Saturday 31 May 2014

How Animators can work with Sound Designers - five rules for success

A sound designer hard at work
Good sound design brings a huge amount to any project. Sound design is not just about the quality of recording itself, it's about music, sound effects, foley, and the final mix. Sound heightens our experience of a film and brings it to life. But why should animators collaborate with sound designers? Why not just do their own sound design? The answer, of course, is that when you join forces with other students or professionals who are experts in their fields, you tend to get a better result than you would achieve alone.

Once you are working in a studio as an employee or even doing freelance jobs, collaboration with other departments will be at the heart of your work.  Successful mutual collaborations with other talented artists will likely form a major part of building a long and successful career.

So how, in practice, does an animator get the best out of such a collaboration? And what does an animator need from a sound designer? Below are five rules for success.

Rule No 1 - Figure out what you need
What sound work is needed for your film? Do you need sound effects? Voice narration? Music? If music, does it need to be an original composition (lots of work) or some library music (much less work). If there is voice narration, you will need to find an actor, and record their voice(s). You don't have access to the sound studios, but the sound design students do, so they can help you there. Start off by making a list of what you will need.

Rule No 2 - Figure out what you want the sound designer to do
Your sound designer's first question will be "what do you want me to do?" The best way to answer this is to show him/her your rough animatic, cut to (ideally) the correct length. The animatic will show exactly what will happen in the film, and what sound work will be needed.  It need not be finished animation, but it should show what you have in mind. Agree up front the scope of the sound work and what you are looking for.

Rule No 3 - Add in some rough sound yourself
One good way to help the sound designer is to rough some audio in yourself (you will have to do this in Premiere). Free sound effects can be found online at and other websites. You might pick some music that you like (even if it is not what you intend to use in the final edit), and drop that in to your animatic. The more work you sketch in, the easier it is for a sound designer to take what you have done and improve on it. And the more specific you are, the more likely it is that the sound designer will understand the brief and give you what you need.

Rule No 4 - Leave plenty of time for the sound designer to do their work
Remember that the sound designer will need you to have completed your work in good time so that they can do theirs. If you are used to finishing your animation late on Sunday night for a Monday morning hand-in, think again. Find out in advance how much time the sound designer will need to complete the job, and then make sure you hand over your finished movie file in time. No-one likes a rush job.

Rule No 5 - Don't panic when things go wrong
Whenever you collaborate with other individuals, things tend to go wrong. Typical problems include misunderstandings about the scope of the work, failure to deliver work on time, confusion about deadlines, and general miscommunication.

Good advice from Douglas Adams
When these things happen (and they will) rest assured you are not the first person to experience this.  All group projects experience problems. The only way to overcome these difficulties is with patience, good humour, clear direction, and lots of cups of tea.

(Editor's note: for more information on working in the animation business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we are helping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films.  Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business.)

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