The sound of success

Published on 26 October 2018

Sound designer Lim Ting Li was drawn to her profession because of how sound can create powerful emotional and psychological realms. (Photo: National Arts Council)

By Huang Lijie

If you hear rain in a film, there is a chance that the sound came not from nature, but from streaky bacon sizzling in a hot pan.

It is this freedom to imagine and create sounds which enhance the sense of realism in films that drew Ms Lim Ting Li, 33, to be a sound designer, never mind that it is hardly a prominent role in the film industry.

A sound designer for film oversees all auditory aspects of it, from creating sound effects that enhance the realism of the film – fruit is sometimes used for sex scenes – to ensuring clarity in the dialogue.

The work entails long hours of being desk-bound and exposed to loud sounds. But it also requires one to have a keen sense of hearing, honed by listening to everyday, ambient sounds. So, when Lim has a chance to protect her ears, for example, at karaoke, she stuffs tissue paper in them. “I don’t carry ear plugs with me all the time,” she says.

Although she paints a less-than glamorous picture of her job and its demands, she was recently named one of seven recipients of the National Arts Council’s Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award 2018. She received the latter – Singapore’s highest accolade for young arts practitioners with outstanding artistic achievements and a deep commitment to the arts.

Lim, who has worked on award-winning films such as Apprentice (2016) and Pop Aye (2017) by Singapore filmmakers Boo Junfeng and Kirsten Tan respectively, says the Young Artist Award affirms her decision to be a sound designer, despite it being a path less taken and a journey riddled with difficulties for her.

An alumnus of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Film, Sound and Video course, she says: “I had doubts along the way, including when my family met with financial difficulty around 2010.

“I was a freelance sound designer then, and my income wasn’t stable, so I couldn’t help as much. If I had chosen a more orthodox career, I would’ve been in a better position to help.”

Yet she has no regrets.

She says: “If there was one thing I could tell my younger self, it would be to know the value of my craft. For a period, I saw sound design as secondary to the filmmaking process, and undermined my own work.”

It took working on several film projects, before the graduate of UK’s National Film and Television School finally saw herself as an “artist of craft”, and not merely a supporting figure in filmmaking.

She therefore views her Young Artist Award not only as a personal achievement, but also as an encouragement to other masters of craft in the film industry.

She says: “You need a group of people to realise a film and every craftsman makes a difference to the work.”

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