The Creation of Sound Design in the Animation Film Special for the Visually Impaired


The pairing of audio and visual media is part of our everyday experiences. Film, television, theatre performances and museum tours use Sound Design Description to enable visually impaired people to access these forms of art. However, the inclusion of these descriptions has as a consequence that visually impaired audiences cannot access the work directly but have to rely on a describer (Lopez and Pauletto 2009). The belief which certain elements from the filmmaking process might be adapted for the conveyance of a story through sound, creating an experience equivalent to the cinematic experience.

In addition, Hyks (2005) claimed that it is the combination of the active participation required by film viewing and the combined ‘audio’- ‘visual’ nature of film that makes AD possible. By identifying the crucial strands of meaning that remain accessible and by filling in the gaps, AD creates a new meaningful story that allows its own varied audience to understand and enjoy the film, and remains close enough to the versions that sighted audiences construct. It is, indeed, important for the visually impaired audience to also benefit from the social functions of AD, providing points of convergence between the worlds of sighted and non-sighted people. AD is a precise and succinct aural translation of the visual aspects of a live or filmed performance, exhibition, or sporting event for the benefit of visually impaired people (p. 6).

Richards (1992) defines “the master scene as the use of one shot that establishes the environment and the people, and records the event or action in its entirety.” (p.89). This can be used to introduce the different spaces by presenting all the sounds heard in that particular environment. In this way, the space is aurally established as it would be visually established through a long shot. Also, the interpersonal cinema language, which focuses on involving the audience with the emotional states of the characters, can be achieved through the content of the lines delivered, the expressiveness in the voices and the use of music to emphasize the characters’ feelings. The notion of cuts through sound can be explored to indicate parallel actions taking place in different spaces. An effect comparable to that of a tracking shot can be achieved by editing the sounds in a way in which a character’s movements are followed through different spaces.

Moreover, in a cinematic environment the sound designer can manipulate the audience’s perception of the surround sound world in great detail, allowing him/her to tell the story by driving the imagination, expectation, understanding and emotions of the audience.

As Chion (1994) notes, division of listening into three modes is useful. These three modes are: causal listening, semantic listening and reduced listening (p.25). Causal listening “consists of listening to a sound in order to gather information about its cause (or source)” (Chion 1994, p.25), semantic listening refers to listening to a specific code in order to understand a message, and reduced listening refers to the process of focusing on “the traits of the sound itself, independent of its cause and of its meaning” (Chion 1994, p.29).

Also, the interpersonal cinema language, which focuses on involving the audience with the emotional states of the characters, can be achieved through the content of the lines delivered, the expressiveness in the voices and the use of music to emphasize the characters feelings. The notion of cuts through sound can be explored to indicate parallel actions taking place in different spaces. Also, an effect comparable to that of a tracking shot can be achieved by editing the sounds in a way in which a character’s movements are followed through different spaces.

So far, this article provided to explore the potential of using digital sound technologies and sound design techniques to provide a wider range of accessibility options that cater for different needs and preferences, while also creating an inclusive version of the soundtrack that is incorporated to the production and postproduction workflows and, as a result, represents more accurately the filmmakers’ vision.

Types of visual impairments

According to the CDC and the World Health Organization (2012) the classification of visual acuity and impairment includes three types:

• Blindness Visually impaired people have a limited sharpness of sight or a limited range of vision. In this category, you will find the following subcategories: (1) Visually impaired; (2) Severely visually impaired; (3) Socially blind; (4) Blind; (5) Completely blind. These people are the person who are completely blind are not sensitive to light. Some blind people can distinguish between light and darkness. Apart from that, there are also blind people who have a remainder of vision, but who orient themselves non-visually. In the visually impaired category, a distinction can be made between the severely visually impaired (people who orient themselves visually, but who are dependent on Braille) and the visually impaired (who orient themselves visually and can read visual writing). The norms and descriptions differ in every country.

