In all types of film, especially with animation, the images that are created on screen visually engage the audience to the world of the film, yet in order to fully experience all that the film has to offer, the visual aspects are only half of the importance. Sound design makes up that other half of the cinematic experience, and engages senses other than the visual in order to immerse the audience into the film. In Brad Bird’s animated film Ratatouille (2007), sound designer Randy Thom creates a rich sonic world for a film that’s plot is based around a rat who experiences the same senses that humans do.
Since a rat usually seems to have no similarities to humans, Thom makes sure to use sound to emphasize Remy and how in his perspective, he is able to relate to the humans, but in the human’s perspective, Remy is still just a rat. Thom’s use of sound in animated film is unique and allows the spectator through the correct use of sound, the ability to perceive the Remy’s exceptional senses of smell and taste, which is are the two most key aspects of cooking in real life and in the film.
The sound design combined with the incredible animation of Ratatouille (2007) allows the audience to sensually experience the film as if they were right there in the chaotic kitchen, and feel the authenticity of the location in the culinary capital of the world, Paris.
In animated film, especially with Disney and Pixar films, characters that’s are animals are often given human-like features and abilities.
In Ratatouille (2007), Remy the rat has the incredible senses of smell and taste, which allow him to fulfill his dream of becoming a chef. This is an idea that is quite contradictory to real life, so director Brad Bird and sound designer Randy Thom do an amazing job of balancing it out by making Remy seem more human like in his perspective, and more like a rat in the human’s perspective. For example, when introduced to Remy, he is the narrator, and we hear is voice as a non-diegetic sound, which allows us to think we are in the mind of Remy. His voice is a man’s voice, and we can assume that he has the full capacity of understanding everything just as a human would. While speaking amongst other rats, the sounds he makes are very similar to that of a human, and he even stands on two feet like one. Yet when we are seeing Remy in the kitchen, and see him just as one of the people on the kitchen would, the sounds change. The “pitter-patter” sound of his tiny rat feet is heightened in volume, and each footstep is clearer than before.
This emphasis on his footsteps reminds the viewer that while in Remy’s mind he sounds and thinks like a human would, through the perspective of a human in the film, he is still just a scurrying rat. Another example is when Alfredo Linguini is ordered to dispose of the rat, we see Remy and Linguini’s first interaction alone and without any other humans to judge Remy’s ability to understand humans. Through Linguini’s perspective, Remy can hear and understand what he is saying, but he cannot respond with words, only with nods, squeaks, quivering whiskers, and quiet sniffles. These diegetic sounds can be heard clearly even though they are soft and dainty, just like the footsteps. The sniffles are especially important because they represent Remy’s heightened senses, which become an entirely different aspect of the film that is given meaning through sound. In the world of cuisine and cooking, the two senses most frequently used and appreciated are smell and taste. The combination of the two can create amazing culinary experiences, and make a meal more than just eating, but a complete sensual experience.
One of Thom’s main goals throughout the film was to manipulate pitch, volume, and timbre in order to give the characters their own senses that can reflect from the screen to the audience where they can feel as if they are experiencing the same scents and tastes that Remy is. Just as discussed before, when oberserving Remy in his element of cooking and creating delicious food combinations, the sounds he makes are not only louder and more amplified, but clearer. For example, in the opening scenes of the film, Remy is trying to find food that is good enough quality for his senses unlike the rest of his rat companions who will seem to eat anything that is not covered in poison. He stumbles upon a piece of cheese, and his attention is immediately focused on the smell. His nose become such an iconic symbol in the film, and the sniffing of foods is so well-defined that the audience is able to imagine exactly what that piece of cheese smells like. Since smell has sounds that can be oriented with the nose and sniffling, its is less complicated than trying to portray taste, which has little sound affect since it is completely individual and unique to each person.
In order to get the audience to be able to feel the experience of what Remy tastes, director Brad Bird hired artist Michael Gagne as the Taste Visualization Designer to create a series of animated vignettes that would accompany sound as Remy tastes certain foods. The visuals he created displayed colorful animated graphics for the taste of cheese and strawberry, and then a mixture of the two tastes. The visuals work very well with the two foods, but can only do so much when it comes to stimulating the audience’s senses. The rest of the work comes to Randy Thom and the rest of his sound design team to create sounds that will perfectly accompany the graphics to create a complete sense of taste. Thom uses different segments of music that seems to work perfectly with each food. When Remy takes the bite of cheese, smooth, creamy-like music plays, yet with the strawberry a louder more vivacious tune is heard.
