Tobias Purfürst is a sound designer, music producer and performing artist. He composes music and sounds for our films. In this interview Tobias talks about sounds that create spaces, noises that announce events and the productive relationship between art and business.
How do sound and pictures meet? Could you describe the creative process developing soundtracks for 3d animations and film?
Before I start composing it’s words only. Together with the 3d and film team we develop a concept for the sound design. At this point we ask some fundamental questions: What mood is to be transported? Do we focus on technical details? Like for example, when the technically demanding construction of a building is animated. Or is the desired mood rather emotional to emphasize the aesthetics of an architectural design or product?
“Sound tells a story.”
Another important questions is: Who is supposed to watch the film, who are the target groups? We work for international clients with customers from different countries and cultures. Depending on whether the recipients come from the Arab world, from China or Europe, I use different styles, tempos and harmonies that are tailored to the listening habits and musical traditions of these cultures.
When do you start watching the film?
As early as possible. To get a feeling for the rhythm and the different sequences, the film team provides me with an animatic, a moving storyboard. This consists of unrendered raw image sequences, but already contains cuts, camera angles and movements that give me a sense of dramaturgy and timing. This story reel inspires the sound. The sooner the picture lock takes place–that’s when the cut has been finished and approved–the better I can adjust the soundtrack to the images.
Since most of our projects run under deadline pressure, this ideal scenario is rare [laughing]. So most of the time sound development and picture composition happen simultaneously. If the cut is changed shortly before delivery, it massively increases my effort because the tracks have to be readapted to maintain the rhythm and dramaturgy. At best, it’s a co-creation, when sound and picture creation benefit from each other. This almost always works out, even if it’s sometimes very stressful. Finally the better result compensate for the struggle.
Once you are briefed and the first picture sequences arrive–how do you go on?
The work on the soundtrack runs on three levels: First there’s the music which in most cases is constantly audible. Its pitch, tempo and rhythm create the essential mood. Then there are noises and sounds accompanying concrete operations like construction processes or mechanical sounds of materials touching. On the third level, I define abstract sounds that do not exist in the real world. This may be an electronic hum or clang when a foundation pit is excavated or a concrete slab is poured.
“Good sound design guides the eye.”
The overall mix of music, sound and noise arises from these three sound levels. Depending on the weighting I can let the composition sound more dynamic or cautious. On top of that we often have to integrate a voice-over track explaining the sequences.
Sounds quite complex.
Sometimes it actually is. For some short films I used more than 100 tracks. What makes digital sound design easy again, are sample and sound libraries. I have been able to build a huge digital collection of music, sounds and noises. They include both original compositions and field recordings as well as professional sample databases of different sounds and instruments captured in large studios. I can modulate these samples as I please. They are recorded and digitized just perfectly so you can hardly tell them from real instruments played right in front you.
What does the soundtrack convey that the images do not tell?
I wouldn’t want to separate image and sound, they are equal components of the audio-visual composition. In fact, good sound design guides the eye. On the sound level I can announce events before they are visible and prepare the viewer for the things to come.
An example: An animation sequence shows the construction process of a bridge. A transport ship is about to deliver an important component, but is yet invisible. I let the ship honk, you can hear his engine. When it appears on screen, you are already subconsciously prepared and focus your attention on the detail anticipated by the sound. This also works on an emotional level when the sound influences the viewer’s expectation, preparing him for the next scene.
You also work on experimental art projects, as a DJ, you’re building sound installations. How do you connect the artistic and the commercial parts of you work?
Much of what I develop as a sound artist in non-commercial projects inspires my commercial work. The other way around deadlines and client requirements help me a lot to be productive and result-oriented under time pressure. It’s about finding the right balance. For me, both world’s benefit from each other.
“Art and business benefit from each other.”
I find working with film and animation professionals very enriching. In the joint projects with morean I have a wide scope of creativity to find the best sound for the respective film. I really appreciate that music and sound play an important role in their projects and that my creative input is asked for.
Would you agree that sound design is often underestimated?
Yes, that is unfortunately so. However, I’m am working hard to change it [laughing]. Seriously: Sound design in industrial and image films is often given low priority. This applies to the sound designer’s budget as well. I think that’s a real pity, because with aesthetically or technically sophisticated films, the soundtrack is essential. It contributes significantly to transporting the desired message. Especially in architectural and product films the sound can convey a spatial sense. It tells a story and makes the digital images come alive.
Tech Specs: Stuff Tobias is using
Cubase, Ableton Live, SuperCollider
Various Software Controller: Midikeyboard, Ableton Push, Korg Nano, iPad)
Audio interface: MOTU
Synthesizer: Sequential Prophet 6, Kork MS20, Elektron RYTM, Rhodes Piano, div Keyboards.
Monitor speakers: Neumann KH 120A, Adam Sub 5