Arrival 2016 (Case Study)

This case study will explore the trailer of the 2016 science fiction movie Arrival, derived from a short story by Ted Chiang called “Story of Your Life” which won a Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon award. Eric Heisserer was the screen written who adopted and made significant changes to the script and this contributed to the amazing sounds used in the film.

The opening scene has a mother and daughter laughing and playing outside and a piano is heard playing on the background. These are subtle notes heard at 0.00-0.09 accompanied by a narrative which were used to set the mood. It was a perfect serene atmos only to be interrupted by the sounds of a fire bell also similar to the school bell ringing simultaneously with a siren at 0.06-0.08 with frequency probably about 520Hz and fast jets following with around 3-6kHz at 0.09-0.11. These events blended in so well with the narrative which had a great build up in a matter of seconds, we went from calmness to expectation. “There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.” The words ‘arrived’ are accompanied by jets flying overhead and the main character looks up as they fly past. As for the use of the siren and bell, there’s no doubt in our minds that the viewers will anticipate an emergency. ” If a siren and a bell are for alerts, where is the danger? Is there a war about to take place? Who or what are the humans fighting?”

During the World War II, sirens were designed to warn city dwellers of air raids and later used to warn of nuclear attack and natural destructive weather conditions such as tornados. The other scene that works well with this anxiety build up is the use of sounds from a helicopter and audible internal communications via headsets at 0.22-0.30. We assimilate these sounds to the army who use both the helicopters and communication sets.

Another scene that has a simultaneous use of sounds is at 0.11-0.15 where there is a prolonged ‘dong’ sound made by a prolonged low piano key/ note and the introduction of a the news on the radio. These worked well because the piano did not distort the radio content which was loud and clear. That low key note and a radio playing in the background create suspense as they introduce a scene of a woman, one second resting in bed and the next second she is at the door being asked by an intelligence officer to pack her bags to go on a mission. They follow through by adding radio communication, we hear the helicopter and actors in it. The directors reduce the helicopter noise to allow the audience to hear the radio communication where the Intelligence officer acknowledges Dr Banks as the countries finest communication expert as he brings her to speed. I must say the sounds used are very real sounding and it made me feel that I was present in that scene.

Between the 0.30-0.42 is a high pitched violin embedded sombre music created with bag pipes. Bag pipes as seen in most war movies, were used either to lead people to war, or at funerals and they carry a strong sense of pride, bravery and honour. The message paints a clear picture to the audience, ‘prepare for war or battle, we are fighting for something’. The mood created is evident when someone is whisked away in a medevac, either dead or injured that raised concern and Dr Banks wanted to know who it was. When she poses the question, it only reinforces the fact that it is indeed a was and people can be injured or lives lost which happens commonly in war zones. This only heightens the anticipation of what is the war about, will it be a blood bath, what will the opposition look like, who will win this war and so on.

We are stuck with the company of the bagpipes interchanging with an automated warped playing a lower octave which is sustained. We see the oval or dome shaped object and to increase and capture the audience attention, the bagpipes grow louder and the introduction of an Australian Digederoo which creates the lower tone was created in the background. In the movie, you can hear some very real sounds in this scene of wind, earthquakes and even ice cubes coming out of the refrigerator. The scene is shot from a sky point or cloud level and it gets the audience involved and feel as though they are at the very place at that very moment. This creates a certain fear or sense of doom associated with to e.g cold or ghastly winds and earthquakes. The ice cube effect just adds to the cold atmosphere. The intelligence offer is heard once again via radio communication this time inside the face masks giving instruction on how this mysterious dome shaped object works. You can hear breath sounds and its just so real that with a great surround system we can feel the actors anxiety and almost imagine what they are thinking. This goes on until 1.00 when the dome shaped objects door opens and Dr Banks and her team ascend into the long dark path with a bright light at the end.

