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[InC-terview] Singaporean Sound Designer and Foley Artist, Lim Ting Li!

By Flora  /  12 May 2017 (Friday)

InCinemas speaks to Lim Ting Li, a sound designer, re-recording mixer and foley artist who has worked on several award-winning films like Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice and Kirsten Tan's Pop Aye.

Lim is the Director of Sound at Mocha Chai Laboratories, a one-stop post facility with the first and only Dolby Atmos dubbing theatre in Singapore.

InCinemas: Hi Ting Li, can you tell us more about your jobs as a sound designer/mixer/foley artist? 

As a supervising sound editor, I work with the director to design the soundscape of a film. Every sound that you hear in a film has been carefully deliberated and chosen before it ended up in the film. From footsteps to traffic to the wind and birds in the trees, I work with a team of sound editors and foley artists to give life sonically to the world where the film exists. 

For instance, in Pop Aye where the title character is an elephant, the challenge was to vocalise Pop Aye’s presence through sound, how do we show this elephant’s character through sound? Bong, the elephant who played Pop Aye, was extremely quiet on set, so we set out to create his expressions through a combination of sound from different sources - grunts, growls, breaths, squeals from recordings of Bong, African elephants and even seals.

InCinemas: When did you realise that you wanted to be a sound designer? 

I studied in the Film, Sound and Video course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic where I first got in touch with sound design. It didn’t feel like work, it was so much fun and I felt like I had a certain flair for it, it was just something that I could do all day. So I made a decision to pursue it professionally, though before becoming a sound designer I produced short films pro bono, appointing myself as the sound designer on these projects. I built a portfolio over time, got hired as a sound editor and I’ve been doing sound design ever since. 

InCinemas: Sound design is a very important aspect of filmmaking but is one that is also often neglected and unappreciated. Why this profession? 

I think that most of the people who choose to work behind the scenes do it for the craft and not the spotlight. Sound is 50% of the film, yet the only time people realise its presence is when it is absent. I think sound has the potential to change a picture entirely. Give two sound designers the same film and there can be two very different final products depending on the sound treatment. It is this potential of sound that excites me. How can I shape the film and affect audiences emotionally? How can I enhance their experience to feel for the characters? When I can use sound design to achieve this, it fills me with incredible satisfaction. 

InCinemas: What about the job do you love and dislike the most? 

I honestly love every part of this job, but if I had to choose just one it would foley. It’s the process that of recording sound effects in a studio like footsteps, keys jangling, doors shutting, the movement of clothes etc. It’s a fun, creative, and it plays such a big part in grounding the film to a sense of realism. Also, it’s probably the only part of sound production that doesn’t require you to sit down in front of the screen the whole day. 

InCinemas: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a sound designer? 

Different projects pose different challenges. However, many of the challenges stem from a fix-it-in-post mentality in the industry. As such, a lot of time is spent on technical issues such as getting the best out of noisy recordings instead of focusing on the creative aspect of the film. Also, by the time a film reaches post production, there are budget and time constraints. Budget constrains the number of people I can have on my team and it is often challenging to produce consistent quality work within increasingly short deadlines. 

InCinemas: You’ve worked on many projects, notably Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice and & Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye. How would you say these two projects differ in sound design/mixing? 

While both films have strong character driven narratives, the challenge in Apprentice was to add life to the empty locations and to link different shooting spaces together, using sounds, to create one vicinity. For some scenes, especially the key scenes in the gallows we had to recreate the sounds completely from scratch because the source recording had a lot of noise like the crew’s footsteps and instructions given on set. Everything in those scenes was done from scratch like the actors breathing, footsteps and doors.

For Pop Aye, apart from the challenge mentioned earlier regarding the elephant, the film takes place from the streets of Bangkok to the countryside, so we researched the different kinds of birds and insects that inhabited each of the towns so the soundscape could change as the lead character and Pop Aye ventured away from the city.

InCinemas: On that note, any interesting or memorable project you’ve sound-designed/foley for? 

Sex scenes are always interesting to foley. I once worked on a film with a sex scene in a van and naturally, I could not bring a van into the foley stage. Hence, a crickety office chair was used to mimic the creaks in the van. For foley in these kinds of scenes, it also usually involves a number of fruits. The most interesting bit about foley is that one does not always have to use the exact object as long as you can replicate how it would sound.

InCinemas: When was the greatest sense of satisfaction you had since becoming a sound designer? 

I feel the greatest sense of satisfaction when I am at the film premiere of a project I worked on and I see or hear the audience responding well to it. Sometimes we get so caught up working on the film and know it so well that we lose sense of how the audience may receive it. So it’s always a proud moment for me when I see them responding to the film positively.

InCinemas: Any advice for aspiring sound designers out there? 

A sound designer needs not only a creative mind, a sensitive ear, a meticulous nature but also great stamina. Your sound is only limited by your creativity. Train your ears by watching many films (the good and the bad) and pay attention to the environment around you. In order to make something sound realistic, always remember that it boils down to layers and layers of details. Lastly, you will spend many hours desk-bound, so don’t forget to stretch.

InCinemas: What are your hopes for Singapore film industry in the future? 

Our films have been gaining more consistent traction internationally, and that’s extremely encouraging. The success of our films can also inspire a generation of young Singaporeans to take up filmmaking as a career and therefore spur more local filmmaking talents. The industry could use more talents in specialised crafts, not just sound design, but also in producing, production design, makeup, visual effects and so on, to support the stories that directors want to tell.  

InCinemas: Lastly, what will you be sharing at the upcoming BroadcastAsia 2017? 

At BroadcastAsia2017, I’ll be talking about the sound design that went into my work on Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice. I’ll be sharing more on the tools like AVID ProTools, technical details, and layers of sound design that went into building the cavernous psyche of the gallows.

Ting Li will be speaking at Broadcast Asia 2017, happening from 23 - 25th May. 
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