Chapter 30 of 32 from Ron Howard

Sound Design

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

Topics include: Sound Design Works on a Subliminal Level • Design Sound That Suits Your Story • Put the Finish on the Movie

Ron Howard

Ron Howard Teaches Directing

Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in 32 exclusive video lessons.

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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 ...

Direct your story

Ron Howard made his first film in 22 days with $602,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes the craft of directing 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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Ron Howard breaks down directing in his first-ever online class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Ron will also answer select student questions.

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Ron Howard

Ron Howard Teaches Directing