Sound designer Cindy Takehara plans to “keep doing what she loves most”

cover-photo-for-once-articleCindy Takehara was born and raised in Japan. Her father is Japanese and her mother from Colombia. She did not always know growing up and going between both countries that she would be an internationally successful sound designer, but now she can’t imagine anything else.

Takehara holds a bachelor degree in Music and Sound Engineering. She first got involved in the audio industry through music while in university. As a student, she had the opportunity to learn and do sound for motion pictures.

“Since then, I’ve never looked back and continued to pursue a career in audio post production for Film and other visual media,” she said.

Her first work as a Sound Designer was Suciedad Ltda, which received attention from film festivals all over the world. It also went to the AES (Audio Engineering Society) student recording competition in San Francisco. The judges were the Academy winners Shawn Murphy and Lora Hirschberg.

“I still remember hearing them acknowledging and praising my hard work.  It was inspiring meeting them but also, it encouraged me to keep doing what I love doing the most,” she said.

Since that time, Takehara has had many achievements throughout her sound design career. One of these achievements is the film Once, which premiered at the world-renowned TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, during the HollyShorts Festival.

Once is about an old man in a wheelchair, who lives in loneliness and numbness, desperately trying to reach a blackbird pin which carries his memories. On the way to getting the pin back, the audience sees his happiest moments in his life.

“I liked the minimalistic storytelling and its astonishing cinematography. This project required us to tell a story through sound and music without any dialogue between characters, so it was a great opportunity for me to experiment with sound. At the same time, the sound also represented the psyche of the main character and his memory,” said Takehara.

The director opted to shot the film without having any boom operator on set to record the sound, so when Takehara received the picture, there was absolutely no sound in it.

“There were no footsteps, no movement or breathing sound, nothing. I had to create every sound from the scratch,” she said. “I learned not to over design while creating a soundscape for a certain type of film. On this one, because of its minimalistic character, detailed Foley sound was important but overall design had to be executed tenderly with subtle changes.”

Takehara also worked with the music on the film, which was pre-existing music, meaning that it wasn’t composed specifically for this film. Therefore, it required a delicate editing to fit the music to the scene, and the transition had to be smooth.

“During the music editing process, it was crucial to pick the right time to start the music, and to pick the right note to start the cue and blend together,” she described. “In the beginning of this film, where the old man starts to bring up his memory, the music starts very subtle, almost unrecognizable. By using audio processing such as the equalization, and the use of the right amount of reverberation in the music, it was able to represent the scene sonically, as if he were searching his memory that it gradually appears.”

After finish editing all the necessary sound and music, they had to be “mixed together” not only in terms of volume or levels for each sound, but also, to create the adequate mood during a specific scene or event, and keep the transition of the story engaging for the audience. Takehara’s job in the last part of re-recording mixing process was to enhance this audiovisual experience by determining how these each sound element was put together.

The film allowed for Takehara to be reunited with director Xuexue Pan, who she had worked with previously on the music video The Mariner’s Revenge. Pan reached out to Takehara to work with her once again for Once.

“It’s always a pleasure working with Cindy. She can deliver sonically what a director sees in the image. She has a great artistic sensibility and she is also highly skilled in Sound Design techniques,” said Pan. “I worked with her previously and she was able to create this immersive underwater experience by carefully using the surround mixing techniques. I was amazed.”

Takehara says it is important to work with someone when you share the same vision for a project, which she and Pan did.

“We both agreed that the role of sound and music will be important in this project, since they are the key element that can evoke emotion to the audience,” said Takehara.

Despite all of her technical knowledge, what makes Takehara truly successful is her passion for the art of sound designer. To her, it is not just playing with a computer to get what you want, but something entirely more profound.

“To be a sound designer means that you are at the intersection of where art, emotion, and technology meets. You’ll need technical skills, tools and knowledge to manipulate sound, but also, it requires artistic sensitivity, good taste and creativity. I’m always aware of sound around me in daily experience and it fascinates me all the time. I believe that sound itself can move people emotionally, and I can use this as a tool when working with the visual media, and provide a meaning, an emotion, and an immersive auditory experience complementing the visual,” she said. “There’s something magical about this job, and that’s why I love doing what I do.”


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