Sound and Music: Activity 3

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Sound Effects

Much of what the audience sees in a movie has been faked for the camera. Actors fighting onscreen do not really hit each other very hard, for instance, so fight sounds must be added by the sound effects crew. Sound effects include natural sounds such as birds, wind and rain; human sounds such as breathing or heartbeats; the mechanical sounds of engines or explosions; and sounds that identify the film’s location.

Footsteps, breathing, the rustle of clothes and the sound of props such as coffee cups or squeaky chairs are created on a Foley stage, named for Jack Foley, who pioneered the technique of recording live sound effects in synchronization with the picture.While watching the projected film, the Foley team uses bodies, voices and props to replace or enhance live sound. Performing Foley is sometimes called “walking Foley” because footsteps are such an important part of the process.

The sound effects editor is responsible for all sounds that are not dialogue or made in Foley. Car engines, explosions and other mechanical sounds as well as “atmospheric sounds,” such as animals in a jungle, are deemed sound effects. Sound effects are either manufactured in the recording studio, retrieved from a sound library or recorded in the real world by the sound effects editor.

Sometimes the sound effects crew will use recordings of the actual sounds of the objects on the screen specifically for that film as in The Thin Red Line, which used new location recordings of vintage World War II weaponry, artillery and machinery. Other films, for reasons of convenience or necessity, demand more creative solutions. To generate the whine of alien space ships in Independence Day, for example, the sound crew used a recording of screaming baboons. Fabricated sounds can be more effective than real sounds. In Saving Private Ryan, fly fishing lines cast into water were used to replicate gunshots hitting the English Channel during the D-Day invasion. The cartoon-like smack of a face punch in Raiders of the Lost Ark was accomplished by combining several different sounds, including that of a leather jacket thrown onto the hood of an old fire engine and ripe fruit dropped on concrete.

Many sound effects can be made using simple materials. Cellophane being crumpled sounds like fire; salt sprinkled on paper evokes rain; hands squishing soggy newspaper suggest a character walking in mud. Some additional ideas are cutting a cabbage in half to represent a limb amputation; flapping a pair of leather gloves together to reproduce the sound of a flock of birds taking off; and squishing cornstarch to sound like footsteps on snow.A headache tablet dissolved in water stands in for fizzing champagne. Rubber tires squealing on pavement can be simulated by a hot water bottle rubbed against a plastic bag. Crunched up lifesavers could be small bones breaking.

Have your students write a short scene or take a scene from a book or story. Using some of the suggestions above or ideas of their own, have the students put together sound effects for the events in the story.

Supplemental Activity

Contrast the submarine scenes in U-571 and Das Boot or The Hunt for Red October or any two or three similar scenes from films of your choice. Some other suggestions are Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World and Pirates of the Caribbean:The Curse of the Black Pearl; Three Kings, The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan; Space Cowboys and Apollo 13; Independence Day and Contact; Shakespeare in Love and Moulin Rouge. Ask your students to consider the ways that sound and silence are used to create the atmosphere of the scenes. Have them discuss the way different sound portraits work to convey the mood and time period of the film.

Sound: The Power to Enhance the Story

PDF Downloads

Complete Sound and Music Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: The Origins of Sound Film

Activity 2: Dialogue

Activity 3: Sound Effects

Activity 4: Musical Score

Activity 5: Songs

Activity 6: Sound Mixing

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