A chirping bird is noted at 1.06 and I wondered what the relevance was. This was an old safety measure used in the mining industry where caged canaries were carried into the mines know as ‘canary in the coal mine,’ and was to determine whether there were any potent gases. If the bird was still chirping that meant they were safe. The canary was more sensitive to poison and would die before enough gas would build up to kill a human. Now this was important because later on in the movie, when Dr. Banks was having a nightmare, the bird is reintroduced. Why? Because the audience have been preconditioned that this bird determines what is safe, or sign of life, we get to meet the Hectapod in her dream. This helps the audience begin to interpret the scene that the bird means the Hectapod is safe.

Dr Banks knows the birds representation at this scene therefore when she sees it chirping away, she knows there is no sign or sense of danger. As Dr Banks and her team are facing a white sterile environment, Dr banks runs out of patience and decides to remove her safety gear. Her colleagues are worried and are heard trying to caution her via radio comm in their masks. This conflict of interest only hypes the audience because it feels like a war between light and darkness or good and evil. It begs the question is there danger lurking or simple what is going to happen. In this uncertain moment, Dr Banks raises her hand towards the glass where the creature is expected to be and at 1.18 a sudden drum kick with a low frequency of about 80Hz layered with another slam. This grabs the audience attention and while still in that moment we hear a whale like sound at 1.19 followed immediately by a door slamming sound at 1.20 when the Alien decides to respond to Dr Banks greeting. In these three seconds the sound effects used sequentially have definitely makes an impact to the audience because these are heart stopping moments due to the surprise elements of uncertainty. This was intense as we didn’t know whether the alien would respond to Dr Banks hand gesture, would it be in a calm or wild manner, what did this creature look like?

The intensity peaks halfway through the trailer when at 1.23 a mixture of sounds come together intermittently to create an adrenaline rush as they all try to get your attention. The picture and sound are impeccable as they bring us to the movies reality. The use of TV news reporting in the background, incorporated with a loud drum kick followed by music created from violins, and what sounds like an elephant trumpeting at six seconds intervals (1.24, 1.30, 1.36) and then at 1.52, 1.57, 2.03, 2.05, 2.08 well arranged. The music intensity is maintained between 1.27-2.12 and this keeps us the engaged and entertained at the same time.

Dr Banks decides she has to go back in the dome and at 2.11 is a drum kick as the dome door shuts, abrupt music cuts off and then a prolonged horn or digiderood low key sound. This definitely kicks in the anxiety because so much just happened in 5 seconds leaving us anticipating what comes next. Then at 2.16 is another drum kick and a high pitched piano during an explosion. The high pitched key is heard again at 2.18, 2.19 and 2.20 which in turn create a clock ticking feeling and we can’t help but feel that time is of essence.

These definitely trigger impulse responses in the movie leaving us wanting more. It ends on a high by having the jets sound, maintaining the prolonged low key note and the elephant trumpeting/ or trumpet noise at the very end. The sound choices used are raw and real and the the intensity and pressure buildup definitely increase here and the suspense has made us movie ready.

The movie is undoubtedly about communication both verbal and nonverbal. We have the humans who have a common language but still do not understand each other resulting in a conflict of interest and ideas. On the other hand we have the Aliens vs humans trying to undertand each other. Choice of alien inspiration was good as they used the tentacles inspired but the Octopus- tentacles. The Octopus as we know is a very intelligent and graceful animal and we have seen it release itself from a locked jar and it moves swiftly. It has a strong presence and only attacks when attacked. This helped the movie to influence the viewer to believe the Alien is not here to harm but is a friendly and non intimidating. The sound used for the Aliens was to express how massive it was.

The octopus also used blasts of ink that looked like abstract, inky stains that looked like coffee stains on paper, to form a language that Dr Banks had to decipher and develop a response back to complete the two way communication. We couldn’t help but help the actress in our minds to workout what each syllable meant.

Arrival has a lot of striking elements of sound design used to just keep audience emotions connected and engaged until the end. They are organic, and natural that kept us intrigued and a lot of suspense especially when the music was getting louder.. I did expert more action coming from it but as of today I really have learnt and appreciated how sound design played a major role in the film.