• Social blindness the sharpness of sight is 1/30 of the average or when a person has a range of vision of less than 10%. The former is already the case when vision is lost in the macula, the part of the retina with the sharpest vision. Social blindness means that you cannot perform normal professional activities. In less severe cases we talk about visual impairment, and a relatively normal social life is often still possible. It should be noted that the personality of blind people is much less affected than that of deaf people, who tend to be socially isolated. Society is also more tolerant towards the blind. The deaf are usually conceived as difficult.

• Visual impairment the viewing ability is severely reduced. In some cases, glasses can help, but the sharpness of sight remains reduced. There are legal norms that determine whether someone is visually impaired. If someone has a sharpness of sight of maximum 30% or if someone has a very limited range of vision, this person is considered visually impaired. Sharpness of sight of less than 30% means that the visually impaired person can only see something when it is at a distance of 30 metres, while somebody with a regular sharpness of sight would already be able to see this object at a distance of 100 metres.

The Important of the Film Sound Audio Components

As Durnford (2016) notes, sound refers to everything we hear in a movie words, dialogues, sound effects, and music. Sound is used in film to heighten a mood, provide us with information about the location of a scene, advance the plot, and tell us about the characters in the story.

Sobochack (1980) asserted “Almost every film and animations consists of three different audio components. These are music, sound effects and dialogue.” (p. 177) In silent films, the dialogue is left out, but there are still sound effects and music to still make it interesting. Dialogue is more about content than about audio, the music. are includes all the background music that officially isn’t part of the film. It can add a real emotional layer to a film. There has been done a lot of research on the emotional effects of music and sounds. The moments that make us jump, or the moments that make us cry. Unconsciously, music has a real big impact on the way we experience a movie. In the next chapter, there is more about that. “You can really change the setting and mood of a scene by using different music” (Sobochack, 1980, p. 177). There are a lot of examples for this. For instance, the well-known one where you simply mute the audio if a horror film. Suddenly it isn’t as frightening anymore.

Besides that, as derived from previous study (Auralnauts, 2014) “In the video on YouTube, someone had deleted the music from the final scene of Star Wars and only left in some sound effects. The scene totally changes from being heroic to being quite awkward and boring. This really shows how music can totally change a film. When you would have put other music underneath the scene, maybe something more uplifting, it would have also given the scene a totally other vibe”.

Schreger (1985) As indicated by Schreger: some of the dialogues ought to be superposed to achieve a more dynamic and realistic work. This choice was based on Robert Altman’s ideas regarding film sound. In order to achieve life-like movies, Altman concentrated in his work “not in rapid alternating of short lines of dialogue but on dialogue simultaneously spoken by two or more characters: a wall of sound, a Tower of Babel” (p. 349)

Following Filmsound (1997), the sound effects are all the sounds that really create the environment of the story being told. It’s the rain in the background, the footsteps on wood, a door that closes, etc. Without the sound effects, a film or animation wouldn’t feel realistic. Especially for animation, this is the part that need a lot of work, since you don’t have any sounds to begin with. With films, they often can use a lot of sounds that are recorded whilst filming. Some will have to be replaced by recreated sounds, because of the quality. They have to be recreated, which is often done in a studio and is called Foley. There are entire studios where Foley artists will recreate sounds and match them to the images in the film.

According to Joe Ludwig (2009) “for animations you have to create every single thing in the film that creates a sound. What interesting is about this, is that you also have no example of what something could sound like. Ben Burtt is a big sound designer for Pixar, he has worked on the sound design of Wall-E. In a two-parted video, and some other people talk about the process of this sound design.”

Later when animations became more popular, the sound designers became more creative as well. There are examples of sound designers at Pixar who would make entire installations to create a specific sound. For instance, they would have a ‘rain-machine’, that recreated the sound of rain without using any water. Nowadays the techniques are of course more advanced, but they still sometimes use the weirdest installations or objects to create sounds. Joe Ludwig (2009) concluded that in short there are only three film audio components you must think about when doing sound design: dialogue, music, and sound effects. But there is more way to that than just recording it and putting it under a scene. scene doesn’t become one big chaos with all these different sounds.

