Which is more real: Sound or Image?

Film sound is one of the basic elements in film elements, which turns films from purely visual media to audio-visual media. Silent films use only visual elements to express relatively space-time structure, with the help of film sound, films turn to use both visual and acoustical elements to present relatively space-time structure.


There are usually two sources of film sound. One is diegetic sound, which means the sound happens in scenes, including characters’ conversation, sound made by objects, musical instruments and so on. Diegetic sound can help films to be natural and realistic, and can focus on characters’ and audience’s subjective consciousness in the perspective of storytelling. The other sound is non-diegetic sound, which means sound happens out of scenes. The most common usage of non-diegetic sound is using music to push narrative forward.


Space of sound film is made of light and sound. The camera records three-dimensional information, imports them into the two-dimensional surface, and then projects them onto the two-dimensional screen to create three-dimensional moving illusion. The audio recorder records and plays original acoustic waves in space. Mono can present the spatial features of sound such as distance and vertical motion. , while the stereophonic sound system can also present the horizontal movement of sound. Therefore, sound enhances the three-dimensional illusion of film. The omnidirectional transmission of sound and the omnidirectional reception of human’s ear form an endless sound space, hence no matter it is in diegetic space of non-diegetic space, sound does not have the division of on-screen or off-screen, only the sources of sound has the division of on-screen and off-screen. The short animation A Different Perspective is an interesting example of film sound showing the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface. The background of this animation looks really flat, however, with the different sounds to show the distance of the characters, the three-dimensional setting seems to be acceptable, and the contrast of the two-dimensional drawing and the three-dimensional sound effect is really interesting.

Space that sound can present includes events, diegetic space and non-diegetic space. In events and diegetic space, the invisible sound can form profuse spatial variation and create various atmospheres. Light and shadow, saturation, sound, and especially musical sound have really subtle psychological relation with each other, so what directors need to consider about in films is the saturation level of the combination of sound and vision. One of the fighting clips in Kung Fu Panda 2 really impressed me for its perfect combination of background music and fighting motions. The weapons are consciously made to be ones of the musical instruments, which makes the atmosphere more humorous.

The other short animation called Little Wild uses sound in a different way. There is a specific electromagnetic wave sound which only appears with the motions of the main character and the flying fruit. The overall sounds in this animation are quite peaceful and mild, which makes the electromagnetic sound really stand out, and because it only appears with the main character and the fruit, it conveys a mental suggestion to the audience that there are some specific relationships between them.

All in all, I think we can not say image is more real than sound or sound is more real than visual, because they together make films more three-dimensional and more convincing to audience, and sound should be one of the elements which make the sequence of images more real.



‘Film’ (2017) Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film (Accessed: 4 February 2017).


Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson [Film]. United States: Paramount Pictures.


‘Sound Film’ Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_film (Accessed: 4 February 2017).


Taiwan Wiki (2013) Available at: http://www.twwiki.com/wiki/%E9%9B%BB%E5%BD%B1%E8%81%B2%E9%9F%B3 (Accessed: 4 February 2017).


Zhihu (2017) Available at:  https://www.zhihu.com/question/39402948/answer/141501624 (Accessed: 4 February 2017).


Visual Reference:


Caleb (2011) Little Wild. Available at: https://vimeo.com/12128138 (Accessed: 4 February 2017).


Chris (2015) A Different Perspective. Available at: https://vimeo.com/120438150 (Accessed: 4 February 2017).


Kevin (2013) Kung Fu Panda 2 – Po Fight With Wolves. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fePiGyCsWFc (Accessed: 4 February 2017).


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