Monday, February 20, 2012

G+ Mailbag: Sound Editing vs Sound Mixing?

I win a LOT of Oscar pools, mostly because I usually nail the technical awards. I just received this question from my pal Kathleen on Google Plus:
Hey, +Juan Carlos Bagnell ! Can you give me some schooling on the Academy Award's sound categories? Namely the giant differences between the two, and what one looks for when analyzing/judging sound mixing and editing? 
Sure! The difference between the two is actually pretty simple to explain.

Sound editing is the creation of individual elements for the film. Anything created, or recorded on location, is the purview of the Sound Editor, who is responsible for collecting all of the elements needed to complete the film. Often it's referred to as Sound Effects Editing or Sound Design.

Sound Mixing is the final mix down of all the audio elements to create the finished product for display. This is the older of the two categories, and in the past was simply referred to as "Best Sound".

Now judging good sound is often a little tricky. On the one hand sound effects shouldn't be distracting, but to win the award, work must be done that stands out to a degree. Looking at the list of Sound Editing winners, you'll see a number of films which pushed right to the knife's edge boundary line of "cool" versus "distracting".

Sound Mixing is judged on the cumulative effect of the audio on the film. Beyond just whether or not there are any distracting elements, the audio must have a unified vision which enhances the films it is supporting.

Obviously it's very common for one film to win both awards, though occasionally two films with amazing sound will split the awards, like in 2008 where Dark Knight took Editing and Slumdog Millionaire took Mixing.

Now, these categories are usually decided by the people that work in those respective fields. You can always turn to the awards they give themselves (like the MPSE Golden Reel) to see who's building momentum for the Academy Awards.

This year, the Reels were all over the place, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a split between Hugo, Super 8, or War Horse.

Good luck in your Oscar pool! If any of these tips help you out, you should buy me a cup of coffee with your winnings (donation links to the left)... ;-)


  1. That clarifies a lot, thank you! The nominees were making me pensively tilt my head, as a couple of them I would classify as "quiet" movies and it just wouldn't compute why they were nominated in a sound category. But now I completely understand that, just as anywhere else, a delicate touch and subtlety should be just as appreciated as boobmastic robot noises. Still, I think my untrained ear would still pick War Horse for both. Horses and thunder and bombs, oh my.

    1. Honestly I think War Horse is the lock for Mixing, but Editing could be a toss up...

  2. Great explanation, when it comes to film the different categories can be a bit hefty but blogs like this help clear things up. I've got a similar blog on editing vs mixing and an explanation of the processes which could further enhance this explanation.

    If you'd like the link let me know.

  3. Your articles support me a lot in all mediums of subjects.

    more on topic