Research Report: Questionnaire

Here is a breakdown of the small focus-group study I undertook.

The Subjects

I got together a group of 10 volunteers from my friends, on the understanding that they’d be watching a few short video clips and giving feedback. In order, we watched the drug use scene first – with and without sound design – and the argument scene second. Afterwards I handed out the following questionnaire for them to fill.

Below is the transcripted text.

QUESTIONNAIRE – SONDER – SOUND DESIGN EXPERIMENTS

Please feel free to write any reactions or comments you have as well as directly answering the questions.

  1. Do you feel a significant step up in interest in the events onscreen when you watched the sequence with added sound-design? Y/N

 

  1. Please individually rate your enjoyment of both versions of each sequence you watched out of 10, with 10 meaning “excellent” and 0 meaning “I’d rather watch paint dry”.

 

  1. Regarding the sound-designed versions of each sequence, please rate the production value out of 10, with 10 meaning “most professional;” and 0 meaning “least”.

 

  1. Please rate the emotional impact of each of the non-sound-designed sequences out of 10, with 0 meaning “utterly emotionally uninvolving” and 10 meaning “very emotionally involving”.

 

 

  1. Please rate each of the sound-designed sequences in the same way.

 

  1. Please write down any words that come to mind to describe how the drug-taking sequence made you feel.

 

 

  1. Please do the same for the argument sequence.

 

  1. Please write down a very short review of the sound design of the drug-taking sequence – whatever comments or criticism come to mind.

 

 

  1. Please do the same for the argument sequence.

 

  1. Finally, please write down whether you think my experiments with sound represent a success or a failure, and why. Mention anything specific that you haven’t already – what films you’re reminded of, what you would’ve tried differently, etc.

 

The first five questions used are closed questions, because I want to actually produce some numerical results. While this numerical data is inherently a little limited by the small size of the study, it would still be good to produce some ratings I can mention on the poster. I did some more google searching for what industry professionals had to say on the subject of questionnaires, and got a few pointers. John August, an experienced screenwriter, recommends (to someone in a similar position, i.e. producers looking inward to improve their product) creating one’s own questionnaire, and outlines what needs to be included. While this outline is for a general questionnaire on the overall enjoyability of the film, I was only looking at one aspect, so I adapted his suggestions for my purposes; I’ve asked for scale ratings on both showings of both films, exploring the enjoyment and emotional impact of the scenes both with and without sound design, as well as the production value of the designed versions. This enables me to measure the effectiveness of my sound design attempts individually as well as by comparison to the other clip, and also identify which is the better work – which is how I will meet this module’s LO3: Critically evaluate my own work and the work of others. While my exploration of sound design theory won’t be in this post, here I’m directly demonstrating my ability to “select/generate evidence that is logical and substantial for advancing my argument” by using an informed awareness of industry practice (test screening) to study whether my argument holds water (that effective sound design is nowadays very achievable for an amateur). My argument that it is is “logical and robust” because I’m screening my amateur, experimental work to an audience of modern cinema-goers who are used to the sound design found in big-budget productions. That this argument is communicated “convincingly and through appropriate means” is dependent on me making clear the details and results of my study on the poster.

 

 

 

 

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Research Report: undertaking sound design (manipulation before edit into video)

Here I’ll give a summary of the week’s actual sound design work in practical terms.

First scene – Andrew alone in his room

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This scene features Andrew using drugs while alone in his bedroom. As discussed in earlier posts, I’ve produced some foley sounds to give the scene some weight, as well as making use of royalty-free sounds found on the web.

First, I wanted some kind of percussive, startling sound when Andrew falls onto the bed – artificial rather than diegetic. I found a metal clanging noise on Soundbible and loaded it into Audition. I wanted to make it shorter, so I used the shrink tool to reduce the overall length of the clip down to 5 seconds. Then, using pitch shifting

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– I raised the pitch and slightly increased the attack to the point where it sounded, to my ears, like a monastery meditation bell, but with more of a crash sound to it. Wanting a bit more percussion to it, I took out my phone and quickly recorded the sound of my hands clapping, and then loaded it into audition. Again pitch-shifting, shortening and lowering the volume, I placed it in the  Intended to be a moment of tension-release, I started work on the sound that was meant to complement it – some kind of rising high-pitched tone, complemented with a lower-pitched rumble.

