Star Wars audio experiment

We all know that music and audio is a very important tool, none of us would deny this, but I’m not convinced that we always realize just how vital it can be, and how it can effect your visual designs and your audiences’ reactions . . and this thought often occurs to me  when I work with a creative team and a director who have just spent 2 months of their valuable time and hundreds of thousands of euros working on a particular project and then approach ala kondre to solve the audio problem with 4 days to go before airing time . . it does happen! Believe me! . . .In this post I would like to talk about an interesting little audio experiment that was carried out by Lucas Films and the Sky Walker Ranch sound design guys a few years ago . . .

The experiment involved using a 20 minute segment from the digitally re-mastered Star Wars movie. They would show this segment of film, twice, to an audience of one thousand people in a THX movie theatre, one after another etc . . The only difference between the two pieces of film was the audio and sound design layers . . . .  and this is what they did: the first piece of film did not use the proper soundtrack, it was essentially the original soundtrack (music, sound design, and sound effects etc) but it was altered, very slightly so that it wouldn’t be obvious, so some things were very slightly off sync, a few frames here and there etc, the music was mixed slightly less dynamically than the original and some audio ques were even left out, but the important point was that it should not be noticeable that the viewer would notice anything different about the soundtrack immediately . .

The second piece of film was the actual optimized high resolution full synced sound track, full music score, precise so

und effects and so on . .Now the important thing to mention is that the audience were not told that this experiment had anything to do with audio or sound what so ever! In fact they were told everything but that, and after the viewing they were asked to fill out a questionnaire that had several pages of questions about the colours, the editing, the storyline, the characters, the visual dynamics and so on . .

When asked if they thought that, say for instance, in which segment did the colours seem more vivid?, or in which segment did the movements seem smoother?, and so on, almost 100% of the audience always selected the second piece of film, even though the films were identical from a visual point of view. And there was one question that simply asked, “overall, which segment do you think looked the best”? and yes, you guessed it, almost all the audience thought that the second film looked better, the film with the optimized soundtrack.