To Sound or Not to Sound? That is the question.....well, here at least.

StormyKnight
StormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,728 Ambassador
edited August 2013 in Practical Filmmaking
The Death Star, out in space, destroyed and we hear the sound of an explosion. Battlestar Galactica glides effortlessly passed the camera, in deep space, with the rumble of engines. A Star Fury fires dozens of lasers at an approaching Shadow vessel and we hear each shot. John Crichton orders Moya to starburst away from the clutches of the Peace Keepers and outside we hear the systems charge until a 'sonic boom' carries the ship accross the expanse of space. Ripley sends the alien creature out an airlock and activates the engines. We hear the engines roar and the screech of a soon to be charred alien......mmmmmmmm, extra crispy. :P 
However, this isn't realistic as there is no sound in space.
One of the few shows that didn't use sound in space was the ever popular Firefly. Several of my friends, with whom I watched the series, didn't even notice the absent sound but it was one of the first things that stood out to me. I found this not only intriguing and refreshing but true to life. It got me wondering how I will handle any space scenes I should happen to create so I thought I would take an informal poll and find out what fellow Hitfilmers think.
Which do you, the viewer, prefer? Do you think it enhances the experience to have sound? Does it make it less realistic with sound? What say you?

Comments

  • Har
    Har Website User Posts: 401 Enthusiast
    Call me "Mister No-Fun", but I've always kinda preferred the accuracy of no sound in space scenes, ala "2001".
  • StormyKnight
    StormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,728 Ambassador
    Call me "Mister No-Fun", but I've always kinda preferred the accuracy of no sound in space scenes, ala "2001".

     

