Usefuleness of predesigned effects

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Hi,

what’s your opinion towards predesigned effetcs in film sound design (not game audio)? Do you find them useful?

I’m not talking about using only one predesigned sound for an effect, but do you even use them as part of a layered sound?

If not, do you avoid them because they are against your ‘work ethics’ or just sound not as good as 100% self-made?

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In my opinion, the reason someone is hired to be sound designer for a film is to collaborate & contribute their unique ideas & aesthetics… so for me, I have never used pre-designed sound effects in any film in 20+ years of work because it goes against what I consider being a film sound designer means, from a creative point of view.

But also as a part of learning, creating your own work means when a film has a specific unique requirement you are motivated to research, explore and develop ideas and solutions – that is how progress is made, for the film and for the sound designer. Using a pre-designed sound effect seems to be the opposite to this. Its a bit like how you hear the same trailer booms & stings all the time – is it the same sound designer using their original material repeatedly? Or is it straight out of a library of pre-designed trailer sounds? Feels like the latter…

A couple of years ago someone asked to swap some of my libraries for their just released scifi library. I agreed because I was interested to hear what they had created, but after checking it out I told them I couldn’t use anything from their library, because it was all pre-designed (& overly compressed/limited)… and if I was hired to be sound designer on a scifi film, then why would I be using pre-designed sounds – my role is to create original work for an original film…

Of course this does not preclude accessing or providing raw elements eg say someone needed to make laser sounds for a scifi film. Accessing a library of applicable source elements may well involve eg a library of synth sounds, but that doesn’t have to equate to ‘pre-designed’ – it seems to me their is context missing from the idea. I appreciate some people say they do not have time, but I wonder about this… I’ve worked on projects with budgets from $0 to us$40mill and my approach remains the same, to create original sound design. (Lack of variations with pre-designed sounds is another issue)

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I find that I’m never totally satisfied with predesigned sounds.  However, I think it’s good practice to be able to listen to something predesigned, deconstruct it and figure out how you can do something similar yourself.

I think that brings up another point though, having your own recorded library to draw from.  You should invest time in building up your own library of recordings and even spend a little time designing some various sounds that could be useful in the future.  The more of your own library you have to draw from, the easier and faster it will be to design new sounds for each project.  Not only because you actually have your own library of material but also because of the practice and learning you spent building it.

This is something I am myself actively working harder on this year.  I decided that every day, no matter what other projects I have going on I will create at least one new piece of material for my library.  I try to limit myself to 30min – 1hour per day on this task but that can change depending on the circumstances.  I also am doing a short journal entry on each session so I can look back on it as a source of future inspiration.

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They can be useful for a reference, I have struggled to replicate some types of sounds in the past and I would plug the library sound in the scene, layer my stuff over and around it and then in the end taking it completely out in favor of my own sounds.

In my opinion heavily ‘designed’ sounds are great for people that are not sound designers, they’re like stock footage, they’re very well produced, generally look and sound the part in a vacuum but they may not fit the project 100%, and then it’s quite impossible to finetune them.

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I think the answer tends to be linked to the point at which you are in your career. For example, I graduated University two years ago, I’m getting more and more post work, but I still have to pay my rent and bills, and I can’t rely on other people do to do it for me. I also have to live in London, as I usually meet clients in person in central at some point in a project.

As a result, I currently also work part time in retail. I wake up, I go to work, I go to the gym, I get home, I work on sound, and occasionally I find myself up at 3 in the morning, uploading files to clients. I then go to bed, get a few hours of sleep and go to work the next day.

This isn’t me complaining, I chose to do this and I find sound work to be incredibly creative and rewarding, though this very important factor, the lack of time, pushes me to sometimes use pre-designed effects (either done by me or by other people).

After I’ve done the Foley and non-designy SFX, I start placing some pre-designed sounds into the mix, where they act as a kind of placeholder. Depending on the deadline, provided I’ve done everything else, I’ll go back through the project and replace as many designed effects with my own effects that I create on the spot, specifically for that project.

Unfortunately though, that isn’t always possible. I’m working hard to build my freelance business and eventually quit my side job, so I can dedicate more time to sound and storytelling, thus ultimately improving the quality of my work 🙂

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