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Arts & Entertainment

Sound Design

Ron Howard

Lesson time 8:26 min

Sound design works on a subliminal level. Sometimes taking sound away can be as powerful as adding it.

Ron Howard
Teaches Directing
Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in his exclusive video lessons.


Sound design is another tool. It's another form of expression. And because we react to sounds on a kind of primal level, it works a little bit the way music works. A lot of composers would tell you that music works because it's actually emulating sounds of nature but in a harmonic way. And a way that might be more beautiful or more melodic. But the sounds-- whether it's percussion or wind instruments or synthesizers-- are creating sounds that we relate to on this kind of primal level. Of course we feel that way about all kinds of sounds, and whether it's a music cue or whether it's a moment of sound design, repeating sounds can tell you something. Tell you to anticipate something. Because that's what we do with sounds all the time. If you're in a house and you hear a strange sound, what was it? If you're out on a street and hear a sound that's unexpected, you wonder if there's a problem. If you walk into a nature reserve and suddenly the sound is open and the wind is moving, it's very soothing. So the great sound designers are always going back to those sort of primal reactions. Great sound design often begins in the editing room because the editors will start to put together a scene, and they'll recognize that what's missing here is an element of shock. And the edit is in the right place, but maybe the moment's not as effective as it should be. And they'll often put in a sound that will help prove that the edit point is correct. And the moment is startling if you have a sound. That sound is a temp, but then your sound designers will take those demands, those ideas, that sort of template and creatively work their magic. And great sound designers and sound editors are sort of like record producers. They know how to use technology. They know how to record sounds. I've done a number of boxing scenes, and they will record punching cantaloupes, sides of raw meat. Or strange things. Like a foam wall that kind of makes a sound. There are all kinds of subliminal ideas. That's what's so interesting about sound design is so much of it works on a subliminal level. And there are lots of times where there's a completely unnatural sound introduced into a scene, but it has a huge impact. The Silence of the Lambs is famous because it sort of invented this idea that every time that Jodie Foster would go down into Hannibal Lector's layer, into the cell, they would just start this kind of cranking, the low grade rumbling kind of sound. It was subliminal. You really could barely discern it. But it just made you uncomfortable, and it just created a sort of a background. Sometimes animal sounds can be used under what? A truck driving by. Or who knows what. It's wide open. And it's an area for real invention. And of course, you can always come back to the literal, because we live with literal sound all the time. We all have a ...

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Ron Howard made his first film in 15 days with $300,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online directing class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes his craft like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.


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I really enjoyed the staging process and getting to see a professional rehearsal in motion. This course was very insightful and I learned a lot from it.

It was a great insight into the workings of one of Hollywoods top directors with a great deal of advice and interesting anecdotes from his own experience. I've now a better understanding of what the directors process is from the start to the finish of a production and feel better equipped to tell my own story. Thank you Masterclass and Ron Howard for the wealth of knowledge and mentorship!

Amazing Masterclass. I have learned a lot and I am very motivated.

Very helpful to watch Ron work. I learn so much from watching than lectures​. Excellent job.



Quick update you should now be able to access the full class - so sorry for that inconvenience!

Rae A.

I have a question. He says always that 'it comes back to the director, that he has the final opinion.' What about the writers and producers? Don't they have a say in it?!

Bart J.

In about 9min. RH gives the subject of sound design the attention it deserves with detailed, yet relatable terms. Notable emphasis on sound being every bit as material to the story's outcome as any other element. Learning a lot, excellent teacher Ron! Dig this class.

Rik C.

I've done a lot of projects...none of which are features but so much of what Ron is saying during this entire Master Class is confirming my instincts and giving me more confidence to try some of the techniques, etc even in what my team produces plus he's like listening to a close friend...albeit a VERY intelligent friend...very interesting, engaging, and informative...thanks Ron!

Juan Carlos E.

Pretty sure it's on purpose, but it is great how uncomfortable it is the silence behind the titles. :) Ron Howard did the best Masterclass in my opinion so far.

John D.

Great lesson by RH, but like his two previous lessons on editing, it would have been more effective with concrete examples from his movies of exactly what he is talking about. Thanks, bravo!

A fellow student

While Ron talked first about the music, then sound effects then dialog, is that the way sound editors layer in the sound typically?

Ruben R.

Sounds design; another tool - another form of expression. Music to my ears.

RJane @.

Everyone can create sounds but only a few can be creative with it in a meaningful way. @RJanesRealm

Graeme R.

Excellent, though often ignored. This speaks to Ron Howard's thoroughness and his respect for all crafts.