The Beautiful Lies of Sound Design | Tasos Fratzolas | TEDxAthens


Translator: Camille Martínez
Reviewer: Ivana Korom I want to skip the introduction. I want to start by doing an experiment. I’m going to play three videos
of a rainy day. But I’ve replaced the audio
of one of the videos, and instead of the sound of rain, I’ve added the sound of bacon frying. So I want you think carefully
which one the clip with the bacon is. (Rain falls) (Rain falls) (Rain falls) All right. Actually, I lied. They’re all bacon. (Bacon sizzles) (Applause) My point here isn’t really
to make you hungry every time you see a rainy scene, but it’s to show that our brains
are conditioned to embrace the lies. We’re not looking for accuracy. So on the subject of deception, I wanted to quote one
of my favorite authors. In “The Decay of Lying,”
Oscar Wilde establishes the idea that all bad art comes from copying
nature and being realistic; and all great art comes
from lying and deceiving, and telling beautiful, untrue things. So, I want to make this clear – when you’re watching a movie and a phone rings, it’s not actually ringing. It’s been added later
in postproduction in a studio. All of the sounds you hear are fake. Everything, apart from the dialogue, is fake. Not the only thing that’s fake
in Hollywood, by the way. Laughter) When you watch a movie and you see
a bird flapping its wings — (Wings flap) They haven’t really recorded the bird. It sounds a lot more realistic
if you record a sheet or shaking kitchen gloves. (Flaps) The burning of a cigarette up close — (Cigarette burns) It actually sounds a lot more authentic if you take a small Saran Wrap ball and release it. (A Saran Warp ball being released) Punches? (Punch) Let me play that again. (Punch) That’s often done by sticking
a knife in vegetables, usually cabbage. (Cabbage stabbed with a knife) The next one –
I’m not going to play the video but it’s breaking bones. (Bones break) Well, no one was really harmed. It’s actually … breaking celery or frozen lettuce. (Breaking frozen lettuce or celery) (Laughter) Yeah. Thanks to my three friends
who are laughing. Making the right sounds
is not always as easy as a trip to the supermarket and going to the vegetable section. But it’s often a lot more
complicated than that. So let’s reverse-engineer together the creation of a sound effect. One of my favorite stories
comes from Frank Serafine. He’s a contributor to our library, and a great sound designer for “Tron”
and “Star Trek” and others. He was part of the Paramount team
that won the Oscar for best sound for “The Hunt for Red October.” In this Cold War classic, in the ’90s, they were asked to produce the sound
of the propeller of the submarine. So they had a small problem: they couldn’t really find
a submarine in West Hollywood. So basically, what they did is, they went to a friend’s swimming pool, and Frank performed a cannonball. They placed an underwater mic and an overhead mic
outside the swimming pool. We recreated the sound. So here’s what the underwater
mic sounds like. (Underwater plunge) Adding the overhead mic, it sounded a bit like this: (Water splashes) So now they took the sound
and pitched it one octave down, sort of like slowing down a record. (Water splashes at lower octave) And then they removed
a lot of the high frequencies. (Water splashes) And pitched it down another octave. (Water splashes at lower octave) And then they added
a little bit of the splash from the overhead microphone. (Water splashes) And by looping and repeating that sound, they got this: (Propeller churns) So, creativity and technology put together
in order to create the illusion that we’re inside the submarine. But once you’ve created your sounds and you’ve synced them to the image, you want those sounds to live
in the world of the story. And one the best ways to do that
is to add reverb. So this is the first audio tool
I want to talk about. Reverberation, or reverb,
is the persistence of the sound after the original sound has ended. So it’s sort of like the — all the reflections from the materials, the objects and the walls
around the sound. Take, for example, the sound of a gunshot. The original sound is less
than half a second long. (Gunshot) By adding reverb, we can make it sound like
it was recorded inside a bathroom. (Gunshot reverbs in bathroom) Or like it was recorded
inside a chapel or a church. (Gunshot reverbs church) Or in a canyon. (Gunshot reverbs in canyon) So reverb gives us a lot of information about the space between the listener
and the original sound source. If the sound is the taste, then reverb is sort of like
the smell of the sound. But reverb can do a lot more. Listening to a sound
with a lot less reverberation than the on-screen action is going to immediately signify to us that we’re listening to a commentator, to an objective narrator that’s not
participating in the on-screen action. Also, emotionally intimate
moments in cinema are often heard with zero reverb, because that’s how it would sound
if someone was speaking inside our ear. On the completely other side, adding a lot of reverb to a voice is going to make us think
that we’re listening to a flashback, or perhaps that we’re inside
the head of a character or that we’re listening
to the voice of God. Or, even more powerful in film, Morgan Freeman. (Laughter) So — (Applause) But what are some other tools or hacks that sound designers use? Well, here’s a really big one. I think some people guessed it. It’s silence. I didn’t really forget
this part of the talk but I sort of wanted to show that a few moments of silence
