What is Ambient Sound in Film

Date published:

May 10, 2021

What is Ambient Sound in Film?

Films use a variety of different sounds and sound effects to establish the feel of a realistic scene or setting whether on location or in a studio. Just as you would expect to encounter various background noises and sounds in various settings. In reality, filmmakers seek to recreate many of those sounds. To help build and establish the sense of a particular environment or “world” that the film is set to. Ambient sounds are commonly present for any scene or location setting. And are important to the realistic nature of the film. But what is ambient sound in film? And what is the source?

WHAT IS AMBIENT SOUND IN FILM?

Ambient sounds in film represent the background noises that are present within a particular scene or location. Coming from the term “ambience,” ambient sounds are used by filmmakers to create the illusion of a particular place or setting.

In simple terms, ambient sounds in film are those which are naturally or commonly present in the environment. 

INDOOR AMBIENCE

When you think about a location setting for a film, such as a restaurant, for example, the ambient sounds are those which you would expect to hear coming from the restaurant.

These may include the sound of dishes clanging together as they are stacked from a nearby table. The sound of people chatting all around. The sound of a distant cook calling off orders.

And maybe even the light sound of background music. These are all ambient sounds that would be expected for a restaurant scene.

OUTDOOR AMBIENCE

Likewise, if you were filming an outdoor scene, along the beach you would expect completely different ambient sounds. Some of the sounds you might hear along the beach include the distant crash of the waves, wind, a nearby seagull chirping.

Perhaps you would hear the occasional sound of a car as it passed by on a nearby road above the dunes. These are all ambient sounds which could be expected from a scene that was set outside, along the beach.

AMBIENT SOUNDS ARE NOT ALWAYS “GOOD” SOUNDS

As we dive further into answering your question, “What is ambient sound in film?” It’s important also to consider the fact that not all ambient sound is welcomed sound for a film.

In fact, while some filmmakers will add various ambient sounds into a scene for the purpose of creating a more realistic connection between the audience and the scene, there are times when ambient sounds are captured on the set and they are not welcomed by the filmmaker. 

FOR EXAMPLE

Sometimes ambient sounds come across during your filmmaking as background noise; sounds which are not wanted for the film. For example, you might hear a plane fly over.

There might be a distant hissing sound as the wind passes over the microphone, or nearby traffic may interrupt otherwise ideal audio.

While these are all, still, ambient sounds, they are not IDEAL ambient sounds, at least not for some situations. 

IN SUMMARY

So, what is ambient sound in film? It’s the background sounds that may, or may not, be desired for a film but which are present or would be expected to be present in a particular scene.

These subtle, or potentially very distinct, sounds that are created by the environment. Within which a film is being shot during production may be included on a separate track in sound editing. Or they may be excluded if they are unwanted sounds for the particular situation.

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