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"You Can’t Just Stick It in Reverse": How to Make Sound Go Backwards



ENVY Advertising’s Ian 'Arge' Hargest reveals the sonic wizardry behind award-winning reverse and slo-mo sound design

"You Can’t Just Stick It in Reverse": How to Make Sound Go Backwards
Sound design is one of the industry’s unsung heroes. It is often an indispensable part of a commercial and some adverts even rely on the soundscape entirely to convey environment, tension and emotion.   

Fresh from winning two Music+Sound Awards, ENVY Advertising’s Senior Sound Designer and Dubbing Mixer, Arge, says when you are working without music, the emotional onus is totally on the sound design. He also reveals why creating sound in reverse isn’t as straightforward as it seems...

Q> Where do you even begin creating a ‘backward’ soundscape? 

Arge> The Sky Creative team, Simon Corkin, and Director Simon Ratigan were great at bringing me in right from the start. From my first viewing of the treatment, I knew this was going to be a good one and sound was clearly going to be crucial to the idea - which is always the dream on any project!

Before any footage was shot, I made a 60-second ‘mood bed’ of sound purely on the shots and timings from the storyboard. This had the benefit of initially just making everyone feel more relaxed the idea of that a soundtrack purely made of reversing sounds would work well. It also became really useful in selling in the idea at the concept stage and gave us a great launch point for the style of the sound before shooting commenced, so we hit the ground running.

Q> What sounds did you find work well in reverse?

Arge>  Most sounds don’t actually sound any different backwards to forwards. Simply reversing the sound will rarely work out the way you want it to. I lined up hours of interesting and relevant sounds on my timeline, then reversed them all in one go. One by one, I listened out for sounds that anyone would recognise as something reversing. I used the same philosophy with voices – reversing recordings that I captured of colleagues and myself taking on the roles of the people in film. 

Bespoke shots needed extra audio tricks to create the illusion of reversing, including repitching, vari-speeding and classic backwards reverbs here. I really like it when a sound starts on the preceding shot tricking you into thinking it belongs to that shot, until its true purpose is revealed in the next shot. The sound of the stopwatch is a good example of this. 

Q> Both of the Sky promos feature no music, relying purely on sound to ramp up the dramatic visuals. What opportunities do music-less projects like these give you as a sound designer? 

Arge>  When there’s no music score, the onus is completely on the sound design to create the same emotional response as the music would do normally. The sound designer is much more responsible for the direction of the sound, and creating a melody and mood within those sounds totally from scratch. It’s interesting that 10 different sound designers would probably come up with 10 completely different soundscapes for a job like Sky Q. It makes the process a little bit more daunting because it has 1000 potential different outcomes. You just need to hope you’ve picked the best one before it’s too late to turn back! 

For the Sky Q project, the client gave an important note: “Don’t think about the film as being in slow-motion, think of it as everything we are seeing is super enhanced, that’s the point of Sky Q”. I was aiming for all the sounds to feel hyper real, like we are hearing them as never before, in magnified detail. So, there was the additional pressure on each individual sound to be amazing. Justin, the director, and myself would often use our inspiration for the sounds as being like Spiderman's Spidey sense!

Q> The variety of different sounds covered in both these projects is huge – from the tinny mechanical whirrs, soft gliding pencil noises, to the fleshy sounds of a beating heart. How did you decide which ones made the cut?

Arge> There's a lot of detail in both of these projects – thanks for noticing. I spent a lot of time ploughing through my own collection of sounds, continually searching new and interesting sound libraries, and of course recording as much as I can. Then, there’s a lot of manipulating until something magically starts to happen.

I want people to genuinely think ‘Wow, there's a sound I’ve never heard before’. That’s the feeling I love when I hear it in other people’s work. I will admit, though, that maybe auditioning 50 sheep sounds to see which sounded the best in reverse was arguably bordering on the obsessive!

Q> Congratulations on two consecutive Music+Sound Award wins - how do you feel? 

Arge> A Music+Sound Award win is particularly special as it’s judged specifically by your peers and people who are doing the same job as you. This means a lot. To be honest, I’m just happy people like what I’ve created and they actually understand what I’ve tried to do. It's also just great being giving the opportunity to work on such fun, involved projects - with some lovely people, of course!

I feel especially honoured when I look over the list of fellow nominated and winning sound designers. The level of work in this year’s winning sound design categories was particularly impressive - not to mention the calibre of talent involved. I feel especially proud to be listed 

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ENVY Advertising, Mon, 24 Sep 2018 13:29:52 GMT