13 Sound Design Tips to Make Your Film Feel More Cinematic

sound design tips
Sound design helps the audience sink into their seats and experience your film in more visceral ways. So you better get it right. 

Sound design is one of those tricky things that you don't notice when it's excellent. It's only on repeated viewings that it really shows its worth. The first time, it just draws you into a movie and lets you enjoy it. 

What I love about this kind of artistry is how many things go into every choice. 

One of my favorite websites dealing with sound and sound design is Film Crux. They've done free giveaways for us in the past and generally have excellent information available. Plus I've bought and used their sound kits. Lots of fun. 

They recently released this video of sound design tips. 

Check it out and let's go through them after the jump. 

13 Sound Design Tips to Make your Film Feel More Cinematic

1. Punctuate

This seems self-explanatory, but ff you have a big impactful moment, punctuate it with a powerful hit. That means hitting the mark or note so that it sticks out to the audience. Like the click of a gun being cocked. 

2. Ambiance

There's so much to learn from silence, but also in the tone of the world around you. Using wind and other environmental ambiance at varying intensities can add an incredible amount of depth to your films, like in Tree of Life with the dinosaurs. 

3. Contrast

Alternating between loud and quiet sounds changes the mood of any scene. Each gives the other much more impact.

4. Build

You want tension and intensity and hype to rise together. Start soft and then increase volume and speed.

5. Repetition

Music or not, sound repetition can score a scene. Think about the train heard in the background of this scene in The Godfather and how it adds to the mood. 

6. Titles

You can punctuate titles with hits that are representative of your piece. The best example of this is inside Inception where we hear Hans Zimmer's famous score. 

7. DIY

Some of the best sound effects are made at home. For instance, if you don’t have a riser, you can just reverse any cymbal or hit sound effect to create your own. Some sounds work better than others but experiment and you’ll find some.

Become a foley artist! 

8. Reverb

Say you like a sound effect, but it just isn’t getting across to the audience. Try adding a bunch of reverb. This will make your sound effect feel bigger than it is by giving it more weight and distance. And you can always play with the volume as well. 

9. Layer

Ogres are like onions. And sound design is like an ogre. It can be hard to deal with but it all boils down to layers anyway. That means adding multiple sounds. A single sound on its own might not be that great, but when layered with a few others, it can have an enormous effect on your film.

10. Taper

Ever have an idea and then just...trail...off...? That's called tapering. This is important because it will help you avoid any unnecessary clicks or pops caused by your sounds starting too abruptly. This is also useful if you’re using cheap sound effects that aren’t already tapered. And the better the sound, the more professional your story will come across. 

11. Feeling

It's all about going with your gut. Sound design isn’t about accuracy, it’s about feeling, and sometimes an inaccurate sound effect better articulates the feeling you’re trying to get across to the audience. So what mood are you trying to set? Nail that tone and you've done something exquisite. 

12. Score First

Let your composer do their work before you finish the sound design. They can help set the tone and mood in many ways. You can lay in the framework, but try to match their rhythm and don't drown them out. 

13. Pitch Shift

Lastly, let's talk about shifts. Things go one way and then can go another. And the way to control that is with the pitch of the sounds you're working with. By altering the pitch to be higher or lower, you can make the same effect feel serene and beautiful or intense and terrifying. The best example of that is in Psycho where our violin screeches change but always unsettle us. 

Sum It Up 

I want to thank Film Crux for providing all these hot tips. If you want to get started right now, make sure you check out SINGULARITY, that's their sound effect library and it has a ton more useful tips and tricks for people trying to finish their projects. 

We can't wait to see what they post next!      

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