Careers in Sound Animation: More Diverse Than Ever Before

On Sunday, February 5th, Frozen II officially became the highest-grossest animated film of all time, hauling nearly $1.32 billion at the box office since its release in November 2019. When thinking about great animated masterpieces such as Frozen, Fantasia, The Lion King, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, it is hard not to wax lyrical about the incredible graphics and captivating storylines. The importance of audio and how it can make or break a production is, however, often overlooked. Having a talented audio engineer on an animation team is imperative if you want an animated video, movie, or game to be successful. A trip down memory lane to the 1920s can shed a lot of light on the ever-evolving role of an animation sound team and reinforce the significance of a career in animation sound.

It started on a steamboat

As an audio engineer, you will be faced with many challenges including ones that involve getting quality audio in difficult situations. In 1928, Walt Disney Studios produced their first animation with a synchronized soundtrack: Steamboat Willie. Due to the sheer size and weight of the recording equipment of the time, it was impossible to record sound in the real world until Tregoweth Brown, who was a sound engineer at Warner Bros. Studios, took it upon himself to take a tape recorder outside in order to record a range of sounds outdoors. To this day, it is not the easiest of feats to record top-quality audio outdoors, although it has become less challenging by using suitable mics and headphones and knowing how to make the most of your environment.  

Times have changed significantly

As sound recording and mastering equipment continued to evolve, animation sound became increasingly realistic. Over the last few decades, ambient and background effects, together with music, have been used with great success to add light and shadow to an animation. Thanks to the diverse use of sound in animation, career opportunities exist for both technically-minded and more creative individuals. A good example of outstanding sound in animation in the Disney movie Wall-E which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Although these categories were won by other nominees, the immense contribution of sound to an animated project cannot be ignored. 

Career opportunities in animation sound

If you are interested in a career in animation sound, there are a variety of directions you can take after obtaining a suitable qualification. Animation has come a long since the early days of Disney and Warner Bros., where a single individual was responsible for doing voice-overs, background music, and sound effects. Today, animation sound teams consist of a number of key players that all work together to breathe life into an astounding concept. While a supervising sound editor will be responsible for overseeing the whole creative process, sound effect designers and editors will not only create various sound effects but synchronize them to the pictures as well. Dialogue editors ensure that the recorded dialogues are of high quality and that it is properly synced with the imagery, as the re-recording mixers combine all of the separate sound elements together with the music to create a cohesive, completed animation.  

Sound in animation has undergone a very noteworthy transformation since the 1920s. Considering the rate at which sound technology is evolving there is no telling what wonderful heights sound will reach in the years to come, making a career in animation sound a very lucrative one. 

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