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Is 3D sound design the next big thing in pictures?

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Is 3D sound design the next big thing in pictures?

Binaural sound design

These days 3D movies are on the forefront. Their popularity is indisputably growing with a fast pace. This brings up the question where audio is standing within the cinema standards or the film industry in general. It could be said that it did not evolve in the same way as the image did even though it has the same potential (or perhaps even more) to be as natural and intuitive as a 3D image.

Binaural audio is the ultimate listening experience since it comes very close to the human listening habits, therefore it provides a far more realistic audio image as the common surround standards in cinemas do. On the down side, it requires headphones, but then again 3D image requires glasses. Of course in the near future it will be possible to watch 3D movies without glasses, but also the audio technology is moving towards solutions to get rid of headphones. One attempt is the use of ultra sonic speakers, which are very precise speakers that can be pointed onto a person so that the outgoing audio signal only reaches the wanted listener and not his neighbour.

For more information about supersonic speakers and how they are going to develop check this:
3D sound without headphones

Another approach where binaural, or 3D sound as it is called most stylish, has a great and vastly unexplored potential is in a musical context. There are only few bands that made a step into the unknown world of binaural audio by using it as a media to present their compositions. Most of those albums with only a few exceptions were made in the 70’s and not so much by popular artists than underground bands such as the german krautrock band Can or Lou Reed.

Why should we use it now?

Most of the movies/videos that we consume are watched on mobile devices like laptops, iPad’s and even iPhone’s are a very common device to watch movies that where made for the “big screens”. Therefore, having to wear headphones is not an unusual thing and would offer the ideal platform to present binaural sound design to a wider audience.
Binaural sound is a very commonly used technique when it comes to jump and run computer games, they mostly make use of the 3d sound to enhance the realistic experience for the player.
So you might ask:

How would it affect the filming process…?

There are a lot of different methods to achieve 3d sound, one of which is to collect the sound in the normal way with a conventional boom microphone and convert the signal during the post production process into a binaural signal by using either a plugin or even re-amping techniques. One reason for converting the signal afterwards could be to avoid background noise that could be captured very easily by the dummy head on the set.

Another way is to record it directly in binaural by placing the microphones right next to the camera so we, the viewers, are always where the camera viewpoint is.
The biggest problem here is, as mentioned before, it has to be quite whilst shooting and the background noises have to be either part of the scene or have to be brought down to a minimum because the Dummy head picks up the signal omni directional meaning 360 degrees.
However, with modern film cameras and equipment it should be possible to reduce the noise level to a minimum and hopefully the rest of the crew will be quite… sounds easy isn’t that easy… but necessary!

Perhaps the best approach would be a mixture oft those two.

And there are even more specific ways how to record and intensify the scene through binaural sound design. For example you can record the sound directly at the protagonist. So you as a viewer will be directly in the middle of the scene, like in a close up shot of somebody sitting on a couch and someone is whispering into his ear. The viewer will hear everything the protagonist is hearing. This will have a very specific effect.

In dialog scenes you don’t have to switch necessarily all the times like the camera does from the perspective of the sound position. You have to think how you would like to dissolve the scene and record it from where you will get the best results.

It is not just a gimmick!

There is a discussion on several forums and blogs going on about 3D sound for movies being just another expensive gimmick.
First of all, is it not the most desirable thing to develop film techniques from a filmmaker’s point of view?
The aim is to bring the pictures as well as the sound step by step closer to human listening & viewing habits, and of course for a creative use to alter, extend and modify the physical boarders of our reality.

Filming in 3D is still very expensive but this is going to change, as technology will develop in a few years time. Only few years ago filmmaking was totally different and less available for everyone to participate, but merely an elite thing that required a big financial support. Now everyone can shoot whatever he wants, grab a Redcam and shoot it with 4K resolution. Too expensive? Probably not. On the downside it oversaturates the internet with a lot of meaningless material.

„If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!“ – Emma Goldma

The possibilities that binaural sound design offers are amazing!

But of course there are a lot of problems and difficulties…
You need more time to prepare the scene you are going to shoot.

It is not like stereo that you are confronted with the sound right or left,
With binaural, sound is all around you and you are in the middle…

There are a lot of directors out there that use sound very carefully and precise, for example in Benny’s video of Michael Haneke you see the kid killing his female friend, but you just hear it, the camera points into the other direction. It is your imagination that creates all the tension.


Or in Scarface where a friend of Tony gets killed with a chainsaw. We think we see this happen but we just hear it.
That is what makes a very intense movie, when we are starting to imagine and visualize things only based on the sounds we hear.

Imagine those two examples in binaural…. For a better understanding watch this short clip:

With binaural sound it might be possible to put new limits.


Binaural Music Project + funfairfilms

Moritz started the Binaural Music Project. It is less a band than a production project, which made it to its task to push 3D sound in the field of music production but also for film productions. The BMP tries to implement the binaural concept into state of the art production standards without interfering or changing the process significantly. One of the most mentionable methods used by the BMP to convert a multi-track recording, providing excellent results, is the process of re-amping, where each track is being assigned to a speaker which then is being played back in a room onto a so called Dummy-Head microphone in the position wanted. Now this method can work very well in the fields of music production but might not be the right choice for a postproduction job. Never the less is it one of the BMP’s goals to execute a film audio production entirely in binaural.
We are just at the beginning of this process but we the funfairfilm crew can’t wait to give it a shot within a new project. It is for every one of us something totally new and difficult to predict. However, we are very ambitious creative minds and ready to bring this thing to life. We will keep you updated!