Sound design

Sound Design in Film [All You Need To Know]

We independently test and review everything we recommend. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Table of contents

In this article, we look at different types of sound design and how to use them in your own films to help bring them to life.

We all know how important post-production is in the filmmaking process. It’s where your vision comes to life and where the story is made. Without a doubt, poor sound design will guarantee a bad video.

Below, we’ve laid out exactly why it’s so important during editing and why you should be paying more attention to it. To begin, we’ll answer the all-important question…

What is Sound Design?

Sound design is an essential element of the filmmaking process. It’s how filmmakers set the mood, define the atmosphere of a scene and make their visual stories come alive. Good sound design creates truly immersive experiences for audiences.

Sound in film is just as important as the visuals. There are five fundamental ways sound designers produce and refine the perfect audio.

  1. Sound effects
  2. Foley sound
  3. Music
  4. Dialogue
  5. Mixing

It seems like a relatively simple but is often overlooked despite bringing so much more to your film.

How Can Good Sound Design Help?

Firstly, when we go to the cinema, what are the senses we’re using? Sight and sound.

So, while the visuals we see on-screen deliver certain information, there is a lot more information that’s also being conveyed through the sound design.

  • Flow & Pacing
  • Depth
  • Mood
  • Changes in story

In short, good sound design will always provide the audience with extra information. It may be really subtle. For example, adding things like;

  • the echo of an airport departure hall
  • the distant roar of planes overhead
  • footsteps of people

Might not seem huge but it’s extremely important as it reminds your audience of exactly where they are (at an airport!). Check out this short video on the sound design used in Dunkirk (2017).

So if you want to develop your skills and learn more then read on…

1. Sound Effects

Firstly, we have sound effects. When it comes to sound design, especially in film, sound effects are important. They add realism to your visual content, give context to your storyline, and determine the mood of each moment.

Also, there is a range of sound effects techniques that sound designers use to achieve their vision for a certain scene. For example, if they are looking to add a sense of drama, or build suspense in a story. A scary movie isn’t half as scary if you can’t hear a door eerily creaking open, or footsteps approaching. Sound effects are how you make these moments come alive.

Also, there are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to take sound effects to the next level. Layering them or adding transients are great ways to ensure your sound design is original and packs a punch.

The same goes for ambient noise. Designing the perfect pitter-patter of rain, howling wind, or waves lapping against the shoreline, enable audiences to feel fully emerged in a visual environment.

2. Foley Sound Design

sound designer recording foley

The second is Foley. This technique is key to original sound design. It’s often performed by a Foley artist to recreate specific sound effects to fit the visuals. Foley is added in post-production, just after the video editing stage.

Foley sound is one of the most important narrative tools that filmmakers have at their disposal. These custom sound effects add to the realism of the story. They also enable filmmakers to achieve naturalness in their audio and fully immerse their audience.

Foley is so important that sound designers can establish entire careers in creating Foley sound in film. In fact, the name Foley owes itself to Jack Foley, the first sound designer to use the technique back in the 1920s.

That said, you don’t need to be an expert Foley artist to use it to elevate your films. Experimenting with producing new sound effects or even just recording everyday sounds around will give you truly unique sound effects.

Just grab your mobile phone or recording device, get out there and capture all the sounds that inspire you.

3. Music

Sound effects are important in film but the soundtrack is the icing on the cake. Music in film can be used in many different ways to tell a story. Even the first silent movies used the power of music to enhance the storyline and evoke emotion in the absence of dialogue.

The perfect background music sets the scene and mood. It can also be used to represent a character’s feelings, emotions, and even alert the audience to situations that the characters aren’t aware of.

There are plenty of ways you can make a unique soundtrack. Try using different editing effects across your music and don’t be afraid to mix it up. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to create unique music that’s perfect for your film by just thinking outside the box.

4. Dialogue

Dialogue sound design

Sound design in film isn’t just about SFX and background music it also includes all the dialogue that’s spoken on screen. Dialogue in film is essential for advancing the narrative, defining characters and personalities and explaining key information about a storyline.

As dialogue is commonly the focus of a scene the audience will hang on to every word. For that reason, sound designers need to know exactly what they are doing.

In most cases, dialogue needs to be crystal clear. To achieve this and get rid of any unwelcome background noise, practice isolating the necessary audio and using fades. Fading your intro and outro, as well as using crossfades to stitch your chosen regions together helps dialogue to flow seamlessly.

5. Mixing

Lastly, when looking at good sound design mixing plays a huge role. It’s one of the most important jobs a sound designer must undertake.

Mixing involves a unique set of skills that sound designers must hone and apply to ensure all the components fit together smoothly. Successfully layering the fundamentals of sound design enables filmmakers to achieve a fully cinematic experience.

A great tip for every mixing session is to record everything you create in an audio file. Just by playing around, you can stumble across unique sounds that are perfect for your film or your future creations.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, sound design shouldn’t be underestimated. It is, at the very least, 50% of your film.

So we’ve established what sound design is and explored how it can be used to take your film to the next level however there is always room for artistic expression. Get out there and have a play.

Also, make sure you have a good set of speakers for editing. 😉

Alexandra Strand
Alexandra Strand
Alexandra is the content editor at Epidemic Sound. They are the number one music provider for a wide range of filmmakers, from famous YouTubers to well-respected film directors. Their tracks are created by a portfolio of talented independent musicians from all around the world. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
Read More

Leave a Reply

Unlimited music + SFX

Get full access to over 35,000 royalty-free tracks & 90,000 sound effects. Exclusive music from worldwide artists.

7-day free trial. Cancel anytime.