is going to make us pay attention. And in the Western world, we’re not really used to verbal silences. They’re considered awkward or rude. So silence preceding verbal communication can create a lot of tension. But imagine a really big Hollywood movie, where it’s full of explosions
and automatic guns. Loud stops being loud
anymore, after a while. So in a yin-yang way, silence needs loudness
and loudness needs silence for either of them to have any effect. But what does silence mean? Well, it depends how
it’s used in each film. Silence can place us inside
the head of a character or provoke thought. We often relate silences with … contemplation, meditation, being deep in thought. But apart from having one meaning, silence becomes a blank canvas upon which the viewer is invited
to the paint their own thoughts. But I want to make it clear:
there is no such thing as silence. And I know this sounds like the most
pretentious TED Talk statement ever. (Laughter) But even if you were to enter
a room with zero reverberation and zero external sounds, you would still be able to hear
the pumping of your own blood. And in cinema, traditionally,
there was never a silent moment because of the sound of the projector. And even in today’s Dolby world, there’s not really any moment of silence
if you listen around you. There’s always some sort of noise. Now, since there’s no such
thing as silence, what do filmmakers
and sound designers use? Well, as a synonym,
they often use ambiences. Ambiences are the unique background sounds that are specific to each location. Each location has a unique sound, and each room has a unique sound, which is called room tone. So here’s a recording
of a market in Morocco. (Voices, music) And here’s a recording
of Times Square in New York. (Traffic sounds, car horns, voices) Believe me, it’s a lot better
to have to listen to Times Square than to have to smell Times Square. Room tone is the addition of all
the noises inside the room: the ventilation, the heating, the fridge. Here’s a recording
of my apartment in Brooklyn. [You can hear the ventilation, the boiler,
the fridge and street traffic] [(is that an electric toothbrush or just
my neighbor having some fun?)] Ambiences work in a most primal way. They can speak directly
to our brain subconsciously. So, birds chirping outside your window
may indicate normality, perhaps because, as a species, we’ve been used to that sound
every morning for millions of years. (Birds chirp) On the other hand, industrial sounds
have been introduced to us a little more recently. Even though I really like
them personally — they’ve been used by one
of my heroes, David Lynch, and his sound designer, Alan Splet — industrial sounds often carry
negative connotations. (Machine noises) Now, sound effects can tap
into our emotional memory. Occasionally, they can be so significant that they become a character in a movie. They are a lot more low maintenance
than some actors, as well. For example – The sound of thunder may indicate
divine intervention or anger. (Thunder) Church bells can remind us
of the passing of time, or perhaps our own mortality. (Bells ring) And breaking of glass can
indicate the end of a relationship or a friendship. (Glass breaks) Scientists believe that dissonant sounds, for example, brass or wind
instruments played very loud, may remind us of animal howls in nature and therefore create a sense
of irritation or fear. (Brass and wind instruments play) So now we’ve spoken
about on-screen sounds. But occasionally, the source
of a sound cannot be seen. That’s what we call offscreen sounds, or “acousmatic.” The term “acousmatic” comes
from Pythagoras in ancient Greece, who used to teach behind
a veil or curtain for years, not revealing himself to his disciples. I think the mathematician
and philosopher thought that, in that way, his students might focus
more on the voice, and his words and its meaning, rather than the visual of him speaking. So sort of like the Wizard of Oz, or “1984’s” Big Brother, separating the voice from its source, separating cause and effect sort of creates a sense
of ubiquity or panopticism, and therefore, authority. There’s a strong tradition
of acousmatic sound. Nuns in monasteries in Rome and Venice
used to sing in rooms up in galleries close to the ceiling, creating the illusion that we’re listening
to angels up in the sky. Richard Wagner famously
created the hidden orchestra that was placed in a pit
between the stage and the audience. And one of my heroes, Aphex Twin,
famously hid in dark corners of clubs. I think what all these masters knew
is that by hiding the source, you create a sense of mystery. This has been seen
in cinema over and over, with Hitchcock,
and Ridley Scott in “Alien.” Hearing a sound without knowing its source is going to create some sort of tension. Also, it can minimize certain visual
restrictions that directors have and can show something
that wasn’t there during filming. And if all this sounds
a little theoretical, I wanted to play a little video. (Toy squeaks) (Typewriter) (Drums) (Ping-pong) (Knives being sharpened) (Record scratches) (Saw cuts) (Woman screams) (Laughter) What I’m sort of trying
to demonstrate with these tools is that sound is a language. It can trick us by transporting
us geographically; it can change the mood; it can set the pace; it can make us laugh
or it can make us scared. On a personal level, I fell
in love with that language a few years ago, and somehow managed to make it
into some sort of profession. And I think with our work
through the sound library, we’re trying to kind of expand
the vocabulary of that language. And in that way, we want
to offer the right tools to sound designers, filmmakers, and video game and app designers, to keep telling even better stories and creating even more beautiful lies. So thanks for listening. (Applause)

