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Movies with the Best Sound Design in Hollywood

It´s hard to find a good movie that stands by itself only by the quality of the acting, or power of its script. There are some other very important elements that transform a good movie into an unforgettable one. Those factors are embedded in a film's soundtrack, music on the one hand, but mostly sound, since there´s no suspense without sound. Imagine watching a movie without the evocative sounds of a creaking door, footsteps on floorboards or a ticking time bomb.

That´s why many studios invest so much in sound technicians as well as engineers, since they need to ensure that the sound in their movies is the best. In fact, many of the action blockbusters out there would fall to pieces if their sound wasn't up to scratch. This can be easily applied to sci-fi and horror movies, which are heavily reliant on the execution of immersive SFX to engage the audience beyond the visuals.

Sound Engineers Have a Key Role in Movies, Photo: Jonas Zürcher

In fact this is of such importance in the film industry that there's an Oscar category of awards called "Best Sound Mixing", in which the movies nominated have outstanding sound design. A great deal of importance is placed on the way these industry professionals design and mix sound in film, since there´s no real interest if it's out of tempo, or the levels are out. A good note of sound is as good as a great guitar chord, since it provokes a variety of emotions in a single second. From fear of the unknown, to the familiarity of those sounds that remind us of earth, like hearing rain and thunder through earphones in deep space, sound has the power to transport us in a split second, even while travelling millions of miles away from our planet.

Some of the Predictions for 2023 Oscars

Some movies nominated for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing categories at for 2023´s Oscars are the tip of the spear for this year's awards. Since 2022 was a great year for movies, presenting some epic blockbusters and much anticipated titles, fans of sound editing and mixing are patiently waiting to hear what the judges decide.

One of the favorites this year is Top Gun: Maverick, the continuation of the 1986 success Top Gun, presenting the story of Maverick a great fighter pilot of the F-14 Tomcat, and the latter part of his career aboard an F-18. Both planes have very distinct sounds, and the sound effects department in both films did a superb job. The great success of the 1986 movie is deeply connected to the music score with the Kenny Loggins hit 'Danger Zone', but also the impressive sound design. While delayed, the Top Gun sequel released to much fanfare, racking up record-breaking box office figures and delivering amazing sound, reinforcing the film's epic visuals presented on screen.

Another hot favourite is the German movie All Quiet on the Western Front, a transportative and gritty film about World War I, from the perspective of a German soldier. Passing from great battles to quiet moments, this movie features great sound design and many critics anticipate that it might be amongst the big winners at this year's ceremony, including Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

The Movies with the Best Sound Design

Apart from the Oscars, there are some great examples that had us glued to the cinema chair thanks to their immersive sound design. For starters, a good example is the Oscar-winning movie Interstellar, directed by none other than Christopher Nolan, with Gregg Landaker and Gary Rizzo as the audio engineers. Together they created one of the most memorable films in recent history, with sound design that goes in the direction of what the movie has to offer, creating some truly memorable moments like the ticking of the clock as the crew of the Endurance visits a distant planet with every second representing the passing of a full day on Earth.

The list of powerful cinematic moments created by sound in film goes on. The great Hans Zimmer, is one composer who knows how to set colour notes that interlace quite beautifully with the soundtrack. The composer of some of Nolan's masterpieces, such as the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, Zimmer's worked with Nolan to present some of the finest examples when it comes to the best use of sound design in film.

Ridley Scott is also known as a director that not only recognises, but celebrates the great pairing of sound with action. This is best exemplified in one of his masterpieces, 2001´s Black Hawk Down, a pseudo-realistic film that shows the events of the Somali revolution in 1992, in which a few Sikorsky UH-60 helicopters where downed in Mogadishu. In such an action movie, the sound design and mixing is key to recreating the ambience not only of the fight scenes, but also the tense moments leading up to them. This is another feather in the cap for Hans Zimmer, who also composed the soundtrack, which pairs quite masterfully with the sound effects.

