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Sound and images are brought together in so many ways around us. The films we watch on cinema screens with surround sound audio scapes, the television programs brought to us on lounge room size plasma screens, our multimedia monitors, radio, games, video mp3 devices, even the beeping fridge in the kitchen, have all been designed with sounds to evoke emotions and attach personality and meaning.
Header images: Born Into; Optical Itzak 2; Estonian Jewellery; John Lewis/The Boy who Wanted to Touch the Moon; John Power/VJ Mix
Original publication: Desktop Magazine 2007
Republished with permission
Tantalising our senses with sound is a serious job. Visual designers do it with bursts of colour to catch our attention, or delicate mixes of hues and tones to make us feel warm and sexy. Audio designers have a different type of job to do. New sounds a designer introduces must compete with existing environment sounds. We experience sound in time, and consequently we have difficulty listening to two things at once, explains Max Lord in his audio primer “Why is That Thing Beeping”. While visual designers talk about relative visual weight, the analogous issue in audio is masking. One sound can completely hide another when heard simultaneously, a condition that leaves us overly sensitive to intrusive, unwelcome, and especially insistent sounds.

This delicate balance of sound design is a technically and conceptually creative field. It covers all non-compositional elements of a film, a play, a music performance or recording, computer game software or any other multimedia project. We asked three sound designers from very different areas of sound production to tell us how they started, what qualifications they sought to help them hone their craft, and what is really cool about working in the field.

Damian Candusso, Sound Designer

Damian Candusso, a sound effects editor on Oscar winning “Happy Feet” (2006), was required to work through a cacophony of sound demands to produce the winning harmony of penguin foot stomping on packed snow.

Candusso says he has always been fascinated by sounds and music. He was given his first computer, an Amiga 500, in High School and immediately started to experiment with how computers could be used to make and produce music. “I loved the technology, and what could be achieved by embracing it, and pushing it to the limits”, he says. “I built my first MIDI interface at High School and this started my pursuit in working with sound for a living”. Candusso, however, cautions that sound design is not all about having the best computer and software. “Some people make the mistake of believing that because they have the software they think they know how to do the job,” he says. Audio is an area where you need as much practical experience as you can get, and you need to train your ears, so that you are able to second-guess your client. At the end of the day, you don’t just need to give the client something that they expect, you need to give them something that blows them away”.

Candusso says he started out by reading all of the industry magazines, and did as much work locally as he could find. “This was hard work though as I grew up in country NSW, and would have to go to Sydney during my holidays to do work experience with whoever I could get it with”. He studied Television Production at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, before specialising in Electronic Art, and graduating with a Degree in Fine Art. “For me this worked out to be exactly what I was after”, he says. The Television side gave me the technical background and a broader understanding of the industry, whereas the Electronic Art side allowed me to experiment with sound in a way that had no boundaries”.

After leaving CSU, Candusso worked at a Sydney studio, Trackdown Digital for four years, which enabled him to work in both music and post production. He had always wanted to work full time in sound. “I was taught that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Sometimes you just have to work really, really hard.” he recalls, “Trackdown gave me many essential skills and a good foundation in sound. I was also involved in beta testing of software and this also gave me an edge in the industry.”

When he left Trackdown, Candusso set out to pursue a career as a sound designer. “I went straight into Farscape, which was probably one of Australia’s biggest budget TV productions.” Farscape was a Sci- Fi Jim Henson production filmed in Sydney primarily for the US and the UK markets. When Farscape was over, Candusso and his team spent some time working on various other films before some of them reunited for Happy Feet. The team knew immediately that this film was going to be big. “There was no compromise for quality on the production so we knew that we could go all out.”

“The most enjoyable aspect of my job is seeing the finished product screened on the big screen, he says. “No matter how many times you have seen the film, it is never the same as watching it in a cinema packed with an audience”.

John Simpson, Foley Designer, Feet ‘n Frames

John Simpson is a Foley artist who lent his very specialized hand to the stomping effects among the falling snow in “Happy Feet”, who also has credits such as “King Kong” (2005), “The Worlds Fastest Indian” (2005) and “December Boys” (2007), among many others under his belt.

Simpson says he chooses to specialize in Foley design because “I like being creative and Foley is probably the most creative area on post sound”.

What the heck is "Foley"? Foley effects are sound effects added to the film during post production (after the shooting stops). They include sounds such as footsteps, clothes rustling, crockery clinking, paper folding, doors opening and slamming, punches hitting, and glass breaking. In other words, “many of the sounds that the sound recordists on set did their best to avoid recording during the shoot”, states Skevos Mavros in an article on Foley design. Simpson studied a one-year Audio course in Adelaide, but says, “not much of it was film related, but the technical aspect was very useful. I think the best way to any area in this industry in just being in the right place at the right time, have basic knowledge on the area you want to get into and then learn the rest on the job while working with industry leaders”.

“Happy Feet” and “King Kong” are by far the biggest films I have done, says Simpson, “just knowing that you are working on films with such great Directors is an opportunity that doesn't come along very often”.

As words of wisdom for others looking to move into the audio industry he says “be prepared to work very abnormal hours at times. The film industry is a luxury area not a necessity like a hospital, so like I tell many people that are stressing out over something in the film, we are not heart surgeons here, we don't save lives, so enjoy what you do and think yourself very lucky to be involved with making films”.

Chris Taylor, Sound Producer, Shabbadu: The Audio Agency

Chris Taylor is the founder and creative director of Shabbadu: The Audio Agency, a radio production team who offer their clients a specialised script writing and production service to help ensure their audio is listened to by their intended audience.

Taylor says, “ After working in the advertising industry for a long time, I developed a passion for writing radio commercials. Obviously, when you like something you tend to work harder at it so after a while I became somewhat of a specialist. After nearly 8 years in the same job I started developing a plan to start my own specialist radio-advertising agency. Part of the plan included spending some time working in the internal creative department at a radio station, which I was lucky enough to do at Capital Radio in London”.

Writing scripts and directing voice-over talent is Taylor’s particular area, and he says of working with voice actors “over the years I've worked with some great actors who make your job really easy and some ordinary people and sport personalities who really test your mettle”.

His big break into the industry began when he became one of the last of the dying breed of dispatch boys. “I started out sorting mail and handing out memos before I got my break in the creative department at Mattingly & Partners (Which later became Y&R Mattingly then Y&R now GPY&R). I had always wanted to get into advertising and had a love of writing, but I only really started training once I was in there. I did CopySchool, AWARDCraft (which no longer exists I think - it was kind of AWARDSchool Plus) as well as the RMB Radio Writer's Workshop - which probably had the biggest influence on me of all”.

Taylor studied for a year in Arts at The University of Melbourne, “failed half of it miserably and then applied for the AFA Traineeship. I didn't get one despite making the shortlist, but got called up out of the blue by Mattingly to apply for the dispatch job because of it. The best way into the industry from a creative point of view these days is to team up with someone talented, get to know a lot of people in the industry by showing an interest in what they do, then persistence”.

The most enjoyable moments of the job are “solving business problems in a creative way”, says Taylor. “At the end of the day, my business helps other people's businesses be more successful. When you can do that in a way that makes you, the client and the audience happy, you've earned your beer at the end of the day”.

Terri Dentry is managing director of Sage Creative Placements Melbourne, a member company of the Sage Creative Placements group. Sage Creative Placements is a creative industries recruitment agency group with offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. The Sage talent selection model values the skills and career direction of the candidate and matches them with clients and projects of the highest calibre. For more information visit: www.sagerecruit.com.au

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