ArtFx has recently partnered with the Vancouver Film School (VFS)*. Within the framework of this partnership, students from VFS ‘Sound Design for Visual Media’ department are developing new music and sound scores for three films created by students in their final year at ArtFx*. This occasion has inspired us to talk about sound design with Aurélien Marini*, sound professor at ArtFx. Professor Marini and his students created the original soundtrack for the film “Migration”. He talks to us about it below.
The two soundtracks for “Migration”
>> 1st version
– Music and sound design: Aurélien Marini (Studio 2C) with help on the sound design from preparatory year students in class B and first year students in class D
>> 2nd version
– Sound design and mixing: Ryan Thompson / Music: Robert Johansen
How was the original film soundtrack created?
« Migration was created by two third-year students, Elie Ly Kok et Matthieu Clopez, as part of their graduation requirements. When I met with them in the studio to create the soundtrack they were just starting to work on actualizing the storyboard and were only in the animatic, the first animated drafts stage. Then, the preparatory year students created the sound effects for the film. Following a debriefing with the directors, they tackled the ambient and other sound effects. As the directors had not finished editing the film, they weren’t aware of all the sound effects that were needed and so additions and adjustments had to be made to the soundtrack once the film was completed. »
How did you build this sound world?
« With the blessing of the directors, we created a post-apocalyptic universe which included organic and mechanical sounds. The organic sounds, with the electronic drum loops and string quartet, made it easier to breathe life into the film’s monster. The intensely robotic sounds, however, evoke the purely mechanical side of this transformation. The sound effects were seamlessly connected to these ideas. To create the monster’s voice, the students mixed a number of animal cries with mechanical noises, trying to give the monster a soul. For the musical score, I focused on a non-traditional composition, which is to say not in 4/4 time, but more uneven; it is intended to mimic the monster’s unnatural gait. »
So, are there very narrative choices that are made in the construction of sound?
« Yes, of course. We decided, for example, not to start the music at the beginning of the film. First, we focused on the background and character sounds. The first elements of music are used to support some of the special effects. The music begins with the sound of the guitar accompanied by the sound of shattering windows and other glass. The story really begins there, when the music starts. We realize that there is something happening and that we should look at it. The music develops little by little and gradually takes shape as the notes overlap. This imitates the formation of the monster. »
Have you seen the film with the VFS soundtrack? What are your impressions of this version?
« In my opinion, the major difference between the two versions has less to do with an aesthetic analysis and is more a question of how each was created. In total, preparatory year students at ArtFx devoted 8 hours, as part of their overall educational program, to this film and worked from a draft of the animated version. The deadline for the production, music and sound effects was 2 months. The VFS version involved the work of students in the “Sound Design for Visual Media” department who worked with a finalized version of the film who had a little more time to complete this project. But, I am not trying to make excuses either way! I just want to underline the fact that the two experiences are very representative of the ultimate differences between what are considered ‘French style’ and ‘North American style’ productions. »
Can you explain what you mean in more detail?
« On French projects, sound is often the last wheel of the cart! At ArtFx, we integrate the sound work in the upstream in order to gradually introduce new working practices in the studios. In today’s business world, however, sound work is often done during the final stages and the time reserved for this is often too short. You might have a week, or sometimes 48 hours, during which time you work non-stop, with all the risks of making fatigue-associated errors and all the difficulties of refining key elements, such as mastering, to perfection. On the contrary, North American productions focus, when possible, on including the sound work in the overall planning process. Sometimes there are many weeks or months that are granted to creating music and sound effects. I don’t know exactly where this discrepancy in the valuation of sound comes from. Maybe it is the heritage of the New Wave French School, with its overvaluation of images and silence. Silence is a very French technique: when the images are static so is the sound. This is in stark contrast to the American school which has a tendency to incorporate lots of sounds throughout the film! It is clear that sound actually reveals a lot about the differences between current filmmaking. »
* Vancouver Film School has been in existence for over 20 years and its graduates have worked on productions like: “The Lord of the Rings”, “Ice Age 2 », and “Pirates of the Carribean, Dead Man’s Chest”.
* The three films are:
– « Migration » by Elie Ly Kok and Matthieu Clopez
– « The Archiver » by Thomas Obrecht, Guillaume Berthoumieu and Marc Menneglier
– « Reflecto » by Xavier Collos, Jingze Sun and Julien Favini.
* Aurélien Marini is a composer. He is the founder of Studio 2C, a studio focused on musical compositions, audio for broadcasts, video games, entertainment and multimedia. He also works as a sound professor at ArtFx.
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[small_button]English version by Danielle Harrell, English teacher for ArtFx[/small_button]