Summary of Chapter 6 and 7 of “Animated Storytelling” by Liz Blazer
Sound does 80% of the story telling work. It is a very powerful element, Even if you only have a background track on a slideshow, your music selection will set the mood, express some feeling or message through the genre, tempo and volume. But background music is not the only type of sound in animations and motion graphics. There are two sound categories that any sound within your projects fall into:
Diegetic sounds come from (or appear to come from) anything that is on-screen such as actors dialogue, noises they are making interacting with the physical world or from the physical world itself such as a river flowing or avalanche, ocean waves.
Non-diegetic sounds are off screen but assist with the the telling to the story. They are “added” to reality, supplemental or surreal such as narration, sound effects, music score.
These two categories can be comprised of three basic elements: Sound Effects, Music and Dialogue.
Foley sounds, named after sound-effects artist Jack Foley, is the reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to film, video, and other media in post-production to enhance audio quality. These reproduced sounds can be anything from the swishing of clothing and footsteps to squeaky doors and breaking glass.
The key to creating a great soundscape is exercising restraint. Because sounds are very powerful they should always be used to support the theme or the story, like using color, it is very easy to overwhelm or distract your audience with its overuse.
Time is everything. Be sure to measure all your elements as you go to ensure that you are meeting your total running time. Sure, it is wonderful to have all these ideas but 45 minutes of script will not work well for a 30 second commercial. Be succinct and clear with all your elements and you will be telling your story well and saving time and resources. I am no expert but just as a rule of thumb, one trick that I use whenever I am deciding on an element to use (script, music, effect) is count the “Mississippi’s” in my head as I listen. When I was a kid playing two hand touch football, we would count to ten Mississippi before we could rush the opposing quarterback. Each “mis” was about a second. When thinking of pacing your graphic, count the seconds from the beginning of the motion to the end. Thats how many “mis” of sound you will need or have to work with to match the onscreen action.
Master of your Universe – World Building
Many of my creative heroes have built complete worlds around their ideas. George Lucas, Stan Lee, Walt Disney, just to name a few, had the ability to conceptualize and grow environments for their stories that were so rich in detail, they will last forever. These wonderlands, allow us to escape into their beauty.
Crafting them is not easy and are based on thousands of decisions, not just by their founders but those who subsequently become their stewards. These guidelines are tried and true, they remind me of many years of adhering to style guides as a graphic designer and communications manager but they also apply as a consumer. I play a fair amount of video games, and once I start a game, I do not want to be jarred out of my experience by something that doesn’t follow the rules I have been playing by. Taking over your audience’s eyes, ears and mind for a few minutes comes with the duty to present your message in the most immersive and convincing well crafted way.
Here they are:
- Design consistent rules
- Define time and place
- Consider physical laws
- Consider social laws
- Define visual laws
- Respect brand values for motion graphics
- Establish visual rules for motion graphics
Once you start thinking through these frameworks to give your world shape, feel free to borrow from science and nature to establish your rules. This would be the easiest way to have an immediate set of references that your audience will understand intuitively. And just because you establish some rules doesn’t mean you can’t break them, in fact your most powerful moments in the storytelling process is when you decide to do something like suspend gravity suddenly or make a red sky precisely because you were consistent up to that point.
3 Examples of Masterful Soundscapes:
Edge of Tomorrow:
There are many things I love about this movie but after learning about sound and storytelling, I appreciate it so much more. First, they used the driving heavy music in the battle scenes only, it helps the viewer understand where they are in the story bas the main character moves through time. It is an essential element of the “rewind” sequences. Second, just think about al the foley sounds that needed to be added and removed to highlight the dialogue and action. It is an ultra stylized battle scene, somewhat sanitized of the gore….which is appropriate given that the concept of “respawning” is prevalent in culture through gaming.
The main character does not speak for the first half of the movie yet you are able to follow, identify and bond with this kind lonely robot.
Sound is a critical part of this story as the movie is told from the inner perspective of one man as he develops a relationship with an artificial intelligence. Touching, awkward, pain and joy are all conveyed through voices and music and the non-diegetic performance of Scarlett Johansson. Watching this again, it gives the mind and ears much food for thought and reflection. A must see for those looking for the intersection between human and machine.
2 Examples of Outstanding Title design
A complete retelling of iconic American moments in history in the alternative universe of the watchmen. An example of completely detailed craftsmanship in retro design, using Time magazine photos and footage but of world building as well.
Recently I binged watched Ozark. I finished two seasons in two nights. This is a rare behavior for me. I tend to enjoy my favorite dark things slowly like a god bourbon or cigar but once you get on this roller coaster, it is hard to get off. In other words, it is a damn good show! I noticed that each show had minimal titles. Unlike other splashy intros like Madmen, Boardwalk Empire, Frontier, TURN (see below), although I like these too, this one stood out because of its low key approach. I find it sad that you will soon be able to skip on streaming services, this one only asked for a few moments of my time.
For further soundscape exploration and appreciation:
Shawn is an Information Technology manager in Washington D.C. and a graduate student at Quinnipiac University pursuing his masters in Interactive Media and Communications.
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