There are also two more movies in which sound played a key role in their success. One is the South African sci-fi adventure thriller District 9, depictnig a unique alien invasion, mixing sounds to create a completely new language for creatures from outer space. Finally, the sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie Children of Men, is another excellent example of great sound design in a movie, with some brilliant key notes of sound in very delicate scenes, particularly in deep action scenes, keeping audience on the edges of their seats.

Talking Movies with Spling on FMR Reaches 500th Episode

Spling is recording his 500th episode of Talking Movies on Fine Music Radio on 25 February 2023 at 8:15am... that's 500 consecutive, individual broadcasts of 3 movie reviews in just as many weeks without fail. In spite of food poisoning, Spling endeavoured to keep his 500-in-a-row tally in tact. This has always been important to him, continuing to get the show together for the loyal listeners who have come to enjoy his take, whatever it takes.

Having started at Fine Music Radio almost a decade ago, the Talking Movies show format hasn't actually changed all that much. The recording started in the studio with Spling visiting the Fine Music Radio studios at the Artscape on a weekly basis. When the worldwide pandemic struck, Spling was already geared to keep recording Talking Movies remotely. Having moved the recording to a "home studio", he developed a number of hidden skills from the setup and voice recording process to the edit. Spling switched to recording at nighttime to avoid navigating the ambient sound of ambulances, trains, pigeons, dogs, loud conversations, weather and yes... even chainsaws.

Talking Movies 500th Episode

Having been under the watchful eye of three station managers over this time, it's been an interesting journey as FMR has gone from strength-to-strength. While most radio stations in sitcoms and movies lend themselves to pure drama, Fine Music Radio is one of the more pleasant places to work. Full of absolute characters, it hasn't short of fun or spirit but is generally just a nice space.

Spling has tried to tailor his review slate and style of reviewing for the FMR audience, which has meant leaning more into arthouse and more substantial film titles or at the very least, reviewing movies in such a way that they can be appreciated for the review itself. In a world of animated family movies and superhero blockbusters this hasn't always been as easy as it sounds!

Spling has had one or two complaints over the years... someone was offended by my review of a sexually-charged movie and there have been a few unfounded mutters of too much "skiet, skop 'n donner". However, it's the compliments that have encouraged him to keep going with word like "erudite", "spontaneous" and "succinct" being thrown around. Having met some people who didn't know what Spling looked like, people have said they thought he would be blonde, older, taller... radio is a funny game.

Talking Movies 500th Episode

Spling says that what he's "loved most about doing the Talking Movies show" is that he's "always been given a great deal of creative freedom: able to curate my review line up with relative freedom, write without limits and keep the show's integrity as a true independent". After 500 episodes, he's hoping to mix things up a bit. The film critic adds that "while the recent line-up change has meant Talking Movies has been limited from Fridays and Saturday broadcasts to Saturdays-only, it's now able to be syndicated, which means I'm going to be looking to make it more accessible, or creating a shorter variation that I can broadcast on other local or international stations".

Spling calls his efforts "a labour of love" and hopes that people have enjoyed listening to the show over what's coming up for 10 years. To make just one 6 minute Talking Movies episode per week takes roughly 8 hours to watch the films, write the script, voice record, edit and facilitate the broadcast.

Fine Music Radio's resident movie critic is planning on doing something special for the 500th episode, not straying too far from what people have come to expect but going for something completely different within that framework. While Spling's reaching a milestone for his radio career as a presenter, he's also readying a book called 'The Essence of Dreams' for publication this year, another sign of a great many good things to come.

While Spling has been the driving force behind Talking Movies, often doing everything just short of the final mix, he wouldn't have been able to do it alone. His father was instrumental in arranging a meeting with the station, which turned out to be serendipity when they discovered FMR were on the lookout for a new presenter for the review show. Since it was scheduled to air at 8:20am on Fridays, Spling realised that it would be best to pre-record the show rather than try to rush through Cape Town's notorious Friday morning traffic to get to the station on time. His wife has probably listened to the most Talking Movies episodes, eager to hear the latest edition and serving as a sounding board for rehearsals with an ear for final touches.

