Discoveries from case studies – Pi

The scene from Pi which makes the audience members feel discomfort and disgust is the subway scene.  In the scene the lead character Max has a migraine in the subway station, which is so painful he goes into a dream state.  He then chases a man on the platform and follows a trail of blood to a brain on the subway steps which he then prods.

The original case study is here.

The first sound design choice is that there are many different zooms of Max’s face whilst he is having his migraine, once it zooms closer there is a very loud static noise with a squeaking noise underneath it too.  The noise is discomforting to listen to and makes us feel his pain, much like in 127 hours, and we empathise with Max.  This makes us feel uncomfortable as the sound we hear is very difficult to hear, the way that it is combined with the visuals of a zoomed in face makes us know how Max feels.

After Max decides to run across the bridge to the man on the opposite platform, we hear no movement sounds from him and his clothes.  The camera is a snorricam which is aimed directly at Max’s face and we can hear his voice and breathing, so we know that we are in a dream state in Max’s sore, migrained head.  This is an effective sound design in showing just how determined Max is to reach the other side by making us focus just on him visually rather than sonically.  This shows how effective not using a sound can be rather than adding to the soundtrack with sound effects.

The last effective bit of sound design in this scene is when Max begins prodding the brain on the steps with a ball point pen.  As soon as he does this he hears a train horn coming from behind him.  This shows that it is his own brain that he is touching.  The train horn is putting both into context that he is in a subway train station and that he is in a dream state.  The horn is loud and abrasive and very imposing on the ears.  Much like the static earlier in the scene it is very clear that we are hearing what Max is feeling, so we can relate to him more intensely.

So in conclusion, through this scene and the one from 127 hours an effective way to make your audience feel discomfort and disgust is loud and abrasive and exaggerated high pitched ringing noises.  This is because we almost feel these noises rather than hear them because of their pitch and register, like a ringing in our skulls.  This makes us uncomfortable as we can relate to the pain rather than just witness in visually, which is already an effective medium.

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Discoveries from case studies – 127 hours

As a movie scene which accurately makes the audience members feel disgust, 127 Hours’ amputation scene is very effective.  It shows the main character Aron deciding after a long time to cut off his arm which has been stuck between a rock and a cliff.

The original case study is here.

The first sound that we hear which makes us disgusted is when Aron needs to snap the bone in his arm to cut through it.  At this point in the movie he has lost most of the feeling in his arm, as confirmed by the real life subject in an interview, he uses his body weight and torque to bend the centre of his forearm till the bones in it snap.  The sound we hear when he snaps the bone is that of a large branch snapping, like a tree log.  The sound we hear with the visuals we see doesn’t match in that regard.  Both what we see and hear though are snapping, just the sound is a lot more dramatic, this synchresis makes us feel that the arm snapping is a lot worse than it actually is.  Although it is completely horrific in the first place, the exaggerated snap makes it appear even worse.  So the reason that this is so effective is the exaggeration of the sounds makes the already hard to watch visuals even more difficult.

The next sounds which make us feel disgust is when Aron cuts the tendon in his forearm.  We hear a very loud high pitched ringing noise, which masks out the sounds of Aron’s screams.  This is done as an aural metaphor that the feeling of his pain masks out every other sense he has available to him.  The register of the pitch and tone we hear when Aron is cutting his tendon really rings in the front of your brain and makes you empathise with the pain that he is feeling, because it makes our ears uncomfortable.  While he is cutting we see frames of Aron completely still and braindead with blood on his hands and face.  This again shows that all he can think about is the pain he is feeling.  This shows that the discomfort and disgust that we feel as an audience participant by highlighting an overly exaggerated sound which makes us feel discomfort innately.  It is also effective when combined with visuals that we can match to the sounds.

In this scene there is also an underlying musical track of guitar and electronic drums, this increases in volume and intensity over the whole scene.  It builds and builds until the very end till Aron finally cuts the arm off and pulls away from the boulder, when it comes to a conclusion.  This is an effective way that shows the conclusion of the music matches the conclusion of Aron’s struggle away from the boulder, in a musical metaphor.  This does not affect our emotional response to the film, other than relief from Aron’s situation.

Discoveries from case study – The Babadook

Through the case studies I have researched into, there are a few things that can said to highlight the reasons they make us feel a certain way.  Each case study was picked as it makes you feel a certain emotion.

Original case study here.

