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Why and How to Incorporate Custom Sound Design into Your Next Animation Project

Pulling together an ad campaign for a client can be quite stressful. Many moving pieces need to be put together for it to efficient, and it’s common for a thing or two to get overlooked. An aspect we often see being disregarded is sound design. After all, when the sound design is done well, it feels so natural that it’s ‘invisible.’ That’s why so many agencies often forget that it’s a significant part of any animation production… one that can make or break the end product.

We know that agencies are looking for three things in their projects: Results, Awards, and Impact. And sound design is a key to accomplishing these goals with animation.

Why sound design is essential for animation

The simple fact that live-action projects happen in the real world means that everything makes noise, from the traffic in the street to the cameraman’s footsteps. And even if the shooting occurs on a closed set, noises are everywhere.

With animation, it’s completely different. Since it’s created from the ground up, there’s no “natural” sound.

Imagine that your story is happening deep inside a forest. The sound of the environment around you helps to set the tone of the story. It can tell the audience how dense the forest is, how pleasant the weather is, and even how secure that forest is. You see a small bush moving slowly, with a nice soft wind blowing on the trees’ leaves and the lovely sound of birds singing. Seems like a nice day, right?

Now, imagine that you have the same bush moving, but instead of the nice weather, you have a cloudy sky, a strong wind blowing, and a low-pitched growl coming from behind the bush. This, by itself, can change your entire perception of the story. Add a mysterious voice over or even a subtle dark and eerie music, and your nice walk in the forest just turned into a nightmare.

There are five different aspects of sound design that were described above:

  • Ambiance: The sounds that set the tone and the environment of the animation. E.g., The sound of the wind blowing, of the birds singing.
  • Foley: Used to represent what’s being seen. E.g., The footsteps on the ground, the sound of the bush’s leaves moving.
  • Sound Effects: The sound effects that enhance other sounds, actions, or elements. E.g., The sound of the low growl behind the bushes, a subtle sound of the character trembling in fear while he approaches the bush.
  • Voice Over: The mysterious narrator telling you the story.
  • Music: The eerie music in the background working together with the ambiance to set the tone of the story.

Sound Design doesn’t tell us the story, but it teleports us inside the story. It’s the immersive factor that allows an animation to be truly experienced and messages to be delivered with more purpose.

How to budget for sound design

If you own a bike, your lock’s price and quality should be proportionate to your bike’s cost. The same applies to sound design and animation. A 10k project and a 50k project shouldn’t have the same cost for sound design, even though they might have the same duration.

A project that is 5 times more expensive will certainly require more work from the sound designer. The increase in budget necessarily means that this animation will be tackling higher challenges, be it a narrative, visual or message challenge.

We allocate 10% of the budget for sound design in our projects, right from the start. Then, with a more defined scope and narrative, we contact our sound designer partners to understand how the sound and animation can work together to deliver the best experience to the audience. Usually, the sound design’s actual cost ends up being around 7 to 10% of the project’s budget. Still, we never settle on an amount without talking to experts to understand their insights about the project’s necessities and possibilities.

Sound Design in an animation project includes Music and Sound Effects, and there are several options of pairings available depending on the project’s needs:

  • Custom Music and Sound Effects
  • Stock Music and Sound Effects
  • Only Stock Music
  • Only Sound Effects
  • Voice Over is optional in all cases

Elements that Affect Music Choice and Budget

There are two main elements of your animation project that will most impact your decisions about whether you should choose stock or custom music.

The animation’s duration

An excellent strategy to guide the sound’s creative direction on your animation projects is to pay attention to its duration. Concise projects, ranging from 6 to 30 seconds, won’t necessarily have huge benefits from using custom music, so if your budget is tight, you might be safe with stock solutions.

Longer than this, and it starts to get harder and harder to find a song that fits both the tone of the project and the animation’s visual dynamic.

While the duration can be a useful guide for this decision, it isn’t exact math either. Longer projects always benefit from custom music, but many short videos of 10 seconds with custom tracks can actually be faster, better, and sometimes cheaper than trying to find a piece of music that matches particular animation needs.

The script style

The script’s creative direction and the Voice Over style might also impact your choice between custom music or stock music. If the narration requires acting, specific pauses for jokes to be delivered, or a dramatic moment to be highlighted, working with stock music might bring some additional headaches.

The infinite possibilities of Custom Music and Sound Effects

The fact that animation doesn’t have any kind of “natural sound” means that any sound can have a massive role in building the story. Having custom music and sound effects that can be shaped in different ways to match the tone of a scene or adapt to the animation dynamics helps to enhance the animation’s immersive experience.

The truth is that any kind of animation can benefit from having custom music paired with custom sound effects. And this benefit is directly linked to your client’s benefit as well. When you’re trying to deliver a message or sell a product, communicating clearly and engaging the audience is a necessity.

Choosing the right Sound Designer partner for your project

Animation can often feel magical, and sound design is precisely what allows the magic to feel real and natural to us. It’s always smarter to invest more of your budget in a premium, custom solution when working with animation because it drives better results, both visually and performance-wise. Because of that, you must choose your partner well.

If you don’t have a sound design partner with animation experience, most animation studios outsource this work to a trusted sound partner of theirs. This is great because each team can focus on their expertise, and their previous experiences working together allows for a synergy that makes projects better and faster.

Don’t forget about sound design in your next animation project, and you might be able to go above and beyond. The final experience of your customer’s audience and your customer’s happiness will be worth it.

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Raff Marques
Raff Marques
Co-founder & Creative Director at MOWE Studio

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