Short Animated Film
Plume of Light was the launch film for the design-led studio, Plume. Using 3D motion graphics, the short film takes the audience on a journey through five elements; earth, water, fire, air, and spirit. Throughout the film, Plume showcases its talents in artistry, animation, and storytelling to engage its audience.
Fonic was approached to provide the sound design and mix that would complement and embolden the creative intentions of the film after previously working with Plume’s sister animation studio, Feed Me Light. The film’s release coincided with the launch of Plume towards the end of 2019 and can be enjoyed via their website.
After being contacted by Plume, we were invited over to their studio to discuss the concept of the film and the aspirations for the sound design with the Executive Creative Director, Denis Bodart, Producer Daniela Hornskov Sun and Executive Producer, Ryan Goodwin-Smith. The Plume team explained how the concept of the film had been loosely inspired by the spiritual journey of a Kundalini awakening and that the sound design should hold this idea at its core.
We discussed how this idea should translate into an underpinning of drones and choral notes that represent the spiritual nature of the film, drawing inspiration of varying degrees from meditative ideas and epic scores of composers such as Ryuichi Sakamoto and Hans Zimmer. In addition to this, a tribute to the beauty of nature and the organic elements featured in the film should also be incorporated into the sound design. These sounds also needed to flow naturally to seamlessly connect the transitions from the depths of the earth up to the heights of the air and finally the awakening of the spirit.
First sound design pass:
To hone in on the balance that Plume was seeking between transcendental music and organic sounds, we decided to present them with three options from our first sound design pass. Whilst being a slightly unconventional approach, primarily because of time and budget constraints, we felt it would be beneficial in the case of this project. The idea was not to propose three independent and opposing directions of sound for Plume to pick one from and move forward with, but to identify desired sound elements in their isolated parts to then bring together harmoniously in a singular and coherent mix.
Option A led with a more composed musical base, creating a foundation that the animation would move forward with. Option B focused on sustained tones derived from both digital and acoustic sounds that adapted with the animation. Option C presented atmospheric and organic sound ideas that linked to the elements of the film and the transitions between them.
Sound design review:
Upon receiving each pass of sound design, the team at Plume attended Fonic to discuss the ideas presented and to flesh out what elements to build upon. It quickly became apparent that the focus of the conversation was less reworking any individual sounds, as the reaction to these were largely positive, and more the direction of mixing.
In short, what elements to focus the audience’s ear on. A heavier focus was to be placed upon the sustained tones that reflected the initial concept of a spiritual journey. These elements quickly develop as the narrative progresses from its dark beginnings to a climatic awakening (plume) of light. Alongside the constantly adapting tones would be the organic sounds associated with the subjects on screen, such as the firefly and ladybird, the two Koi carp and burning rocks. These sounds would exist as moments, sitting above the foundation of tonal sounds as they come and go.
Second sound design pass:
The three options presented after the first sound design pass existed in a single Pro Tools session spread 10 minutes apart on the timeline. This enabled us to bring sounds from each option into one mix with ease. Since the primary focus lay with sustained and progressive tones (option B) we decided to select this as our master option and bring individual sounds from other two options to this section of the timeline. With the use of clip groups, this process was smooth and efficient.
A key word that was floating around during our discussions was the idea of moments. Whilst the sustained tones were developing and ever-present throughout the film, the individual moments of the film existed independently. They arrive one after another, finishing before the next one begins if not leading one into the next. Keeping this idea in mind when bringing the elements together created space and clarity. It was crucial that at no point the sound design should feel cluttered as this would risk distracting the audience from appreciating the vividly detailed animation showcased by Plume – the fundamental purpose of the film.
5.1 & 2.0 MIXING:
We were required to produce both a 5.1 mix and stereo mix for the film. To supply this, we worked within a 5.1 Pro Tools session that could also be down mixed to stereo using SoundCode’s LtRt Tools 2. Throughout the entire process we would constantly check the downmix translation to ensure aspects such as panning and low end were clear.
The original concept of a spiritual journey from the base of the spine to the top of the head was also carried into the mix. As the film begins, the mix is largely dominated by low frequency effects. As the film progresses, we continually open the mix up to that sat in the higher end of the frequency spectrum, whilst the lower frequency sounds introduced from the beginning regressed into a supportive role to these new sounds.
We also sought to use panning to create further clarity within the mix. Generally, the sound design comprised of stereo sounds. We aimed to create a wide stereo field using the constantly present sustained tones. The first reason for this was to portray a sense of grandeur that would envelop the audience. The second was to create a space down the central channel for the moments referred to the in the second sound design pass. These moments could then co-exist and blend within the mix rather than sit above one another to create a focal point for the audience’s ear.
DOLBY ATMOS MIX:
In addition to the 5.1 and 2.0 mix, Fonic also produced a Dolby Atmos mix for the project. To do this the Pro Tools session had to be slightly adapted as the decision to deliver a Dolby Atmos mix was not taken at the beginning of this project. Whilst we did not need to alter our track structure too significantly, the routing did need updating to be compatible for a Dolby Atmos mix. The I/O was adjusted for the necessary bed and object tracks using the Dolby Audio Bridge to communicate with the Dolby Atmos Renderer.
The film already translated quite appropriately to a Dolby Atmos mix in that the concept of the sound was the foundation of music and sustained tones with the individual moments of sound previously mentioned. Naturally, the sounds that comprised the foundation of the mix were assigned to the bed whilst the sounds associated to the moments were routed as objects. The sounds that were being sent to the bed stayed routed to their existing 5.1 groups that were then up-mixed to 7.1.2 using Nugen’s Halo Upmix.
The use of objects within the Atmos mix suitably leant itself to the continuous POV shot that the audience would be experiencing on screen. We could pan the objects to similarly mirror their movements visually and follow them off screen so the audience could audibly track them, creating a greater immersive experience. Grouping the sounds of each individual moment, we set our automation mode and played back at half-speed (shift+space) to naturally draw the movement of the object in the pan window and refining where necessary.
We consistently aim to invest into the narrative and creative intentions of all our client’s projects and Fonic endeavoured to keep the creative concept of this project at the heart of the sound design and mix. The stereo mix of the film is still available to view online at https://plume.tv/projects/plume-of-light-film.
Whilst the decision to produce a Dolby Atmos mix came in the later stages of this project, Fonic welcomes and looks forward to producing more content within the Dolby Atmos environment.