There are a lot of filmmaking terms or jargon that get thrown around – often these terms are not that complicated when you learn what they mean. That’s why this article was written – to explain the difference and provide examples.
TLDR: Diegetic sound is audio that takes place in the same world as the video. Non-diegetic sounds are those that take place outside of the story, such as background music or other sound effects.
Sound effects often play an integral part to what is happening on screen. For example, when a character walks into water, it is likely that effects such as splashing and bubbles would play. Conversely, the absence of such effects can indicate a scene has changed (e.g., when someone is walking on land).
Whether you like the Simpsons or not, this is one of the best diegetic sound examples and explainer videos
What is the Difference Between Diegetic Sound (D) and Non-Diegetic (Non-D) Sound?
D. is any sound that takes place within the story. Non-D are those elements that take place outside of the story, such as background music or other audio effects.
Imagine listening to a creepy movie – you hear all the steps and cracks in the floor.
It’s the audio that heightens the conflict, tense, and stress in the scene.
Foley audio would be very similar to D audio. But Non-D could also be used as Foley, but for most situations, D would be Foley.
D sound is made by something that exists in the film, such as a character’s voice or footsteps. It’s “seen in the scene”.
Basic examples of diegetic sounds
- Those that come from within the scene itself (such as dialogue).
- Those that affect the mood and atmosphere of a scene, such as when raindrops are heard on a tin roof.
- Music playing in a restaurant
- Clapping in late-night television shows such as Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show or Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
- In the Fast and the Furious, sounds are driving, wheels squeaking, and crashes similar to those in real life.
- Two characters talking with each other in a scene
- When it comes to music, a band playing in the scene or a character that starts play on their car’s stereo
- Other examples: gunfire, keyboards typing, phones ringing, and clicking on the Office button.
- Sound effects are almost always D, but in rare instances they can also be part of the Non-D sound design.
How filmmakers use Diegetic Sound
- In The Sound of Music, Edelweiss demonstrates how music can be played IN the scene so it’s D. Whereas most “background music” would be Non-D.
- In Gunpowder Milkshake, fight noises are an example of a D sounds
- In Mighty Ducks movies and Mighty Ducks: Game Changers ice skating is an example of a D sound
- “Street Life” is a good example of music being D (car stereo) but also it moves into Non-D as it follows Jackie Brown.
- Music and sound effects are D in movies like Mad Max: Fury Road (if you didn’t watch this at the top of the page – watch it!)
Non-diegetic sound explained
Non-diegetic sound is any sound that the audience can hear but the characters on screen cannot.
These sounds can take many forms, including character narration, soundtrack or music overlays, or sound effects that are not present in the film-world.
Edgar Wright uses quick cuts and exaggerated sound effects to construct montages.
What is a non diegetic element of film?
- when sound is not coming from a character in the film.
- effects include “whooshes,” whip pans, and clangs as well as diegetic ones.
- Non-D sound effects are often mixed with diegetic ones to make them seem more realistic.
- Non-D effects are a great example of how exaggerated sound can be used to heighten the emotion of a scene.
- The music of a scene is played on top of what we can see, and is not coming from any possible source within the scene.
- The most common type of diegetic music is popular songs or musical cues put into a scene for our benefit.
- particularly corporate video production and promotional type videos in nature incorporate a lot of Non-D
Songs in films often work well when used in the right context, but rarely are they seen on screen (ie. rarely do you have the musician on-screen playing the song). But if you were to show a radio being tuned to a station, and then the “music starts playing” that would be diegetic sound. But in most corporate videos – videos simply use music as a background or to affect the feeling but it clearly isn’t originating from the video or scenes themselves.
Non Diegetic sound examples:
Nearly every voiceover, background music track, and transition sounds are non-diegetic. Another way to remember non-diegetic is “non-native”. It’s not natural to the scene, it wasn’t natively recorded in-camera during filming, and it doesn’t appear like it could (or would) have been recorded.
How can you tell if something is diegetic or non-diegetic?
Think of Diegetic as Direct. Do you directly see what you’re hearing or does it seem natural to the shot? That’s D.
If it doesn’t look like what you know the scene should naturally sound like, then it’s Non-D.
NON-DIEGETIC SOUND DEFINITION
Non-diegetic sound is any sound that isn’t created by the characters in a film. This includes background noise, music, and sounds like footsteps or breaking glass. Non-diegetic sound is often contrasted with diegetic sound.
Sample Quiz Question Time:
- What are sounds in films and television that arise from the environment of the shown scene as a result of people or things doing, or simply being present?
- What are sounds in films and television that aren’t seen in the picture, like swooshes, clangs or background music, the voice of God, voiceover
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