Audio For Media

January 14th, 2022

Detailing the process of creating sounds and scoring music for various projects last semester.

Starting the Journey

Last semester I had the great opportunity to take Scoring For Media and Sound Design, which were both really interesting classes that helped me dive deeper into the process of making music and sound effects for visual media. I have always been intrigued with the intersection of music and visual media (video game music was the main motivation for me to learn how to play the piano), so I was fairly excited to take these courses. Here are a few takeaways and example projects from the last semester.

Scoring For Media

In Scoring For Media, I learned about the basics of the scoring process for films and the ways that composers can take a film scene and properly set the emotional context for what is seen on screen, by paralleling characters' emotions, setting expectations for viewers, and building thematic material to create a cohesive experience. The class also spent a significant amount of time analyzing films and what composers did to create an effective score. Finally, I learned about the nitty gritty technical stuff such as preparing a written score and developing cue sheets.

The Dark Knight

The first major scoring project we did in this class was to score a chase scene from Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. This was an interesting project for me because this is where I started to develop my personal process for scoring media. I started by finding a tempo that I was comfortable with and then started marking key moments in the scene on the timeline, aligning them to the rhythmic grid as best as possible. Then I started my arrangement with the bass because I was sure I wanted a driving synth line to be the backbone of the track. Then I started adding layers of strings and other instruments, using improvisation to compose lines and melodies. I then used Native Instruments' Kinetic Treats to create a spooky glockenspiel-like melody that really underscores the sinister nature of the Joker and the tension of the scene.

Good Will Hunting

For this project we had to write for a completely different emotional context than the previous one. This scene was more difficult because the emotions were more complex, with many layers and many ways to interpret what the characters were feeling in the scene. I approached this one similarly to the previous project: finding a tempo, marking out the important moments in the scene, and starting with a base instrument to establish the arrangement. For this scene specifically I started out with a piano improvisation, and then I edited the MIDI of my performance to fit better within the tempo markings. Then I added strings for additional tension and emotional weight, and finally added a vibraphone to act as a sting for a specific moment in the scene. This score was quite minimal but I believe it was one of the strongest scores I composed this whole semester, because it perfectly captures the emotional weight on screen.

Sound Design

In Sound Design I learned about the various aspects of sound in a film and the respective processes involved. I learned about the importance of each layer of sound for creating an engaging film watching experience, and the various roles required to make a blockbuster production. It was fun experimenting with different ways to create sound effects as well as different recording techniques. I was able to get hands-on experience in performing essential sound design tasks such as Automated Dialogue Replacement, where I loop a section of video to have a voice over actor record a few takes of audio to closely match the original dialogue on screen. Our main projects for this class required us to completely replace the audio in two clips, one 30 seconds long and the other 7 minutes long.

30 Second Commercial - Pringles

Our midterm project was to replace the sound in a 30 second long commercial. I chose a Pringles ad featuring Rick and Morty, and it was a good introduction to the sound design process. The amount of sound effects I needed to create was relatively short, so I was able to get used to the process of finding sound sources and manipulating them to fit the scene. My favorite example was recording an electric drill to get the sound of motors whirring. The ADR process was new to me at the time, so this project was a good introduction to understanding how to properly loop record in Pro Tools and directing my voice actors to get the right performance.

7 Minute Movie Scene - Doctor Strange

For my 7 minute movie scene I went with quite the ambitious choice of a section from Marvel's Doctor Strange. My professor told me upon approving my project that this was going to be difficult, and I need to properly manage my time to complete everything in 7 weeks. I had a total of over 200(!) sound effects to create and record, as well as dialogue and score, which was very daunting. Thankfully, I was able to manage to complete everything in time. I was particularly impressed by how many sound effects I was able to create with just my mouth and plugin effects such as EQ and reverb. My professor also was a great resource for figuring out how to record some of the most difficult sounds, such as hospital room ambience (recording an empty classroom), sparks (crinkling a potato chip bag and using EQ and reverb to get the desired effect), and air whipping sounds (swinging a heavy rubber mat through the air).

Scoring this section of film was also a challenge, since I had to write multiple music cues that have to smoothly transition into one another and match the action going on screen. The most difficult cue was the fight scene, since there were so many changes of location and mood, switching back and forth between reality and the ethereal plane. I had to write quite a few time signature changes to properly match the pacing, and I had to throw away my usual intuition to come up with simpler melodic material that focuses on matching the action rather than a consistent thematic progression like in a song.

Looking To The Future

I hope to be able to continue writing music or designing sound for media, because these projects were really fun and challenging, requiring me to approach things in a new way and creating rather compelling results.