Audio Black Hole!

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:

Rembrandt: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
Rembrandt: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

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?

References

  1. designingsound.org/2009/09/septembers-featured-ben-burtt
  2. designingsound.org/2010/03/erik-aadahl-special-exclusive-interview
  3. designingsound.org/2010/03/erik-aadahl-special-the-sound-design-of-transformers-exclusive-interview

Links


As always, if you liked this article, please, leave a comment, share it with your friends on Facebook or tweet it to your followers, or everything! 🙂

Narrative paintings

David Bordwell wrote a brilliant article where he discusses narrative paintings of the late nineteenth century and their influence on early filmmakers. Here is one example from his article:

Two prosperous young women are sitting in a garden. One is reading from a sheet of paper. What’s going on?

Marcus Stone: Her First Love Letter
Marcus Stone: Her First Love Letter

The title, Her First Love Letter, helps us zero in on specific aspects of the action and fill in the situation. The girl on the left, bathed in light, leaning forward eagerly and wearing the pale frilly dress, can be seen as the more inexperienced of the pair, caught up in the anticipation of the young man’s ardor. The more worldly woman sits relaxed, perhaps a little skeptical but also tolerant of the ways of young love.

[…]

Narrative paintings like this were evidently one source of early cinema’s approach to staging and composition (among many other things, like acting or lighting).

[…]

I’m not arguing that these particular paintings influenced filmmakers, only that the principles that the painters employed were picked up by directors. The more general point is that in understanding film aesthetics, we can usefully compare movies to other movies, and movies to other arts. By doing this, we sharpen our sense of what various media can do. (1)

The painting above is by Marcus Stone and dates from 1889, I love it so much! I did a quick google image search and found another image by Marcus Stone, this one is called “In Love”:

Marcus Stone: In Love
Marcus Stone: In Love

And this one comes from the short Division of Gravity:

Division of Gravity (2012)
Division of Gravity (2012)

Again, as David Bordwell wrote already, I’m not arguing that this particular painting influenced the filmmakers, but the principle is there.

References

  1. www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2007/06/19/professor-sees-more-parallels-between-things-other-things

Links


As always, if you liked this article, please, leave a comment, share it with your friends on Facebook or tweet it to your followers, or everything! 🙂

Dialogue scene coverage in The Silence of the Lambs

In todays article we’ll take a look on a basic and well-known editing technique. NEVERTHELESS, you’ll hardly find a better example of this technique! And just so you know, The Silence of the Lambs was among the nominees at Academy Awards in 1992 for best film editing. CUT!

Standard and probably the most used technique of shooting and editing a dialogue scene is to start with the master shot. Then, as we learn more about the characters, as new information is being revealed, we’ll use tighter and tighter framing (the following stills were taken from 1946 noir film The Big Sleep, in case you are wondering).

Tighter framing increases the intimacy, we get, literally, closer to the character. Getting closer is just another word for getting more intimate. And we get more intimate when we learn more about the character, right? (This also works the other way around, the less you know about the character, the less intimacy there is.)

(As always, there are and will be exceptions. For example, Woody Allen avoids coverage completely in some of his movies and shoots the scenes only in master shots. The funny thing is that its out of laziness! 🙂 It helps him avoid the necessity of cutting and doing many more takes. (1))

Dialogue scene coverage in The Silence of the Lambs

(The following text was taken from filmsite.org)

In the middle of the Historical Society Room on the fifth floor, a massive temporary iron cage had been erected, cordoned off by black and white striped police barricades. Inside the cage, Dr. Lecter sat at a table reading, his back to her. Without turning, he greeted her: “Good evening, Clarice.”

Both alternatingly traded information and confided in each other – learning vital secrets that each one coveted. The camera moved to closer angles on their faces as the scene progressed and the intimacy level intensified.

A domineering close-up filled the screen with Lecter’s forehead as the intimidating doctor compared everything to Clarice’s failed attempt to rescue a frantic, bleating and “screaming” lamb from the slaughter when she was a child to her present day motives regarding the rescue of another innocent victim.

The camera slowly progressed beyond and through the bars until it appeared that the menacing doctor had broken through the cell bars to psychologically assault the vulnerable Clarice. (2)

You can clearly see in this example how framing gets tighter and tighter as the scene progresses, as more information is revealed and as the level of intimacy increases. The best part is that the bars between Clarice and Dr. Lecter completely disappear during the close-ups (=maximum level of intimacy)!

Well, there is so much going on in this scene that I could rant for several hours about it, but I would never finish this article. So just very briefly, here are some additional ideas:

Tension

Each framing brings certain level of tension. The tension is low during the master shots, because you are basically free to look anywhere you want inside the frame. Opposite to this, the tension is at its maximum when we cut to close-up, because you have basically only one place to look at – the actor’s eyes.

If we were to draw a “tension graph” of this scene, we’d get a bell shaped curve (tension on Y axis and time on X axis). Needless to say, the best scenes (movies) employ something like sinusoidal curve, the tension goes up and down repeatedly.

Lenses (Focal Length)

For the master shot, wide-angle lens(=short focal length) was used. For tighter framing, lenses with longer focal lengths were used. The reason is twofold:

  1. Wide angle lens distort the image. This is ok for master shots (to show the location), but terrible for portraits (because of the distortion).
  2. But more importantly, telephoto lenses (long focal length) feel much more intimate than wide-angle lenses. So as Clarice Starling is confiding to Hannibal Lecter, longer and longer focal length was used, nice!

As always, if you liked this article, please, leave a comment, share it with your friends on Facebook or tweet it to your followers, or everything! 🙂

References:

  1. www.cineaste.com/articles/an-interview-with-woody-allen.htm
  2. www.filmsite.org/bestfilmediting8.html

Links: