|© 2002-2006 by Jack Wolcott|
I knew I was losing it. My eyes kept closing, my head drooping to my chest: sleep was eminent. To avoid offending the videographer whose wedding video I was watching I compromised: head up, eyes closed, semblance of alertness, nod head to the music!
And then it dawned on me. All I was hearing was music: Mozart Pachelbel Handel Kiss to Build a Wonderful World at the Y.M.C.A. with Hokey Pokey and the Rappers from . . ! Except for the vows and the toasts, with my eyes closed the wedding video was practically indistinguishable from a video of the Boston Pops!
Why design sound?
Music covers a multitude of sins, in this instance, as in many others, the absence of sound design. The ambient sound we've picked up while video taping isn't very good - too much background noise, not enough specific sound -- so we cover it with music. While expedient, the practice often diminishes the emotional impact of event and wedding video.
Good sound design is as important to video production as good camera work. It brings texture to a video production, a richness that music alone can't provide. Sound design is to aural imaging what editing is to video imaging. Sound design begins with the assumption that what we hear enhances our appreciation of what we see. Like poetry, sound design is evocative: we may not actually see the source of a sound, but the presence of the sound evokes strong memories and images.
At the meeting with their wedding videographer, John and Mary revealed that they have chosen to get married at four o'clock in the afternoon in the Little Church on the Corner in Distant Valley. They've decided on the first weekend in May, to take advantage of the mild weather and to bask in the beauty of the profusion of flowers and ferns that line the little brook that flows through the church garden. The church windows will be open for ventilation, and to enable the perfume of the azaleas and rhododendron to permeate the sanctuary.
After the ceremony, the wedding party will travel five miles across town in a big yellow school bus to the reception, to be held in the 19th century Women's Club building. The bus ride is the bride's idea, and she is really excited about it.
At the Women's Club, to the strains of the string quartet that played the processional and recessional at the ceremony, cocktails and dinner will be served. Finally, following the toasts and other formalities, friends and family will dance away the evening to the music of the DJ and his crew. The couple want interviews with their friends, too, but "nothing very formal." With this information in hand, the videographer can begin to plan the sound design of the wedding video.
Key factors to consider in the design.
We know from the interview that the aural elements that should underscore the visual experience provided by John and Mary's wedding video are the sounds of the brook, the birds, the rustling of wind in the leaves and the string quartet at the church.
For the bus ride, which seems to have such great importance to the bride. we can imagine the excited chatter as the wedding party boards, and the verbal interplay between the bride and groom and guests on the bus. Finally, there's the sounds of the reception at the Women's Club, especially those of the string quartet.
Like the sound engineer, who collects "room sound" before and after each recording session, the event videographer must collect both indoor and outdoor "venue sound" from the event setting before the wedding party and guests begin to arrive. Since it may be desirable to associate sounds visually with their source, it's advisable to roll video tape while recording sound, rather than recording with just an audio deck This way, for example, both the sound and an establishing shot of the brook can be recorded at the same time.
How these "venue sounds" are recorded is important. If the camera is the "eye" of the viewer, the microphone is the "ear." Just as the size of objects relative to the foreground, middle ground and background informs the eye of the viewer about distance, amplitude, direction and timbre inform the ear. Amplitude is the loudness of a sound source; direction refers to the location of the source relative to the microphone; and timbre is the resonance quality of the sound, its peculiar or distinctive character or tone, which is dependant upon both amplitude and direction. Things that are far away look smaller, and the sounds emanating from them are quieter, less distinct, more resonant.
Distance modifies both timbre and amplitude, so when collecting sounds the distance from the microphone to the sound source is an important factor. The laughter of children at play in a field, for example, has a distinctly different quality when recorded from a few feet away and from 200 feet away, owing to changes in the timbre , that is, the echo or "reverb," as well as to changes in the amplitude, the loudness. The direction of the microphone relative to the sound source modifies amplitude and timbre as well.
Arriving at the venue well before any of the wedding party, the videographer strolls the grounds, camera in hand, ear phones in place, to record the wind in the trees, the sounds of birds and the brook, the sounds of the street in front of the church, and to record these sounds from several different distances and directions. It's a good idea to develop a rule among crew members that no one ever speaks when anyone is recording audio or video. Many potentially excellent sound bites have been ruined by extraneous chatter from the crew.
Having recorded the "venue sound" of the exterior, a similar strolling of the interior is undertaken. Be sure to open the windows of the sanctuary so that the exterior sounds can be recorded from inside the building. Here again, vary the distance and direction relative to the windows.
The principle behind recording at the venue is to provide sound that will enhance cutting between exterior and interior. With this in mind, ask the musicians to play the same piece of music twice as they warm up before the sanctuary is opened. Record them once through the opened windows from several positions outside the church. The second time through, record the music from inside the lobby with the sanctuary doors closed, then opened and, finally, from inside the sanctuary itself.
Congratulations! You've just created "pseudo surround sound," two tracks that specifically reference the relationship between the listener and the sound source. The musicians in the church become a reference point. From the listener's point of view, everything beneath which the music track is played is now either near or not near the sanctuary.
Sound Design: Pre-Ceremony
Now you've got the material necessary to create the opening portion of the sound design, giving special attention to the elements of the site that so attracted the bride and groom to it. As you look at this example, it is important to understand that the audio was recorded with the video in mind, and visa versa. Shoot to edit both the video and the audio.
|1.||Open with wide shot - tilt up, tops of trees blowing in the wind. Clouds, sky.||1.||Sound of wind in trees -- birds in distance - faint sound of running water. Augment wind with commercial FX clip as necessary.|
|1a.|| Title over preceding shot:
||1a.||Same as #1|
|2.||Slow tilt down to rhododendrons and other blossoms.||2.||Sound of wind in trees down -- Birds stronger, running water stronger. Augment brook and birds with FX clip as necessary.|
|2a.||Title Out||2a.||Audio same as #2|
|3.||Cut to long shot of brook||3.||Sound of wind fades out - birds under. Running water up.
Faint sound of string quartet from inside building (at about 20-25%> Use exterior recording of song.
|4.||Cut to CU of brook||4.||Running water up full, birds in distance. String quartet continues as in #3. Horn honking, street noises up slowly, X-fade brook down.|
|5.||Cut to front of church, sign in foreground, with flower beds and flowering trees.||5.||Brook out. Street noises up. String quartet up slightly.|
|6.||Cut to CU of church sign||6.||Street noises down, String quartet continues under. Chatter of guests walking toward church.|
|7.||Tilt up and pull back to reveal back of guests as they walk toward church.||7.||Dubbed comments: e.g., "Look at the lovely flowers," "Isn't this a glorious day for a wedding," etc. (Source: ambient sound, recorded on site.) Street noise continues under. String quartet continues under.|
|7a.||Tighten shot as guests stream up walkway toward church door.||7a.||Street noises and dialog continue. String quartet continues under, and X-fades to song #2; cover X-fade with crowd chatter.|
|8.||Cut to reverse angle shot: from inside church lobby, guests coming up walkway and through door.||8.||Cut string quartet in at 50% (use interior recording of song.) Chatter of arriving guests as they come through door and mill around in the lobby. Lobby chatter.|
|9.||Shot across lobby of guests entering sanctuary.||9.||String quartet up to 75% when door opens. Lobby chatter down slightly.|
|10.||Cut to reverse angle from inside sanctuary, guests entering door.||10.||Cut string quartet in at 100%.|
|11.||Cut to CU of string quartet.||11.||String quartet at 100%|
The goal here has been to move the sounds of the venue as the camera has moved, leading ultimately to the interior of the church and the string quartet.
At #3 we have introduced the string quartet, even though we haven't seen them yet. This audio element will lead us in time to the interior of the church.
At #4 we have employed a very useful audio tool, the "J" cut, so-called because the audio leads the video. (The corollary to the "J" cut is the "L" cut, in which the video leads the audio.) Here at #4 we have introduced the sounds from the street before leaving the tranquility of the brook and cutting to the shot of the front of the church. The beauty of the "J" cut is it's imitation of real life: we hear a sound behind us, we turn, and there is the source. In video we're watching one thing, we hear a new sound, and we cut to its source. We'll use the "J" cut again at #6, when we introduce the talking of the guests before we see them.
The purpose of the dialog at #7 is to establish the excitement and enthusiasm of the guests. The X-fade in #7a enables us to back time the music from this point until its conclusion. Remember, too, that the music here has been taped from outside the church windows, without crowd noises. When the move is made to inside the lobby, the sound takes on a very different quality. We want enough music at this point to cover the video outside the lobby door, inside the lobby and into the sanctuary.
At #8 we want the volume of the string quartet to increase abruptly , signaling the change of location from outside the building looking into the lobby to inside the lobby looking out toward the street. We've abruptly come nearer to the source of the still unseen music, so logically it's much louder.
At #10, the abrupt increase in the volume of the string quartet is justified by the video cut to the interior of the sanctuary.
Sound Design: The Ceremony
The wedding ceremony is divided into public or collective and private or individual parts. The public and collective elements involve the sanctuary and all the participants: the congregation, choir, musicians, wedding party and officiant. The private and individual elements shift focus to the bride and groom and the officiant at the dais, bema or alter.
A wedding ceremony tends to be static, lacking in dynamics. In film and video image editing, dynamics refers to changes in pace, to the contrasting tempo of cuts and action.
In sound design, dynamics refers to variation and contrast in the force or intensity of the sound, as well as to changes in its tempos. John Phillip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever in which the piercing treble of the fifes, piccolos and reeds is contrasted to the thundering bass of the tubas, sousaphones and percussion is a lesson in audio dynamics. While we can't do much to the visual dynamic, we can effect the audio dynamic.
By alternating between the use of "private" and "public" sound we can change the dynamic of the wedding ceremony. It is common practice to use close-capture for the bride, groom, officiant, readers and musicians: lavaliere or shotgun mics placed directly on or quite near each participant for "private" audio. In practice, these microphones often serve to capture all the sound from the ceremony. But for sound design it is important that we place separate microphones to record the public and collective aspects of the ceremony such as the playing of anthems, singing of hymns and group prayer from the rear of the venue, using microphones that will capture the timbre of the sounds produced in the huge volume of space that is the modern church or cathedral.
The sound designer can cut between crisp, clean and intimate "close" or private sound, and "distant" sound, soft, reverberant, public. A good example of how this works in practice can be heard at the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in July 1981 (the BBC, St Paul's Cathedral. Click on "BBC footage of the Royal Wedding.") St Paul's booms and echoes to the sounds of the congregation and the music, corresponding to the basses in Sousa's work. Diana, Charles and the priest speak with presence, picked up by close microphones at the alter, corresponding to the trebles. The contrast provides the dynamic change.
Sound Design: On the Bus
It's tempting to deal with "On the Bus" as a video problem: a shot of the bus pulling away, followed by a cut to the bus arriving at the reception. The sequence would take only a few seconds, and the audio might consist of nothing more than a little music to cover the ride.
But it was clear at the interview that the bride had something more in mind. She and all the women in the wedding party, it turned out, had gone from kindergarten through high school together, and had ridden the bus together every school day of those thirteen years. Somehow, she hoped, those years could be recaptured. A videographer assigned to the departure zone and to ride along on the bus was instructed to keep the camera recording throughout the trip. As the bus drove across town, the ladies burst into the children's songs "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round," and "Thank You, Mrs. Bus Driver, thanks for the ride."
From the sound designer's point of view, the bus footage consisted of a great deal of commentary as the bus was loading, lots of traffic noise, with the chatter of the wedding party in the background, and two songs full of motor noise, traffic and the sound of wind rushing past the open windows of the bus. From the bride and groom's point of view, this is what the bus ride was all about too: chatter, noise, songs and excitement.
The "On the Bus" sound design worked like this:
|12.||Mix of medium and CU shots of guests approaching bus down walkway from church||12.||Bus motor noise, under. Mix of VO and synced chatter of guests approaching and boarding.|
|13.||CUs from inside bus as guests enter through door.||13.||Specific commentary by guests entering, mixed with VO comments of guests off camera.|
|14.||Through bus window from inside bus: passengers calling to friends left behind.||14.||Comments continue. Sound of bus motor up as bus pulls away.|
|15.||Passengers, shot from front seat looking back to rear of bus.||15.||Commentary from guests. Motor noise. Wind from open windows. Passing traffic sounds.|
|16.||Shot out window -- very bouncy, highly blurred view of city as streets and buildings flash by. Shallow depth of field to accentuate motion.||16.||Wind howling past open window, augmented from FX clip as needed. Commentary and laughter faintly heard in background.|
|17.||Cut to long shot toward rear of bus.||17.||Women singing "Round and Round," sung by bride and bridesmaids. Wind in background.|
|18.||CU of women singing at rear of bus.||18.||"Wheels Go Round" continues to end. City street sounds up.|
|19.||Cut to long shot of bus approaching down city street. Awning of Women's Club with sign in foreground of shot.||19.||City street sounds. Fade up "Thank You, Mrs. Bus Driver," being sung inside bus. Back-time song to . . .|
|20.||CU from outside bus. Door opens and female driver steps down to help women in long dresses exit.||20.||. . ."Thank You, Mrs Bus Driver" ends as bride appears in bus doorway. Chatter of excited bridal party. City street sounds in background.|
|21.||Long Shot -- bus in front of Women's Club, bridal party going up steps into building.||21.||City street sounds continue. Laughter and chatter of guests fades.|
|22.||Guest crosses street toward Club. Stops to take photograph.||22.||City street sounds continue.|
|23.||Guest mounts steps and disappears.||23.||As guest reaches steps: fade up Strauss waltz being played inside by string quartet.|
This entire scene lasts only a little over two minutes, but captures the spirited bus ride across town. With the inclusion of the songs the segment evokes vivid memories of thirteen years of childhood friendship and equally vivid memories of the fun of the moments following the solemnity of the wedding ceremony each time the bride and groom watch their wedding video. It isn't "good audio" in the sense of being "clean," but it's "great! Audio" in the sense of being evocative and communicating the essence of the bus ride.
Edit #19 provides an example of the "L" cut, in which the video precedes the audio. Here the video is of the bus coming down the street toward the reception venue, while the audio is of the women singing inside the bus.
Sound Design: At the Reception
Planning isn't everything. Sometimes recognizing and exploiting serendipity plays a crucial role in sound design. One videographer was on the steps of the Women's Club, about to step down to shoot the exterior of the building, when the string quartet that had played for the wedding ceremony began to play a Strauss waltz. With camera rolling, the videographer turned slowly and made her way through the guests in the foyer, carefully recording sound and video as she walked. Into the long hallway she went, across the spacious living room and past the orchestra, into the library, across the hallway past the bar and into the formal dining room where a few guests were beginning to sample the buffet. The entire waltz was recorded, from start to finish. Because the relationship between the musicians and microphone changed continuously during the recording, the amplitude and timbre change as well.
At the conclusion of each succeeding piece of music, the orchestra was quiet for a minute or two, resting fingers and bowing arms and arranging new music. During these moments of quiet the videographers went through the rooms, taping guests at they chatted with each other and getting as much of this audio as possible. This was important, since it provided sound bites and video clips without a music background.
In post production the Strauss waltz was laid in as a music bed. Numerous shots of the chatting guests were cut into the video taken as the building was traversed. The result was a segment reflecting the charm and elegance of the building and its temporary inhabitants, underscored by the richness of the Strauss waltz and the comments of the happy guests and enhanced by the changing quality of the sound.
As edited, the sequence worked like this:
|23.||[(from On the Bus segment above) Guest mounts steps and disappears into building.]||23.||[(fron On the Bus segment above) As guest reaches steps-- fade up Strauss waltz being played inside by string quartet.]|
|24.||Walk-through of the main rooms in the Women's Club. Camera lingers on each group of guests, and on the antiques and art work in each room.||24.||Strauss waltz, changing in volume, direction and timbre as camera moves from room to room.|
#23 is a "J-cut," the music preceding the video cut to the interior of the building. The Strauss waltz was not sufficiently long to underscore the video required to explore the rooms and to introduce the guests. To overcome this problem, the middle section of the waltz was looped.
Sound design: First dance and interviews
Two cameras were used to obtain audio for this segment. One camera shot the bride and groom in their first dance together. The second camera was positioned in the library, some distance from the ballroom, with the microphone pointed away from the music source, recording the same song. This provided two different versions of the song used for the first dance, one containing all the ambient sounds of the ballroom and dance floor, the other consisting of the first dance music heard from afar, colored by distance, direction and timbre. Cuts could be made between two locations without interrupting the first dance music.
Later, during breaks in the music, short interviews were conducted in the library, with the microphone once again pointed away from the ballroom, assuring that the resonance of the interviews would match the resonance of the music recorded earlier in the library.
Cutting between the dance and the interviews, the sequence worked like this:
|25.||Bride and groom out to dance floor and begin dancing -- about 30 seconds of this.||25.||First dance music, at 100%|
|26.||CUT to Interview #1 in library: couple speaking of bride and groom's love for each other.||26.||First dance music as recorded by Camera #2 from library, under/ Interview over.|
|27.||CUT on the beat to bride and groom dancing.||27.||First dance music at 100%.|
|28.||CUT to Interview #2 in library: men in the wedding party giving "Best Wishes."||28.||First dance music as recorded by Camera#2 in library under. Interview dialog over.|
|29.||CUT on the beat to bride and groom dancing; continue to end of dance.||29.||First dance music at 100%.|
Editing the first dance in this manner significantly reduces the amount of time devoted to the dance itself and some editors might disagree with this decision on the grounds that it is important to show the entire three minutes of the dance. Against this, however, the edit decisions given here underscore the love and affection of the bride and groom for each other as seen in the video shots of their dance, with clips attesting to the love and affection others feel toward them.
By using the two audio sources, the continuity of the dance itself is never broken. In effect, the change in music says "The bride and groom are still dancing, but you really should hear what their loved ones think of all this. Lets step into another room where we can talk. We'll get back to the dance shortly." The change in music moves us from the foreground to the background of the dance scene. The cut with audio at 100% each time we return to the bride and groom emphasizes the return to the ballroom.
To anticipate the inevitable objections, yes this does take more time than simply laying down a music track. But against this it can be argued that sound design is the result of thinking "audio" at the same time one thinks "video," of hearing as well as seeing what's happening and recording these sounds to optimize their usefulness in the edit. With a little planning, this adds comparatively little time to producing the wedding or event video.
Is it worth this extra time? Absolutely. It's the differences that sell. Wedding videos that are similar to everyone else's makes it difficult for a bride and groom to judge anything but differences in price. Hence the often heard question: "Your video looks just like X's video. How come you charge $500 more?" And the inevitable result: a wedding video by the X Company rather than by you.
Potential clients may very well fail to recognize that the sound for the wedding video you're showing them was designed, so you have a compelling selling point, the difference between designed sound and music overlay. Undoubtedly some will opt for the overlay; others though, when introduced to the richness of your sound design, will gladly spend more money for something very special.
Sometimes it isn't possible to record on site all the sounds you would like to include in the finished sound design. One possibility is to make your own. Moreover, there are a surprising number of sites on the WWW that host royalty free and low cost buy out sound effects. Almost all can be previewed, and royalty free sounds can be downloaded.
Free and buy out sounds:
Sounds for purchase:
Some Interesting Reading
The theory of sound and film editing stretches back to the early years of the 20th century. Much of what has evolved is as pertinent today as it was when Al Jolson first knelt in front of the camera to sing.
One of the great practitioner-theorists of sound (and film) editing - a term in which he includes what I have called "sound design" -- is Walter Murch, represented by several excellent interviews and articles. Walter Murch is also the author of In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing (Silman- James Press, 1995), an extremely thought provoking examination of why and how we edit (sound and film,) with applications to film and video, and a section of digital editing. An extensive list of articles and interviews can be found at filmsound including:
And finally, "Sound by Design: Make Pictures Come to Life with Sound", by Nick Peck provides a solid introduction to the elements of good sound design, how to acquire sounds and what to do with them.
Last Updated 10/23/16