Job profile sound editor/sound designer
The sound editor’s job is to design the sound layer of a film. This includes a number of specialised activities, which will be presented in this job profile.
Sound design is a major part of the overall artistic impact of a film. In particular, the auditory information contributes greatly to the (usually unconsciously perceived) definition of time and space. It is a dramaturgical means in the creation of an emotional atmosphere, in the recreation of reality or creation of an illusion , which complements, enhances or exceeds the effects of an image.
Film images often only develop their full effect in interaction with music and sound design. Even the careful placement of silence, the deliberate renunciation of sound, is an artistic design choice. Thus, the motion picture basically always relies on auditory support. This already applied to silent movies, which were never actually silent, because at that time musical accompaniment enhanced the emotional impact of the moving picture.
Originally, sound design was part of the picture editor’s job. It was commonplace for the image editor and his assistants to carry out the sound editing themselves. With the rise of newer, more complex multi-channel formats, expenditure in sound design grew. This called for a new specialised qualification. Consequently, the independent job of the sound editor or sound designer developed. Sound designers began to originate less commonly from the picture editorial dept. but rather from jobs and apprenticeships in the music or sound recording industry.
With the introduction of digital sound editing, the sound editor’s design possibilities increased significantly. Sound editors prepare or carry out more and more tasks that only used to be possible at mixing stages.
Field of activity
The operational time frame for sound design usually requires distribution to the various departments dialogue/production sound, ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement), Foley, ambiences/effects and music, which are then carried out by different sound editors.
Dialogue is one of the most important elements in a film’s narrative. Top priority in dialogue editing is helping to achieve clear and intelligible dialogue and to support dramaturgy. In a detailed and elaborate process, the dialogue is extracted from the production sound or, if necessary, replaced by ADR. The stages are:
- Check the production sound for technical problems and comprehensibility (often along with the re-recording mixer as well as the director and the ADR-editor present)
- Create a list of required ADR, based on the production sound check or the director’s wish
- Production sound editing
- Replace unusable sounds with alternate takes or wild lines and wild sounds.
- Remove unwanted sounds
- Good arrangement of tracks for mixing
- Create backgrounds for parts that are to be replaced by ADR
- Check production sound for usability for M&E-version (music and effects mix containing no dialogue)
- Divide production sound into dialogue and sound effects
- Attend dialogue premix and final mix (communication of important information to re-recording mixer and operation of DAW in the mixing studio)
- Prepare cue sheets for dubbing (usually called ADR = Automated Dialogue Replacement)
- Supervise ADR recording sessions (i.e. communicate and advise with actors and the director in order to achieve the best possible sync and performance.)
- Select recorded alternatives in collaboration with the director
- Edit dialogue recordings to achieve lip sync; if necessary further editing (levelling, filtering etc.)
- If necessary, in consultation with the sound designer and dialogue editor: design crowd sounds (so-called „walla“)
- Participation in dialogue premix, or if given, ADR mix (communication of important information to re-recording mixer and operation of DAW in mixing studio)
Sound design defines and opens the room in which a film’s action takes place. (Where are we? What is it like where we are? Warm? Cold? Peaceful? Dangerous?) Sound effects give the non-human objects of the film their desired character (vehicles, furniture, devices, animals, non-human creatures). They create an illusion of reality for what had to be simulated when shooting the movie (shots, glass crashes, car crashes etc.). Sound design can make a film seem bigger and richer, but also create claustrophobic and disturbing silence if needed. Working areas are:
- Develop an artistic sound concept/dramaturgic design of the sound layer (see also: supervising sound editor)
- Put together the sound team based on the requirements of the project (see also: supervising sound editor)
- List sounds that need to be recorded on set during the shoot, if possible by the use of additional sound recorders that record effects, ambiences, crowd sounds that are difficult and unreasonably costly to recreate in post-production— independent of production sound mixer
- Select and edit library sounds
- Create and design sound effects and ambiences
- Brief the Foley editor about requirements that are not obvious from watching the image. (off-screen sounds, special textures etc.)