Sound and vision: Functional and material complexities

According to Thom & state (1999) “film is definitely not a visual medium” (p. 4), but in film studies and practice alike the contribution of sound to film and its interaction with the medium’s other sign systems, is being taken very seriously today (Jordan, 2007; Barsam, 2007, p. 273–314). The addition of sound is no longer considered to be an afterthought in film production, indeed, its role in cinematic meaning construction continues to grow, sound is considered to be integral to understanding the images or, in other words, sound shapes the picture sometimes as much as the picture shapes sound (Thom 1999, p. 1).

Barsam (2007) all these aspects of sound are used in film, but also pose complex challenges for film production, and — one might add — film reception for a visually impaired audience. Today, film sound is ‘constructed’ during the post-production phase of filming as much or more than it is ‘recorded’ during production (p. 275). In Altman’s terms (1992, p. 29), what recorded sound does is to represent sound events rather than to reproduce them, recorded sound creates an illusion of presence while constituting a new version of the sound events that actually transpired.

Hearing and interpreting sound events: Listening to a film

Volwassenen (2007), an informative Flemish booklet, published by a local blind association and meant to promote understanding of blindness, states that in their daily lives, people with a visual handicap use all their senses in their relations with the world. They can hear it when a car drives alongside the pavement, when it stops at a traffic light or when it is far away. By means of a subtle form of echolocation they hear the difference between covered and open spaces (p. 38). It is generally accepted that blind people do not necessarily have better hearing than sighted people, but that they have developed and trained their hearing in order to compensate for their lack of access to visual information. They are supposedly better at determining the place of origin and source of sounds, the distance of the source, the influence of material factors of a sound (revealing information about the environment) and even determining personality on the basis of a person’s voice (Heijden 2007, p. 10).

On the other hand, the degree of recognition achieved will remain limited and will be conditioned by the functioning of the sound effects in the case of film (Heijden 2007, p. 10)

Volwassenen (2007) notes, how and what extent blind people can identify and interpret sounds will also be determined by personal factors that will vary from one listener to the next. In short, we can assume, basing ourselves on accepted opinion and the varying testimonies of blind people, that their hearing is developed through training, but that the extent to which it is heightened is difficult to ascertain, especially in general terms.

Concluding remarks

The first part of this article has demonstrated the types of visual impairments, the important of the film sound audio components, discussed some of the sound and vision, hearing and interpreting, sound events complexities involved in the production, reception, and interpretation of sound, and hence the importance of its integration in what we could call ‘the film sound audio design’. The brief analysis of one visually and aurally complex film scene with distinct, diffuse, intradiegetic and extradiegetic sounds, has demonstrated what the challenges can be. The visual narrative definitely adds more dramatic detail to the story because it helps the sighted audience identify sounds -even if this guidance or interaction goes unnoticed- and, in addition, it sometimes contributes ‘silent’ visually conveyed information. This means that in some cases, the film sound audio will have to identify the source of a sound, in others it will have to give narrative context, or even indicate the narrative function of a sound. What is more, the exact relationship between sound and subjective point of view begs more questions than this article can resolve. The only solution seems to be: Testing scenes such as the one described above, and others, on visually impaired audiences, with a view to establishing if guidelines can be drawn up regarding the way these audiences use and/or can learn to use the sound track in conjunction with the other filmic systems to reconstruct ‘their’ story.


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[5] Infomap Volwassenen (2007). Didactisch materiaal (Didactic material). Gent: Blindenzorg Licht en Liefde.

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[9] Van der Heijden, Mereijn. (2007) Film en televisie toegankelijk voor blinden en slechtzienden. Een onderzoek naar de functionaliteit van geluid bij audiodescriptie (Film and television accessible for the blind and partially sighted. A research into the functionality of sound in audio-description). MA-paper. Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht, Faculteit Kunst, Media & Technologie.

[10] Barsam, Richard. (2007) Looking at Movies. An Introduction to Film. New York: Norton.

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[13] Stewart, H. (September 13, 2013). How do film-makers manipulate our emotions with music? Retrieved from