History of Sound Effects (SFX) in Animation

Sound effects (SFX) are subdivided into a variety of elements (units), including hard effects, soft effects, Foley, and ambience. Hard effects are narrative sounds that are synced to on-screen objects or actions. They can be further broken down into editorial and designed effects. Editorial effects are literal sounds added to on-screen events such as doors opening or drive-bys, and design effects are created to cover objects or events requiring non-literal sound treatment. Foley is recorded to the on-screen image or with a specific on-screen image in mind, adding performance value to sound props or footsteps. Ambience (background) is non-synchronous sound used to define the environment in which the animation takes place; an example of ambience would be the sounds of the city coming through the window of a hotel room. Room tone is the subtlest element of ambience and includes such elements as air handlers, fluorescent lights, and appliance motors. Many effects are built-up or sweetened with additional sounds to enhance their narrative value.

The History of SFX

The use of sound effects for dramatic purposes can be traced as far back as ancient Greek theater. Radio theater effectively exploited SFX as a means of storytelling. In the early years of sound animation, effects were often recorded in a Foley stage using sound props similar to those used in radio theater. The picture editor often handled SFX for early animation, as picture editors were frequently the only members of the production crew with the skills needed to record, edit, and synchronize SFX to film. Treg Brown is one of the few individuals credited for sound design in the early years. His collaborative efforts with composer Carl Stalling resulted in a seamless blending of SFX and music. Many of our modern sound designers recognize the value of working in tandem with the composer, but, unfortunately, they are rarely given such opportunities. In the early years of animation, voice talents also played an important role in the development of SFX. Their vocalizations blurred the line between dialog and effects, proving that many of the best sounds can be found right under our noses. No artist better epitomizes vocal effects than Wes Harrison. His work can be heard on a multitude of animations by both Disney and MGM Studios. When Hanna and Barbera left MGM, they brought a large portion of the SFX library used for Tom and Jerry with them. With the help of Pat Foley and Greg Watson, Hanna and Barbera developed one of the most iconic SFX libraries in the history of animation. Contemporary sound designers such as Gary Rydstrom (Pixar) and Dane Davis (Dane Tracks) continue the strong tradition established by Treg Brown.