- Communicate with the composer to achieve an ideal combination of sound design and music
- Attend pre-mix and final mix (communication of important information to re-recording mixer and operation of DAW in mixing studio)
A sound editor that, unlike the sound designer, does not design effects but covers particular parts of the sound design.
In Foley creation, body sounds of the character are enhanced or replaced (steps, movements, handling of tools etc). Furthermore sounds are recorded, that will be part of the sound design (effect Foley). The sound editor works with a Foley artist and a Foley mixer. The tasks of a sound editor are:
- Prepare a list of all needed Foley sounds with the Foley mixer and the Foley artist
- Edit the recordings to achieve perfect synchronicity with the image and production sound
- Balance volume and character to achieve a consistent overall mix
- Premix the edited tracks from many single components of existing sounds
- Arrange sound tracks for the mix (in consultation with re-recording mixer) and, if applicable, hand over special sound effect recordings to the sound design department
- Attendance of the sound premix (communication of important information to re-recording mixer and operation of DAW in mixing studio)
- Align the music to the picture
- Possibly edit the music in collaboration with the composer and director
- Create the music cue list for the production department.
- Attend the music recording session, pre-mix and final mix(communication of important information to re-recording mixer and operation of DAW in mixing studio)
Supervising sound editor/sound supervisor
The supervising sound editor is first and foremost responsible for the logistics of sound post production. If he is the sound designer at the same time, he will additionally assume the overall creative responsibility for the project. Ideally, he is involved in the project before the shoot begins.
- Create a post production schedule and budget in collaboration with the post production supervisor, while considering the delivery list
- Develop the technical workflow prior to the shoot in cooperation with the production sound mixer, the picture editing department, the post production supervisor and possibly the re-recording mixer. Subsequently issue technical guidelines for the individual departments
- Discuss the workflow during the shoot (i.e. Playback) with the production sound mixer
- Schedule and plan all things necessary in the editing phase (i.e. Recording of ADR or sounds, creation of layout effects etc)
- Supervise project transfer from picture editorial to sound team
- Organise potential field recordings for sound editing (i.e. ambiences, that could not be recorded at the filming location)
- Discuss and determine mix procedure in collaboration with the re-recording mixer and the sound designer
- Supervise creation of the so-called deliverables
Assistant sound editor
- Convert project data (i.e. in form of an OMF/AAF document) delivered from the editing room into corresponding DAW format
- If applicable, convert picture formats delivered from picture editorial into a working format
- Re-edit work-sessions after picture has changed
- Assist the sound editors with various other tasks
Overlapping competences and supervision
Depending on the requirements of the project, the sound design is accomplished by a team or by a single sound editor.
Should the size of the team call for it, every working department can have its own supervising sound editor (i.e. supervising dialogue editor, supervising ADR editor etc). He also serves as head of his department and coordinates the given department in cooperation with the sound supervisor
The sound supervisor, however, does not necessarily have to be a sound editor in the project. He may also be a member or another sound department such as production sound mixer or re-recording mixer. In most cases the sound supervisor is also the sound designer.
Mention in the credits
If the sound design for TV films, cinema documentaries or smaller cinema films is carried out by s single sound editor, they appear in the credits as the “sound designer“.
For feature films or bigger tv film productions however, three or more sound editors are usually employed. The sound editing is usually split into three areas: dialogue edit, sound design and Foley. In the credits, people or departments are usually mentioned:
- Dialogue: dialogue editor – if ADR and production sound editing are covered by different people: dialogue editor and ADR editor
- Sound design: sound designer or sound design – working for the sound designer: sound effects editor
- Foley: Foley editor
- Creativity and imagination
- Flexibility and compassion
- Expertise in film and sound dramaturgy
- Knowledge of DAWs
- Impeccable hearing
- Ability to deal with situations of high stress level
- Ability to work in a team
A poll conducted by the bvft in 2008 showed that half of the sound editors working in Germany had a diploma in sound mixing or diploma in sound engineering (comparable to Master); another sixth have completed other programmes with similar focus, such as music.
One third of those questioned have completed an apprenticeship as an audiovisual media designer, sound technician or are graduates of a private educational institution.
No more than a fifth of those questioned have found their way into the industry without state-approved training in the field of sound technology.