Sound Design in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Most people equate good sound design with “loud,” but there are many opportunities where subtle sound design can affect the viewer on a subconscious level.
If you listen closely to this scene, you won’t notice much except the ambient sound of an aircraft hangar and the dialogue tracks. But about halfway through –– around 1:42, as Lecter says “…tell me, Senator…” –– the sound of a helicopter engine begins. It slowly starts to rise, getting louder and louder as Lecter toys with the Senator.
If you think about it logically, it doesn’t make much sense why there would be a helicopter about to take off inside of an aircraft hangar. But the sound works wonders to increase the tension in the scene.
Another great example is the famous “screaming of the lambs” sequence with Lecter and Starling. This scene has been studied many times –– mainly for Demme’s and Fujimoto’s revolutionary use of close-ups. But if you listen closely to the audio mix, you can hear a faint droning wind sound enter around 3:18 (after Lecter says “…what was it?”). You'll notice that the sound gets more prominent when she explains how cold it was. It's subtle, but extremely effective in portraying Starling’s mental state as she tells her story.
Again, it logically doesn’t make sense for the sound of wind to appear inside a room, but it works wonders here.
Aside from the high-speed motorcycle pieces I’ve done –– where client often asks for the engine sounds to be as loud as possible –– I've found that most of my work benefits greatly from an added layer of subtle sound. It doesn’t have to be logically part of the environment, as long as it works emotionally for the scene.
A good exercise is to listen to movies without watching them. They saying goes that sound is 50% of the picture. In my opinion, it’s more like 70%.