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Thread: Sound in space

  1. #1

    Sound in space

    Anytime the science in science-fiction films goes up to the chopping block, one of the largest issues people seem to always have is with the fact that there's sound in space. Yes clearly there's no way for sound to travel in space, but from a filmmaker's pov it has to have sound.

    I'll take the re-vamped battlestar galactica as an example. I read the shooting script, and in it they state clearly that there won't be any sound in space. Now I'm not sure if I heard this in the commentaries or in the book "the science behind battlestar galactica" but the reason they went against this decision is simple, it doesn't work. They did tests, trying it out, but even though it made perfect sense to have no sound, it just sounded and felt wierd to them. Like it was lacking something. The raw explosion, the clattering of the bullets, the atmosphere that any great sound design gives a piece.

    Theres a saying in filmmaking, that 50% of your image is sound. Sound often takes a backburner, but when sound is lacking, something feels off, even to the average moviegoer (even if they can't determine what's wrong). This, IMO, is why science fiction will almost always have sound, especially if there are booming stunts and explosions.

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    Sound in film is generally not a simulation of what you would hear in the position of the camera. It's based on various conventions. For example, it's a convention to sync the sound of cannon fire with the visual, even when the cannon is far away enough from the camera for a multi-second delay.

    More relevant is the convention of mixing dialog at a comfortably audible volume, even when the characters are shown far away. While the camera may be far away, the virtual microphone is close to the characters.

    Based on these conventions, it's perfectly reasonable to combine visuals from outside a spacecraft with audio from within or nearby the spacecraft. It's okay to have some sound of an automatic cannon rattling off shells because a nearby microphone would actually receive pings of gas from the muzzle blasts.

    In contrast, it would not be reasonable to show a space battleship firing its cannons and then to have a long delay before hearing the blasts. That's how it would work if there were an atmosphere between the ship and the microphone, but there isn't.

  3. #3
    Very good points. Well said.

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    I always lean toward the concept that inside a spacecraft you would use sound as a way of conveying information from outside the craft because there are only so many things you can pay attention to with your eyes. Sound can create gut-level instinctive reactions to the environment, and oddly enough the sound in most sci-fi movies seems to be trying to do that. The idea has been around long enough I do believe it's time someone on screen had some odd error with their "audio awareness system" to point it out.

    I do find it amusing that people will complain about sound in space but not about people being followed around through their everyday life by music appropriate for every moment.

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    The one has a clear implication that it should be there. The other is for the benefit of the audience, not the character.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    The one has a clear implication that it should be there. The other is for the benefit of the audience, not the character.
    There is VERY SELDOM any implication of sound in a space sci-fi benefiting the character. From a production standpoint it is universally added to create visceral response from the audience, the precise same reason background music is used.

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    Wrong. It's added because we expect it to be there, because people have been conditioned to believe that it should be there. It's not that it benefits the characters; it's that it's what we think their environment contains. No one ever believes the characters actually hear their soundtracks (except in I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka), but the audience generally believes the characters can hear the sound effects of space.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Wrong. It's added because we expect it to be there, because people have been conditioned to believe that it should be there. It's not that it benefits the characters; it's that it's what we think their environment contains. No one ever believes the characters actually hear their soundtracks (except in I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka), but the audience generally believes the characters can hear the sound effects of space.
    Wrong. You are only seeing part of the story as an end viewer. I have some experience on the production end of things, admittedly not much. But the reality is extended periods of silent space battles (or any extended period of near silence) see test audiences emotionally disconnect; the response of audience is one of losing interest and even emotional investment in the characters. It is NOT done in production to create a believable environment for the characters, it is done to keep the audience's attention. Sit down and work with some film footage without sound effects and you'll understand why. This is why even on films that show a lack of sound in space like the newer Star Trek use it very briefly and for impact. Without an effective soundtrack the audience likewise disconnects. They are both used to keep the audience engaged on a near-subconscious level.

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    It is done for the same reason as adding the kookaburra sound effect is in jungle sounds, true--"this is what this environment sounds like." No one actually believes the characters hear the soundtrack, but everyone is expected to believe that the characters hear sound in space, inaccurate bird sounds, and so forth. There are several different levels of sound application in film--which I have studied just a bit--and not all are there for the same reason. It is also true that extended periods of silence can be very effective, depending on what you're trying to create as a mood. However, filmmakers are lazy and use the same techniques over and over until someone comes along to show just how effective something else can be. Yes, it's done in post-production, not production, but that doesn't mean it isn't considered part of the characters' environment; all sound effects are done in post.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

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    I can think of examples where the sound in space is a kind of sound track - literally so in Doppelganger and Firefly - but more often than not the film-making team simply don't know or don't care what the environment of outer space would really be like. Heck, there are plenty other clues - characters trapped under fallen girders on spaceships, "down" always being towards the bottom of the screen even in deep space, ships falling out of orbit because of a power failure, people exploding or freezing instantly on exposure to vacuum, ships firing their rockets in the wrong direction and so on.

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    From Project Rho, an insider's view (Todd Boyce of Ninja Magic) of Hollywood SF:

    http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/pre...lywood_Reasons

    To boil down all the possible reasons, it is because of one or more of the following:
    0) It's a business... If you're putting tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, you go for the [popular] shooty-wooshy space ships every time...
    1) TPTB (The powers that be) don't care.
    2) There isn't time to dissect and fix scientific inaccuracies... Once production on a movie is started, it is an unstoppable steamroller with a tight deadline.
    3) The decisions are made in too many places and it isn't even thought about except by people who aren't in positions to make judgment calls.
    4) The script-reader's gauntlet ...A writer who spends his time describing the intricacies of a space ships propulsion system is a writer who finds his scripts in the script-reader's trash can.
    5) People in film making have education in film making, they don't usually have PhD's in physics/astrophysics. ...It's not that they aren't smart enough, it's that their focus of expertise is in other areas.
    6) The power of ego ...Film making isn't usually done by committee, it is done by imperial decree...
    He then goes on to explain "...speaking of unrealism in Hollywood movies, I need to get back to work on a sequence involving bits of LA breaking off and sliding into the ocean because the Earth's magnetic field has collapsed.
    I'm not kidding."
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    And even with all that he is missing at least one: Silent periods on film can make production values look cheap.
    Producers like things that save money, but not obviously noticeable things that save money.

