Case Study – Anomalisa

On Thursday I went to Dundee’s DCA to watch a stop motion film called Anomalisa, written and directed by surreal film legend Charlie Kaufman.  The film is about a man who gives speeches about Customer Service, Michael, dealing with his life through the monotony  he faces daily.  Michael has an issue in his life that every other person in his life has the same face, and same voice.  He has lost his ability to see people uniqueness and individual discrepancies that make them an individual.  This is not entirely clear until he arrives at his hotel in Ohio and calls his wife.  As his wife is finished speaking to him in a man’s voice, she passes the phone to Michael’s son who has the exact same voice.  The fact that his wife already had a man’s voice was unusual, and once we heard that the son had the same voice, it makes it clear that something is not quite right in Michael’s head.  Thankfully Tom Noonan has a pleasant voice, as it is heard constantly throughout the film, more helpful though is that his voice has a very distinct tone.  This makes it obvious the reason that Kaufman has created this world of uniformity.  Among all of this, at one point Michael hears another voice walking past his hotel room door, a woman’s voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  This is something that through the story we learn hasn’t been experienced my Michael in 11 years, so he follows the voice.  Michael finds Lisa, who he invites for a drink and then back to his hotel room.  Michael is drawn to Lisa because of her voice and different face to the rest of the world, and desires to run away with her for her uniqueness.  After the first night with Lisa Michael gives his speech in the hotel.  This is when it becomes clear the extremity of Michael’s mind, we see Lisa’s face clear in an army of clones in the audience.  This is when it all becomes clear as Michael has a breakdown on stage and begins getting heckled by many people, all identical to each other in face and voice.  Lisa manages to overlook this and then they go to Michaels room to eat lunch together.  Over lunch, Michael finds several things about Lisa annoying including the way she talks within her vocabulary and mannerisms and the way she eats.  Once Michael realises these things, Lisa’s voice begins slowly slipping into the voice that we hear for everyone else.  He also catches her face in a strong sunlight and it begins to merge into the one we saw for everyone else as well.

Overall this was not the most intricate display of sound within film, but I found it very interesting to carry a movies entire plot point just from the perspective of dialogue and voice acting.  It is something that I am not aware that I have seen before, and recommend anyone to watch it.


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.

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 studies – The Blair Witch Project

The scene being discussed here from The Blair Witch Project is the night when the documentary team’s tent is attacked by the witch with crying children.  The whole film is filmed on handheld cameras so based on the movement and proximity of the characters to the microphones, makes the whole movie a lot more immersive as a viewer.  This is because, the camera acts as your eyes and the microphones act act as your ears in a way.  This is done in the way that a binaural microphone would work, in a very basic way, with the camera acting as the model head.  I have picked this scene as it brings fear to the viewer.

The original case study is here.

The group are awoken by noises which are not so clear to begin with, as they are inside the tent.  They all whisper in hushed tones saying if they can hear what each other can hear very quietly.  This makes us feel uneasy first because of the immersion brought about by the filming style, because imagine you were asleep in a tent and something outside woke you up.  You would feel as tense as they do.  Another reason this is so scary as a viewer is that because the audio is only being recorded by the microphones of the handheld cameras, which made it really difficult to just hear exactly what it is that is waking you.  This also makes you scared because, if you were awoken when you are asleep if you could identify what it was you would be a lot more scared about it if you could say it was just an animal and take action.  After this the tent begins being shaken from both sides which prompts the crew to put their boots on and run away.  This is scary as the shaking is loud and sudden and takes you by surprise, even though you know that someone shaking your tent isn’t going to do you any harm.  The very sudden increase in movement and volume frightens us as before this moment, it was very quiet and huddled almost safely, once this shaking begins the characters all go into a frenzy and run very quickly exposing themselves to attack, and as you are attached to the arms of one of the members of the camera crew, so are you.  Until the crew starts running the camera operators are aware that they are filming within the tent, but once they begin running, that all goes tipot.  He is running without aiming the camera at anything in particular, as he is scared and his professionalism is not important.  The camera movement here is just swinging arms, which means the sound is ruffled as the microphone is just swooshing past clothes which are moving really quickly.  This combined with the visceral screams of the three film members including the girl screaming “What the fuck is that?!” brings fear.  The fact that they cannot focus on anything other than what has been attacking them, when all we know of them so far is them being focused and professional on their job of documenting the trip.  Although we never see what it is that is following the group, the combination of all of these reactions to being provoked makes us very scared of what is following them.

Overall the thing that makes us scared most about this scene, is the immersion provided by the filmic style.  And also what makes us very scared is the fact that the enemy is completely unknown to us.  These two techniques can be used to insite fear into an audience member.

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.


I created a questionnaire to be handed out and filled in by the experiment participants after each soundtrack is complete.  This will be filled out between each soundtrack, rather than at the end of the whole process so it is fresh in their minds.  I will paste it below for reference.

If you wish to remain anonymous please tick this box and move to section B. [BOX]

Participant [ADD NUMBER]


Section A: Your details.


Name: ___________________________________________ Age: __________________


Occupation: ______________________________________ Gender: _______________


[INSERT SCENE TITLE HERE] e.g. own soundtrack 1


Section B:

Describe how this movie scene made you feel in 3 words:




Section C:

On a Scale of 1 to 10 choose how [SAD/UNCOMFORTABLE/SCARED] this scene made you feel?

1 – – – 2 – – – 3 – – – 4 – – – 5 – – – 6 – – – 7 – – – 8 – – – 9 – – – 10



Section D:

What in particular about this scene stood out to you most?


Consent Form

I have written up a consent form for all participants taking part in the experiment.  This will be confirmation from them that they know all procedure and protocol during the experiment.  It will also confirm that they are fully aware of the experiment and what is happening.  I will paste it below:

Danny Smith is a student of Creative Sound Production at The University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland.  Danny’s honours project aims to show a link between soundtrack elements and the audiences emotions.  This experiment will involve you watching a series of film clips, and answering a questionnaire after each one, on how it affected you.  Each film clip will be between 2 and 5 minutes long.  You have the option to not take part at any point during the screenings, with the options to leave before and during the experiment.  You will also have the option for your questionnaires answers to not be used in the experiment after it is finished.  There will be a few personal questions asked at the beginning; name, age, gender and occupation.  You will have the option of not answering these questions and keeping all of your answers anonymous.  This experiment will be used to inform Danny’s own project of creating soundtracks to highlight particular emotions for his own media.  This experiment is intended to benefit the researcher, Danny Smith, and may not benefit you in any way.  All non-essential information will be kept confidential unless the researcher, Danny Smith, asks you personally later for a specific purpose.  Any health and safety risks that could occur during the experiment will be made explicitly clear by the researcher, Danny Smith, before beginning.  The contact details of the researcher, Danny Smith, will be given to you for any enquiries and/or concerns you may have about the experiment or questionnaires.  The final presentation will be available for all participants to see at the end of year show, also all the research will be available for anyone who took part to view once the project is complete.


Please print name below:



Please sign below to confirm that you have read and understand everything outlined above:


Researcher’s signature: