Have you ever tried watching a film on mute? Without the sound, a horror film will not be quite as scary, a drama not that emotional, and a comedy not so funny. This is the magic of sound. And this is what intrigued Suraj Samal to become a sound engineer and field recordist.
For someone who was exposed to music at an early stage in life, Suraj knew that there’s a whole technical side to music that is not as much explored. And so, he went on to study filmmaking with a specialisation in sound engineering at the Biju Pattanaik Film & Television Institute of Odisha, Cuttack.
Drawing inspiration from the works of Oscar-winner Resul Pookutty, Suraj would later use this expertise to try his hands at both feature films and documentaries. His experiences would eventually lead him to work with our sound team, putting him in a position where he gets to explore more of the magic that is “sound”.
“I believe that a film is a visual representation and pretty straightforward, but sound works at a subconscious level. Just imagine a cup being placed on a table. Isn’t this pretty straightforward, but when we have to imagine the sound it makes, several questions pop into our head — is the cup made of ceramic, steel, or glass? Is the table made of wood? That’s the power sound adds to storytelling, says the BYJUite.”
Born in Rourkela, Odisha, in a family of musicians, Suraj’s list of achievements is quite impressive. He has worked for an indie film — Khyanikaa: The Lost Idea — that won Best Editing at the 29th Odisha State Film Awards and was featured in many film festivals.
He was also the Sync Sound Recordist and Sound Editor for the indie movie, A Dog and His Man, which received a standing ovation at the International Film Festival of India, Goa. “It was among the three Indian films competing against 20 films in foreign languages,” says the BYJUite with pride, adding, the film, later on, went on to win the Critics Choice Award at the Bangalore International Film Festival.
Little did he know at the time that these achievements would pave the way for him to create something impactful for millions of students. But what he was sure of was – music would remain a big part of his life and profession.
After exploring a whole different world — from feature films to commercial ads and documentaries— Suraj joined BYJU’S as a sound engineer in 2019. Landing this role was like a brand new journey for him.
“When I started working as a freelancer in college, I got the opportunity to explore every aspect of filmmaking. However, animation was something I had still not explored and the role at BYJU’S was a perfect opportunity to try my hands at next-gen work. Here we get to create sound effects for videos and make them more exciting for young learners,” he says.
According to Suraj, working at BYJU’S was also an opportunity to hone his skills and learn something new.
He explains, in filmmaking, the sound would be heard on big speakers in theatres but while creating sound for BYJU’S videos, he had to bear in mind that the sound would either be heard on earphones or speakers of smartphones or tablets. So he had to bring in new expertise to suit the needs of learners.
“The industry does not matter because the aesthetics remain the same. You may learn the technical part of a job, but ultimately you have to learn aesthetics on your own. In order to do that, I had to unlearn and bring in new expertise in the current scenario,” he says.
“For instance, there’s no point if I put a huge explosion sound in a video and play it on a tablet. So I had to create a sound to make it sound good on small devices. And I must say that this was a major learning experience for me,” quips the BYJUite.
Suraj credits his team at BYJU’S for giving him the right guidance. “Here you have a certain autonomy to experiment and at the same time, you shoulder the responsibility to ensure that the workflow remains smooth. There’s a great deal of teamwork that goes behind the immersive learning videos that you see on our platform,” he says.
And this responsive culture is also what binds the team together. Sharing one of his fond memories at BYJU’S, Suraj tells us that on completing a year in the company, he gifted a sound library of authentic sounds of Bengaluru to his teammates.
“I created this sound library during the lockdown; whenever I went to a public place, I started recording ambient sounds around me and collated them into a library. I felt this was a perfect symbol of my appreciation towards my teammates who have been so supportive right from my first day. I believe that the library has captured the essence of both the city and our company’s deep connection with Bengaluru,” he adds.
When asked what advice he has for aspiring sound engineers, Suraj was quick to respond that the possibilities in sound engineering are endless. “If one has to pursue sound engineering then they first have to improve their listening skills. Pay attention to the sounds around you because it affects us subconsciously. You can start by understanding the most common-day sounds and where they come from,” he adds.
Damini is passionate about photography and travelling. She is happy to have her camera in hand to click random pictures. Always searching for answers about the chaos around her, she spends most of her time reading and learning new things. She also loves listening to music but is a pathetic singer herself. From being a journalism student to working with several media houses, she hopes to keep narrating compelling stories all her life. Write to her at [email protected] or [email protected]
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