How does sound designer Will Digby use Sound Particles?
Will Digby is a sound designer, sound effects editor and supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, who has worked on projects you are probably familiar with, such as Greyhound, Defending Jacob and even Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! He is an Emmy winner as well as a Golden Reel winner, and he allowed us to pick his brains about how his career has evolved, his latest project and how he uses Sound Particles in his many projects.
Learn how Will digby uses sound particles in his projects
How did you first get into sound?
It all started with music and through being around parents who played instruments. As a kid, I learned to play instruments and eventually started playing in bands. While I was playing in bands, I was always the person who took an interest in setting the equipment up and the only one who was bothered to learn how to do it. When I was in high school, I had a great guitar teacher named Richard Diaz-DeLeon who was also into recording and producing records for local artists, and because of him I got to get a peek into the world of home studio, and he really taught me a lot about how I might be able to start doing that.
From there I was able to put together a low-end rig with two inputs and two microphones and started to record multi-track with some of these bands that I was playing in and some of my own stuff too. And I believe that really was where I was able to gain a lot of momentum driving me towards making music. Then I ended up studying film at the University of Texas, in Austin, where I took several sound related courses, including a sound design course in the Theater and Dance Department. At some point in this course, we had a project that was just basically picking a scene from any movie, muting the audio, and adding sound to it, and I remember that our professor gave us this little USB pen with Hollywood Edge sound effects, and to me, this was like a light bulb moment: “I can now reimagine the sound for the whole scene!”.
This was the first time I put sound to image, and I think that was a catalyst to me. While taking the course I was introduced to a very talented sound mixer, Rui Silva from Portugal, who was on staff within the grad program mixing all their thesis projects and doing all the post-production work that no one else knew how to do, and he was very formative in letting me sit in and seeing how it all got accomplished. Before meeting him all we ever did was just working on little student films, doing a bit of minimal audio work in Final Cut. And so, getting to see someone working with Pro Tools in 5.1, and then seeing how that process came together and the end results, was a big part of what made me excited to go into doing film sound with directors and help tell stories.
At some point, he decided to pass on a short film and said “Hey! Why don't you mix this?”, and this was the first time I’d really felt like I was put in the hot seat to mix a film, and even though it wasn't anything high pressure, I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself and eventually made that first project work. From there I ended up getting to work on a couple of other short films in the post-production part of the sound and getting to use a few little mix rooms with Pro Tools and some control surfaces, which was great and made me put in the time and effort to improve my skills. Then, in the last semester before graduating, we had the chance of doing a study abroad/internship program, and as we were studying the different options, I had a professor, Andrew Garrison, who told us that if anyone was going out to LA for this program, they should try to contact a certain dialogue editor because he might have some work for us. So I got his information, called him and I was able to move out there and he ended up providing what was by far the most important set of experiences early on, because I got the opportunity to be kind of an apprentice, shadowing him and seeing how professionals were doing film sound. Coming from a student film setting and getting to experience that almost immediately was huge and it taught me a lot. I think the most important part of all was having a mentor and having someone who could really provide a source of knowledge and who's available for questions in a world that's a little confusing at first.
How do you get into projects nowadays?
It seems to be a different combination of factors every time. Currently, I’ve been working with SSE’s Mandell Winter and David Esparza who are the SEE’s for Antoine Fuqua’s films. Fortunately, Antoine has been involved in directing and producing a lot of projects lately and that is allowing us to have no time off and to have a long schedule of continued work with the same crew, which is kind of the first time I’ve found myself in that position. So there are times when crews stay cohesive and a lot of people become mainstays within that environment, but eventually it all starts with word of mouth of people that have worked together in the past. It could be someone directly asking you to work with them or maybe someone's asking if you know of any sound designer or any sound effects editor that could be interested in doing this job or that job.
In this industry, names get tossed in the hat all the time and you might get lucky to get that phone call, so I’d say there’s also some randomness associated with this process. Though one consistent factor I’ve experienced is that all the jobs come through personal relationships, through past work and through building a web of relationships. I remember when I was first starting out and trying to get any work or internships at places, sending CVs to 60 or 80 different places and getting zero responses because I barely knew anyone in the industry, and I had no one to vouch for me. But now, the way that I’m mostly able to keep working is by being called upon by people that I’ve worked with before that want to hire me again because they liked my work the first time. It happens differently every time, but it's always been through some personal relationship: friend of a friend or something like a director/supervisor relationship where the director already knows the supervisor’s work and the supervisor knows the different elements that also did well in past projects. It’s a combination of many things, but the common denominator is the relationships you have with people. One thing I’m continually encouraged by is the willingness of most sound editors to grab a coffee or lunch with someone new to the industry.
What do you like the most about being a sound professional?
What I like the most is the way each job requires a different approach and continually pushes me out of my comfort zone. It's fun to be pushed by the content and to be forced to adapt and get better based on the project that's thrown in front of you. I love the community and the camaraderie with the co-workers, but then when the opportunity does happen where I get to work with the filmmaker directly, I think that's always a very exciting thing that makes me love the job. So, I’d say the collaborations and the challenges of things always changing and being new.
