Imagine this scenario. You have been anxiously awaiting the release of a particular movie in the action/suspense genre. The day has arrived and you are sitting in a darkened theatre, snacking on popcorn, and sipping a large carbonated beverage while thoroughly engrossed in what is transpiring on the "big screen". In an often-used scene in many suspense thrillers, an unsuspecting victim (usually of the female persuasion) leaves work and walks to her car in a deserted parking garage. All is quiet except for the clicking of high heals on concrete as she makes her way to her vehicle. Suddenly there is a big bang. The woman looks around anxiously and speeds up her pace; the sound of her heels growing louder as she moves swiftly in the direction of her car.
The suspense builds as the sound of a different set of footsteps is heard; ones that are heavier and more menacing in nature. Hearing these foreboding footfalls, the woman grows frantic. She hurriedly searches through her purse looking for her car keys. Finally, with her keys grasped in trembling hands, she inserts the key into the car’s lock. At that moment, a black-gloved hand covers the woman’s mouth and her eyes grow wide in terror.
In the excerpt from the fictional scene above, what does the clicking of heels on concrete, the menacing footfalls, the loud bang, and the sound of the key being inserted into the car’s lock have in common? Do you give up? The answer is – drum roll please – in filmmaking, these elements are sound effects.
Sound Effects Defined
According to Dictionary.com Unabridged (v1.1), sound effects are "any sound, other than music or speech, artificially reproduced to create an effect in a dramatic presentation, as the sound of a storm or a creaking door." In filmmaking, sound effects are vital as they serve to enhance the film’s illusion of reality and assists in bringing the story to life.
When you think about it, sound is an integral part of your movie viewing experience. Sound is so important in fact that George Lucas, American filmmaker, screenwriter, and creator of Star Wars, stated that, "sound is half of the (movie going) experience".
However, for a film to come to life, its dialogue, music, and sound effects must be mixed with pinpoint precision and accuracy. When these essential elements come together in perfect harmony, it can suspend any disbelief a moviegoer may have. If done properly, a film’s sound track will ensure that the movie viewer becomes totally immersed in the storyline, believing everything they see and hear on the big screen.
Sound Effects Libraries: Sources of High Quality Sound Effects
Creating realistic sound effects is an art form. If making a movie, music production, PowerPoint presentation, or play, producing realistic sound effects may not be possible. Additionally, due to the importance of sound effects, it would be wise to leave their creation to the experts.
There are numerous sound effects libraries that contain hundreds – if not thousands – of high quality, digital sound effects. Whether searching for animal sounds (such as dogs barking or birds chirping against the sound of city traffic), the sounds of an airport terminal, or the sound of a person screaming, breathing heavily, gulping, or laughing, sound effects libraries make the search for realistic sound effects effortless.