Then as Remy takes a bite of each at the same time, a firework of sounds occurs to compare to Remy’s taste bud explosion. This blend of graphics and music creates a sensual experience that leave the audience imagining exactly what Remy tastes. When thinking of Paris, France, common words to come to most minds are fancy, sophisticated, and romantic. Since these words are such a huge part of the vibe of the city, Randy Thom wanted to make sure that the sounds of the film really gave the audience the authenticity of the setting, and reflect the character of Paris. Aside from authentic French accents in many of the main character’s voices, especially the chef’s, Thom incorporates orchestrated music that would be heard in the city, and even background mumbling of actual French speaking people.
In the background of most parts of the restaurant, Thom had murmurings of people actually speaking French and having real conversation to make the background noise more authentic to the setting. Along with the setting of the film, most fancy five-star restaurants the vibe most guests want to feel is calm and sophisticated. This is the opposite of what is usually going on behind the scenes in the restaurant’s kitchen. The kitchen is where the magic happens, and where the culinary art form comes to life. The tools that create the food are just as important as the ingredients, and the act of cooking requires many tools and utensils. In the film, Thom really emphasizes the sounds of these utensils, which makes the cooking easy to accept as real since the sounds are so accurate to a real life kitchen. The clinking of pots and pans is especially noticeable in the kitchen, and the pitch is a lot higher than other noises in the kitchen. The pots, pans, and utensils are such an important part of the kitchen, and allow the spectator to relate to the sounds by noticing how many different meals are cooked at once in the kitchen.
In an interview with Randy Thom, he explains that almost all of the sounds from the kitchen were composed from scratch by his design team and were individually created by recording the real life actions in the kitchen and putting them into the animation. Another aspect of the kitchen that seems to be especially emphasized through sound is the blending of foods, especially liquids. Thom differentiates between the sound effects of a pot of just plain water and a pot of creamy soup. The pot of water, when Remy falls into it, the sound is at first a loud splash, and then a very clear and fluid underwater noise. Yet when Remy is cooking his own special soup, he puts together multiple ingredients, dropping them into the boiling pot of broth. The sound of dense objects hitting the soup is so accurate and sounds more like a “plop” rather than a splash. While the sound of mixed ingredients may seem insignificant to the films overall affect, these sounds allow the audience to understand the consistency of the food and imagine the texture that goes with it. Once again, the senses are being put to use without even noticing it, which Thom really put effort into doing with this film since the whole plot is based around food.
In an interview with Randy Thom, he explained that while most people assume that image is created and then sound is later added to spruce it up, he finds that to be a myth worth busting. He feels that sound is just as important of a component as image, and if anything adds more life to the film than image does. Sound allows the audience to relate to the sounds they hear in the film to the sounds they hear in real life. These connections make it easier for the spectator to understand the emotions and themes being laid out and therefore they can better understand the film as a whole. With a film such as Ratatouille (2007), it seems difficult for the audience to relate to a rat who can cook, so Brad Bird and Randy Thom worked together to create a masterpiece that can continue to display the incredible animation yet through sound allow the audience to relate to not just the emotions, but the senses from the film. Through creative construction and extremely close attention to detail, the sound design of Ratatouille (2007) will leave viewers in a rich experience that will literally leave their mouths watering.
Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies; an Introduction to Film. Third Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 368-407. Print.
Barsam and Monahan cover all aspects of the world of sound design from the purpose of sound in film to how it is created, and to how it affects the audience. When spectators are experiencing a film, if engaged properly, they use both senses of hearing and vision to perceive what is happening on the screen. Without one or the other, the film lacks proper perception from the audience, which is the whole point of the film. Barsam and Monahan spend a great amount of effort explaining the basic concept of sound in film, and analyze the different characteristics that audio has. Sound is an especially complex field because it decorates the images on screen, and heightens the experience visually through audio. The process of sound design consists of carefully choosing and recording sounds, editing those sounds, and then masterfully mixing them so that they can perfectly synchronize with what is visually seen on the screen.
The main types of sound that the audience will experience during a film are vocal sounds and dialogue, sounds from the environment and world of the film (also known as diegetic sounds), music, and silence, which is actually the lack of sound yet still adds so much meaning and emotion to an on screen image. Sound in film intensifies the image and in most cases allows the audience to relate to the world of the film and be aware of both space and time within the means of the world of the film. Simple alterations in sounds from the pitch, amplitude, or volume of the noise can completely change or alter the audience’s perception of what is happening in the film. By the end of Barsam and Monahan’s chapter about sound design, the reader can understand most all aspects of sound in film, and how each characteristic is taken into account when being put into a film in order to fully allow the spectator to experience the film both on a visual and audible level.