References

Essays, UK. (November 2018). Effects of Trailers in Film Campaigns. Retrieved from https://www.ukdiss.com/examples/film-audience-trailers.php?vref=1

A sound effect. (November 2016) Creating The Poetic Sci-Fi Sound Of ‘Arrival. Retrieved from https://www.asoundeffect.com/arrival-sound/

Gibbs, T. (2007). The fundamentals of sonic art & sound design (Ava academia). Lausanne: AVA Academia.

Whittington, W. (2007). Sound design & science fiction (1st ed.) [1st ed.]. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. (2007). Retrieved February 26, 2020, from INSERT-MISSING-DATABASE-NAME.

 

1 Hour Mix Challenge

There is a saying which goes “challenges are great opportunities for success”. Today I did get challenged to a one hour mix challenge. I saw this as an opportunity to improve my abilities as a mix engineer. I did as best I could within that timeframe as practising for industry standard achievement. With all honesty the final product at the end was pretty much worse than I expected.

What I did first was to try and balance the music by critically listening to what was more important and that was main vocalist. Remember there is no reference track to get the idea from. The vocals did fit nicely in the mix and had the backing vocals well balance without overriding the main vocal. I also thought the reverb did sound nice on the headphone but come to the speakers it was like a wake up call on me. There was just too much wet reverb.

16 years old teenager girl, nerd and geek, trying to assemble the PC desktop computer but seems like she don’t understand how to do it.

Time management surely is of great importance. Because of lack of it I did not spent it well on mixing drums. Instead I spent more time on adding compression which at the end was the biggest downfall the the Kick drum was over overcompressed. The lesson learnt was that, compression is not always the answer to everything. I could have left the drums uncompressed Im sure the could have sounded much better.

I do need to spent a little bit of time on EQ just to sweep either high frequencies or low depending with the need. This could have solved a couple of things like low end on acoustic guitar and lead guitar. The bass guitar sounded good but would have reduce a bit of the low end to balance well with the kick. I do need to learn bit more on EQing guitars a little bit more to just get clean sound. Once thing I did not put across my mind was that what I was trying to achieve would go to a mastering engineer. With kind of mixing I had done, the client would not have been amused as the mastering engineer would tell him or her to go back to the mix engineer to redo. I will endeavour to practise more these one hour mix at least on a daily basis if I really need to up skill my levels.

The one hour mix definitely is a great learning tool for me as it challenged me to think about what is most important to overall effect the mix, which is a skill which is a must have for a mix engineer. I need to prove myself that I can raise the standard to meet the criteria for the industry. It is essential to be challenged by such circumstances as I would become a better mix engineer now and in future.

Mastering

Second week of the trimester and today we looked at the subject of mastering. What is Mastering ? Mastering most often refers to the final stage in the production of multiple audio programs— typically, a group of songs or pieces of music. (Savage, 2014)

Mastering also to my understanding is a final mix after the mix process which makes the mix louder according to Guy Gray, raising output level ranges to 0.3dB 0dB.A mastering engineer also has the right to send back the the mix process on the grounds that the mix was heavily compressed and there is no room to work with. At first i felt that it would be harsh but then I did understand that his or her role is compromised if the mix is not right. The work of a Mastering engineer is o boost the quality of the recording. Critical listening skills are of paramount importance at this stage, spending time analysing a track and understanding the genre, how it was recorded and mixed and finding if there are any issues that need to be fixed prior. These are critical points of mastering to begin with.

The next part of mastering after analysis we may also take into consideration what the client wants. Things like too much bottom-end and sub bass can be too much on top end. It is common for a mix to have a little too much of one or the other. Either it can be fixed during mastering process or may be returned back to the mixing stage, depending on the financial constrain for the client. Honestly Before I thought mastering was as good as mixing but actually it is not. Yes during the mix process we use compression and EQ, it is different to mastering despite using compression and EQ too. Here is the difference which Guy explained, the mix engineer uses EQ to create spaces so that each instrument or elements can each shine on the respective regions or for creative purposes. A mastering engineer uses the EQ to balance or make loud the spectrum, adding a bit more presence to the track. Though Savage suggests “Why Mixing and Mastering Can No Longer Be Separated.” There, you will learn how the tools for producing loudness have impacted what used to be the separation between mixing and mastering ( Savage, 2014 )

The same approach goes on to compression. The mix engineers may use an extreme parameter to a kick, guitar or vocal to result a punch or suck out the life of the track while the mastering engineer will subtle the move working on compression range around 1.5-3:1 ratio catching all the high peaks/transients with 1-2 dB of gain reduction. A limiter is then applied to make the track louder just like a commercial release depending on how you set the ceiling and threshold. The limiter draws back extra peaks or transients before it smashes the maximum ceiling.

