Scott Hirsch guides the analysis of a first scene. Topics include how to listen, and a scene analysis of the audio follows.
- [Narrator] Before we dive into the deep end of sound for video, I want to get your feet wet with a little teaser clip. This happens to be one of my favorite movies from a sound design perspective and I thought, what better way to amplify our enthusiasm than watch a master work of sound design. So, without further ado, here's the opening scene to Sergio Leone's 1968 spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West.
(door creaking) (water softly splashing) (bench creaking) (telegraph clanking) (birds cawing) (water drips) (animal whining) (cracking knuckles) (fly buzzing) (blowing sharply) (water dripping) (fly buzzing) (loud thud) (muted buzzing) (train squeaking and rumbling) (rhythmic clanking) (cocks gun) (train whistling) (loud thud) (train whistling) (train clanking) (harmonica playing) (suspenseful music) - Frank? - Frank sent us.
- Did you bring a horse for me? - (laughs) Looks like we're... (chuckles) looks like we're shy one horse. (all laughing) - You brought two too many. (suspenseful music) (gun bangs) (horse whinnying) (thud) (rhythmic creaking) - [Narrator] Okay, that's a pretty interesting scene.
Let's unpack this a little bit and reference to what we'll be discussing in this course. First, let's talk about the fact that hearing is secondary to seeing. For most people, hearing is a submissive sense to a higher order sense like sight. When we watch a scene in order to dissect a sound we have to give our secondary senses like hearing a chance. So, prioritizing hearing is a specialized skill that you can develop, but unless you're highly trained you might need to first watch a scene to satisfy all your visual curiosity first.
Then you'll want to watch it again even sometimes with your eyes closed to take in the soundtrack as a unique element. We'll discuss this more later when we talk about active versus passive listening. So, I encourage you to watch this scene again and even a third time with your eyes closed and make some notes after each viewing. This will get you into the habit and show you how to truly analyze a scene for sound, which is, again, is almost impossible to do on the first viewing.
There's just too much visual information that our mind wants to absorb. When you do this, you can compare your notes with my observations, which are as follows: first, sound is used in this scene heavily to motivate action. And not only enhance, but even tell the narrative. Sounds of the creaky windmill set the stage of this lonely train station. The character's annoyance of the telegraph sound and the buzzing fly really lets us know that these dudes are bad dudes we're hanging out with.
He captures the fly in his gun and you hear it buzzing around in there and he's just sort of toying with this life here. And when we hear the whistle of the train we hear that before we see it and that gives us an indication that our hero is arriving. And then, as for the hero himself whose name is Harmonica, we actually hear his own sonic motif, the sound of a harmonica, before we even see the character. You'll also notice in this scene that dialogue is extremely sparse but sound is super abundant.
The filmmakers chose to rely almost entirely on the soundtrack without dialogue to tell the narrative of this scene. And that's a technique that, if it's done properly is extremely effective. Finally, the tonality and timbre of the sound is carefully curated to have a certain texture and color that matches the grittiness of the old west. Once Upon a Time in the West is a special case and it's no accident that I chose it first.
It turns out that all Italian filmmakers of this era subscribed to a school of filmmaking where they don't bother themselves with capturing sound on the set. That's right, all sound here is done after the fact in post-production. This way, they're able to give all the creative freedom to the cameraman without pesky sound equipment. And they can create any sonic world to their minds farthest reaching imagination in post-production. And that's why we're here. We're going to be introduced to all the tools, skills and techniques on how to master the art of sound design for video.
I hope this scene becomes as much a gateway drug for you into the world of sound design as it was for me.
Scott Hirsch starts with the basics, discussing the history and legacy of sound for film, and working through the core concepts and elements of a compelling sound design. Next, he takes you through a sound design workflow, highlights the different elements of a soundtrack, and shows professional examples of sound design in a few real-world projects. He also explores the future of the soundtrack, discussing the core concepts of immersive audio, as well as real-world applications of 3D audio.
- The history and legacy of sound for film
- The role of sound in visual media
- The elements of a soundtrack
- Following a sound design workflow
- Editing dialogue and producing sound
- The role of sound effects
- Mixing a soundtrack
- Exploring the future of sound for visual media
- Core concepts of immersive audio