Film School: the Sound of Emotion

Three Colors Blue (1993) Three Colors Blue (1993)

How can sound design be used to convey the way characters feel?

Environmental Sound

In the restaurant scene in The Godfather (1972), Walter Murch places us inside Michael Corleone’s head – not with voiceover or music, but with external, environmental sounds, such as blaring traffic and screeching trains, which crescendo to an unbearable cacophony as he makes his fateful decision:

Diegetic sound (that is, the sound of objects and environments within the film’s story world) can also be designed to accentuate the subjective experience of the characters. As a case study, Thomas Flight demonstrates Why The Batman Sounds Incredible:

Abstract Sound

The twist in Fight Club (1999) is soundtracked with the Dust Brothers‘ music low in the mix, foregrounding the percussive noises (echoing Jack’s re-configuration of his understanding of reality), and a menacing sub-bass swell, like the dread in the pit of one’s stomach, rolling over each flashback in increasing waves of nausea:

Score + Foley

For a film where Zbigniew Preisner‘s emotional score is a literal part of the story, director Krzysztof Kieslowski explains the way he uses diagetic music (music which is played and/or can be heard within the world of the story), together with the sound of small details, to tell us about the melancholic interior of protagonist Julie (Juliette Binoche) in Three Colours: Blue (1993):

Further Viewing

A collection of videos which ask and seek to answer the question film-makers should always be asking: “What do your ears see?”

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