These obstacles sometimes are not even technical, they are more about different feelings you need to portrait through sound and these sorts of different situations that you face in different projects where you need to adapt to new ideas, new concepts of feelings you want to give the audiences. Especially, when you start a new project, that’s when most of the challenges show themselves. Sometimes it can be a very straightforward approach and other times there are a lot of other aspects to consider: if it's a historical film and you're trying to be accurate to a specific era, and if authenticity is a fact that plays into the approach, as far as getting off the ground getting started on a project. If we're talking about approaching a scene and then approaching sound design as “here's this scene to cut”, and if we have material such as directors’ comments, editors ideas or supervisors thoughts, that's obviously a starting point, but at the end of the day it's all about feeling and what the story is asking of that scene, and what you would hope to evoke emotionally from the viewer to enhance that scene while accomplishing what the director is going for - these are the real challenges I enjoy the most.
When were you introduced to Sound Particles?
I first was introduced to Sound Particles back in 2016. I believe I was working with Cameron Frankley and Dan Kenyon. I was so blown away by the results that they were getting out of it that I decided to start using it as well. I immediately got the hang of it because of the presets that are built-in, they were incredibly helpful to get going. It's a pretty dense and powerful software, and if I was to start with a blank slate, I would have felt intimidated - kudos to you for providing a good set of starting points. I was mainly attracted to it because of the possibilities and the vast array of applications Sound Particles offers - I’ve heard about it being used for so many different things and it does a lot of them very well.
How do you use Sound Particles?
I use it a lot to create pass-bys that I can tweak and control parameters of. For instance, there's a scene in Infinite where there's a freefall out of an airplane towards the ocean and as we are always fighting music, it's really tough to get things together sometimes, and so the wind design was something that we were met with trying to get to read properly.
One simple yet very effective use of Sound Particles for that was basically creating a small bank of around 15 files of whisper tracks from various recordings (including some with my own voice), importing them into Sound Particles using the Flying Out of the Cave preset. The end results provided a really nice texture of movement through the air, while having dynamics within those files with enough consistency to a point where it was possible to hear the whole thing go by.
Also in Infinite, there's a sci-fi explosive weapon that is sort of like one of those bouncing Betty mines. It pops up and basically spins around shooting out BBs across the room taking out an entire SWAT squad. Looking at that I pulled a bunch of different stuff into Sound Particles trying to find the best source material I could use for that. I had one of them that didn't make it, it was a sound of rubbing the side of a balloon to have kind of a spinning feel. However, what ended up happening was, I took a very close-up recording of a watch and basically split each tick into its own file, something like 50, in order to have a real-world variety to the samples and, starting with the Doppler Explosion preset, which for the image we were seeing actually made a lot of sense because it was this explosion of BBs and it was continuously emitting these needly looking BBs. So, starting with the Doppler Explosion I tweaked it, and using those watch ticks, I ended up exporting a very interesting 5.0 bed.
I really don't know how I would have created that asset, that 5.0 balance with another software, and if I could I’m sure it would have taken me days. To have the ability to pop up with Sound Particles once I’ve made the files and then have it generate these moments with such immediacy while being able to fine-tune everything is very useful, and I think this weapon was the most exciting moment I’ve had with Sound Particles.
I’m also working on a SALT Audio podcast where there's a narrator that appears through a portal and starts walking around talking about the episode or giving a recap in different sequences. The producers wanted this character to have a ghostly presence and so he's got mystical particles swirling around him all the time, which immediately made me think about using Sound Particles. I ended up deciding to import some cool whisper sounds to a Flying Out of the Cave template, and it didn't take long for me to dial in something that I was really happy with. I exported three or four versions of it and that's been an incredibly useful bed of stuff to pull, it has a cool movement to it and has properties that if I was to try to emulate manually, I don't know how I would have the time to do it.
In another film I worked on, there's a scene where there’s a character on the phone with someone and we needed to communicate to the audience that the person who's on the other end of the phone is driving quickly down a freeway during a natural disaster and that they're passing very quickly moving emergency vehicles, so essentially the task was just making very quick siren pass-bys. Of course, there are many Doppler plugins that can do that, but since they rely on pitch bending, we wanted to avoid the situation where a siren sounds bad when it’s closest because it’s being pitch-bent. There’s also a lot of libraries with siren Doppler sounds, but in this case, they needed to sound insanely quick while not going by too quickly so that they could read through the mix. And so, I decided to go with Sound Particles. Once I found the right source material for this and had it loaded into Sound Particles, it gave me exactly what I needed as far as a very quick-sounding siren Doppler that had length to it. In this instance, using Sound Particles as a Doppler machine may be a poor use for such an advanced tool, but it gave me a bed of material with random moments that were brilliant. I’d say that Sound Particles is the most advanced happy accident generator out there!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Will. It's great to hear how one can break into the business and evolve, and especially gratifying to hear how Sound Particles helped you in the process! We hope you keep creating amazing sound effects and that you'll share them with all of us.
If you liked this interview, check out this interview we did with Tim Farrell, sound effects editor of Star Trek: Discovery and The Walking Dead, or this interview with our very own founder, Nuno Fonseca!