings from accessible locations.Â
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When comparing these approaches to contemporary film sound, neither one isÂ better or worse than the other. Factors such as accessibility, money and timeÂ budgets, and the noise pollution of locations through human activity determine theÂ practicality and possibilities for acquiring and recording existing and authenticÂ location ambiences. Through authentic recordings or through synthetic soundÂ design, what remains important is that the sound design and production follow theÂ film narrative and immerse the audience into the onscreen locations.
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Sonnenschein, D (2001) Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema, StudioÂ City (CA): Michael Wiese Productions.
SoundField: ST350 Captures The Essence Of Oz, online at http://www.soundfield.com/news/news_australia.phpÂ (accessed 16 March, 2012).Â
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