Tuesday, 25 February 2014

How do animators work with sound designers? Six rules for success

A sound designer hard at work at Bucks
One of our students' tasks in their first year of studies is to work together with a sound design student, collaborating together on an assessed project. But why collaborate? Why should our animators not do their own sound design? The answer, of course, is that when you join forces with other students who are experts in their fields, you tend to get a better result than you would achieve alone.

One of the very best things about studying at Bucks is the first-rate facilities that we have in the Gateway building, bringing together students of different disciplines to create excellent work. The tricky bit, however, is finding a way to work together successfully. But then, this is good practice for a career in digital media - almost all of our students' projects will be collaborations of one kind or another. Finding a way to get the best work out of yourself and your colleagues forms a major part of building a long and successful career.

Gateway - our media hub, opened in 2010
So how, in practice, does an animator get the best out of such a collaboration? And what does an animator need from a sound designer? Below are six rules for a successful collaboration.

Rule No 1 - Figure out what you need
What sound work is needed for your film? Do you need sound effects? Voice narration? Music? If music, does it need to be an original composition (lots of work) or some library music (much less work). If there is voice narration, you will need to find an actor, and record their voice(s). You don't have access to the sound studios, but the sound design students do, so they can help you there. Start off by making a list of what you will need.

Rule No 2 - Figure out what you want the sound designer to do
Your sound designer's first question will be "what do you want me to do?" The best way to answer this is to show him/her your rough animatic, cut to (ideally) the correct length. The animatic will show exactly what will happen in the film, and what sound work will be needed.  It need not be finished animation, but it should show what you have in mind. Agree up front the scope of the sound work and what you are looking for.

Rule No 3 - Add in some rough sound yourself
One good way to help the sound designer is to rough some audio in yourself (you will have to do this in Premiere). Free sound effects can be found online at www.freesound.org and other websites. You might pick some music that you like (even if it is not what you intend to use in the final edit), and drop that in to your animatic. The more work you sketch in, the easier it is for a sound designer to take what you have done and improve on it. And the more specific you are, the more likely it is that the sound designer will understand the brief and give you what you need.

Home of the Bucks Media Collaborations Page
Rule No 4 - Find the Bucks Media Collaborations Page 
The Bucks Media Collaborations Page is a great place to start looking for for a sound designer. Or indeed any artist at Bucks. In fact, you can find just about anyone you need - actors, dancers, musicians, camera operators - all the disciplines at Bucks are represented here. For a full description of how it works, see this post.

What if no-one at the Bucks Media Collaborations Page responds to your request? If you're not having any luck, send me an email and I will contact one of the lecturers in sound design. There are always ways and means of finding someone to help out.

Rule No 5 - Leave plenty of time for the sound designer to do their work
Remember that the sound designer will need you to have completed your work in good time so that they can do theirs. If you are used to finishing your animation late on Sunday night for a Monday morning hand-in, think again. Find out in advance how much time the sound designer will need to complete the job, and then make sure you hand over your finished movie file in time. No-one likes a rush job.

Rule No 6 - Don't panic when things go wrong
Whenever you collaborate with other individuals, things tend to go wrong. Typical problems include misunderstandings about the scope of the work, failure to deliver work on time, confusion about deadlines, and general miscommunication.

Good advice from Douglas Adams
When these things happen (and they will) rest assured you are not the first person to experience this.  All group projects experience problems. Part of the purpose of the exercise is to get our students used to the idea of working in groups - preparing you for reality of workplace collaborations. The only way to overcome these difficulties is with patience, good humour, clear direction, and lots of cups of tea.

(Editor's note: for more on collaborations, see this post. For more on the Bucks Media Collaborations Page, see this article. And to find out more about how to work successfully on group projects, check out this piece. )


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