【Lecture】Made in Shanghai: Animated Films of the Good Old Times 10—Magician or Artist
Made in Shanghai - Animation Films from the Golden Era
When the black cat detective came onto the screen with the famous four-shot ‘Qing Kan Xia Ji’, do you know how the sound of the gunshot is recorded? Actually it was made up of the sound from not only the true gunshot but also the tourniquet, the rattan aircraft, and the synthesizer. In this lecture we are going to talk about these animation you know well but their sounds you may not know.
When watching TV or movies, usually we are deeply impressed by the images, the actors and the story. A successful animation film also requires hard work of scriptwriter, director, character design and lead animator. However, have you ever noticed the coherent sound effect? Behind that, there is such a person, whose job is to create a variety of sound effects to make the film become more vivid and touching. Because it needs art talent and creativity, these people who design sound have won themselves ‘the magician of the sound’, which is also well known as the foley artists.
Foley artists are required to depend on the situation, the characters, and the background in the film to imitate and design different sound effects for the perfect combination with the images in order to achieve the best audio-visual effects. An excellent foley artist should not only have solid professional theoretical knowledge but also many practical experiences, accompany with his appreciation of the art and the life. In many cases, foley artists do not have the so-called professional props; just ordinary daily necessities, or even obscene rubbish, they can all be shined again under the flexible use from the foley artists, and imitate the exact sound effect what the images intend to phonate.
Bai Weimin Joined the Shanghai Animation Film Studio in the seventies of last century. The first film he participated in is the shui-mo animation The Fight Between the Snipe and the Clam.
‘I was very interested in the sound since an early age. I remember when I was young, our family lived in an old house. There were a lot of aeolian bells installed aside the roof window. I always waited at the fixed time in the morning, the afternoon and the evening for the melodious ringing to my ears. While listening to the wind ring I always wanted to figure out why they sound automatically – and it turned out to be the blowing wind.’
The influence of the living environment and his innate sensitivity to sound appealed Bai to fall into the love deeply with his work and he has endless topic on it.
‘The caw in the animation Three Monks comes from two handmade pieces of bamboo; I cut them into one side narrow and one side wide, then I fixed the narrow part with a metal plate, and I blow this “instrument” to make the sound. The sound of cutting a watermelon is not really recorded on the spot, because that sound would be kind of hollow and a little dry; I use the sound of cutting a disc to imitate the sound of cutting watermelon, and this crisp sound is more like a real one. The clops between different scenes is made of rhythmically hitting the pad with both hands, or putting on cotton slippers, shoes knocking at the uppers of the shoes. If you stuff some newspaper or textile into the shoes and then knocking, you will get the sound of horses running on the grass or the snow. The origins of those unexpected sounds just come from the humble items in life.’
Bai Weimin believes that many animations are emotional anthropomorphic, emotional dramatic, rhythmic, and they are the living things. Although technology is now well developed, the electronic thing is just limited to the mainly sampling. The sampling is synchronous. However, he is unwilling to phonate for the sound. Instead, he insists on ‘not making the sound without its vitality.’
‘Imagine how to imitate the sound of the character rolling off the slide? While it can be acceptable to use a string of descendants popping up on the piano, what if the character is in a rather fantastic setting and thus using realistic props like the piano is not a good way to present.’ So Bai Weimin personally designed and commissioned the instrumentalist to produce a unique prop: a telescopic rod embedded in the slender metal blowing pipe. If you blow and pull the telescopic rod at the same time, you just generate the controllable, funny, unrealistic but coherent voice.’
In addition, Bai Weimin also invented the Bai’s Kylin Roar; the main sound part is his own roar; after recording that, he mixed the track with the differed speeding roars of lions, tigers and other beasts; then it comes to the rudiment of the roar of a kylin. Another example is about the ‘dinosaurs’ footsteps’. He used a boxing glove plus drumsticks covered with various cloths, hitting the multi-faceted drum to achieve this sound effect. Four microphones were used in the recording process, which was also used in Jurassic Park.
‘At that time, it was not digital recording, but tape analog recording. So the foley could only be created by our creative ideas and handmade props. It’s a “pure handicraft” and therefore it is precious.’
All the animation in the beginning creation have only the images but no sound; so foley artists need to dub. However, the imitation of the animal language is the most difficult, because you can not use real animals’ voices due to their dynamic emotions and feelings. It is hard to force the animals to correspond with the images. Although these animal characters are generally presented in films in anthropomorphic forms, apart from the dialogue, they still need natural voices to present their emotions. Therefore, the voice cannot be a single circle; the rhythm, pitch and scale of the foley, will all express the different emotions of the characters in different scenes and the audience are expected to hear their subtext from the different sound.
The croak in the animation film cannot be made of the sound from a wild frog. The frog’s emotions in the film should be transmitted through the sound. Bai Weimin rubs the special hammers to each other in his hands to imitate the croak vividly. With certain skills, it also can reflect the different croaking of old frogs and small frogs. In many cases, the foley work is more like an invention.
However, this seemingly fun career is not something that anyone can insist on. The hardships behind is not easy to see. Sometimes Bai Weimin will fail to sleep just because he does not know what props can be used to make a certain sound. And with the development of technology, this handicraft is facing being lost. Until now, there are totally less than 10 foley artists in China who have the qualification. And Bai Weimin is the rule maker of the industry standard in Shanghai and a true unsung hero.
In this lecture, we will follow Bai Weimin to focus on the sound in the animation film and listen to his interesting stories of the foley artist’s work.
Bai Weimin is a national senior sound engineer and senior sound engineer of Shanghai Animation Film Studio. He has recorded sound effects and foleys for a total of 882 (set) animated films, TV animation, including: Hu Li Lie Na, Black Cat Detective, Calabash Brothers, Mo Fang Da Sha, Ma Lan Hua, A Jewish Girl in Shanghai. He also successively designed and recorded sound effects for more than 6,000 TV dramas. In 1995, Sinful Debt won the Gold Medal of China TV series; and Lotus Lantern won the DTS Foley Award by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I Have a Dad, Three Monks, Lotus Lantern, Black Cat Detective, Calabash Brothers, Ma Lan Hua and other films, television series whose sound effects were recorded by Bai Weimin have won the HuaBiao Awards, Golden Rooster Award and Hundred Flowers Award. The radio drama Xin Ling Da Juan whose sound was also recorded by Bai has won the Ministry of Radio, National Single audio sound gold award. Since 1993, he has been invited as the guest speaker of Shanghai University and Tongji University. He has taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the fields of sound composition, sound of film and sound production.