Category Archives: Sound Design and Sound Editing

Zheng Jia highlights the importance of shaping cinematic experiences through sound

Picture sitting down on a Friday night to watch your favorite film. Your popcorn is hot and your pajamas are cozy. Just as the opening credits begin, you notice that the volume is not up. You jump up to grab the remote but to your dismay, the volume on your television appears to have stopped working. Would you continue to view the film? If so, what will you be missing? The soundtrack of the opening sequence? A character’s dialogue? Is there an interaction taking place? If so, what is going on? Is there a creature rustling in the woods? Is there a child crying? Is someone running through a crowded street? For most individuals, it would feel almost impossible to imagine grasping the full effect of a film without sound. Sound comprises the vast majority of a cinematic experience, and for a sound editor like Zheng Jia, the fate of a film often falls in her hands. She understands better than most just how integral music, dialogue, and other sounds can be to any cinematic experience. Oftentimes, it contains elements of a storyline that you cannot see but need to be aware of. It is essential to the telling of any story and it is the reason that sound editors are one of the most important members of a film production team.

When Jia began exploring the art of filmmaking, she found herself increasingly drawn to the world of sound. There was something about sound editing that gave her a sense of purpose and she never struggled to envision a future in the field.

“Gradually, as I acquired more and more experience, I realized that sound editing was not only something that I was good at, but it was also something I thoroughly enjoyed doing. I decided that I would pursue a career out of it and I never looked back. As I started to work on more and more projects, the more I understood how important sound editing is to cinematic storytelling. It’s amazing. Even though it is oftentimes a thankless job, it doesn’t make me love it any less. Despite the fact that audiences don’t always realize how creative and important my job is, it still enhances and defines their experience, so I devote myself to making it as enjoyable and engaging as possible. I love it so much,” told Jia.

Jia is a driven professional and she has acquired a breadth of experience in the years she has spent learning various sound editing techniques and styles. Her career has carried her through well-known works such as Law and Order Special Victims Unit and Farrah Goes Bang. In fact, Jia’s talents played a large role in Farrah Goes Bang’s film festival run. Screening at prestigious award ceremonies and festivals like the TriBeCa Film Festival and the Twin Cities Film Fest, Farrah Goes Bang generated a strong presence in the industry and went on to earn a number of award nominations and wins following its release. Its nomination for Best Picture at the Winter Film Awards in 2015 has much to do with Jia’s remarkable sound editing style and wouldn’t have earned the praise that it did without her contributions.

The Executive Producer of Farrah Goes Bang, Laura Goode, was impressed with the quality of work that Jia offered to her production. She couldn’t believe how committed Jia was to the film and after experiencing the value that Jia added to the film’s final footage, she realized just how talented the Chinese-native really is.

 

“Zheng shows exceptional drive and determination when she works, as well as a healthy store of natural talent. Her enthusiasm for film culture, as well as her prowess within filmmaking itself make her an invaluable asset to have on board any film production team,” stated Goode.

In 2014, Jia was asked to lend her talents to a Chinese blockbuster called Crazy New Year’s Eve. Crazy New Year’s Eve features several A-list stars and was comprised of several small storylines that were inevitably merged together to create one main premise. What Jia enjoyed most about the project was her ability to experience filming for a Chinese production, as she was most familiar with American-style productions in the past. She found that she was given more flexibility than she’d typically receive on an American production and enjoyed the creative authority she had to express her own interpretation of the film’s elements as she edited through each of the its components. Her role also required her to liaise between public relations specialists, sponsors, visual effects companies, editors, trailer companies, actors, and more. It was an entirely new experience for her; however, Jia is not one to step down from a challenge. She embraces any opportunity to discover new territory within her art form and she patiently tackled each new obstacle that she encountered.

“I worked with Zheng on Crazy New Year’s Eve. She’s an absolute pleasure to work with. She’s professional, punctual, creative and very easy to get along with. Zheng has got not just great knowledge of the technical skills that are required for the job, but also she’s got superb creative senses that make her have a way better understanding of how to tell the story through sound perspective, and create the sonic picture that brings the story up to the next level,” said Emma Tang, co-writer of the film.

