Tag 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.

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.