Cinematic Sound Design Series: Sound Effects Of Film & The Structure Of Powerful Sounds | Part 1

The sound effects of film are the biggest and the most emotional ones. When we say cinematic sound, what we mean is a strong sound with character and emot...

Posted on August 3rd 2022

   The sound effects of film are the biggest and the most emotional ones. When we say cinematic sound, what we mean is a strong sound with character and emotion. Just like the characters in films or video games, the sounds have characteristics of their own regarding their textural and emotional qualities. In this series of Cinematic Sound Design, we will explore how these qualities can build the sound and what we can do to make it most effective. Cinematic sound effects can encompass a range of categories such as braams, drones, impacts/booms, risers, downers, transitions, stingers, whooshes and so on. We will try to explain the mechanism that they all have in common so when you start creating your own, you will be able to understand the basic structure behind all of them to give the quality you want to give to the sound.

How do trailer sound effects emphasize emotion?
   To get the overall feeling and the theme of a game or a movie, watch its trailer. The trailers are supposed to give you the whole range of emotions of a two hour film in maybe two or three minutes, so they are full of these sounds in order to successfully deliver the emotions and the overall character of the content


Range of emotions and textures in sound
   Any sound you hear will have some type of texture. The type of texture which has a connotation to certain surfaces, temperatures, colors and they can also have distinct width of their own. For example a sound can be warm or cold. It can also be bright or dark. It can be fat, noisy, clean, distorted and so on… All these qualities aim to summarize the structure of the sound. Like, when we say that a sound is dark, what we mean is actually the sound has stronger low frequencies and weaker higher frequencies, resulting in lack of bright details caused by the absence of the higher frequencies. A cold texture means a type of sound is lacking lower bass frequencies under approximately 150Hz.

   The textures of sound are lots of fun to listen to. To explore the full range of sonic textures and overall descriptions of sound, visit:

   Some textures can emphasize certain emotions depending on their structure. For example, a warm or a cold texture can make you feel certain emotions because their textural quality might relate to certain feelings. However, to really emphasize an emotional quality, knowing just a little harmony can level up your designs.

   In cinematic sound design, we want to emphasize texture and emotion and contrast more than anything. We will be getting into contrast in a bit. The sounds we create do not have to be musical but when they have certain harmonies in their structure, they tend to deliver the message more clearly. One way to do this is to integrate the musical intervals to your sound.


   A musical interval refers to the distance between two individual pitches. These distances between pitches have individual names and they are supposed to emphasize certain feelings because of their harmonic tendencies. The minor third is known by its melancholic and sad quality or the perfect fifth is truly a perfect fit for cheerful and stable sounding emotion. Some intervals tend to feature negativity, melancholy, tragedy, and they mostly fall into the category of dissonant intervals. Some intervals emphasize pleasantness, brightness, joy, cheerfulness and so on and they mostly fall into the category of consonant intervals.

   We are not gonna give overwhelming music theory here but if you could just understand the relationships around your pitches, you can help navigate the focus of the sound and let it stand out. For example, we just talked about the intervals of minor third and the perfect fifth. To apply these qualities to the sound, try this method. Start by putting an interval of perfect fifth on your piano roll to give a pleasant and safe emotion and build the sound with complementary layers that matches those pitches. Let your sound gradually build up with the cheerful and vast interval of perfect fifth. One other example could be doing the same thing with the interval of minor third where melancholy and tragedy resides. Maybe you want emphasis on tragedy and drama. If that’s the case, try the same method with the matching interval of your choice(in our case, that’s a minor third). Imagine all the stories you could tell with this simple and yet effective method. This brings our attention to the intention of the sound.


Focus on the intention of the sound
   Cinematic sound effects, as we mentioned, are often focused and deliver the message clearly and they tend to do this with minimum number of elements or layers. When creating layers of sound, especially when starting out, you might want to add more details than you need. Instead, think about what you want to accomplish with the sound. Ask these two questions:

What do you want your audience to feel?

Which texture or textures you want to express this feeling with?

The answer to these questions is the focus of your sound. Now you know how to emphasize those feelings and how to build those textures. This way, the intensity of your sound will immensely accelerate.

Maybe your sound tells a story of a scary mythological creature that lives in a snowy forest. A cold texture with unsettling harmony… Or maybe it wants to tell a story of courageous women in the medieval era. Then your texture and harmony should be picked accordingly. This is one way of having a sound with character. This method of making up a story for the sound may or may not work for you. But you can see the basic understanding behind it. And you make up your own method for it.

Clarity in intention will result in intense results. When creating cinematic sound effects, take emotional and textural qualities as references for your intention.