One of the largest, most satisfying parts of being one of Crazy New Year’s Eve’s lead sound editors was embedded in the fact that each of the film’s sub-stories occurred in different parts of China. With that, she had to ensure that each different geographical location and environment was developed as authentically as possible throughout the film. She refined atmospheres surrounding cold, small, snowy towns, as well as touristy tropical islands, major cities, and more. Each of the film’s events presented a new territory to explore and the film’s success is a testament to her devotion to making each scene as realistic as humanly possible. Given the fact that only two of the five major human senses are involved in experiencing a film, she was handed a crucial amount of responsibility; however, she handled it with ease and remained professional throughout the duration of her time working on the film.

When Crazy New Year’s Eve was released in February of 2015, it screened at both the Shanghai International Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Award. It was a strong addition to Jia’s already esteemed career and gained her a number of new techniques she hadn’t mastered in the past. As for her future, Jia is optimistic. In the short term, Jia is excited about an upcoming Chinese feature film for which she will be the leading sound editor. In the long term, she hopes to acquire new projects that will allow her to develop her skill set even further and ensure that she is never limited by a specific style, genre, or type of sound editing. She is a force to be reckoned with in her field and you can expect only great things from the rest of her career.

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Sound designer Randolph Zaini says film “Mosquito: The Bite of Passage” is highlight of his esteemed career

Randolph Performing Foley Footsteps
Randolph Zaini working on “Mosquito: The Bite of Passage”

Randolph Zaini is more than a sound designer. He is an artist; the video is his canvas and audio clips are his paint. He is a storyteller, and sound is both the setting and the characters. He sees sound as one of the most important aspects of a film, and those that have seen his work can hear this immediately. There is no doubt as to why he is so sought-after in his industry.

Of all the films he has worked on, with many esteemed awards and praise, the highlight of Zaini’s career he says is working on the film Mosquito: The Bite of Passage, which was just shortlisted for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). The film tells the story of a young mosquito brought out by her mother on her first hunt for blood. The issue, however, is that she doesn’t like blood, and but fears disappointing her mother. Though the main story is simple and clear, there is a complex message underneath. It has much to do with being accepted for who you are. It exemplifies the best form of storytelling, where it can both entertain and illuminate.

“It was a great screenplay filled with heartwarming and funny moments,” said Zaini.

Since the story deals with opposing perspectives, it is imperative to give the appropriate sound design treatment on each subject matter. The mother has set her eyes on a single human: a slob who lives alone in his dingy apartment. When there is a switch back and forth between the perspectives of said human and the mosquitoes, audiences should hear the differences in ambiance. Everything feels gigantic in the perspective of the mosquitoes, even the air feels heavier; they are in the land of giant beings. Although Mosquito: The Bite of Passage is a hybrid live-action/animation, there was no production sound provided to Zaini, even on the live-action part of the film. This meant on top of creating every bit of audio clips for the mosquitoes, he also had to recreate the sounds of the human character, played by a live actor, from scratch as well.

“Every bit of sound that the animated character made, from the mosquitoes’ helmets, suits, boots and blood-bag was created by me in the foley recording studios. As for the human character, I also performed all his movement sounds, which then got a frequency manipulation treatment to make him feel gigantic when seen through the eyes of the mosquitoes,” Zaini described.

The film ended up becoming a large success after premiering at the prestigious Telly Awards, where it won Best Animated Short. In addition to BAFTA, it was an Official Selection at the Chinese International New Media Short Film Festival, Edmonton International Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, Haryana International Film Festival, African International Film Festival, 9th CMS International Children’s Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival, New Voices in Black Cinema, and more. It has gained offers for representation by CAA, WME, Paradigm and Verve. None of this could have been possible without Zaini’s work as sound designer, and he was recognized for it with the Outstanding Sound Award nomination at the 2017 First Look Film Festival.

“It was incredible. We make these movies to connect with audiences, to tell a story worth telling, with a hidden message worth sharing. Winning awards is always secondary. But I’d be lying if I say winning Telly Award for the second time did not give any affirmation that I was doing something right, that my passion was not misguided, and that people do appreciate the result of hard work and the vast amount of passion being put into it,” said Zaini.