    That's right. 2001 didn't have sound fx. I knew there were other movies/shows that didn't but could only think of Firefly this morning. Thanks "Mister-No-Fun". ;)  I'm leaning that direction myself unless someone can talk me into the pros of sound fx.
  • MatthiasClaflin
    MatthiasClaflin Website User Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    I think it depends. Every movie is a work of art. Filmmaking is an art form. I think that if your piece of art needs sound in space to enhance it, then go for it. If no sound in space would enhance it, like in 2001, then mute it. It's totally dependant on what your piece of art needs. Can you imagine Star Wars, or Star Trek or Stargate if they had no space noises? It wouldn't be the same.
  • Triem23
    Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,956 Ambassador
    Go for no sound--it will cut down on your time in post-edits, if nothing else. ;-)
    In all seriousness, it depends on what you want to go for. Audiences tend to like sound, but sound in movies and TV shows is always exaggerated and doesn't follow physics (such as the ever popular "explosion over the horizon, where the sound syncs with the visual instead of arriving 15 seconds later as it should. And NO ONE has ever been punched in the face with that sound....). As Simon says about visual effects, you're creating an illusion, not a simulation--and the same thing goes for sound editing (movie sound editors love to use shotguns for handguns).
    For Babylon 5, JMS would always argue that sound is a vibration within a medium, and the sound effects in B5 space shots represent the sounds heard via conduction to the pilot of the featured ship, or in the dissipating atmosphere of an explosion. but, you know... Nice try, JMS. But B5 is still awesome. ;-)
  • RedHat
    RedHat Website User Posts: 75
    edited August 2013
    We have a saying at my studio that video is 90% sound.  It's an exaggeration, but it points out how bad sound or lack of sound can destroy a good video.
  • Perfectance
    Perfectance Website User Posts: 11
    Have you seen the trailer for Gravity? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4pcg7bXgmU
    They follow the "There's no sound in space" rule and instead use the music to accent the impacts, spinning, or flybys.
    I'm a fan of sounds in space, but I appreciate it when a show or movie can make the scientifically accurate silence entertaining.
  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Staff Administrator, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 5,247 Staff
    Along with what Matthias said, I think it depends entirely on the project.  There an isolation and disconnectedness related to being in space, which can be nicely enhanced by going with realistic silence, but other times you might want to be more focused on the excitement and drama of what is happening, and using sound can help to enhance that and draw the audience in.  Deciding whether or not to use sound in any scene, space or not, before you know the specifics of the project in question is, I think, to misunderstand the art of filmmaking.  Even within the earth's atmosphere, MOS (without sound) sequences are quite common in filmmaking, when they serve to enhance the storytelling.
  • Triem23
    Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,956 Ambassador
    Redhat, I mostly do event work, and so many people don't get why--when interviewing for whether or not to hire me--why theffirst thing I discuss is audio. A bad sound mix can really screw up a good movie--of course a movie with excellent visual storytelling can work with the sound off. (It's amazing how much better Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is when watched with just the John Williams score.)
  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Agree with others that it is definitely project-dependent. Pulp adventure such as Star Wars suits lots of noise, whereas a more cerebral film like 2001 suits silence. 
    Battlestar Galactica actually had one of the more interesting approaches, I thought, which was to dull all the space sound and suck out a whole load of the audio spectrum. It gave the impression of the sound being perceptual, rather than heard directly.
    JJ Abrams' first Star Trek film also has one sequence with a really interesting approach. When Kirk and co freefall into Vulcan's atmosphere from the orbital shuttle, initially they suck out all the sound. It's only once they hit the atmosphere that they bring the sound back in. It's a small nod to the reality of sound in space, used in that instance to heighten the drama - even though the rest of the film features sound in space. It's probably my favourite moment in that film.
  • StormyKnight
    StormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,728 Ambassador
    edited August 2013
    Wow- Too much to reply to! Overload- overload...
    Well guys, I appreciate the input.
    Matthias- Can't imagine StarWarsTrekGate without the sound effects. It would seem flat somehow. Like a scene in The Empire Strikes Back that I saw once where the music was omitted in a clip of the asteroid field. It wasn't nearly as exciting.
    Triem23- While I prefer to try the realistic route, I can see certain situations where it would be advantageous to include a sound effect in space; although I am now leaning towards the BSG approach that Simon mentioned. And I should try just listening to the soundtrack and watching The Phantom Menace with the sound down. lol I'll bet it is better.
    RedHat- I've always thought the total sound scheme (FX and music) of a movie was at least 50% of the experience. Especially today when you can have stereo or surround sound and when a door is on the left side of the screen you hear someone knock in the left speaker(s).
    Perfectance- Nice clip. Did they just play their hand and show the most interesting part of the movie? Hope not. I like the music emphasizing what you see happening on screen.
    Axel- I'm not done writing the script for an idea so I'm exploring all the avenues to figure out what will 1. be most effective and 2. what's within my realm of capability. For instance, in a vid I posted on my VFX thread I'm considering just music as it's going to be a sad moment for one character. I'm thinking that by adding sound fx to the scene might take away from the silent horror a character just witnessed happen to his friends. The music will (hopefully) be sufficient to relay the emotion. So for that scene at least I'm not planning sound fx.
    Simon- Ironically, you picked the one scene from Abram's first Trek movie that caught both my mom's and my attention. We talked about how cool it was that you could hear the crew enter the atmosphere and came to the conclusion that that's probably what it would sound like.....not that anyone has actually tested it.....have they?
    I'm glad you brought up the sound effects on BSG. I'm not one to go look up stuff or read too many articles about shows and movies as I find 'behind the scenes' stuff takes away from my enjoying a movie/show a 2nd, 3rd, 4th time. I did notice that the sound fx were, for lack of a better word, muffled; as if being heard through the resonance of a ships hull or through the ears of the camera operator that was out in space filming the scene in a space suit. lol The way you put it as "perceptual", is a perfect description. I'm liking that approach more as I think about it.
    BTW- I didn't even know they had British actors on the show until I heard Apollo and Baltar's real voices in an interview one time. That's kind of how much I avoid 'behind the scenes' or 'making of' specials. The special I saw them on dealt with the storyline rather than technical stuff. 
  • RedHat
    RedHat Website User Posts: 75
    We are all on the same page. Even no sound or silence is a type of sound.  Silence can be deafening.
  • StormyKnight
    StormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,728 Ambassador
    edited August 2013
    Quit blowing my mind!  My neighbors are very, very noisy to the point of excess where I can't film things or record music with an open mic sometimes. Like right now- I'd be happy with a little deafening silence. I'd like to take the guys boom box, throw it down a deep hole and let it echo in the wells of silence. ;)
     
    Love the tally of the poll right now. 33% for all three choices.

