Tag Archives: Sound

Experience Chen Xu’s 5-channel surround sound method in hit Chinese film ‘The Wasted Times’

When Chen Xu thinks back to his childhood, he fondly recalls the way in which his admiration for sound shaped his youth and ultimately, his career in sound mixing and sound design. For the highly sought-after sound designer, it is difficult to recall a time where sound design wasn’t his main passion. At the age of 17, Xu watched Forrest Gump and notes the experience as being the first time he ever truly fell in love with a film. It inspired him to focus on a career in sound design and gave him the confidence boost he needed to take the film industry by storm. The now 36-year old, award-winning creative is just as enthused about his art form today as he was back then. His life is enriched by the opportunity to do what he loves day in and day out and he has no desire to stop any time soon.

A typical day as a sound mixer and sound designer requires the skill and expertise to be able to record sound and mix it creatively. Although this may sound relatively straightforward, it is no small feat to achieve on a daily basis. For instance, when Xu works on set, he is required to carefully position microphones in such a way that will capture sound as clearly and concisely as possible. In addition, he must learn a film’s storyline inside and out in order to thoroughly understand the types of sounds that will complement the characters’ conquests. In addition, during the post-production process, Xu must awaken his creative tendencies and use them to apply sounds in the most unique, yet appropriate manner possible. Where Xu truly shines, however, is when he is tasked with location sound mixing for a film’s script. Knowing how to effectively capture sound in a complex location is what Xu does best. He is a master of extracting compelling sounds from a loud, busy location and ensuring that there is nothing compromising the sound in order to enhance an audience’s viewing pleasure.

“When I’m sound mixing, my work is more focused on creativity. I need to design some unique sound effects according to the images and the storyline before me. Then, I need to edit and record some foley and sound effects before I can arrange each sound element to fit perfectly into each moment within the film. All of these steps allow me to help develop and compliment the storyline” noted Xu.

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In 2015, Xu was given a script for a film titled The Wasted Times, by well-known Chinese director, Er Cheng, who was confident that Xu possessed the skills necessary to take his script to the next level. Having already secured a $23.6 million budget and two of Asia’s most accomplished and award-winning stars, Ge You and Zhang Ziyi, Cheng was determined to make this film his most successful yet. In addition, he was intent on making the sound design in The Wasted Times unlike anything his audiences had ever heard before. With that, beyond dialogue alone, he wanted to use as many location sounds as possible and to make best use of live recorded sound effects and foley. Given the film’s budget, cast, and unique content, he needed someone with both the experience and creative edge required to rise to the challenge. Fortunately for Cheng, Xu was compelled by the script and eager to take part.

The Wasted Times depicts the life of a legendary mafia boss in modern Chinese history. Through the use of a biographical narrative, the film follows a violent and betrayal-ridden deal between the Japanese army and criminals in Shanghai. For Xu, working on The Wasted Time presented a number of challenges he hadn’t previously encountered in his career. For instance, due to the fact that several of the film’s scenes were shot inside state- and city-level protected historic buildings, he had to master the ability to capture vocal exchanges in historical settings, as opposed to the more modern buildings he was used to working in. In order to do so, Xu led his team in adopting a pioneering approach whereby he recorded a 5-channel surround sound effect during production sound mixing. In addition, he made use of two additional stereo microphones in order to account for any and all reverberation, echoes, and delay of sounds in real time. This led to Xu having recorded and mixed approximately 80% of the film’s final dialogues and about 50 per cent of the sound effects using his location sound. It therefore goes without saying that Xu proved himself to be instrumental throughout the entire process, being able to provide carefully thought-out solutions to each potential problem the crew encountered. He is undoubtedly a strong contributor to The Wasted Times’widespread success and feels honored knowing that the film went on to receive four award wins and ten nominations from some of the industry’s most acclaimed organizations and festivals, including the Asian Film Awards, China Film Director’s Guild Awards, and the prestigious Macau International Movie Festival.

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For Xu, however, the true highlight of working on The Wasted Times was embedded within the reality that for him, this film was far more than just a sound production process. Being able to film at authentic locations such as the residence of Pu Yi, China’s last empire, as well as in a 1920s car loaned from an antique car museum helped Xu acquaint himself with the type of lifestyle of the individuals depicted in the film. He credits the experience of working on this film as helping build his understanding of people’s lives in that era and helping make it feel familiar to him. It was both a cultural and career-building opportunity and Xu couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.