Randolph Performing Foley
Randolph Zaini recording foley for “Mosquito: The Bite of Passage”

The detail Zaini put in to each and every sound in the film is outstanding. To create the sound of the mosquito wings, he used a combination of hummingbird wings flapping, plastic cards being run through bicycle spokes, and small airplane engines flying in the air, among other sounds that helped sell the integrity of the wings that carry these mosquitoes. Every single sound file was designed with the storytelling effectiveness in mind.

“Randolph is the best sound editor, ADR editor, foley artist, and re-recording mixer I have encountered. To cite a specific example, for Mosquito: The Bite of Passage, Randolph created the sound of the entire film from scratch. There was no production sound going in. He was notably innovative in his approach to creating a new world of sound for the macro world of the mosquitos in the film. Using devices like leather jackets, his own voice for various flight sounds, and other unique concepts, he made a deeply immersive experience. This film relied heavily on the sound design given its heavy science fiction component. I was very happy with the results,” said Brian Rhodes, the director of the film. “Randolph is extremely hard working, dependable, diligent and a wonderful human being to be around. I greatly look forward to working with Randolph the rest of my career. He pushes the boundaries of what is possible and is a visionary.”

Rhodes, who previously worked with Zaini on the award-winning film Harold’s Fish Sticks, refused to have another sound designer work with him on the project. He even pushed back the timeline to work with the sound designer, knowing he needed the best. Although it was a long process from start to finish, there was not a moment of it that Zaini did not like.

“It was work that I enjoyed wholeheartedly. Mosquito: The Bite of Passage is an action-filled movie, which means there are a lot of high-paced sequences that were fun to design. I had a blast planning, recording, and editing the sounds I created,” said Zaini.

With every project he takes part in, no matter how successful, Zaini is living his dream. As a child, he told stories, always putting in captivating sound effects. He may not have known at the time it would be his future, but he always knew what his passion was.

“Like most children, I grew up watching animations. Though I wasn’t always aware of the sound design aspects of those cartoons, it had always sold the believability of these drawn and sculpted worlds and characters, being brought to live with sound. To think that what I do now is breathing life into these lovable characters, it is like having an important role behind a magician’s performance,” he said.

Working on Mosquito: The Bite of Passage was just another chance for Zaini to live out his dream.

HEARING LOVE IN A “THUNDERSTORM” WITH XIAO’OU OLIVIA ZHANG

“There’s poetry in everything. Even in traffic.” It’s statements like this that led Jean Paulo Lasmar, writer/director of Thunderstorm to seek out Xiao’ou Olivia Zhang to supply the sound for this film. Zhang is a respected sound designer who has garnered acclaim in the film industry for her unique and creative approaches in the industry. Lasmar declares, “Olivia is a very clever, sensitive, and professional filmmaker and storyteller. She has worked on the film on set and in post. She knows how every aspect of filmmaking works and how they depend on each other. These skills give her a very mature and solid understand of story, emotion, and character, as well as production limitations. Due to this knowledge and proficiency, she was able to add different layers in Thunderstorm, through sound design and mixing, taking what we initially had and making it work by adding a personality to it, ultimately adding other layers to the story. Olivia was quickly persuaded to work on the film by Jean’s discussion of his interest in getting very creative with their approach to the cacophony that is downtown Los Angeles traffic and its personality in the film. For a sound designer like Zhang who finds her greatest excitement in the freedom that independent films afford, this easily became a production she wanted to be a part of creating. Olivia confirms, “He [Lasmar] came to me and said he wanted me to use sound to separate them [the two lead characters] and then to unite them together through these subjective moments. I couldn’t pass on the film because the story is so real and there’s so much I can do with sound to enhance the emotions.”