     

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,956 Ambassador
    So I was thinking about the physics of audio, and I have a couple of observations followed by a suggestion.
    First--the basics of sound:
    Sound is, of course, comprised of vibrations in a medium. The speed of sound is effected by the density of the medium, and the distance sound can travel is also effected by the density of the medium (Temperature also effects this, but to a lesser degree) The speed of sound in air is roughly 350 m/sec in air, and roughly 1500 m/s in water (this varies a bit depending on temperature.
    Sound vibrations, of course, form a wave. The amplitude strength of the wave is volume, the frequency of the wave in cycles per second is pitch.
    Waves, of course, have a wavelength--the distance between amplitude peaks (or between zero-point crossing, if you prefer.) and the rough wavelength of an "A" at 440Hz is about 0.8 meters.
    "Well, yes, we know that!" I hear you cry, "but what's your point?"
    Simply this--of course in a vaccum there's no sound because there are no air molecules to conduct the vibrations (In a vaccum, the vibrations exist, but as there is no medium to carry the vibration, the vibration stays "locked" in the object that is vibrating until it's own internal friction sheds the kinetic energy as waste heat.)
    But what happens to a sound as you take air away? Say you're shooting a scene in an airlock, or inside a spaceship that has been holed and is undergoing explosive decompression?
    As the air thins, the amplitude of the sounds will fade away.... HOWEVER, you'll also have interesting things happen to the timbre of the sound.
    First of all, higher frequency sound also have a shorter wavelength--the A-440Hz has that 0.86 meter wavelength, and the A-880, an octave higher has a 0.43 meter wavelength. As the air thins, when the distance between air molecules exceeds the length of the audio wavelength, that frequency can no longer transmit.
    So as the air thins, the high frequencies fade away first and the low frequencies fade last.
    Also, as the density of the medium falls below where it can transmit sound waves, there is a "slapback" effect--the energy of the vibrating objects generating to sound, no unable to transfer, snap back into the vibrating object causing a mild resonance.
    So, in the above example--airlocks and explosive decompression, the more-or-less-scientifically accurate way to mix your audio would be to lower the volume, while simultaneously sweeping a high-cut EQ shelf down from 20KHz to 20Hz as your audio falls. In the case of the airlock, there might be a final, low pitched "Thud" as any vibrations in the walls "slap-back" when unable to transmit through air anymore, so resonating back into the walls.
    Sorry for the super-basic (and incomplete) physics lecture, but I think it helps to explain WHY things act as they do rather than just saying "hey, here's how to mix that."
  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Fascinating! Really enjoyed that post, thanks. :)
  • Triem23
    Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,956 Ambassador
    Thank you much, sir. This thread got me wondering about it, so I did the research.
  • JoeyVFX
    JoeyVFX Website User Posts: 38
    Agree with others that it is definitely project-dependent. Pulp adventure such as Star Wars suits lots of noise, whereas a more cerebral film like 2001 suits silence. 
    Battlestar Galactica actually had one of the more interesting approaches, I thought, which was to dull all the space sound and suck out a whole load of the audio spectrum. It gave the impression of the sound being perceptual, rather than heard directly.
    JJ Abrams' first Star Trek film also has one sequence with a really interesting approach. When Kirk and co freefall into Vulcan's atmosphere from the orbital shuttle, initially they suck out all the sound. It's only once they hit the atmosphere that they bring the sound back in. It's a small nod to the reality of sound in space, used in that instance to heighten the drama - even though the rest of the film features sound in space. It's probably my favourite moment in that film.

    Oh my gosh... imagine the Death Star battle... with no sound at all... It would actually be hilarious.

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,956 Ambassador
    It occurs to me with BSG that most of the audio they pulled was mid-to-high frequencies, leaving the low-end for a muffled sound, which is what you would get with a very thin atmosphere.
  • StormyKnight
    StormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,728 Ambassador
    And I think that's what I'll be aiming for. Great info, Triem23. I read it a couple weeks ago and have been mulling it over since.
Sign In or Register to comment.

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!