Sider, Larry. “If you wish to see, listen; The role of sound design.” Journal of Media Practice 4.1 (2003): 5-15.
Through in depth analysis and argument, Sider creates an article that explains the great importance of sound in film, and how when combined with visual elements, allows the spectator to fully engage and understand the film on a deeper level than just watching a screen. Sider explains how the industry, technology, and use of sound in film had changed from when the “sound designer” was created in the 1960’s by Walter Murch. Back then, sound was simply an added affect to film, whereas now sound completely creates another dimension to cinema. Sound and music make the image on screen multi-faceted and add not only emotion, but completely changes the picture just by adding an audio.
On the other side of sound design, Sider shows the difficulties with creating sound in film. The sound designer not only has to know and understand the sounds in which we all hear, but they must completely understand the sounds from the world of the film they are working on. Knowing every diegetic and non-diegetic sound of the film’s story is complex yet engages the spectator more than they will ever realize. The job of the sound designer is not just to control and input dialogue into a film, but control and create every sound effect and somehow integrate it into the life of the film, not the other way around. Sider effectively explains how complex the job of a sound designer has become, and how their work engages the viewer on a new level, and gives the image life.
Thom, Randy. Interviewed by Jake Riehle. “Ratatouille-Exclusive Interview with Sound Designer Randy Thom”. Designing Sound; Art and Technique of Sound Design. 26 June 2007. Web. 2011.
Sound editor and mixer Jake Reihle interviews the well known sound designer Randy Thom to learn about his recent work on the animated film, Ratatouille (2007). Thom specializes in sound design within animated films, and in recent years won the Academy Award for best sound editing in the Pixar animated film The Incredibles(2004). Riehle asks Thom what aspects of sound design in animated film differ from live-action films, and the heightened amount of detail to sound is what Thom described as a main difference. In Ratatouille (2007) specifically, there are so many details within the sounds that all together create a different affect than expected. For example, when the wind is blowing through the underground sewer pipes, each wind sound is different, but together the sounds created a musical essence that worked extremely well with the mood of Ratatouille himself, and gave life to the rigid and cold nature of the underground world that the rats live in.
Another major difference between animated sound and live on-screen sound is the pace and rate at which Thom does his work. In the early stages of work, he notices that animated films tend to lack music and sound effects and focus more upon dialogue to set up the story, but Thom likes to make space to add music in a useful way in which the effects and music add to the dialogue, not take away from the dialogue. Reihle also goes into the stages in which Thom likes to mix and edit his sound effects, and how the budgeting of animated films differs from live action films. An interesting fact, Thom began his career at Skywalker Sound by writing a personal essay to Walker Murch, the man who is said to have invented the “sound designer”. Reihle’s interview with the sound designer Randy Thom gives very useful information on comparing and analyzing the differences of sound design within animated films and live-action films.
Thom, Randy. “Designing A Movie For Sound”. Learning Space Dedicated to the Art and Analyses of Film Sound Design. 1999. Web. 2011
Academy Award winning sound designer Randy Thom provides readers with an article about the subject he knows best, sound in film. He defines exactly what sound design is, describes what it really is that he does, and crushes myths and ideas that many people have about film sound designers. Thom argues that what most people think passes as “great sound” in film is loud, boisterous noises, which is definitely not always, and rarely true through the opinion of a sound designer. Thom believes that truly great sounds in film are well orchestrated and are integrated into the film as a whole, rather than just into specific scenes and moments during the film. This creates a better sense of continuity and fluidity within the sounds of the film. Thom feels that rather than create a film and then hire a talented team to fabricate certain sounds, the film should be designed and created with the sounds in mind.
The story, images and sound should be created and built simultaneously so that the sound contributions can affect the other aspects of the film and add even more continuity. Every aspect of film, even the cinematography, affects how sound works, and its purpose. From extreme close-ups to dutch angles and moving cameras, sound has a different role in every shot, whether it is music, dialogue, background noise, or even silence. The author also describes in detail each step of how sound designers, composers, and sound editors go about creating their work within each stage of the production process including pre-production and post-production. Randy Thom is an extremely well-known film sound designer, and his personal insight into the world of sound design is eye opening and fresh. He explains the ideas of sound in film on both a basic and deep level while questioning many ideas and myths that are believed about the sound design world today.