thunderstorm-poster

Thunderstorm is the story of Bella and Troy. Despite all the magic around their love story, they are no longer together. Broken hearted, Troy moved to LA to forget about Bella. Six months later, she arrives in town. One night when the universe gives him the signs, he tries to win her back.  On a rooftop in downtown LA, during the first snowfall of the year, amidst manic traffic, the two deal with their emotions and differing perspectives of each other. While there is resolution to the film’s plot, what impacts the viewer is the way in which these two different people can perceive the exact same circumstances. This was the crux of Zhang’s work in Thunderstorm; to give the audience the sense of viewing the character’s emotions in a subtle way. Olivia reveals, “Sound design in drama gives a lot of freedom to craft emotions. I pick moments that are subjective and try to mimic the way our brain neutralizes our environment. When you are close to someone or want to be close with someone, your mind focuses on the sound of their clothes rustling instead of the traffic because it is the sound that this person makes. When you really want someone to stop talking and leave you alone, you hear more of the background sound while the foreground sound that’s the voice of the person becomes the irrelevant background noise. So balancing the loudness of each sound and choosing the sounds the character would hear the most give energy and feeling to these subjective moments. At the beginning, when Troy and Bella are on the roof, she really wants to leave. Viewing things from her perspective, you hear lots of traffic and noise because her focus is not there. Troy, on the hand, wants to stay and remember this last moment with her, so he hears the night wind blowing on the roof while the traffic is more of a distant wash. At the end of the film, when they both reach closure, the way they hear the world becomes similar. The traffic become less irritating for her and more realistic for him. Of course, these are all done in a very subtle way, sound design in this film is mainly to build the mood.”

Zhang often thinks of her work as relating to other art forms. Analogies are a way for her to inspire the creative approaches she is known for in the industry. She used this in her approach to the sound of traffic as she explains, “A bus in traffic always stands out because it has a distinguished squeaking sound of a higher frequency than general engine sounds. In sound design, when we put a bus in the distance on top of a traffic wash, it brings more life and energy to it. I think of it as music. It’s like a piano. The bus and occasional horn honks are like the melody of the right hand, and the traffic wash would be the left hand chords that support and carry on the life of the song.”

To access inspiration, Zhang keeps a journal in which she makes note of her life experiences, allowing her to access “triggers” that she can refer to resuscitate the emotional states she needs to impart. It’s something that goes back to her earliest memories of film and sound. Olivia recalls, “When I was 12, during summer break, I was bored and I started to go through my parents’ video collections. On one cover I saw a short-haired lady, dressed in red and smiling at me against a green background. I put it in the VCD player and immediately heard this beautiful accordion music playing on the menu page. I have played accordion 2 hours a day since I was 5. The sound of that instrument is like a brother to me. And that was the first time I heard an accordion in film or any kind of media. I felt electricity in my body that was followed by a great sense of comfort and happiness. It was a French film called Amélie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The character Amélie does all these strange quirky things in a world full of color. I was so mesmerized and surprised that films can tell stories about people’s current life, and the current life is just as troubled and beautiful as it was in the past. Amélie carved the word “film” permanently in my heart. Nowadays when I think of film, I always see her and hear her faintly in the distance.” The poetry that Xiao’ou Olivia Zhang finds in common things like traffic sounds is obviously a product of the poetry that resides in her own heart.

 

 

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.”

International Sound Designer Xiao Hou is the King of Foley

Xiao Hou recounts mimicking 1930s actions to recreate perfect sound

 

Xiao
Sound designer Xiao Hou brought his world-class talent to “Until the Dust Settles,” an award-winning short film from director Alex Gangi.

 

Xiao Hou is an international sound designer with a passion for the craft burning so bright it pushed him to move his entire world from China to Savannah, Ga. in pursuit of his Masters Degree in Sound Engineering. However, Hou’s devotion to sound had its root far earlier than his post-undergraduate days.

“I’ve always been a big fan of music,” he said. “I love recording and mixing it, and really got a chance to explore live sound while in college for several years as an undergrad in China. So one day I told my parents that I wanted to dedicate myself to sound, to audio, to anything related to sound. Luckily, my parents supported me. To study abroad is a lot of energy, time and money, but my family was fully on board.”

The investment and dedication would pay off. Hou got a call in Jan. 2013 to work as sound designer on the short drama film, “Until the Dust Settles.” The story follows a father and his two sons who reconnect while traveling through the American Dust Bowl in 1932.

The call to Hou came after various colleagues sang Hou’s praises to the sound supervisor — Mike Patterson (“Battlefield Hardline” and “The Walking Dead: Michonne”) — who is a fellow Savannah College of Art & Design alum.

Patterson raves about Hou. “As the leading sound designer of the film, Xiao absolutely excelled in his duties of recording custom sound effects to reach a more realistic aesthetic for the film. He recorded these sound effects in an environment similar to the location of our main characters in the early 1930s to achieve a more realistic vision for the film as a whole,” said  Patterson. “While an uninspired sound designer could have easily pulled catalogued noises from sound libraries, Xiao took it upon himself to go the extra mile.”

