The lineage of the sound designer title can be traced back to Francis Ford Coppola, who granted the title to Walter Murch for his exceptional work in the creation of original sound effects and achievements in sound manipulation for Apocalypse Now. Coppola defined the role of the sound designer as “an individual ultimately responsible for all aspects of a film’s audio track, from the dialogue and sound effects recording to the re-recording (mix) of the final track.”
The sound designer is hired during pre-production, usually hand-picked by the director and producer. He or she oversees the sound department during post and may take on the additional responsibilities of the supervising sound editor, re-recording mixer, or other related role. The process begins with a thorough reading of the script, then the sound designer participates in initial design meetings with the director, editor, and production sound mixer to conceptualize the audio aesthetic of the film or show and to identify specific sound effects or qualities the director wants to capture. The sound designer must create a script breakdown that highlights the three primary types of sound effects: spot effects (ordinary sound resulting from action on screen), atmosphere effects (weather and animals), and sound design effects (original sounds that represent actions or objects not found in real life). Based on this breakdown, he or she sources existing audio tracks for use as sound effects, or sets about creating new content for the production’s specific needs. The sound designer will also artistically manipulate recorded sound using software plug-ins, synthesizers, and audio samplers. While it is the composer’s duty to create the underlying musical score, the sound designer also contributes certain sounds under the images to reflect a mood and theme throughout the story. This person is involved in every aspect of post-production sound, working closely with the Foley artist, ADR editor, re-recording engineers, and film editor. He or she will is tasked with monitoring the sound department pipeline and keeping the crew on schedule and on budget.
Skills & Education
A college degree in film and television production or recording arts is recommended in this career; the sound designer must be an expert in sound recording and editing with a firm understanding of acoustics and audio manipulation technology. This role requires an individual who is as artistically talented as he or she is technically proficient. The sound designer is capable of translating conceptual ideas into a realized product and discerning the subtleties of mood and theme as reflected in the show’s audio. This person is also a senior-level manager, and therefore must be highly organized and able to prioritize tasks for a crew under strict deadlines.
What to Expect
Sound designers typically rise to this rank after several years of experience in sound editing and/or as a re-recording mixer or production sound mixer. A formal education is helpful to learn the technology, production processes, and theories of technique, but sound design is a specialty that demands time spent in apprenticeship. Work in a junior capacity in the post-production sound department is required, and is the place you should seek to begin your career. Time on set is helpful, but if you are confident in your desire to work in post, then concentrate your efforts there. Full-time entry-level and assistant positions exist on the sound editing and recording staffs of major production studios (who are contracted to produce audio post for film and television) and at boutique post houses. Major studios also regularly offer internships or apprentice programs that will afford you the necessary hands-on experience to seek permanent employment, and will present the chance to establish professional relationships with industry veterans.
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