I'm currently writing a comparative sound design study for university on the differences of live action films and animations. As one of the chapters i am analysing a number of films on each side before i compare and show contrast between them or explain why there isn't much difference.

However, what i need advice with is factors with in the film i need to be paying attention to and writing about... Some of the things i have thought of:

the level of exaggeration used? if any "mickey mouse" effects have been used? are the sound effects made as realistic as possible?

If there are any others you could think of it would be greatly appreciated.

So far the film list for analysis are (will only be analysing 2 or 3 for each genre):














  • are these films your selections, or was the selection list specified by your instructor? Apr 18, 2013 at 14:36
  • My own selection so i am open to opinions
    – Harry
    Apr 19, 2013 at 11:10
  • Also try Up. A great film which combines realistic and animated sound design.
    – oinkaudio
    Apr 23, 2013 at 6:38

4 Answers 4


Interesting topic. My first thought is to look at how visual cues is translated or amplified into audio - how the sound relates to the visuals to give them certain properties, and how that differs between animation and live-action. What aspects of the films differs from a "realistic" world, and how does it sound? You could also try to categorize different elements for further comparisons, like impacts, ambience, character-specific sounds etc. Another interesting question, is if the sound design might differ between them because they have different target groups (children/family vs adults).

  • Good points! i think the target audience is a strong point to justify any opinions! thanks!
    – Harry
    Apr 19, 2013 at 12:42

Some additional things I'd be looking at are:

  • Level of detail. How does it sound? eg. Does it just sound like a lever being pulled or is every little nuance of the sound audible?

  • Level of layering. How much sound is going on. Can you just hear what is happening in the action right in front of you or is a whole world being created? Can you hear off screen action? If something is making a sound, is it a single sound or can you hear different elements in play?

  • In extension to the "Mickey Mouse FX" question; Are the sounds being used to emote an emotional response or give a certain design aesthetic? Or are they just realistic, true to life sounds.

  • Layering! that is something i was definitely missing! thanks!
    – Harry
    Apr 19, 2013 at 12:41

Perhaps in the case of animations and live action it could be a valid point to figure out how much of the sound has been consciously "made" and how much of it either occurs in, naturally belongs to or is intuitively implied by the scenes. In live action you obviously have the possibility to use location sound as well as real points of reference (like life-like locations and somewhat realistic humans/creatures/objects), whereas that's never the case in animations. It's not that interesting point for the viewer, but rather important point for a sound artist. Although as these are big feature films, then they're mostly post-produced and ADRd.

I think the target group and how it's heard in the soundtrack is a good thing to analyze as well. Were the target group specified differently in some film, it might affect how the overall soundtrack is stylized.

You could perhaps find something in comparing how much off-screen and background sound gets used in live action vs animations as well. I don't know if there's any noticeable difference, but you could expect that animations could see much scarcer use of off-screen sound (perhaps to make the overall sound more plain and less life-like and more fictional and story-like or "plasticy"/highly stylized), whereas in live action there could be off-screen sound that just "has to be there" in order to make it seem more life-like or to meet some kind of convention in expectations.

Also, are there more sound cues in animations which can be left out and which don't make any sound than in live action films? Does live action automatically call for more sounds, because it has to take realism in account? How well does scarcity of sounds and a simplistic soundtrack work in live action scenes?

Is there noticeable difference in what type of sound is used to create and emphasize emotions in animations vs live action? Music, sfx, voice acting?

Finally, did you find anything that you think shows some kind of actual resemblances, conventions or differences or was your comparison random and pointless and one can't actually group and analyze films in this way, but rather there would need to be different criteria altogether or no overall criteria at all?


I'm going to come at this from a different angle. Since that's your list of potential films, I think you're severely limiting yourself as far as potential learning opportunities. Granted, there's a lot of interesting sound design in the modern blockbusters/action films you've compiled (Snow White being the only exception)...but there's a much larger world out there that you should give yourself exposure to. The "art" in sound design comes from the why, not the how.

I think you should re-evaluate what kinds of pairings will give you a strong opportunity to compare approaches. Maybe you pick an animated and a live action film that have the same sound designer (Randy Thom on "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Cast Away" would be a good example). Perhaps you compare approaches to animated films between two different cultures; something like a Studio Ghibli film vs. Disney...or maybe something more independent like "Triplets of Bellville". Pick a foreign Director/Sound Editor pair that have worked on multiple films together...Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Gerard Hardy immediately come to mind. They did some very interesting things in "Amélie" and "Micmacs."

My point is this...

First, expand your view a bit. Then, think about the possible links between films that will provide opportunities for comparison. It will prepare you to think a bit more critically about the use of sound, and is more likely to lead you down the road of creative sound use...which, in my opinion, is more important than sound generation.

  • Thanks for the comment, i really like the idea of comparing two films by Randy Thom as im looking to do that with Ben Burtt, Cheers! i will explore a bit deeper!
    – Harry
    Apr 19, 2013 at 12:40

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