'Sound is so much more than a support act'

In a four-parter on the importance of music in advertising, Gijs de Swarte talks to several of his fellow industry specialists. Part 3 with Diederick Hillenius.

Diederick Hillenius, owner of Selmore Creative Agency: ‘I have a huge fondness for the details of sound. Although all aspects of a film are important, especially in sound there's still a lot to be gained as music often remains an afterthought. Try muting the sound when watching an action movie, and you aren’t left with much. Music is vital. The more you pay attention to it, the deeper you go, the more obvious that fact becomes.'

Emotional turning points
'Our ASN Bank-case makes that very clear. That campaign consists of three animated films that share essentially the same structure. It starts with a certain naïveté, a peculiar sense of trust, then the menacing truth looms up, and finally the sustainable bank delivers hope. For example: you see a cute little seahorse that falls in love with a Q-tip, but that Q-tip is obviously part of the plastic soup and if we don't do something about that… so: "Choose a bank that works for a new, cleaner world" and the pay-off: "That's how money creates happiness." So there are three distinct emotional phases and associated turning points. The goal of the sound is, of course, to intensify those emotions and turning points.'

Enchantment, wonder, lightness
'The next step is research - which direction do we want to go in? Le Carnaval des Animaux might fit, The Nutcracker, Peter and the Wolf, something like that. That should be the inspiration, but in no way can it resemble those. I hate it so much when an obvious copy is used. In the first phase of the sound you want a kind of enchantment, wonder and lightness. A technique that works wonderfully for that is pizzicato, a form of playing a stringed instrument by plucking with your fingers instead of using a bow. Utilising pauses and little knocks of a woodblock with lots of reverb, these techniques work for the menacing phase. And finally for the hope and enlightenment rising violins are very effective.
But that's just the start of it! There are still a lot of other instruments surrounding that. And foley - foley is too often forgotten in films with a dominant soundtrack. It's the realistic sound of the surroundings, one that matches what you see. When there's an animated character on-screen in the woods for example, then it's effective to add the sound of footsteps on the moist forest floor now and again. If the character surfaces from underwater and rises in the air, you hear splashing sounds. It's an effective way of adding some extra rhythm to the edit.
Mickey Mousing is also an efficient method. Is the character walking up the stairs, or gliding down a slide, then the music plays along with that - like in old Disney cartoons. You're constantly making choices that maximally benefit the communicative power of the product. And don’t forget about the voice-over. It’s a very important factor as well, one that signifies the essence of the message. And finally it all has to come together. Because despite all these different elements, it cannot feel like separate parts. It's important to have a clear and consistent vision in sound with all of them; the sum is always more important than the parts.'

Foundation and embellishments
'The most interesting part of the ASN Bank-case is that afterwards it's so obvious that without the sound the story would've been much less effective; and most importantly, images, text, music and sound connect so seamlessly. The sound is the foundation, a mainstay that also forms the embellishments. The people of Ambassadors, with whom we collaborated on the music, the sound and the animation, will agree with this. If you want something special, you can't treat music as an afterthought.

Part 1 of the four-parter was with Daniëlle Guirguis of Smarthouse Films.
Part 2 of the four-parter was with Niek Eijsbouts of SuperHeroes.

Text: Gijs de Swarte