I am looking for inspiration from movies where the sound (voice, sound effects, music) was used in a way to create stronger/more memorable character, to shape the character, where sound creates a distinctive quality/characteristics, describes him, reveal weakness or mental state...

A few examples I can think of:

dialogue and voice:

  • different voice deformations for Batman or Darth Vader, or even whole new language of R2D2
  • characters that are present only through voice - sniper in "Phone Booth", mother in "Psycho", or character of Dr Mabuse
  • silent character - Silent Bob
  • speech defect in "Kings speech"

sound effects:

  • "Black swan" with sounds of wings edited in right places
  • footsteps in "No country for old men"


  • leitmotifs in "Jaws" when the shark is coming, again very distinctive music in "Star Wars" for Darth Wader...
  • also found this interesting article

hope this is not too broad

7 Answers 7


difficult to answer, because most of the soundtrack (dialogue/score/source/ambiences/fx/foley) of great films spend most of their time doing this! Is it not the primary motive for adding 'anything' to the soundtrack?


In star wars Darth Vader’s lightsaber is pitched to a minor key, while Obiwan Kenobi’s is pitched to a C major key. This is in 'Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema' by Sonnenschein.


Voice of HAL 900 in "2001 a space odyssey". Alien language in "District 9". Voice of "The elephant man". Reversed processed dialog in "twin peaks" red room. Oh, there are so many... I'll add more later.. Cheers,



Sound that define a character can range from footsteps- Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada- her footsteps always stood out amplifying the powerful character she is. Or Verbal Kent in Usual Suspects- when he walks, due to his disability- stands out from other footsteps and the audience subconsciously pities him which increases the shock value at the end of the film when it is revealed that he is actually Kaiser Solzay.Clothing noise especially leather or armor can sound a certain way to either portray the character as strong or weak depending on the narrative. A character can be defined by the sound of their car- a rattly old clunker can add in some subtext as to where the character is in life or in a sci-fi/action film- the car can sound larger than life separating it from all other vehicles in the frame allowing for the character to stand out. Sonic subtext when defining character is crucial in how characters are separated from each other, defining their role within the film that much more.


Treebeard in the LoTR movies. They recorded John Rhys-Davies performing the lines in a deeper register than his normal voice, and a little slower, then pitch-shifted that, then ran it out of studio monitors through an interchangeable maze of wooden tunnels with various hard and soft baffles to give it the woody echo, then EQed the hell out of it for all the bass they could get away with.

Most of the fantastical characters in the LoTR trilogy got similar treatment. The Mouth of Sauron, played by Bruce Spence, received considerable attention considering his part was cut from the theatrical release; compare Spence's on-set dialogue in the BTS documentaries with the final mix of the Extended Edition. Even relatively ordinary characters had their moments, such as when a conversation between the Fellowship at the base of Orthanc tower and Saruman and Wormtongue at the summit had to sound like their voices spanned the gulf of a tower a quarter-mile high, when the actors weren't screaming at the top of their lungs on-set. Same thing for Saruman addressing his Uruk-Hai army before sending them to Helm's Deep. In fact, due to the relatively poor availability and quality of sound stages in New Zealand (most such scenes were done in warehouses, usually in the traffic pattern of New Zealand's major airport), I think something like 92% of the dialog in the movies had to be ADRed at Park Road because they couldn't salvage the on-set audio.


The little worm thing in Eraserhead had a sound associated with it that also played when the woman came to the protagonists door, so I felt that sound/worm represented adulterous feelings. There was a lot of stuff like that in Eraserhead. It was only through the sound that I could really understand the very abstract visuals.


One that immediately comes to mind is Héctor Salamanca in Breaking Bad. His bell is such a definitive sound and such an amazing piece of sound design on the writters behalf.

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