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PROMAX: Sound Design Can Make or Break An Action Scene

December 3, 2018

 
 

Editor’s Note: In his session, “The Illusion of Creating Speed” at PromaxEurope 2018, director and action design expert Lawrence Ribeiro explained how to fuel your video content with speed and action, without blowing up your budget, your client relationship, or your big idea. This is an excerpt from his book, “Action Realism: The Art of Action.”

In Quantum of Solace, in the opening sequence and the introduction of the new Aston Martin, every time 007 shifts, you hear ching-ching or clunk-clunk. There is no Aston Martin on the planet that sounds like that, but the movement needed emphasis because of all the action happening around it. It’s a tribute to master French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville, in my opinion.

This opening sequence is a masterpiece. One of the reasons is that it starts at the very beginning. Something that is not too common, the sound starts with the MGM lion growling, then continues with the Columbia statue, all the while an ominous sound leads to a visual: a helicopter shot, in which the music becomes dramatic and is interlaced with inserts of what is to come. As the helicopter gets closer to the event, the music builds to a crescendo and all hell breaks loose! James Bond doing his thing.

It’s brilliant—your imagination of what is to come is being exercised vividly. I have probably watched the opening sequence a few hundred times. It’s like a drug … the hair is still standing up on my arms.

That’s pure film-making, or should I say sound-making!

In action design, editing and sound design go hand-in-hand. You may have the ultimate stunt/sequence but without the sound, you are lacking half of the experience. It’s that experience that starts resonating within your mind and what those sounds mean to you.

Another great example of this is the helicopter scene in Goodfellas with the different songs being intercut within the main song. Sound design, in combination with editing and pacing, uses this to evoke different subplots within the story. Masterfully done.

Just like the camera is the bottleneck to creating the stunt, sound design is the bottleneck to your senses or perceptions. A trailer editor can make the most of that.

A good friend of mine, D. Chris Smith (Revenant, John Wick 2), is one of the top sound designers in business. This is what he said regarding sound design for action:

“In [the] case of most action-based projects, little to none of the actual onset production sound can be used (due to excessive noise, coverage, or even to just stay off camera). Therefore, everything must be recreated in post production. In the case of vehicles for instance, the actual car might be provided with a stunt driver, trailered to the desert, staged with special microphones in the engine compartment and on the tailpipe ... and all the movements of the vehicle would be meticulously recorded for placement to picture by the sound designer later in post. This process would apply to most real world events; anything from ambiences, guns, people, vehicles to animals.

The sound designer would utilize these new sounds recorded in the “field,” to sculpt, weave and craft the aural experience so the viewer is practically put into the scene ... evoking tension, emotions and ultimately believing what they’re watching.”

Lawrence Ribeiro is an award-winning director specializing in action and dynamic sequences. He has published two books, was a featured speaker at Promax Europe 2018, consults for major corporations and serves as a finalist judge for the Emmy Awards.