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Building ambience
Old 17th October 2013
Here for the gear

Building ambience


And hello you all! I was offered to do some sound work for short film but I’m not sure if I qualify as I’m coming from the theatre field and I’m not familiar with the conventions in film.

The story is taking a place in the middle of frozen lake somewhere in northern Russia. There’s nothing around except wind and snow. I’m mostly concerned of creating wide and eerie ambience with so little sounds around. The other location is above the (supposedly) big city.

What is the general approach in creating wide cinematic ambience? Is it layering individual sounds together and processing them to one coherent track? Or should I try to make a perfect stereo recording from the location and use it as such?

Thank you for any help.
Old 17th October 2013
Gear Maniac

I'm no expert,but here goes:
I do alot of sound design for small time stuff.
Usually,I send the outside amb hard to the room verb and lowering the volume of the amb itself.
I tend to mix at least 4 types of amb sounds,mixed to my liking.
Always using location recordings found in the neck/shotgun mics as ambs as these are the most important for the whole 'feel' of the scene.
Also,adding some random spot fx like dog barks,car pass by or whatever you might be hearing if you were where the film was shot.
Old 17th October 2013
Lives for gear

Since it's supposed to be eerie, you may want to consider layering sounds. For example, you may use a certain type of wind or noise right around the time a character says something profound or ominous, etc. If it's out in the wilderness, you probably don't want birds chirping like in a suburban park, but you may occasionally have a flock of birds flying overhead. You may even want to research what types of animals would be in that environment. Try to think not only about realism, but using effects to create the mood of the story.

As for in the city, that's a lot easier, as there are many sounds you could use.
Old 17th October 2013
Gear Addict
Leverson's Avatar
Building ambiances out of constructed layers is generally the best approach, and lets you tailor something specific to the scene. Generally 'faked' realism built out of layers and creativity will sound more 'real' to the audience than the real thing. Not that good real recordings are a bad thing, those can be useful pieces of the construction as well.

Keep in mind things like major shot perspective changes and also the flow of the dialogue, as sometimes important breaks and pauses can be emphasized or underscored by the backgrounds in those moments. And try and use a sensible organizational method to your layering, so you can easily modify or unwind it if need be in the mix once all the rest of the elements are in place.

And most importantly always keep the story in mind. Ambiances are a fantastic way to subliminally influence the audiences perspective on the story and help put audiences in the proper emotional state. The ambiances you build can help make a scene feel darker or lighter, more chaotic or more desolate, the world is yours to craft and make immersive. Just always keep thinking about the story, and how your choices can help reinforce that, even if in the most subtle of ways. A well chosen wind gust, low rumble, or even a moment of stillness can all convey emotion.
Old 17th October 2013
Here for the gear

Great info - thank you so much.
Old 18th October 2013
Here for the gear

One more question. I have this CGI shot above the big city. It's fictional place in the future. Anyway, do you remember any reference films which would have a big city ambience shot above? Something like Michael Mann did in Collateral. Thank you.
Old 18th October 2013
Lives for gear
When you're building ambiences, it really helps to think orchestrally...

There are choirs, much like classes of instrument such as string or woodwind (air sounds, animals, small movements, human voices, percussive footsteps or machines -- tho those last ones might not be in your outdoor scene)

And there are voices (high / medium / low, sort of like an SATB for nat sound)

Spread the choirs around. You'll probably find that sounds within a specific choir are compatible to build 'chords', while opposing choirs can provide accents and interest

Spread the timbre around so the chords are full. Then put high / med / low on separate masters or group faders, so you can trim the chord to dialog.

And of course, don't forget the stereo or surround space. And of course, leaving a hole in the center for dialog.
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