Berlin-based sound designer David Kamp has worked for all the best animators around. You name them, he’s collaborated with them, from cult directors like David O’Reilly and Johnny Kelly, experimental studios like field.io Quayola and Sagmeister & Walsh to MTV and Google. Why do they all go to him for him music and sound effects? Because he’s really, really good at making sensational sounds that add depth and emotion to already beautiful moving image pieces.
We’ve been fans of David’s for a long time now, so decided it was high time to catch up with him to find out a little bit more about why, and how, he does what he does…
Hello David, please tell us your name, age and country of residence.
David Kamp, 31, Germany.
Explain as simply as possible what it is that you do.
My main focus is music composition and sound design for animation.
How did you get into soundtracks and sound effects?
I studied Electronic Composition at ICEM but left the ‘serious’ academic world of music after my diploma. While I learned many valuable lessons there, one was that I was much more interested in combining my music with other media, rather than composing music for its own sake. It just felt and feels more exciting to work on many different, smaller projects each with different challenges, as opposed to spending the better part of the year creating, let’s say, a 30-minute orchestral piece.
The first projects I worked on were live-action shorts. Rather boring post-production work where you’re trying to fix bad dialogue and location recordings, not much sound design fun to be had there. Since I tend to get bored rather quickly, the fast and colourful world of animation immediately attracted me once I became aware of its existence.
You’ve worked with a huge number of talented people, why do they come to you specifically?
It’s a combination of expensive gifts and strategic physical violence that I’ve perfected over the years. Jokes aside I think most of my work comes from word of mouth and it certainly helps having a large portfolio with a body of work that represents what I do. Sometimes people see my name on a project somewhere at an animation film festival or online somewhere and look me up if they like what they hear. In addition I also actively contact people whose work I admire and make them aware of my existence.
Tell us a bit about your process working on a project?
Although my projects come from all parts of the world, most of my projects’ sound production is handled entirely here in my Berlin studio. On rare occasions I have been flown in to work with a team for a few days, but most of the time thats not necessary due to this fascinating new thing called the internet. Besides looking at cute animals it allows me to efficiently work on projects. Sometimes not being in the same time zone can even be an advantage: If I work for a company in New York, they would send me their latest edit at their end of day, I’ll work on it during my day, and when they wake up again they’ll have a new sound version from me.
The process itself is obviously different for each project, but usually, at some point early on, there is a phase of sound exploration. I create sketches and try to find (in collaboration with the artist/director) the right tone and sounds for the piece at hand. Once that has been found it’s about getting the details right and there’s usually some back and forth where sound and animation develop in parallel. On some projects sound and visuals are heavily synced, in which case I would create something like a sound animatic that the animators use to get the key points of the animations timing aligned with the music’s structure. Based on that I would then fill in more instruments and sound elements.
On the other hand I also like getting involved when there is already a final edit. In those cases there is no guesswork involved in terms of how the final animation will look, as opposed to working to early animatics or temporary edits. Seeing animation in final timing and with all details rendered from the beginning allows me to create my sounds in a very organic, intuitive and effective way since I can really commit to it, knowing nothing will change visually.
How do you achieve the right balance of audio and visual material in an animation?
Since I usually don’t have much control over the visual content it’s my job to figure out the right sound to match the animation. A lot of it is about the type of sound source (synthetic, foley recordings, musical instruments) and if and how they are processed. It’s also very important to decide which visual elements actually need a sound, and which don’t or are less important. Often less is more and the sound design does not always have to be super-detailed. As long as it’s in sync to the visual action you can get away with very abstract sounds in animation, which is what makes it such a rewarding and fun field to work in.
On the other hand, while it’s intuitive (and works) to combine very abstract, reduced visuals with their acoustic equivalent, in some cases it’s more exciting to do the opposite and combine very detailed sound design with something visually simple. That way the sound can fill in what the visuals are not communicating and add to the experience.
Do you ever turn projects down because the visuals aren’t good enough for your sounds?
I would not say that anything is not good enough for my sounds, but usually there has to be something that excites me about a project. It could be a story, the visual style, or the sheer amount of love the animators have put into it.
What are you working on right now?
I am about to wrap up a short film with Kristian Andrews / Studio AKA. Next up are two things that I am not really allowed to talk about: a pilot for a children’s TV series and a web-based art project by two well known contemporary artists.