In one of the previous articles, we talked about how different shot sizes and framings bring different level of intimacy and tension. Well, another interesting way of looking at this is in terms of contrast and dynamics.
Master shot juxtaposed with medium shot or close-up creates contrast. Contrast creates drama and drama is interesting to watch.
Now, contrast is not only interesting to watch, but is key to storytelling. Look for example at the painting by Rembrandt below, where dark blacks are contrasted with bright light:
We naturally tend to look at the brightest spot. In this case, the brightest spot happens to be the dead man on the table. And this is exactly where Rembrandt wants us to look at; this is what the painting is all about – an anatomy lesson.
Now, there is an infinite number of ways how and where to create contrast. But in this article, we’ll take a look at one specific example in sound design.
Audio Black Hole!
Audio black hole is one of the more subtle, but highly effective sound effects. It involves insertion of a short interval of absolute silence in the audio track just prior to the explosion, gunshot, hit, blast or any other kind of impact. (1)
Needless to say, the most potent sound is the single perfect sound played against silence. (2) This creates not only beautiful contrast and dynamics, but also helps to enhance and accentuate the resulting impact in the mind of the listener.
I prepared a short video to show this sound effect, but before you’ll watch the video, read what sound designers Ben Burtt and Erik Aadahl said in their interview for designingsound.org about this sound effect.
Ben Burtt (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones)
I think back to where that idea might have come to me…I remember in film school a talk I had with an old retired sound editor who said they used to leave a few frames of silence in the track just before a big explosion. In those days they would ‘paint’ out the optical sound with ink. Then I thought of the airlock entry sequence in 2001. I guess the seeds were there for me to nourish when it came to the seismic charges. (1)
Erik Aadahl (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen)
One of my favorite scenes is the “hut scene”. Sam and Mikaela are hiding out from Decepticons on the hunt. It’s the silence that I like. We tried to get very quiet, so we could hear the terrified kids trying to suppress their breaths and not be heard. We wanted the audience to hold their breaths too. We go as quiet as we can, before Starscream rips the roof off of with a BANG! Dynamics are the key to both storytelling and sound.
It’s fun to make audiences lean in, have them strain to hear something, and then give them a jolt. I like this kind of filmic emotional manipulation, and I think anyone who enjoys a ride on a roller coaster does too. (3)
How about you, do you enjoy the ride on roller coaster?
- Gary Rydstrom Special: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
- Sound Design of Terminator 2
- The Sound of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
- Best use of Silence in a film?
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