When I met one of India's biggest Sound Engineers...

So a couple of days back, I’d gone to meet Mr Vijay Rathinam, a well-known sound designer, to discuss some ideas for an interview.  It is only through a conversation with him that I came to understand the magic behind the world of Sound in Cinema. Yes, I did a study in brief about this topic in college and yes I’ve seen a good number of videos regarding the same on the internet. But it wasn’t until I was standing in the studio and watching these magicians perform their art, that it hit me how beautiful and important this element is to Cinema.

Not every sound that we see on screen, sounds so in real life. It is often recreated with a lot of drama, exaggeration, and fun to hold you into the mood of the filmmaker’s vision. This would include stages of creation, recreation, recording, re-recording, designing, adjusting and the extraordinary courage to imagine and experiment. 

One important stage in creating this sound is its reproduction to enhance audio quality. An art commonly referred to as Foley. Fascinated by this world, I decided to find out a little more about this. It is then that I realized that although our Dinosouraus and King Kongs require tremendous creativity, even the most meniscal sounds like a gunshot or a car chase, need a lot of recreation. Vijay Sir told me about how three factors come into play while deciding what kind of sound to choose.

  1. What ( are you trying to achieve)
  2. Why (are you trying to achieve what you wanted) 
  3. How ( are you going to achieve the idea. Think tips, tricks, plugins, editing methods, etc)

Every foley artist can be found surrounded by pots, pans, metals, cutlery, and wooden blocks often used in most of the kitchen scenes we see in films. And trust me when I say that this ain’t no stereotype but just pure truth. For recording a sound of something as simple as an artist walking, several things like gravel, mud, glue hardened over polished tiles for a rough texture, a variety of shoes with varying souls, etc, come into play. And obviously the tiny recorder that these artists always carry with them. God only knows what alien can be given a voice with the bubble machine that the neighbourhood kid was blowing on!

These artists often have an audio library, full of sounds that they’d have recorded throughout their period of work. Yes, as equipment keep getting better, these sounds are constantly re-recorded and update. But ask for anything from the sound of someone chewing a pizza to someone grinding turmeric in the old stone grinder or even a loud burp after a hearty meal, there’s a good chance that not only will they have the file but also several options of the same sound from varying sources. 

This art, however, is a little more than just recording a sound. Ask Sir how to do produce the sound of a car in a film and he’ll ask you questions for a good fifteen minutes. What type of car is it? What speed is it going on? Are the actors inside the car or outside the car? What’s the context - a conversation or a chase? What surface is the car running on? So on and so forth coz every factor contributes to deciding what’ll go into reproducing sound for the scene. In a nutshell, every single sound cut in a film will have a reason to be in the track and will contribute something to the story. So the next time you are in the theatres watching a film or just Netflixing at home, remember to keep your ears open as well. A lot of magic has gone not just into what you are seeing but also into what you are hearing!

KISHAN RAJ B August 26, 2020

Yes we should appreciate the sound designer work also.

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