2) Changing Focus & Planning for Action
Randy talked about mixing as being a series of choices about what to hear at any particular moment, it is the graceful blending from one mix moment to the next that constitutes the actual mix.
These decisions come from the story and what is important for the audience at any particular moment. He mentioned that cinema with deep focus photography often made things easier to 'focus' on with sound, as in the recent Pixar movie Ratatouille.
In action movies, particularly those with long, drawn-out action scenes, it becomes difficult to go from music to effects constantly, especially if in the script there is no let-up of action to allow the sound to take a break.
We talked about the extended chase scene in The Bourne Ultimatum as being a good example of handling this well by having an extended sequence with no music and dropping out various sounds at various times. This comes from the scene being well written for sound and by extension having a clear path for the mix.
Randy also cites Spielberg as being good for examples of how to use sound and a mix well. Often the arrival of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park is mentioned to him as an effect that a director wants to emulate, yet they rarely realize there is no music in this scene.
Directors, however, often go to music first to try and achieve the emotional effect. The opening moments of Saving Private Ryan are similarly cited as an effect that directors want to achieve in sound, again, there is no music in the this opening sequence. Knowing when not to use music seems to be a big and often brave decision to take at the writing stage of development, however deciding to drop cues can also work at a final mix.
Again, less is more, and dynamics maps for levels and missions are an essential way to begin to create moments that can exist without music for extended periods, rather than a single wall of noise that occupies the entire spectrum of perceivable sound and that ultimately fatigues the player.
This is a topic that Randy Thom is passionate about, and for him, epitomizes the role of sound in being able to tell the story of the movie. It is also a concept that translates over to games with very little modification. Effectively everything that the audience, or player, hears is heard through the ears, or 'point-of-view', of a character in the film or game.
This means that sounds are going to be heard 'subjectively' according to that character. Sounds that are more important to that character are going to be more important in the mix.
Fictional characters, like real human beings, never hear things 'objectively' - that is to say that all sounds are never of equal importance all of the time. Focus is always changing, just as you notice the ambience of a room when you first encounter it, but then different sounds will become prominent and gain your attention, such as someone speaking or a telephone ringing.
The ambience never disappears, but it is pushed to the back of our perception, any change in ambience may bring it to the foreground again for a moment. This is true in both our perceived version of reality and also in the version of reality portrayed through sound for a character in a movie.
This subjectivity is a core goal for a movie or game mix, and this is why point-of-view sound design and direction is more valuable than attempting to create an objective sound reality based solely on the laws of physics.
This is an area I feel can be more deeply investigated for video games in regard specifically to mixing. Subjective sound effects design is of course used in video games all the time, larger than life weapon sounds, cinematic punch sounds, all these are 'point-of-view' effects.
Designers and producers want the player to 'feel' that what they are doing in the game is incredible and larger than life, whether role playing as another character in a third-person action adventure setting, or power playing as your own creation in a first-person shooter. Exaggeration and the twisting of reality for dramatic effect is present in the sound design of every single video game, and the whole point-of-view challenge culminates with the game mix.
Great examples are often quoted from films that at first have ambience and establishing audio information in a scene, these sounds are then mixed down low, or out completely, in order to concentrate on very intimate sounds or on a single sound source that could be miles away from the character in the movie.
These moments are conceived by the director at the script stage, and are more often than not orchestrated almost purely through the mix. It is the emulation of these kinds of moments in games that has yet to be artistically demonstrated with the same finesse and polish as occurs in motion picture sound.
The reason is probably because the technology is only just emerging, but mainly that these moments are not well enough designed before hand with sound in mind as an agent of tension, emotion and character.