The Babadook – When watching the scene from The Babadook we feel scared.  The reason the sound design adds to this is because The Babadook has a distinctive sound whenever we know it is present.  It sounds like a swarm of cockroaches on the ground combined with a wheel spinning.  The reason I feel this sound design works effectively is because we are always told as we grow up that bugs are dirty and dangerous, so the familiar sound of cockroaches makes our skin crawl at the thought that they are all around you.  The clawing at the door that we hear in the clip also makes us uneasy, even though it is originally only a small dog clawing at the door, it is very low in pitch and drawn out, making it sound like a much larger animal.  An animal at that size with claws big enough to make a noise like that one would definitely be able to do a lot of damage to you, which makes us fearful, especially after the dog is let in and we know that it is The Babadook.  The Babadook always introduces himself sonically by groaning his name, Baba badookdookdook.  When he does this it is a growly inhale, as opposed to him talking, which sounds inhuman rightfully so.  When we hear this inhale, it is usually getting more louder and aggressive as it is getting angrier.  This is done to make it appear as it is getting closer to you using your natural inter-aural level difference (IAD), which uses the volume of a sound in relation to your ears and head to identify where a sound source is, the basic premise is the louder the sound is the closer the source is.  So all of this combined, the reason that this scene from The Babadook makes us scared is that we are hearing primal sounds of animals and bugs which we are instinctively programmed to fear combined with unnatural humanoid noises manifesting these sounds.  These two combined sound design choices makes us scared of The Babadook in particular as it makes us uncertain of the genealogy of the creature coming to attack the woman, as well as the fact that we believe it is moving closer and closer.  In turn making us believe we are getting closer and closer to being attacked by The Babadook.

Draft guidelines for dissertation

We were tasked to write a guideline outline for the dissertation.  We had to include all of the sections, including what would be included in each.  And then we had to have a word count breakdown, to be sure that we were staying within the writing limit.  I will include the document below.

Contents Page:

7500 words overall.

Abstract – Not included in word count

  1. Introduction – To be completed last, as to reflect on everything written to that point. ~ 500 Words
  • Include a quick run down of your own personal project
  • Include a small backstory on why you are doing this project
  • Include relevant information for those not versed in the subject
  1. Literature Review – Different from the concept development document, put in the academic context expected for a dissertation. ~ 1500 words
  • Include a list of all relevant reading materials studied to this point
  • Include further reading
  1. Methodology – The methods used to go about the project. ~ 1500 words
  • Case study research
  • Practice
  • Test screenings
  • Questionnaire/interview
  1. Project Description – Choose key moments of the project to create a larger account and explain in a lot more context. ~ 2500 words
  • Working with an outside animator
  • The relevance
  • Struggles with case study findings
  1. Results and Findings – Based on screenings, questionnaires and interviews, making sense of the data collected. Include an analysis of the findings within context of the project. ~ 1000 words
  • The answers to questionnaires and interviews
  • How the results either back up or oppose my theories
  • Explain how the results can be used by others
  1. Conclusion – A breakdown of everything discussed within the dissertation, and any possible avenues I could take from there. ~ 500 words
  2. References – Not included in word count
  3. Bibliography – Not included in word count

As seen here, each section has been drafted to show how much words should be included at minimum to reach the amount of words at 7500.  If this is done accordingly to the guidelines set up above, the dissertation will be in the guidelines that have been set out by Abertay and get a passing grade for it.

Final piece rundown

For my final piece for the honours year presentation I am hoping to create an animation to compose soundtracks to.  I want to be able to score different soundtracks, evoking different emotions, to the same piece of media.  This will be the point at which I can highlight what I am trying to with this entire dissertation, because if I can make people feel different ways when listening to the soundtrack with the same visuals, then it will be a success.  I will be creating the artefacts myself to use in the animation, and work with animator friends to create the final product.  I have begun researching into how to animate this myself, but I think I will work in collaboration with my animator friend.

I plan on making the animation very basic, a character walking away from the camera through shrubbery or a wooded area. I would like it to loop and certain things pass the character and want it to last around 4 minutes.  I would like the animation to end with the character reaching something it cannot pass and stops walking.  The looping animation of the shrubbery and walking should apparently not take too long to create apparently from my animator friend.  Each of the incoming things that appear on screen will just be basic shapes or characters from the same area.  The end scene of the character at the dead end will be what really rounds off the piece and will highlight the tone trying to be set.

The goal is that each of the different soundtracks will make you interpret the animation differently.  For example, there would be one in which the character appears to be out for a stroll to find something they were looking for at the end.  Whereas another way it could be interpreted is that the character is lost in the woods and is coming to the realisation they may never get out, and the dead end is the final nail in the coffin.  Another soundtrack could be very eerie, and in a horror style, to really just try and spook the audience.

The objects that appear on the path will be nothing of significance, they will be simple shapes.  This was decided by taking inspiration from Italian cartoon ‘The Red and The Blue’ recommended by Kenny.  The cartoon is stop motion and everything is set on a plain white background, the red playdough is always just trying to have a good time while the blue is always just trying to stop it.  The main thing that draws people to the programme is the simplicity of it.  All the dialogue is communicated in a non-language so that there was no need to translate it, and everything is made 100% out of the playdough.  The fact that these shapes will be non-important, means that anything can be composed to them, making the soundtrack signify what they mean.