Hou recalls director Alex Gangi’s high standards for the film’s quality and sound. But it wasn’t Gangi that pushed Hou to supersede expectations — Hou’s hard work is innate and is one of the reasons he’s amassed many outstanding achievements in film. His brilliant sound can also be heard in titles such as Lionsgate’s “Compadres,” in commercials for Paris Hilton and the LA Clippers and in other acclaimed short films such as “Once” and “God Save the Queen.”

“It was very challenging,” Hou said of “Until the Dust Settles.” “The director wanted to have really great sound, so I sifted carefully through the sound library, but for some actions I couldn’t find the exact sound I wanted, so I ended up recording the sound in my kitchen, and bathroom.”

Hou carefully explains the delicate and intriguing process of “foley,” whereby sound designers mimic on-screen actions to recreate precise sounds. Hou adds that since the film was set in the 1930s, he had to be very careful and precise while re-enacting. “I had to custom record by myself and cut those sounds into the film,” he said. “In the end, it turned out pretty great.”

Great is an understatement. “Until the Dust Settles” went on to win a handful of awards and festival selections: winner of the Savannah Film Commission Award at the 2013 Savannah Film Festival, winner of Best Student Short at the 2013 California International Shorts Fest, a nomination for Best Student Short at the 2013 We Like ‘Em Short Film Festival, 2013 official selections at the LA Shorts, Cincinnati Film Festival, Orlando Film Festival, Big Bear Lake Film Festival and Bald Shorts Film Festival, and 2014 official selections to the Macon Film Festival and Speechless Film Festival.

“I’m very happy to be the behind the scenes person. I have always been obsessed with sound. I call myself an audiophile,” said Hou.

His passion for the field oozes out of his pores, as he subscribes to magazines, reads articles and continues to keep his skills fresh and sharp. “The most important learning process is working on projects,” Hou said. “The ultimate dream would be to continue working on exciting projects and traveling to work with other countries. I’m an international person and so my goals aren’t limited to just the United States, but all over the world, working with different people.”

VERONICA LI USES CREATIVE SOUND DESIGN TO CONNECT TWO DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD AND TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS IN MANDALA

One of the key components of any renowned artist is the ability to achieve popular success while simultaneously keeping their artistic vision intact. This is no small accomplishment and can be quite a balancing act. The yin and yang of this  (whether it is music, painting,  film, etc.) is required to both satisfy the masses as well as lift the art form to new places. When executed at its highest level, art can challenge us to consider our thoughts on love, life, and the world. Technology has created a world in which we are more in touch with other cultures and lifestyles; it seems intuitive that it would bring the elite of the artistic world into a closer community. Sound Designer Veronica Li is an example of this very ideal. She has made a name for herself as a talented and in demand sound designer in Hollywood. Working on box office hits like Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (grossing 53MM) as well as artistically praised films such as STAND (for which Li won the Outstanding Achievement in Sound Award at the First Film Festival) has displayed Veronica’s ability to match the tone and scale of her work to any film and assist the filmmaker’s desired emotional impact.

Ask any director what they require to make a great film and they will tell you that it takes a highly skilled and talented team in order to achieve their vision. Ask Guan Xi, the director and writer of Mandala, about Veronica Li and she will reinforce that statement. Mandala received multiple nominations at the 2015 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards including a win for LAIFF’s Best Foreign Language Film in July, as well as being recognized by the film community in Italy and India.  Guan Xi states, “Veronica’s work was critical to the success of the production, as evidenced by the numerous official selections to the industry-renowned film festivals in the U.S. and around the world.” Veronica’s achievements on award winning films like Looking at the Stars captured the attention of Xi while they were working on this film and solidified the director’s resolve to enlist Li to work on Mandala. Remarking on the experience, Guan Xi comments, “Veronica’s work as a Sound Designer and Sound Editor on the production was absolutely crucial, as the sound in a film is one of the most important facets of filmmaking. Mandala was critically lauded by some of the industry’s most prominent directors and producers. The Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and novelist Mark Harris called the film ‘Beautifully shot and impressively produced…’ while Amanda Pope, the Emmy Award-winning director called the film ‘A visually exquisite story of an artist torn between her modern life and her Tibetan Buddhist culture.’ Many more luminaries in the field have voiced their praises for the film.”Li 5