For the rumble, I used my microphone to record the sound of my friend’s car-engine from the other side of my house window. This proved to be a reasonably easy task; in line with the argument I’m making on the poster that sound design is being democratised. Of course, it wan’t especially difficult to get hold of a microphone and record a car engine pre- the digital age, but the point is, I took the SD card out of the recording device, sat down at a computer, and in minutes was able, with little experience of Audition, to alter it to my purposes with ease. It’s amazing that this tutorial  refers to creating a drone sound in an entirely different brand of software, and yet as a beginner I was able to instantly and intuitively apply its lessons to working with Audition. With little knowledge of music theory I was able to find the tools described – pitch down, a tremolo effect and the “increase noise” tool – and apply them. When I was satisfied (insert reference to film here)

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I paired this with the sound of a buzzsaw also found on Soundbible, that I used the noise reduction and tremolo effect on – so far, so good. I then shortened it to match the total length of the rumble and stretched them both slightly.

Second scene – argument at party

My main goal here, as I’ve previously said, was to create a strong, lively ambience that implies more people are at the party than the number of extras that were available for the shoot. This will emphasise the drama of the argument, with a sudden cut to silence implying that the people inside the house have all stopped to listen.

Untitled36 The camera-mic and main microphone audio for this scene was not the best, but I had to make do. I fetched up the “party ambience audio” with the volume slightly reduced to fit with volume of the scene, and then I looped a section which had no distinct specific sounds (to avoid repetition catching the audience’s attention) and extended this loop to fit the scene. I used the “add reverb” effect in Audition’s effects panel to add a little reverb and help to further reduce anything distinctive in the chatter. Then, from the moment the Emily character enters and begins shouting, I used the visual fader to make the party chatter drop off quickly but not abruptly, the way it tends to sound in real life. I checked Adobe’s own tutorial   for this, and decided to use a cosine curve fade – slow at first, then rapid, and then a slow drop off for a final moment – in an attempt to mimic the way many conversations will stop one after the other when something dramatic occurs in a crowded place, remembering that in real life I’ve often heard the second half of the final sentence in the final conversation to stop. I’ll definitely include a subjective question about the party ambience in the questionnaire.

Besides this, I tried using self-recorded foley effects for footsteps during the minute or so the argument is going on, to limited success. While it wasn’t difficult to isolate the individual footsteps and place them in the timeline in sync with Emily’s body movements (her feet are out of shot) I found that I was struggling to aurally “place” them in the scene in a way that sounded natural. I reduced the volume to an appropriate level and tried adding some extra reverb, but I personally felt that they didn’t entirely “fit” no matter how much I subtly manipulated the pitch, timbre or attack it just sounded artificial.

 

Research Report: focus change

Briefly, I’ll explain how and why I’ve narrowed down my question.

Danny thought “minimal changes to sound design and how they can affect/improve a scene” was still pretty broad, so I’m slightly shifting the concept – my poster will specifically about whether new technology empowers independent filmmakers on a low budget to engage in sound design that’s effective (being to some degree minimal rather than extensive is a given, with the low budget, reliance on a small pool of resources, and the fact that the actors all have other commitments which seriously limit their availability for dubbing or rewrites).

By changing the question to

How have changes in technology empowered amateur and independent filmmakers to be effective sound designers?

I’m placing the research in a context that’s more relevant to me and my progression as a practitioner, and has a logical progression into the future – to continue experimenting with sound design after the term is over and into the top-up third year, building on what I learn from this study. This will certainly help me to better meet LO3: Synthesise knowledge areas and contextual dimensions of your Multimedia practice (“demonstrated ability to synthesise new knowledge methodically and robustly” – conducting a quantifiable study that I devised based on textual research) as it is informed by social, cultural and technical issues (“demonstrate awareness of contextual issues as they inform your practice” – I can analyse the study results while simultaneously considering the effect of time and resource constraints, and also take into account the social and cultural background of my study participants, and come up with some clear pointers for how to improve as a sound designer).

Research Report: study concept

I need a way to gauge the success or failure of my sound-design experiments, so I can actually tentatively answer the research question. The way that productions do this is through test screenings with a focus group, asking for subjective responses in a way that is quantifiable. I’ll conduct one of these myself; in this article, various arguments are put for and against the use of test screenings by industry professionals, with those arguing against mostly making the point that it can produce misleading results and lead to a director being forced by the studio to edit a film in such a way that actually makes it worse – Oliver Stone says “it can ruin the integrity of the film”.