When it comes to studio assistance over the years Spling says "Mawande, Ewan, Wesley and now recently JP have been my wingmen at various points and I've always enjoyed the camaraderie of working with them over the years." He also acknowledges Francis Slabber & Associates (The Hearing Clinic) for their continued support and loyalty as a sponsor of the show for over many of those years. While the show is currently looking for a new sponsor, Spling's sure that Fine Music Radio's high LSM audience and the elevated film conversation that has become Talking Movies is sure to appeal to an array of brands looking to associate with a tried-and-tested, reliable, trustworthy and expert movie afficiando.

While Spling can't promise there will be another 500 episodes of Talking Movies, he is excited to see what lies around the corner and is eager to ensure the Talking Movies show remains relevant, informative, insightful and well-respected. To celebrate this milestone Spling donated 500 DVDs to TEARS animal welfare, an amazing rescue organisation who are caring for animals as much as Saint Francis of Assisi would've wanted. Please support them by donating towards their efforts and visiting their charity shops.

How to Create a Video with Incremental Movement in After Effects

The need to create new and more exciting ways to present products, film funny scenes or even keep up with social media trends, is pushing video editors to take the best out of their hat and perform some magic. One cool effect that many people are talking about these days, is the incremental movement effect, something that's quite common in movies and now also in many advertising videos, creating a great impression both for the audience, but also for those marketing chiefs that eventually approve these videos.

There are no clear statistics of how many people are using this effect today, but it has a great impact in most of the ways it's presented to the audience. This is most particular in memes that use this “repetition” effect to create an out-of-this-world ambience. For example, the illusion of dropping a phone i.e. to the ground, and then making as if it returned to the hand of the user by “inverting” the world.

After Effects can help in creating incremental movements in video

It's also a popular effect in advertising when you need to repeat something multiple times, such as a box of products in a mass production line. This could be recreated using only some metal tubes and one box of the product, just using the incremental movement effect, one can do this and so much more.

In fact you might not have noticed, but many videos have this effect, starting with a slow-moving or panning camera, to a fast focus on the important part of the frame. It can be done suddenly to create “drama”, but also in a slow, more consistent way to pan the whole scene with a special focus area of what was filmed.

The Advantages of Using It

There are a lot of moments in the video edit where you can use this effect. For example when trying to catch up the movement of a runner, a cyclist or even cars in motion (this last example might be a little harder to accomplish). These cool shots are used in cinema when the subject in a car, or even running is “frozen” as the camera follows his exact speed, generating quite an otherworldly effect as only the background moves.

But it can also be made by adding movement in a video editing program like After Effects by using simple formulas that will allow the user to create this effect with ease. Actually the fact that it's being requested a lot more in social media, means that it's not only effective in selling something, but also quite easy to accomplish if you know the formulas.

If you're interested in using it by panning the camera around, there are a lot of ideas that can be taken from cinema, which will surely help “polish” your video and give it the necessary creative touch that you are looking for. Some studios have even created a great guide to camera movement that you can check out if you want to learn a thing or two to make your videos more visually-enticing.

How to Add It Digitally?

There are a few formulas that you can input into After Effects so the program can perform this marvelous effect. But there's one that stands out from all of them, and it's explained in this helpful video, that will allow you to “keep track” of an object, or even make as if it's moving even when it's just a simple photo.

The first step is to choose a video that has a subject still with the least movement possible. Even if there's camera movement, sometimes this effect has a good impact when applied. If possible, the subject needs to have a little "air" to the sides of the frame, in order for the transition to be much smoother and look as if it is really moving.

This effect can also help create movement between different parts of a giant photo, since Adobe Premiere and After Effects allow you to import massive photos, you can take a still and create movement within, panning the camera around the things you find most important. It can also generate dramatic effects while moving faster, or even shacking, a very useful resource when creating videos about comics, adding that extra layer to some event - like a punch.

When you know how to use it, there are hundreds of situations where you can use this movement. Think about a situation where the camera needs to be elsewhere and then it's just a matter of learning the formula, adding increments to make it look much smoother, or even adding that sense of urgency to that movement.

Take some stills, or even try those “video scraps” lying around on a disc somewhere. Adding a little motion can turn your video into something much more captivating.

