Scenario: Animated feature from Pixar. No production sound except actor dialogue/effects.

Scenes are outside. Suburban and desert.

Lots of foley/moving actions. Different perspectives.

How would you build the soundtrack?

Background to foreground?

Foreground to background?

Low frequencies to High frequencies?

When would you consider surrounds?

Would you spend more time on a featured story element, like a specific sword the character uses, and leave the ambiences for last? What would you do on a tight schedule? What would you do if you had all the time you wanted?

Do you prefer to create a sub-library and create a series of effects for a character before spotting them to picture?

Assume you were doing it all yourself and had no supervisors/editors to delegate to. Also, assume the Director is ignorant and has no say in the matter.

Look forward to your answers.

  • What do you mean by soundscape? Do you mean ambiences?
    – user49
    May 15 '10 at 0:31
  • Hey Tim. I mean the end product of sound design. All aspects of it considered as a whole - foley, spot FX, ambiences, etc.
    – Utopia
    May 15 '10 at 1:06

How I would approach it, & what I would prioritise, totally depends on the story, context, characters, point of view, mood, meaning, directors intent (I have yet to meet an ignorant director who has no say in their own film) the picture cut, pacing, drama... and the story.. (I know I said that twice)

I would start on the most difficult sounds first - presuming you can access or record the right sounds, things like foley, movement, ambiences etc are relatively straight forward and can be done in a fixed amount of time. The most difficult sounds are the subjective ones, the ones directors will have strong opinions on. These sounds will benefit the most from evolution ie attempting a first quick version, then trying again later, and again, and again... Subjective sounds might be creature/character vocalisations or specific characterful actions, it depends on the film but with Wall E it would be his (& the other characters) vocaalisations & mechanics/actions

I would probably then do an ambience pass to create the world the characters inhabit (which will give you an evocative background to mesh the onscreen actions into) and then move on to other FX... Then continue revisiting all elements, revising & updating with new material..


Hey Ryan,

In general, left to my own devices with a fairly tight deadline, I like to start with some basic ambience to establish a mood. That way, I don't feel like I'm designing the more synchronous sounds in a vacuum...

If there is a defining character, then yes, you'll probably spend more time on their signature sounds...

As for some of your other questions and how to get to a "full done," I just try to keep listening with a critical ear and refining as I build. Do multiple passes, take some breaks, give yourself some time to step away and come back with fresh ears...


I like to do a mixture of things.

Firstly I would watch it and spot it for sounds. Then I'd make a start and create the atmos/ambience tracks. Put in all your spot sound effects. Then I'd go back through and see what is missing.

You might find nothing is. However with large (animated) feature films you will find that there is a tremendous amount of layering involved. All those little details that would leave the film sounding empty if they were not present.

When I first started I didn't break the sound down into components, now I would struggle if I didn't. All my mixes are colour coded in ProTools depending on what part of the structure the sound belongs to.

My usual list is.... Dialogue Music FX Foley Footsteps Atmos


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.