However, in my case, since the study is intended to specifically evaluate the quality of one single aspect of the scenes shown, I think that it is the best way of conducting a study that will produce data. I’ll write a questionnaire that produces quantifiable answers, which I can then put into a graph for visualisation, and draw some conclusions with for further study.

A wider audience and second screening would be good, allowing me time to really refine it, but that time isn’t available this term. Considering the zero budget and tight production schedule myself and all involved had to collectively stick to, I think that this screening will be good enough for the purposes of the research poster.

The questionnaire used will need to be a little more specific than general product ones are. Through a google search on the topic, I found this page with some basic tips. I need to get past the “top of the mind” and hopefully get some real pointers on the successes and failures of my sound designs. This guide recommends using a “four-question sequence”, but since I’m looking for a bit of quantifiable data, I think I’ll divide the questionnaire into two parts; firstly I’ll have a number of closed questions asking for numerical ratings, and then I’ll have a number of open questions in place designed to evoke some qualitative, subjective responses.

Research Report: poster design

I’ve never designed a poster like this before, so I’m conducting research into the best way to go about it. First and foremost, I’m fairly sure that I’m going to stick with the Adobe suite, and use Photoshop.

https://helpx.adobe.com/uk/photoshop/how-to/make-poster.html

The design challenge, once I conceptualise my poster, shouldn’t be to terrible. It won’t require intensive, super-fine attention to detail for days on end – Photoshop is quite user-friendly for simpler graphic stuff, and I intend to keep my poster fairly simple.

This guide argues that important information should be readable from about 10 feet away; whether this is feasible for an A2 sized poster with a significant amount of information on it I’m not sure. I’ll need to speak to my tutor.

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This poster is an example of the kind of thing I have in mind; a clear and direct approach to the subject separated cleanly into sections, with a simple colour scheme. Using Photoshop’s graphic drawing tools, I should be able to get a prototype together without too much trouble.

NP2 session 28/04

Moving ahead with my project, I am producing a prototype of sorts during this session, following on from understanding the concept of prototyping which was the theme of last week’s seminar. As a kind of “snippet” of the overall edit I’m going to produce of Brodie’s film, today I’m experimenting with cleaning up the background noise on some of the dialogue recorded on-location yesterday. This is something I’ve dabbled in before, but I’ll need to expand the skill for this module.

A quick google search turned up multiple examples of what I was looking for. This blog had a decent short summary of the tools that Audition offers for this task. I’m sticking with Audition for the time being, as it’s a professional-level program and the only software of this type that I have some real (albeit limited) experience with.

The audio clip below that I’m messing around with has a few moments with sudden noises that are far too loud. Making use of Audition’s noise clean-up tools, I was able to smooth it all out, before adding a compression effect to boost the sound of the dialogue and make it audibly the centre of the recording. This is all very simple stuff, and in spite of not having much experience I found Audition’s tools to be very easy to use.

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Still, I’m aware there’s a great deal more to be done. This round of experimentation is just the tip of the iceberg, and myself and Kyle will attempt much more with the sound that we haven’t tried before – in-studio dialogue dubbing and foley sound effect recording – before we’re done. This session has reminded me that so far, in this module and the last one, I’ve essentially just been dabbling with different skills on the fly, and not really getting into expanding my skills as a practitioner in a way that is structured and effective.  For now, I need to focus on identifying a key set of sound recording and sound editing skills and conducting research, so I’ve got a firm beginner’s knowledge base to stand on for this module and for next year. I aim to be able, by the final deadline, to describe a coherent story of progression I’ve made as a filmmaker, with a focus on what I can do with sound. I’ll post again soon with an overview of exactly what I aim to learn.

Research Report module: presentation (formative assessment)

My presentation went down well today, so I’ll do a quick overview of what I learned from Danny’s feedback. As always, my presentation skills were a strength, and I explained myself clearly. Danny’s main point was that I shouldn’t try to do too many things at once; I’m probably wrong to focus on expanding my skills with CGI and sound at the same time, and should focus on one and see where it takes me. I’ve decided to focus on sound and narrow my question down around that; I’m already planning to do several things I haven’t before for this short-film project (foley sound and in-studio dialogue dubbing) so I may as well conduct research specifically on film sound in tandem with this, and see where it leads.

The next step, therefore, is to change my question slightly, dig into some more research, and think about whether I can potentially relate it to specific tasks I undertake during the editing process for this film. I also need to produce a prototype poster soon.