VFS Summer Intensives: Intro to Sound Design

Comments 4 by Rebecca Bollwitt
Disclosure: Review — I am not being paid to attend, or cover the VFS courses. I found this to be a unique opportunity and decided to sit in for a few hours each day upon invitation of VFS staff. Please review the Policy & Disclosure section for further information.

This week I have gone back to school, kind of. The world-renown Vancouver Film School has invited me into their Summer Intensives classes, which are brief crash-courses, each representing a slice of a full multi-month program and course load. The intensives run for eight hours, five days this week and should they desire, students can then sign up for the full program in the fall. I’m getting a sneak peek (a few hours a day) in a different Summer Intensive each day this week. My first course on Monday was Intro to Sound Design.

It was the start of the week for every Summer Intensives student so there was an orientation at VFS’s campus on Homer at Hastings. There, students from around the globe (South Africa, Venezuela, Australia, and some locals) were welcomed to their programs and introduced to some of the impressive work that VFS alumni have done within the last year alone.


We were then carted away to the Sound Design campus which is located at 1380 Burrard (at Pacific) while other programs stayed at either 420 Homer or walked over to 198 West Hastings. There I met Shane Rees, Head of Sound who gave an overview of the week’s course content and introduced a few of the department’s faculty who in turn touched on their courses offered throughout a regular school year. Seated in a theatre with a large mixer across the front floor, students introduced themselves and shared a bit of their backgrounds. Some had sound experience in film, others were musicians, gamers, or business students looking to change things up. Previous experience with ProTools, microphones, or foley sound editing not required. You don’t even need to know how to play a piano to take this course.

Course Content

Shane explained that they focus on post-production sound for television and film, and game sound design. You don’t attend to learn how to compose or record for musicians. As for games, he said to keep your mind open to it as a medium, “it’s such an interesting and dynamic industry that is so young, it’s going to be challenging.” Gaming is also the reason that PC software is still prevalent, even though it’s a Mac-based campus. Shane then told us all that we were going to learn some physics and I immediately though of that glint my husband gets in his eye while wearing his Nikola Tesla t-shirt as he tells me about kilohertz and frequencies.

Sound is Energy
Instructor Gary Bourgeois pulled up the whiteboard and attempted to explain what he covers in a full course of Physics & Psychoacoustics within a 40 minute time frame. He then asked us a question that hovered like a cloud over our heads for a good half-minute: “What is sound?”

To know how to make sound, you need to understand how it’s heard. Sound is energy + the sense of hearing. “Your primary audience we be human,” Gary asserted then he followed up with a great “if a tree falls in a forest…” scenario. He explained the basics of sound — how it cannot move through nothing (like a vacuum or space). However for the sake of entertainment, you’ll watch a sci-fi movie and there will be a loud explosion in space. That’s “psychoacoustic” — the sound we have been trained to expect to hear.

Using another series of fantastic analogies, like a ripples from tossing a pebble in a pool being compared to plucks of a guitar string, we moved on to Frequency & Amplitude.

I learned that Hertz were cycles per second, that a decibel is not a unit of measurement, and that the range of frequency perceptible to the human ear is 20Hz to 20,000Hz. My brain was being packed with information at an alarming rate, and I loved it. I sit next to a microphone and a mixer in my home office everyday, relics from our old podcasting days. I thought to myself, I might actually learn what the other 90% of the knobs on the mixer do now!

Every few minutes Gary would stop and say, “that right there is a whole other 2 hour discussion,” and he’d move onto the next mind-blowing scientific tidbit.

When it came to Analog & Digital, Gary was clearly a fan of digital and lamented the fact that “we’ll never hear was Shakespeare sounded like.” Another quick history lesson about the birth of the phonograph and recorded audio, then we moved briskly onward to the explanation of sampling rate and bit depth. From the sign wave (imagine that 1Kz test pattern tone) to white noise (static) and everything in between — actually all sounds are in fact, everything in between.

Round6 | Full Sound Re-Design from VFS grad Ryan Schaad. Film created by Snowball Studios

Film Sound = Music, Sound Effects, Dialogue
Curtis Wright was the next instructor to introduce his quick course that would be coming up later this week (and his fully expanded program throughout the year). Bringing along microphones and field recorders, Curtis spoke of original sound gathering, sampling, and the extensive clip library that is available to all VFS students both past and present. “You’ll be reading, watching, and be hands-on all year.” Real sound, layered sound, pumped up sound, samples from the real world and field trips to Playland or the Aquarium. Capturing the sound of the SkyTrain leaving the station and sampling that later in footage of a space ship. Curtis takes you ‘behind the curtain’ to capture and create sound that gives the audience that music, dialogue, and effect that makes film, television, and gaming so captivating.

Moving On

Later in the afternoon the class received an introduction to ProTools and I embarked on my next adventure. Today I head to “Voice & Movement for Actors” — hopping onto the other side of the microphone.

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4 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. TylerIngramTuesday, July 17th, 2012 — 8:05am PDT

    Wow Rebeccca, you sure learned a lot on your first day. We learned how to convert analog signals into digital etc but for data transmission. We learned about the frequency of the human voice etc as we had to learn how to convert it to digital 🙂

    Can’t wait to see what else you learn!

  2. ToddWednesday, July 18th, 2012 — 10:54pm PDT

    I’m not surprised you are not being paid. VFS are classic leaches when it comes to free (and for the most part unearned) publicity. They ride on the backs of the odd graduate who goes on and does something (less than 1% of students is a fair estimate). Terry Tatchel who cowrote District 9, even Kevin Smith (who dropped out and openly says VFS was a waste of his money), and the list goes on. As a former student, I won’t trash VFS too much. But I will say it is a waste of money – even beyond the scope of a typical film school. The summer intensive thing – and even BIGGER waste of money.

    Hope you have fun and get something from it (you aren’t paying and aren’t being paid, so I guess that’s fair). You might also want to be honest about your impressions later on. Is it worth the coin? To the average film wannabee? Only if mom and dad are paying, which is the case for most students luckily. Me? No. I’m still paying it off and the only thing that made the experience somewhat valuable was the chance to live in Vancouver. Another thing VFS milks.

  3. Rebecca Bollwitt, Miss604 Rebecca BollwittThursday, July 19th, 2012 — 6:34am PDT

    @Todd While I cannot speak to a full year’s worth of courses, I can say that I am getting quite a bit out of my own brief experience with the summer intensives.

    I attend many conferences throughout the year (some that have a very high price tag) and I don’t always walk away feeling like I learned something or with that spark I need to get going in a certain direction. I can say that in my short time in 3 of the summer intensives now, I have had that feeling and my classmates in each discipline have either said or expressed the same. There’s motivation, camaraderie, and inspiration flowing, which I think is valuable.


  4. JuanThursday, July 19th, 2012 — 11:02am PDT

    @Todd I’m sorry to hear you had such a negative experience at Vancouver Film School. We do our best to provide a positive learning environment for all our students. We realize we’re not perfect, and comments such as yours do give us an opportunity to think about how we can improve.

    It’s unfortunate that you feel we only showcase a small number of select grads. We aim to share the achievements of the majority of our grads, regardless of the size of their success. We highlight a variety of grad stories, and also feature some current student projects.

    If you have any additional concerns, and would like to discuss them with us, please feel free to contact me at community[at]vfs.com.

    Community Manager
    Vancouver Film School

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