Boarded – A Sound Design Project

What was this project?

This was for a class purely about sound design. As such, there is no vision. It’s all audio. It was definitely a new challenge trying to convey a complex story through only sound.

What’s the story about?

Given the budget limitations that stop me from accomplishing a lot of what I want to make within the Sci-Fi genre, doing this sound design gave me the opportunity to really push past those limitations in my storytelling.

I set this story in a strange galaxy, far into the future. Humanity is divided between two factions: The Democratic Order of Systems and the Independent Order. The DOS wants to enforce all planets and colonies under one central government rule. The Independent Order believe each planet and colony should have its own leadership, and a representative from each group to form a kind of senate or council.

In this particular story, Independent Order heroes Marson, Bossca and Trask have stolen a prototype weapon and are escaping DOS Space to deliver it to their leadership. The weapon could be a turning point in the war for whichever side holds it. After the DOS board them during their escape, they manage to shoot their way onto an enemy ship and head for the nearest planet with their stolen prototype.

A lot of the information I went on about just now isn’t exactly front and centre in the final product. A lot of it is my own personal world building I did in pre-production and I’ve focused on a small part of that world for this short sound design. I wanted the overarching world to be interpreted from the story and hint at a much larger narrative that isn’t explicitly shown.

The Boarded sound design project as it looks in Adobe Audition

How did we make the project?

I began developing this by recording the voice acting/grunts. I got friends from Lone Productions to play Marson, Bossca and Trask. They did a wonderful job in their roles and it was really fun to experiment with different voices. For example, I edited Bossca’s voice to make it sound more monotone and grizzly.

I played the DOS Troopers (with FX modification), and generated a voice for the Ship AI. Once I had the voice work, I began creating the character movements and foley: footsteps, clothing and whatnot. I then began adding the ship noises, the drilling of the boarding crafts, the laser blasts. I found a lot of free sounds online and combined those with things I recorded myself. I looked up some tips on how to create sounds, but also just kind of experimented with a lot of things as well. For example, when the ship gets hit by lasers at the beginning, I created a sound and then edited it to become the sound I wanted.

Close up of a file playing out in Adobe Audition

What did this project teach me about sound design?

Throughout my degree, I became increasingly interested and more observant of sound in films. I’ve come to understand just how much sound changes vision, and how much it can make or break a film entirely. Badly shot footage can be saved by good sound design (though it’s best not rely on that).

This assignment really pushed this skill further for me. It was the first time creating sound from scratch. When doing this there’s so much to consider. The footsteps, the clothes movement, the environment… I have really begun to translate this skill into my other projects. KNN, The Agent Killer and Uni Man all contain fight scenes which have parts constructed from scratch. This is such an important need sometimes. Especially with the genre of Science Fiction.

Close up of several clips from Boarded in Adobe Audition

What did this project teach me about screenwriting?

This was a very different project to write for because it was a sound design project. In the back of my mind when writing the script I had to consider that everything in big print needed to be conveyed through audio alone. There were no visuals to support them.

Once the script was done, part of our assessment was to go analyse the script and highlight the different forms of audio. Yellow for dialogue, green for foley, blue for ambience, pink for special FX and purple for music.

Doing this process helped me gain a clear understanding of whether there was enough sound described rather than just the visuals. Overall, I was pretty happy with how my final highlights came up. It wasn’t sorely lacking in any sound information like it could have been.

A screenplay marked up for sound design

At this point in my education, I had a pretty solid understanding of scriptwriting from my past projects. I was able to comfortably change to a sound focused approach in my big print and the whole script flows pretty well reading it back today.