Beyond that, it may be helpful to adjust the frequency balance of some songs so that they all sound relatively similar. For example, one song may sound like it has more bottom end than another. Taken individually this may not be a problem— both songs sound great— but when they are played one right after the other, one song may suffer in contrast to the other. So, the mastering engineer will adjust the low frequencies of one of the songs (more on the song that has less low end, or less on the song that has more— or a little bit of each). It isn’t that either song really needed the adjustment if it were playing on its own, but when it’s sitting with the other songs it fits better with the adjustment. All elements of the sound: level, frequency balance, dynamic range, ambience, and effects are considered in the mastering process ( Savage 2014 )

There is more to do with mastering, once I get into the practise of it I will surely come with another blog and talk more with hands on experience about the mastering process.

Savage, Steve. Mixing and Mastering in the Box : The Guide to Making Great Mixes and Final Masters on Your Computer, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2014.

Smithers, B. (2010). Mixing in pro tools : Skill pack (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Course Technology.

Izhaki, R., & Izhaki, R. (2017). Mixing audio : Concepts, practices, and tools (Third ed.) [Third edition.]. London: Taylor and Francis.

Studio 3 Week 1

A new season and a new trimester for Studio 3 for me and very much looking forward to it a bit nervous and unsure. Last trimester had a fair bit of its challenges but I managed to get through it pretty well. I feel that this time there is more that I must do as requirement to produce a lot more content upon building an industry standard portfolio. The pressure is on to deliver.

There are 2 projects for this trimester and one is the trailer The Quiet Place 2. Upon watching the trailer I did feel that it had some very intense moments. Now the idea is to reproduce the forley and that i believe is heaps of work to do. A lot of creative ideas must be explored to bring this to play. As for the second project I have the idea of creating a 3 minute musical video that has the theme for multiculturalism. At first I thought of discrimination but I felt its better promoting multiculturalism that will eventually overcome discrimination. I do think there is much project management that is expected and required to keep the project intact in order to produce the deliverables.

S6 class tutorial (Calibrating studio monitors)

I have taken steps to upgrade my workflow by creating a website which is also linked to my not for profit organisation that promotes Gospels music from young adults to youths. My website will help to promote my portfolio and I believe it is more like a resume. I will add up links to other social media platforms such as facebook, Youtube, Spotify,Linkedin, Instagram as an ongoing promotion and awareness. Designing a website has been my weakest subject last trimester but this time I decided to take up the challenge. I am hoping to build my home studio despite the financial challenge. This will help me create more content at my own space and time.

On the second tutorial session I had the opportunity to learn about the S6 studio which is built around the Avid with Pro tools compatible control surface. It does look like a very expensive machine with very interesting looks. There is a 5.1 dolby system with a couple of monitor speakers. The main lesson for the day was calibration and placement of studio monitors. I realised that it is a critical activity to do so I can get the best experience in the listening environment. Using pink noise from a noise generator in Pro tools it will help measuring the sound pressure level and there is need to have headphones or earplugs to protect the ears.Learning about the SPL (sound pressure level) was enlightening once again measuring from the mix position or sweet spot. Positioning the SPL meter with the microphone pointed at the center and each monitor is independently to ensure that all monitors are are set to the same acoustic level and will ensure that the stereo mixes are balanced and will translate well across. Depending with the room 85dB may be loud enough but also may be too loud for a small room and be worked around 75 dB. A subwoofer may range from 80 dB but to my understanding if the full range monitors are 79dB then the subwoofer maybe reduced by -3 dB.

So much to learn and I look forward to it. Determination is my first chapter of the book of excellence.