Research 2.2 Debate on the use and misuse of sound in animation

Should animations be:
purely visual
mostly visual but supplemented with sound
an integral combination of the two
sound as the driving force for the visuals

“A truth whispered among animators is that 70% of a show’s impact
comes from the sound track.”

Michael Dougherty, Sound in Animation (2015)

“I think really for the art of the film, sound is an aesthetic error… if the major consideration of film is the visual then the reason sound is a blind alley is that it cuts back on sight so that the very instance that sound is removed or that it is relatively silent, it becomes more possible to see…

I sometimes think the real reason that movies plaster mood music all over the soundtrack, so that there is never a moment of silence is because people are afraid. With sound pouring into the ears they feel more comforted, lullabied in some sense.”

Stan Brakhage, Dog Star Man (1970)

For my first observations on combining visuals and sound from listening to animations with or without the sound turned on see:

See also my post on:

TASK: The following two animators hold very opposing views on animation and the use of sound. Consider your own viewpoint – Search for animations that supports or challenges your viewpoint in someway.
Try listening to animations before you watch them, or watching them without the sound to help reflect on the relationships between image and sound.
Produce a short blogpost that outlines your research and supports your
viewpoint on the relationship between sound and image in animations. You could do this through writing or by creating a short audio/moving image piece.

I do not think there are any hard or fast rules. It depends on what one is trying to do. The important thing is to be aware of the interactions and interrelationships. And emphasis can shift in the course of any one animation.

Sound only

Slow down thought processes to focus on what is being seen

Stanley Brakhage

Visual with sound
  • Sound effects or ambient music to support the mood or give occasional comic effect or emphasis
Sound and visual equal
  • Voiceover or sound effects can change or alter the meaning

    Michael Dougherty

Sound as driving force
  • Voiceover narrative can be the main story
  • Music videos and soundscapes

What is done first? Sound, then suggest visuals and the visuals are carefully timed to follow the sounds? Or the visuals and the sound effects chosen to support them. Depends partly on which elements require continuity and which can be split and cut.

Some element of serendipity and disruption can enhance the meaning. Too much often becomes just cliche and boring in my opinion. But it depends on what one is trying to say – and whether specific rules are essential to one’s ‘signature style’ or key area of exploration eg in the case of Brakhage.

For my own explorations see:

  • I Love Red Peppers E2.2 and E2.3 where I experiment with different approaches to using music track and sound effects.
  • Summertime E2.5 Sound and image animatic: an animated music video of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
  • Summer 2020: Assignment 2 where I integrate different approaches.

Stanley Brakhage

Stan Brakhage explored a variety of formats, approaches and techniques that included handheld camerawork, painting directly onto celluloid, fast cutting, in-camera editing, scratching on film, collage film and the use of multiple exposures. His films are for the most part silent. He thereby sought to reveal the universal, in particular exploring themes of birth, mortality, sexuality, and innocence. For more on his work with a collection of his videos see full post: Stan Brakhage.

Dog Start Man was one of Brakhage’s first experiments. I think on a big cinema screen it could be quite mesmerising and engrossing. But on a smaller You Tube or even large TV screen I find it far too long and soon switch off. My brain is trained to see patterns and meanings. Where I don’t I soon get bored.
I find the colours and textures in this much shorter piece much more interesting to watch.
Visually I find this quite captivating with the Zoom movements sucking me into the intriguing colours and textures.
This animation has sound – though a soundless version of part of it called ‘Night Music’ also exists. I find these textures interesting, and my interest is increased by the music.

Michael Dougherty

One in a series of ‘Trick or Treat’ videos about Halloween designed for different locations. For more details of the background and reasons to create this animation See:

Michael Dougherty mostly creates horror animations: a series about Halloween called Seasons Greetings, Krampus an alternative mythology of Christmas and Godzilla.

He uses a lot of scary music and sound effects, often exaggerated cliche of Disney. But I actually find them distracting from the poignancy of the visuals and narrative. Watching the animation without the sound, I slow down and notice a lot more.

It is the contrast between sound and image that is the central element in this animation.
The constant rhythmic movement supports the visuals. The visuals have been carefully times to correspond to changes in tempo.

E1.2 Observing Cycles

Here the Tango sound track plays continuously, hypnotically as a distraction, but also intensification of the feeling of life as just one long repetitive and absurd dance.
Here the relationship between sound and visuals fluctuates. The sounds themselves are symbolic – squeaks and creaks and horses hoofs evocative of a time gone by. Then dance music becomes dominant to fluttering visuals. Then drum beat and hinted music to amplify the cycles of endless working life.
Here the sound counterposes the visuals to show the relationship as a Hollywood Fantasy.
The visuals are dominant, but without the sound effects have little impact.

Materials that Move

Use sound to create suspense and wonder what one is seeing
Starts sound of audience on title sequence.
Incidental sound effects and music to create atmosphere and mood.