'Stander' in the Rearview Mirror

Stander is a biographical crime thriller directed by Bronwen Hughes and starring Thomas Jane as Captain André Stander, a police officer turned bank robber. Set in the wake of the Soweto uprising, Stander shoots an unarmed protestor in the line of duty, forcing him to become disillusioned with the apartheid system. On a whim, he robs a bank and gets away with it. This rush of blood and stick-it-to-the-man attitude prompts him to go on a spree of bank robberies, even called in his capacity as a police captain to investigate his own crime.

Released in 2003, Stander is another case of an international film production relying on overseas talents to play South Africans. Casting Thomas Jane, who initially refused what would become one of his most praised roles, Jane's supporting cast include: Deborah Kara Unger as his wife Bekkie Stander and his accomplices, David O'Hara as Alan Heyl and Dexter Fletcher as Lee McCall. While the primary cast are composed of actors from America, Canada, Scotland and England, they give Marius Weyers and Ashley Taylor some good screen time as General Stander and Cor van Deventer with almost every other role cast locally.

Stander - In the Rearview Mirror

To their credit, the international actors do a reasonable job with harnessing the South African accent (whatever that means in a country with 11 official languages). Deborah Kara Unger is sultry personified and doesn't skip a beat with her voice work, good enough to make you wonder why you haven't seen her in more South African films. David O'Hara does well, even if the nuances of his Scottish accent are detectable from time to time and Dexter Fletcher's voice is surprisingly unremarkable, which probably means he did a great job at finding a comfortable middleground.

It's interesting to watch Stander after seeing Escape from Pretoria. Both films took place at a similar time, feature prison scenes, prison-forged friendships, jail breaks, anti-apartheid sentiment and even similar ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. Their parallels are so strong that it would actually be surprising to hear that Stander was not a reference for Escape from Pretoria.

While it received some early criticism before its release, Escape from Pretoria had planned to film in South Africa but was forced to relocate to Australia, effectively reinventing Pretoria Central Prison - the primary location for this suspenseful thriller. Escape from Pretoria also featured international actors with Daniel Radcliffe as Tim Jenkin and Ian Hart as Denis Goldberg, but the iffy accent work becomes secondary to spirited performances, nail-biting crime drama and Tim Jenkin's amazing true story as directed by Francis Annan.

Luckily for Stander, this crime thriller was able to be shot in South Africa with a predominantly South African cast, which lends itself a degree of realism without the artifice of illusion. Hughes captures the mood of this "paperback thriller" quite deftly, able to inject a coolness factor thanks to the retro throwback and swagger of Thomas Jane. It features one of the most vivid South African riot scenes, in an attempt to capture the chaos and ferocity of Tembisa in the wake of the student protests in Soweto.

Gathering the spontaneity and intensity with a sense of authenticity, it feels much more real than it deserves to be within the context of the movie's overall commitment to entertainment value. Obviously a turning point for Stander, Hughes powers home the injustice and gravity of the situation so well that it could have influenced, or even inspired scenes from The Bang Bang Club, which arrived 7 years later.

Thomas Jane is reminiscent of Christopher Lambert and his performance as Captain André Stander captures some of the same pure conviction and effortless cool that made Highlander such a cult classic. Whether a mascot for the biographical actioner or a product of it, Stander manages to whip up a rousing, breathless and yet surprisingly authentic depiction of the life and times. The production design and attention to detail in the world-building is enough to impress locals who actually lived through the 1980s, so it should hopefully translate for international audiences too.

Just like the bank robbers, Stander is one of those movies that just seemed to get away from itself. Armed with the potential to stand alongside the likes of an entertainment all-rounder like Argo, it's closing scenes aim for haunting and tragic but fall short. Conveying Stander's true sacrifices and the cold hard realities of being a bank robber on the run, Hughes attempts to land the cautionary undertone of Stander's life's story but in doing so, steals the ambiguity of his dual cop/robber identity. A sad ending after the gang disband, it cheats film's exuberant Robin Hood spirit, making you wonder if leaving on a high note may have been a better call.

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