Mandala is a timeless and universal story of the loss of a loved one and the attempts of a female artist to overcome her pain while at the same time reconnecting with her roots. The story grounds itself in the physical world and its day to day realities, while the emotional upheaval creates a bridge to a metaphysical world. Only by dealing with the less familiar “higher plane of consciousness” does the heroine stand a chance at living a life once again free from sorrow and unattached to the tragedies life can bring. The sounds required to make viewers accept both visions of life as reality are equal to the demands of the visuals…if not even greater. Li is highly aware of the subtle yet highly important nature of her role professing, “I think sound design helps to bring a film to life. It definitely makes the environment more believable. Most of the sound designs in Mandala are so subtle that the audience won’t notice them but they will help to set the proper mood. They can really sell the shot.” The dichotomy of the setting of New York City’s Gotham and Tibet’s peaceful mysticism is stark and the sonic environment must reflect this in a “not too obvious” manner. Li’s expertise was called upon to meet this lofty goal. Guan Xi praises Veronica’s ability to exceed expectations recalling, “I needed the sound of the film to be at an exceptionally high-quality level. Veronica perfectly combined and contrasted Tibetan and NYC sound elements together, and as the Sound Designer and Sound Editor, she spent countless hours collaborating with the Composer, working seamlessly on the sound design and score of the film. Not only was I able to entrust Veronica with the sound design and sound editing of Mandala, but what most impressed me was the fact that she really understood the story and my needs as the director.” Veronica used her talent as well as some creative ideas to help link the main character’s two geographic anchors of NYC and Tibet. Li reveals, “In addition to contrasting the two places, we also wanted to connect them. Helena is someone who belongs to Tibet but is currently trapped in the city. We decided to use a very subtle Tibetan musical cue whenever we saw Helena’s Tibetan painting. The horns of the cars passing by would gradually change to Tibetan musical bells, as if Tibet was calling from inside Helena whenever she and Lobsang Lama walked by each other on the city street.

Authenticity was paramount in the approach to producing Mandala. With the exception of the lead roles of Helena (Sarah Yan Li, also know for Fast & Furious 6) and Paul (Omar Avila, also know for The Punisher), all the other lead actors were Tibetan. To ensure that the original Tibetan Buddhist culture was presented correctly, the production team consulted eight living Buddha about every detail in the movie. Tibet contains the highest plateau in the world making it quite difficult for non-Tibetans to do strenuous activities. Even though the filming could have taken place at a less “difficult” location, the audience needs to feel, see, and hear the real Tibet. In the rare cases that a modification needed to be done, they were delicately handled with the highest level of professionalism.  Since shooting is forbidden in a real Tibetan temple, a temple was recreated in Los Angeles for filming interiors. Editor Cheng Fang describes his experience working on the film with Veronica commenting, “In Mandala there is a scene in which the female character is taking a test in a Tibetan Buddhist Temple to see if she is the reincarnation of the Rinpoche that passed away several years ago. During the scene, the character has several ‘visions’ and eventually has a mental breakdown. We finished the picture editing of the scene but everyone knew there was something missing. The picture itself was just not powerful enough. The mental breakdown of the character seemed to end abruptly. Veronica went to work on it. After she finished, we viewed the scene again…it was now so powerful! Veronica successfully combined the sound of Tibetan music instruments with mysterious murmuring; transforming the mental journey of the character into a crescendo as the music got louder, resulting in an intense ending.”Li 6 When a poem that was already recorded was unable to fit due to time constraints, Guan Xi once again called on Veronica Li and her expertise. The director explains, “Veronica helped me choose the certain words from the poem, and reorganize them so they could fit the style of the movie but still deliver the message I wanted to tell. To be able to change such an important sequence in the film, yet stay true to a Director’s vision is one of the most difficult tasks in filmmaking, but Veronica was able to flawlessly execute it.”

Veronica Li and the message of Mandala share a few striking similarities; each is the story of a woman from one culture, living in another culture, striving for excellence in the arts, all the while using the best of each part of the world to tell the universal stories we all share.