100 Replies to “The Beautiful Lies of Sound Design | Tasos Fratzolas | TEDxAthens”

  1. nope – he is lying again – only the middle video is bacon. and the rest of the talk is arrogant, narcistic egoism-talk

  2. tired of all the fake sounds on the movies, i can recognize them all!! I don't like violent scenes, but a while ago i saw a gun shooting scene with real sounds and i was crude and it hit my core and i had goosebumps it was horrible, it was really scary, it was awful, it was a very very good scene. Every time i hear something real in a movie it changes everything, it's just good. The brain ca recognize that so easily. whats the matter today with everything fake!!!!!!

  3. Art never meant to be identical to reality, but a (free, hence, artistic) interpretation of life's moments. Like a pic from a camera. It hasn't to be exactly same as the real thing (it has no sense).
    Thus, a painting of a real image, a record of a sound, are interpretations of reality, not reality itself. We don't copy, we transform. The most you transform a sound recording, photo, or describe with lyrics a moment of life, you're creating Art. Calling it a lie or deception is foolish.

    Sound design or Foley, in a movie is a true art, when people try to record in their homestudios for the first time, they start to realize HOW difficult is to record something decent, clear, clean, and artistic ''in situ''.
    For a movie, recording a sound in the same place where are the actors, cameras, assistants, etc, is impossible: you need to isolate the soundsource without background noises, and that's only possible in a professional studio with sound isolation treatment (that costs lots of money).

  4. Only thing I found tougher than doing sound design (Foley) for a film, is doing it LIVE with a full-house audience during a live production. Timing must be perfect every time to prevent spoiling a scene. Wizard of Oz required 35 sound effects which I created from scratch, and used the original film script for the play. Wrote special software to cue each effect for instant play.

  5. Here is another person trying to inspirer the world…. With how we can enjoy sound better. Many of us would enjoy him better if not for the crappie microphone he used! In order to inspirer we must hear clearly? Please… it 2018 not 1918!

  6. worst rain sounds ever… so yeah i instantly thought firtst was bacon. Then second sounded.. as bad as first so .. and third also didn't sound like rain. no surprise all is bacon. Your starting point is wrong. omg then the bird sound.. man where did you found those sounds they are absolutly awful no sound engineer would use this thing ever !! and cigaret is plastic sound before you say it.

  7. No layperson seems to understand how important sound design is in media but luckily they always seem to get their minds blown when you show them the inner workings of it. I love that bacon example

  8. I believe the reason people think fake sounds are more real is because they've been conditioned over the decades by fake sounds. It's like if you only ever taste artificial banana flavor, and then eat a real banana, it wouldn't taste right to you.

  9. Sir, I love creating foleys and just enjoy providing, setting and mixing sound effects and ambience and all to a video… and whosoever had watched my work, they were shocked at my perfection. SHOULD I CHOOSE THIS PASSION AS MY CARRIER ??? and if YES, WHAT SHOULD I DO FIRST !!???

  10. brilliant talk. very encouraging re: truth vs lies haha
    I'm in the process designing the sound for my short film (genre: war) and the various elements are just mind boggling.

  11. This was great! An invitation to appreciate and PLAY with perception. I liked the juxtaposition of the baby and the congas.

  12. Sometimes they push it too far. Like when National Geographic makes a hyena getting bit by a lion cry out using a canned moose call.

  13. Not so interesting if you know anything about sound design.
    Summary:
    Sound effects are not the same as the actions ie stabbing a cabbage for a punch
    They use reverb
    They use silence
    They use ambient background sound ie chatter
    They use emotional music
    They use Achrosmatic (I think) Separating sound or voice from source, gives a sense of authority, or mystery or allows the listener to focus more on the message or use their imagination. ie voice overs, narration

  14. Some of his content was interesting, most was relevant. Yet, his overall presentation was horrible. Walking around, on a tiny platform, like he has to go the bathroom. He speaks in choppy sentences, like he's making it up as he goes.

  15. This is what makes films really bad, completely unrealistic sounds all the way though, wrong ambiance, natural reverb stripped out, these people are doing a terrible job !

  16. Really plain approach to such a creative topic. This could have been presented with tons more imagination instead of running down a shopping list of sound metaphores applied in Foley.. make it physical, bring some cabbage and phone books etc. A slide which says 'shaking a sheet' with the sound of shaking a sheet.. wouldn't be too much effort to bring it to a stage! Would resonate way more with the audience not adept to filmsound.

  17. So many of the sounds don't actually work as described or intended here. Some actually pretty ineffective sound design in here.

  18. Takes me back to foley work in my degree, and treading in a tray of corn flakes (any brand will suffice) to replicate the sound of walking in deep snow…

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