Visual effects guru Rob Legato unfolds the secret to cinematic storytelling, sounds exciting? Watch the video below:
What do you think about this talk? I thought it was pretty awesome! Especially the part where he talked about how we remember events.
Reality vs. Perception
There is a huge difference between what we perceive (visually and audibly) and what we remember. To quote Rob Legato: “When we’re infused with either enthusiasm or awe or fondness or whatever, it changes and alters our perception of things. It changes what we SEE. It changes what we remember.”
Now, notice that I emphasized the word see in the sentence above. That is because Rob Legato thinks visually. But exactly the same can be applied to sound, we can change it to: “When we’re…it changes what we HEAR.”
Sound design guru Randy Thom said that in sound design you begin by trying to forget for a while what it would really sound like and start thinking about what it would feel like. (1)
Some of you may argue that this is a different approach (what we remember vs. what it feels like), but it is the same: Emotional experiences, whether good or bad, leave strong traces in the brain. (2) These emotional experiences are likely to be recalled more often and with more clarity and detail than neutral events. (3)
For example, I could describe you in vivid detail the evening when I cooked a meal for the first time for my girlfriend, but I wouldn’t be able to describe what I did that day in the morning, because there was no emotion connected to this.
The art of creating awe
The point is, we as storytellers (sound designers, VFX artists, cinematographers, editors, you name it…) use this emotional memory to enhance the story and make it emotionally true and real. In other words: We don’t replicate reality, we create perceived reality.
This is why Rob Legato replicated the launch sequence in Apollo 13 based on what people remembered and thought was memorable. (And memorable doesn’t necessarily mean real or accurate.)
Secret to cinematic storytelling
Sound designers use sweetening, cinematographers color palette etc., because this is how it would feel like, this is how we would remember the event. To paraphrase Martin Scorsese: “The idea behind sound effects in Raging Bull is to give impression of the battles inside the ring. It’s the way the character would perceive it.”
Again, we as filmmakers don’t replicate reality, we create perceived reality. And this is the reason why I fell in love with filmmaking and became completely obsessed with cinematic storytelling.