What is the Secret of Realistic Sound Effects?
Charles Maynes, a Hollywood sound designer, has worked on many famous films and developed more than sixty computer games (including Call of Duty 1-3, Medal of Honor, Black, Need for Speed: Underground, Spider-Man).
George Lucas believed that sound makes 50% of the film. The remaining 50% of success is due to the image. Do you agree with this statement?
I think it is difficult to disagree with this statement. The viewer is often unaware of the presence of sound in the film, which has the same aesthetic effect as the video sequence. Sound is an important element of any movie, game, show, or television program. Even when the viewer thinks that the frame is silent, there is a quiet sound. And mixing will make the audience “rely on” the sound, involve, make the person on the other side of the screen a participant in the plot of the movie. Sound is so important to me that I have to admit that I like story telling with its help most of all.
This is a question that is raised a lot in the USA, and it has no super-clear answer. Traditionally, the concept of a “sound engineer” in different areas of creativity has several key differences.
In the theater, for example, a sound engineer sets the sonic aesthetic of the production, much like a lighting designer or production designer, and is responsible for the reproduction of the sound for the audience.
Movie making has its own features. The sound engineer can be the author of the film, who decides which sounds will make up the narrative. This is already a serious art direction, a leading role close to the work of the sound editor.
Lastly, we have a “sound effects designer” who is not overseeing the aesthetic, but providing specific sounds for the production.
I see the role of the sound engineer in guiding the process of creating images, in establishing a deep connection, mutually complementing the nature of the sound and image. In short, the music and sound effects both make you feel the image.
You are considered the master of realistic sound effects – what is the secret of synthesizing such sounds?
I am flattered by this praise. As for the synthesis of natural sound – usually, everything starts with recording sound from the natural world, and then we select the most appropriate option for the story.
For field recordings, there are a huge number of amazing devices and software to manage these recordings. And quite often, you have to “cheat” when choosing the right sound. The sound can be synthesized or recorded in a completely different place, but our efforts make it so that the audience immediately believes in reality.
What are the most difficult sounds?
The most difficult sounds, I think, are those that do not occur in reality. Sounds for objects and characters from the fantasy world can be quite difficult just because they are not a reference to the real world. However, I have noticed over the years that most typical fantastic sounds are not “new” ones. I think that in most cases we have a background that we can use to understand what will work in the new voice work. A great example is the dinosaurs from “Jurassic Park” which although they sounded new, were influenced stylistically in both positive and negative ways.
What is more important: mastery of a sound engineer or a microphone?
You do ask difficult questions! It is difficult to have an open mind in this matter. If we talk only about me, I like to make both studio and live recordings. Since I was recognized as a sound engineer in the relatively narrow recording profile that is military weapons, most of my practical experience consists of things are not so interesting for many people. It has its own set of requirements, and I approach the established rules with great respect. Working in my narrow specialization can be expensive and even physically dangerous.
I had musical experience, so transition to producing audio recordings was a way to combine my musical and technological skills to do non-musical work. Surprisingly musical things can appear at the same time. Probably the biggest challenge is maintaining a sound effects library, which requires being very familiar with it, as well as an understanding of the technology, which is always changing and bring new capabilities at the work place.
America is famous for the largest manufacturers of sound studio equipment in the world - why did you choose the Russian microphone Oktava for your projects? Is Oktava popular in the United States?
I have used many microphones. And I’ve heard about Oktava in the music press. These microphones were considered to have a good value for money, and this interested me in the first place.
For what recordings do you use Oktava microphones mainly?
I use Oktava microphones quite a lot for my recordings with weapons, as well as for foley (live recording of sound effects) and creating a background atmosphere.
I am a big fan of MK012 Oktava microphone with a hyper cardioid capsule, I use it in one of my M/S rigs, and its performance is very good, and it has a quite rich sound.
Are there specific features of recording on Oktava microphones?
I like them for their flexibility mainly; I like very much the sound of the multifunctional capsules on the MK012, and find the sound quality to be good.
Share some recording techniques and methods familiar only to you.
I am not quite sure there are any techniques that only I use, but the unusual one I do have is pairing Oktava MK012 with a multifunctional capsule inside the same blimp as a short Shotgun mic which has worked out very nicely for me as I have both a narrow focus and wide focus recording which is in-phase and allows a focus from very hard up to a bit of a more mellow.
Thank a lot for the interview!
List of works by Charles Maynes https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0562825/