The ambiguity of this media piece is what is drawing me to finalise it.  I feel like the many different avenues it can take will lead me to create several more soundtracks for the piece both for future and for presentation.

Email thread – feedback

Sent from myself to Kenny on 29th September:
Draft 1: The project aim is to find the link between sound design in cinema and the way in which it affects an audient emotionally.  The goal is to find out if this element of cinema creates an emotional connection with the viewer psychologically, and how this affects the immersion of the film as a whole.  This will be recorded using both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the audient.

 
Draft 2: Sound design plays a vital part in cinema.  Sound design makes up the soundtracks of cinema excluding the music, so this includes ambience, sound effects and any extra sounds the sound designer feels necessary to add to enhance the film and add to the immersion for the audience members.  Most people don’t connect as much consciously with sound design, and I would like to highlight the immersion that it brings to people sub-consciously.  I plan on taking several scenes from various films, which I feel excel in exceptional sound design, and playing them for an audience, to then comment and complete a questionnaire about.  I want to see what specific elements of sound design evoke certain feelings in the audience.  I will show these scenes to several people of varying gender and age to get an accurate representation, which will be highlighted at the beginning of the questionnaire.”
Reply from Kenny on 29 September:
“1. No real context or problem – why study this? The way your question is written, isn’t the answer obviously yes? I can point you to several films (some of which we studied last year) where the sound design has emotional impact. What other more nuanced questions might you ask about sound design in film that would give you something to investigate?

2. This is better – certainly going in the right direction. A little too personal, though – try to avoid writing in the first person. The way that this draft is written, it sounds like all you’re going to do is grab some films, show them to an audience and ask them some questions. Where does your practice fit in? If this is a first step, and you plan to identify good practice in sound design with a view to carrying it out in your own short film or animation, then great, but otherwise, why? What are you going to use this information to do?”
Sent from myself to Kenny on 16th October:
“Hey Kenny, this is the third draft of my project aim, just wondering if you had any pointers for me before the feedback week meeting next Thursday, just so I am prepared. Thanks in advance.

‘Sound design plays a vital part in cinema.  Sound design includes ambience, sound effects and any extra sounds the sound designer feels necessary to add to enhance the film and add to the immersion for the audience members.  Manipulating real life sounds in a digital audio workstation creates many of these sounds.  Most people don’t connect as much consciously with sound design as they do with music, and I would like to highlight the immersion sound design brings to people sub-consciously.  I plan on taking scenes from films, which I feel excel in exceptional sound design, and playing them for an audience, to then comment and complete a questionnaire about.  I want to see what specific elements of sound design evoke certain feelings in the audience.  I will use the results to create an accurate database of what sound design elements can evoke certain feelings within an audience member, to be used to help sound designers in the future as well as myself.'”
Sent from myself to Kenny on 10th November:
“Hi there Kenny I was wondering if you could have a look at my project aim as it is just so I know if there is anything else that I should add or take away just before this hand in in two weeks.

Sound design and ambient sounds plays a vital role in films but most people overlook it.  They only listen to the music in the soundtrack.  I want to bring conscious attention to the ambient sound and sound design elements of cinema for the modern audience, as I feel it brings a lot of immersion to the audience sub-consciously.  I will screen what I think are excellent examples of ambient sound and sound design and ask a questionnaire on how if makes the audience members feel.  I want to highlight which sound design techniques and styles evoke certain emotions in the audience, which can be used by people in the future to create sound design or ambient sounds to evoke certain feelings.”
Thanks Kenny, Regards, Danny”
Reply from Kenny on 10th November:
“Is it really fair to say that most people ‘only listen to the music in the soundtrack’? This assumes that: the sound design and ambience isn’t part of the soundtrack (it is), and that people don’t listen to it (they do). I think maybe what you mean is that people aren’t consciously aware of the effect that it has – it’s the unsung hero of the film?

With that in mind, then, why do you want to draw attention to it? Back to that idea of something like special effects in film – once you start to become aware of them, the film isn’t working properly. If you’re aware of the sound design, the sound design isn’t working the way it should.
Why not just make this a project that explores effective sound design and sets out to explore how it works on a subconscious level to create the sort of immersion that you’re talking about without the viewer being consciously aware of it?”

 

Project Aim – Draft 4

Sound design and ambient sounds plays a vital role in films but most people overlook it. They only listen to the music in the soundtrack. I want to bring conscious attention to the ambient sound and sound design elements of cinema for the modern audience, as I feel it brings a lot of immersion to the audience sub-consciously. I will screen what I think are excellent examples of ambient sound and sound design and ask a questionnaire on how if makes the audience members feel. I want to highlight which sound design techniques and styles evoke certain emotions in the audience, which can be used by people in the future to create sound design or ambient sounds to evoke certain feelings.