Discord: Imagine a Place

Adam takes us through the epic short film from Riff Raff films - a unique beast of a project which offered some awesome sound design opportunities.

This project was a sound designer's dream. It has everything. From epic VFX, avatars, stop-motion animation, 2D animation, puppets, to aliens, pirates and Danny DeVito.

“Discord: The Movie” was an epic idea.

With a big project like this, we knew the best approach would be to break down the work into sections of attack. Dialog, Crowds, Characters, Sound Design, Music and Discord specific sounds. We decided to tackle music first.

As a team, we sat down with Finn and the agency to discuss the musical identity of this brand/film. It was a great conversation leading us to pluck out a tonne of references. A few of our smaller scenes needed a nudge towards their satirical makeup, so Jim and I quickly divided the work into ‘main score’ and ‘diegetic score’. The music was a way of driving us through all the worlds and yet keeping us reminded this was a Discord film. We needed to find a hook and a melody that linked it all together, and Jim absolutely nailed it. His hybrid score featured an early electronic instrument called the Ondes Martenot (which sounds similar to a Theremin) combined with a sampled choir sound - to create the main melody. And I thoroughly enjoyed composing all the diegetic music within the scenes. It’s not often you get a Medieval brief in the door, or asked to pluck away on your mandolin.

Once we had the creative direction on the music locked, we started by recording a tonne of character voices using the epic talents of the String and Tins team, Riff Raffers, AKQA’ers and other friends, compiling them into a huge folder of accents and voice styles. After a round of auditions, we broke it down into the voices we wanted to move forward into the film and re-recorded all the performances. Getting such a library of character sounds together early really helped lift the visuals. Having the sound of all the users chatting away was paramount to the film and we worked hard to give it that sense of hundreds of thousands of users online using their own unique voices.

Next was crowds. We spent a good day pulling unique and interesting crowd noises and textures from our sound library focusing on standout interactions between the voices i.e. London Street Laughing or New York City street yelling. To try and make them even more designed we used a software called Sound Particles to play around with their spatial qualities and open up the pitching and repetition particles, to add grandeur and texture. We dipped back into our voices sound bank and also used SP to trigger multiple versions of these voices within a customisable 3D space. It gave us some really funny variations of the voice we already had...so we peppered these around the Discord landscape.

Sound Design wise the brief was simple. Make it as big and cinematic as you can! Each time a new pre-vis came through, we developed the sounds further. But in order to make this even more cinematic, we went to town on all the little details of the physics of the sound. A great example is the introduction of the pirate ship. As the camera moves through the ropes and lanterns, Jim and I used a doppler plugin to help create movement and give the audience the sensation of passing through this big wooden ship. Additional layers like wooden creaks, all slowed down to add depth, or the crashing of waves all helped to bring this scene alive.

The main sound design challenge was the Transit Hall. We layered absolutely everything you could see. The entire foley pass was edited and not recorded to picture, which took added time but it gave us the freedom to really create each character’s own unique presence and sound within the scene. Once everything was playing together in the mix, it was too busy. We knew this would be the case. The approach here was to have everything available and then pick and choose which character you want the viewer's eye to be drawn to and then subconsciously cue them with the sound either just before they enter shot or as soon as we see them. This gave the scene exactly what Finn was looking for. A rhythm and cacophony of sound that really gave Discord Transit Hall the sense of space!

After we’d received the final picture... it was all about adding the final details and giving the whole film and big dynamic mix. We worked hard on the mix. Constantly referencing as many speaker sets as possible, even down to cupping our iPhones. Overall, the project has been a major success and to pull it all together in under three weeks was a gargantuan effort from the whole sound team at String and Tins!

Sound designer: Adam Smyth, Jim Stewart // Composer: Adam Smyth, Jim Stewart // Audio Producer: Alina Miroshnichenko // Production Company: Riff Raff // Director: Finn Keenan // Producer: Matthew Clyde // Exec Producer: Natalie Arnett // Talent: Danny DeVito, Awkwafina, MrBeast, Grimes, Marques Brownlee, Bretman Rock // Brand Lead: Tory Grove // Creative Lead: Bem Yemesgen // Copywriter: Mark Donnelly // Head Of Talent Partnerships: Kenny Layton // Head Of Music Talent Partnerships: Eric Barnett // Sr. Partnership Manager: Elisa Marin // Managing Partner: Geoff Northcott // Global Chief Creative Officer: Peter Ammentorp Lund // Ex. Creative Director: Nicolai Smith // Editing: Trim London // Editor: Thomas Grove-Carter, Vid Price / Producer: Noreen Khan // Edit Asst: David Davis, Josh Mannox // Post Production: MATHEMATIC PARIS // Exec Producer: Hadi Dahrouge // Producer: Alan Portillo // Client Partner: Mark Toal-Lennon // Creative Director: Alex Rose // Sr Copywriter: Noé Sato // Sr Producer: Elise Hagedoorn // Project Manager: Bethany Wong // Sr Designer: Gijs van de Wal // Sr Motion Designer: Lexington Baly, Thor Hedegaard, Christian Dekten // Art Director: Shiko Murai, Hugo Barne // Copywriter: Arendse Rohland // Ex. Strategy Director: Miriam Plon Sauer // Sr. Strategist: Hannah Portner // Ex. Director of Productions: Quentin Hugo Bernard // DOP: Xiaolong Liu // Mexico City Unit: La Casa Films // Production Designer: Luis Rojas // Styling: Ximena Barbachano // Make-Up: Ivana Kiss // Exec Producer: Axel Brinck, Polo Luisetti // Production Designer: Alessandra Cadman // Costume Designer: Jeffery Kurland // Awkwafina's Styling: Erica Cloud // Producer: Jay Wintringer // PM: Ben Oswald // Grimes Stylng: Turner // Stop Frame: BLACK DOG // Director: Chris Hopewell // Producer: Rosie Brind // Exec Prod: Martin Roker // Sock Puppet Unit DOP: Eoin Mcloughlin // Production Designer: Tim Gibson // Puppet Designer: Alexandra Day