That Reading Feeling Awaits: Creating Soundscapes for Imaginary Worlds
Amazon Books has launched its global campaign, That Reading Feeling Awaits, to celebrate the place of books at the foundation of culture. With six different scenes, each representing a different genre, 20 different illustrators came together to create the artwork, with String and Tins on sound design, music composition and mixing.
In this interview, String and Tins sound designer and composer Culum Simpson joins creative directors Joe Wilkinson and Lawrence Kendrick to discuss the inspiration and craftsmanship behind the work.
LBB> This piece brings together both sound and music, String and Tins having worked on sound design, musical composition and mixing. Can you tell us about the ideation stage and the inspiration behind the piece?
Jo> We spent a lot of time with a base animatic image shaping the sound design palette. Readers’ voices were a key ingredient, as we knew care would have to be taken so that they landed and didn’t feel like an audiobook. Projection level, height, volume and performance have all been taken into consideration; we tested with multiple voices and readouts, and also didn’t rule out no voices at all. After a lot of tinkering, we found a structure that appealed to every reader:
– 1st stage – A strong concentration in the soundscape, filtering the ambient sound
– 2nd stage – Soft and whispered reading, at the limit of intelligibility
– Stage 3 – An explosion of detailed sound design as the books come to life
It allowed us to go to town on the rest of the mix, keeping those little moments of quiet reading to guide us!
Lawrence> It was clear from the start that this was going to be a special movie. Films with multiple visual mediums are rare and tend to have so much room for creative expression that we thought this was a great opportunity for us to break up scenes and have a little window to add our personal touch. We then all dove into each other’s scenes to add little ideas and flourishes that came to mind. I focused on the manga fight scene. I’ve enjoyed anime for a long time and love the opportunities to introduce little references to it in work like this. The ‘WACHING’ sound at 17 seconds is a reference to the Evangelion series for example. Tom Noakes, the director, was keen on detail, such as the subtle lag between impact and audio feedback, another common trope in anime for involving scale.
culum> The main balancing act in the spot was to make the action seem like it was imagined as part of the reading experience instead of happening around them like in a movie or video game. That meant everything had to be punchy and believable, but slightly off. This is seen most clearly in the reading of the books, they could not be interpreted as an audiobook but still had to generate excitement in the viewer. It was a delicate balance but well worth it.
LBB> You mentioned that you researched and tried to find authentic sounds as much as possible, like a Japanese technique for the Manga scene. Can you tell us about this process?
Lawrence> The methods for creating anime sound design in particular are well documented and an absolute blast to generate, so we were very keen to use the techniques ourselves. Frequency shifting (not to be confused with pitch shifting, which maintains the relationships between harmonics in a sound), combined with creative use of reverbs, produces wild and truly abstract results. Ahmed and Chris, the creatives behind the project, referenced One Punch Man which has a crazy OTT sound design. I’m also a huge fan, so I was eager to shake things up and crack the streak.
culum> Haha, I’ve been researching science fiction for almost 37 years now! But seriously, Lawrence immersed himself in creating authentic anime “shings” and along with all the other crash bangs, it made this sequence perfect! For me, I lent myself more to the SciFi scene. I’ve been a big fan of the genre since I was a kid and wanted to make it as interesting as possible without it getting too esoteric. It was all about the details, every click had to be clear for the scene to be believable. There’s so much visual stuff going on in the scene, creating a sound for every little animation felt almost pedestrian in solo, but when you add them all together you get a soundscape that we didn’t just not used to hearing. With that taking care of the realism, it was very easy to add the kind of big crash bang wallop noises that gave it the heft it needed.
Jo> The manga scene really stood out because it had to be as authentic as possible. For the vocal elements, we used authentic sounds from the Manga library which we then processed using bit milling and analog delay to give it the classic feel. For the horror scene, we were inspired by the iPad game Limbo and others; it had to be elegant but also discordant. The end result has a classic monster flavor but with a bit of weirdness!
LBB> What are your favorite scenes – sound level – and why?
Lawrence> Oooh that’s hard! There’s a lot to love. The back and forth sequence between horror and period drama was really hard to nail. Joe took that one and I think he did an amazing job on the creepy nightmare monster. I also like the boat on the sea, it just has a tasty balance and it really works emotionally. I also have a weakness for the nice percussive crunch of the opening. Do three cheat?
culum> Work on? It must be SciFi and the manga sequences. It is so rare to be able to use these special skills because they are so rare! It’s so much fun to go to town on something like this! In terms of emotional reaction, the tragedy sequence is so moving it really chokes me up.
Jo> It’s such a sonic delight to hear so many different types of sound design in a short film. If I have to choose, I’d say the manga section – Culum and Law did such a good job on all the character movements, it’s so impactful combined with authentic touches. I really enjoyed setting up some of the moments in the second half – the transition from the city scene to the sea scene required a very selective approach, from the mermaid to the perfectly sad puppy!
LBB> What was technically the most difficult to achieve and how did you find solutions?
Lawrence> I could choose one of a hundred challenges here, but whispering/reading was a really interesting creative choice by the Droga5 team and required a very fine touch, both in terms of mixing, performance of the actors and the writing (which was refined and tweaked many times as you can imagine). Figuring out what was best for the movie felt like a real collaborative effort between us and the team at Droga5 to get it on the right footing. Three engineers for one job is a bit unusual, but in this case it worked so well. The nature of it meant that it was a bonus to have as many ideas as possible and finding solutions was a real collaborative process.
Jo> The film was a delicate balance throughout because there were so many sonic elements. The whispering, the sound design and the music all had to have their moments. We brought in musical direction early on and our composer Ioana Selaru wrote a nice minimal piece that really helped the mix, allowing us to push and pull dramatically with the storytelling. In terms of the mix, it was really important to let every moment sing and hear the most powerful sound material, so we spent a lot of time fine-tuning every detail, significantly removing sounds that weren’t important every time. instant.
LBB> Tell us about your reaction to the final spot and the feedback you got in general?
culum> I mean… right from the start, I knew it was going to be a belt! The idea was so strong, but the whole project went so well. It must have been a Herculean task to bring together so many disciplines in 60 seconds. The guys at Droga5 have done an amazing job of keeping everyone under control without it seeming too prescriptive. It’s a wonderful testament to the creative force you can achieve when everyone is pushing in the same direction. It really is more than the sum of its parts…and all parts were fantastic to begin with!
Lawrence> It’s rare for me to send a link to my mom and dad these days, but I had to send this one through family chat. It’s just a beautiful film, a valid message and a great showcase of creativity, both in its conception and in its realization on the part of those involved. I love it and think it’s one I’ll keep revisiting.
Jo> I’m really happy with how it went. It is a visually stunning piece. There were a few key creative decisions with the sound that allowed us to really push it, so big thanks to Droga5 and Tom for giving us the freedom to put our stamp on it!
LBB> Do you have anything else to share?
Lawrence> I hope we continue to see more fresh and creative work like this. Any excuse to do even more WACHIIIINGs!