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    I feel that sound is acceptable as long as it is done consistently in the same piece. I have yet to see anyone in a show or movie react to an impossible sound, but I do have some pet peeves when the director forgets where the camera/mic is.

    Examples:
    Tick! No Boom. A critical interior part of ship explodes with tick and there is no boom because the ship is vaporized and the camera is now in space. The sounds of a raging space battle continue through out the rest of the movie.
    Heavy breathing from a character while "flying the ship" in silence. Switch to the exterior view and every rattle and pop of the ship is heard.
    The viewer is the missile! A loud crump is heard when the "viewer-missile" strikes the ship. Usually other sounds fades before this shot and returns immediately after.

    Space Above and Beyond did a strange one that I have not seen repeated. One of the enemy ships emitted an electronic sound that caused static on screens and in the communications systems the defending fighters. It was pretty neat, but also very odd as the enemy ship was otherwise very stealthy.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Solfe View Post
    I have yet to see anyone in a show or movie react to an impossible sound
    I remember a character in Space: 1999 blocking his ears as a spaceship roared over the moonbase where he happened to be standing. And in a 1964 episode of Doctor Who called The Sensorites, characters commented on the eerie noise they could hear from a spacecraft beyond the window.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Solfe View Post
    I have yet to see anyone in a show or movie react to an impossible sound,
    In the Star Trek episode "A Taste of Armageddon", the planet Eminiar fires sonic weapons of "eighteen to the twelveth power decibels" at the Enterprise in orbit.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    I remember another Trek - possibly the same ep - where they all have to keep quiet so that the nearby hostile vessel assumes the ship is derelict.

    The writer was obviously trying to transfer a naval battle scenario into space without realising it's a different environment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    I remember another Trek - possibly the same ep - where they all have to keep quiet so that the nearby hostile vessel assumes the ship is derelict.

    The writer was obviously trying to transfer a naval battle scenario into space without realising it's a different environment.
    I think that was from the film "Wing Commander"-- a terrible movie with respect to not only science, but filmmaking in general. The captain actually shushes an officer who tries to speak normally.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    I remember a character in Space: 1999 blocking his ears as a spaceship roared over the moonbase where he happened to be standing. And in a 1964 episode of Doctor Who called The Sensorites, characters commented on the eerie noise they could hear from a spacecraft beyond the window.
    Oh no!
    Solfe

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    It is interesting to note that most of the examples of characters interacting with the sounds are not just examples of bad science but also generally examples of bad filmmaking as well... sloppiness in one portion of production being met with sloppiness from others.

    And I do remember that Star Trek episode... and when I consider the weight of it, a lot of episodes of Trek incarnations had equally impossible but less patently obvious abuses of science-ish terms.

    Firefly did a decent job of silence in space in most cases, especially for TV. But on the other hand Firefly was pretty smart about avoiding technobabble being used as the driving force or solution behind any issue and except for the movie avoided space combat entirely (and even there it was high altitude combat more than space). Which in its own way is impressive in that the show wasn't really attempting to be significantly "scientific" but focused more on dramatics and characters, managing to be a touch closer to hard sci-fi than average for tv/film was more a side effect than intent.

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    The Star Trek episode in question is "Balance of Terror". The episode is extremely popular and highly regarded for its powerful characterizations and thrilling plot, despite being one of the laziest in conception (just a submarine movie in space).

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    In "Balance of Terror" no one was required to be quiet, IMO they just were as a result of tension-- they also tended to quiet down in other episodes when facing an enemy.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I think that was from the film "Wing Commander"-- a terrible movie with respect to not only science, but filmmaking in general. The captain actually shushes an officer who tries to speak normally.
    I think that movie had worse science than the game it was based on.

    I doubt the creator thought so far, but wouldn't it make some sense if they assumed the enemy had something like a laser microphone?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ineluki View Post
    I think that movie had worse science than the game it was based on.

    I doubt the creator thought so far, but wouldn't it make some sense if they assumed the enemy had something like a laser microphone?
    If the enemy had sensors that accurate, then a ship full of people breathing and hearts beating would have been enough to give them away. Not to mention that they had almost no time to disperse residual heat, so any thermal sensor would have picked them up instantly.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    Quote Originally Posted by ineluki View Post
    I think that movie had worse science than the game it was based on.

    I doubt the creator thought so far, but wouldn't it make some sense if they assumed the enemy had something like a laser microphone?
    If they had a laser mic, they'd know where the ship was. It might be useful if they wanted to listen in to conversation, though.

    Of course, this was the movie where bombers over an asteroid in deep space sounded like WWII planes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Of course, this was the movie where bombers over an asteroid in deep space sounded like WWII planes.
    Its this sort of thing which make me sometimes ponder the possibilities of creating a "new paradigm" of space opera. Star Wars popularized the above look and feel, inspired by WWII and some other sources. Contrast this with the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, or the Dune movie...a very different paradigm, but beautiful in its own way.

    I just wonder...why not something new? Tron was something entirely new, but not space opera, of course.

    I keep on feeling around for some "new paradigm" but it always seems just outside my mind's grasp--like a dream you feel like you wanted to remember.

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