A gripping story backed by a tight script establishes a strong connect with our minds. But what really wins us over is the immersive Audio experience that brings the movie alive and strikes a chord by stirring our emotions.
Jubin Raj, our next pathbreaker, conveys stories through sound, by creatively designing appropriate sound effects, and finally blending and shaping them into a seamless audio with the help of high-end technologies.
Jubin talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his initial struggles in getting a break and finally making his dream of designing sound for movies come true.
For students, if you want to give voice to your creativity and imagination go for sound design
Jubin, tell us about your initial years
I was born on September 8, 1989, into a Hindu family in Mayyanad village, Kollam District, Kerala. My father Mr. Balaraju R. J was looking after our family temple and we lost him in 2017. My mother Mrs. Lalithkumari. R, is a retired HSA chemistry teacher in Mayyanad Higher Secondary School. We are two siblings. My elder brother Mr. Jibin Raj, is a Senior Visual Editor in Mathrubhumi News channel, Trivandrum, Kerala. His guidance and support helped me make key decisions in my career. He inspired me from a young age. I got married in 2018 with the love of my life Ms. Indu Murali who is an M.Tech computer science graduate. She is the best companion I could ever get. We were also fortunate to be blessed with a sweet baby girl ‘Aathreyi Jubin’ on 7th April 2020.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
l am a Computer Science Engineer who graduated from Kerala University in 2012. My inclination towards Audio Designing led me to pursue a Diploma course in Audio Recording and Sound Design from Ramoji Academy of Film and Television, Hyderabad from where I graduated in 2013.
I also did couple of certification courses like Web Designing and Animation, Advanced Digital Editing etc.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
My elder brother Mr. Jibin Raj who was a video editor was the one responsible for bringing out the fascination inside me towards the media field around 10yrs ago. His uncommon work pattern, passion and enthusiasm ignited a spark in my mind. At that young age that magical feeling incited me to dream of building a post-production team together in the future. Back then sound engineering was a niche field (in our place) where everyone typically chose to be a Doctor or an Engineer. My family was also not different, they wanted me to pursue a professional degree in the first place. So, I did my graduation in computer science engineering, and at the same time I was also doing research on institutes where I could do a sound engineering course. During this course of time, I was hit by a breaking news: Resul Pookutty had got an Oscar Award for sound designing in Slumdog Millionaire (2009). This news helped me convince my family (some extent) to achieve my dream. In 2012 I got an opportunity to create a theme music for our college final year festival. I got great appreciation for my work, which is still a sweet memory down the lane.
Just after my Engineering final year exams I had entrance exams for getting admission into the sound engineering course. My parents were initially not willing to let me pursue a career in audio engineering, but gradually got convinced that I wanted to follow my passion seeing my keenness. I also opted to study outside Kerala to give a boost to my inner self, capability and get more exposure. I applied for the Diploma course in Audio Recording and Sound Design in Ramoji Academy of Film and Television (RAFT), Hyderabad. They had an entrance exam followed by an interview, where I managed to get a decent score. After one month I received a registered post from RAFT…that was my admit card!! That was a heavenly and blissful moment. Happily, I started my college life with two other enthusiasts in the audio department. College was full of life, much awaited experiments, discussions with experienced sound engineering faculty like Prof: Sanjeev Kumar. He was a real guru and last but not the least, the biggest excitement was working in the world’s second biggest audio post production facility “Symphony” in Ramoji Film City. I also got the opportunity to meet prominent people like Mr. Gopinathan Hari (Re-recording Engineer) with whom daily conversations lasted for hours. I still remember the day when he asked me about my plans.
Hari: What you want to become?
Me: A good sound engineer.
Hari: Did you decide the field of focus?
Me: Yes, sound designer.
Hari: Going back to Kerala or shifting to Mumbai (“the city of dreams”)
Me: Shifting to Mumbai to chase my ambition!!!
Hari: (For a while he became silent) Good! here are some references of my friends working there!
Me: Thank you so much sir.
During college I got ample opportunities to do hands-on projects like short exercises, short films, song shoots, miscellaneous exercises, documentaries etc.
Struggles and dedication are always rewarded, aren’t they?
Two films for which I did the sound designing and mixing won the National Students Film Awards.
1. Special jury award for the documentary film “The Ganesh Maker” which received a cash prize of 12.5k.
2. “Aazhi” documentary film rewarded with a cash prize of 75k.
During “Aazhi” film, half of the film’s shooting was done in deep ocean. It narrates the life of fishermen. As the sound designer of the film, I had discussions with the writer & director to understand their vision and thought process while making the film. Throughout the making I constantly tried to match my idea with the requirements of the crew. For instance, necessary details that should be taken care of while recording location sound, the areas in script that need sync sound, areas where live sounds need to be captured etc. We spent more than a week in boat with heavily loaded sound equipment along with battery. After one-month, the final edit came. We started working, designed sound effects for underwater shorts like catching fish etc. For better understanding I suggest you watch the film. Finally, the director gives his feedback for the work done. Ganesh Maker film was another experience with lots of fun during the shooting and post work.
There are several ways to create great sound effects. You can record sounds and then process them with different plugins or you can create sounds from scratch, or you can use available sound libraries as your base.
The sound library is a collection of already recorded and prepared sounds that anyone can use. It is important to remember that the libraries are proprietary. There are also websites with free sound libraries.
Recording basic sound effect is the most common and fun way to design a great sounding scene. Imagine you need to create a cave ambience. First, you can record the drops of water from your tap. Then wind and surroundings of an empty garage, and maybe movements of your clothes.
It may not sound and look as much in the beginning. But when you layer it in your editing software and process some of the effects, it will be a different story. Drops of water coming from the walls, quiet wind passing in a distance and atmosphere of obscure movements will bring the whole place alive.
As per the visual, adding suitable offscreen sounds (like wind chimes, children playing, birds chirping at a distance, etc) create more natural effects which can all be put together to get the exact feel.
In sound design, the creation of various sounds like massive explosions, futuristic weapons, fantasy creatures, fighting sequence, vehicle chases, sword battle, horse galloping etc. with layering of some high, mid and low-frequency sound effects placed on top of each other will give the sound effect a richer tone and extra punch. It would sound easy but is not an easy task. Create new sounds is quite interesting as well as challenging.
As Sound Designer, I have worked days and nights out with talented directors to give ‘voice’ to their powerful visions. I am very proud to be associated with two National Students Film Awards. Indeed, a proud moment for me and I thank God.
Special thanks to all the faculty in RAFT, Hyderabad and each and every one who believed in me. Dreams do come true one day!
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.
After passing out from RAFT, I came to Mumbai on the 1st of December 2013 from Hyderabad. My uncle who lived in Panvel, Mumbai gave me necessary guidance and support in the city that never sleeps! Slowly and steadily I got adapted to the Mumbai culture, language, food, and people. After one week, I began meeting people in the industry with the references I got from a college mentor. I would go to Laxmi Industrial Estate, Andheri West daily for attending interviews. At the end of the day I was always told, ‘will let you know when there is a vacancy’. Meanwhile I also got the opportunity to meet renowned sound professionals like Resul Pookutty (Sound Designer), Bishwadeep Dipak Chatterjee (Sound Designer), PM Satheesh (Sound Designer), Justin Jose (Re-Recording Engineer), Debajith Changmai (Re-Recording Engineer), Bibin Dev (Re-Recording Engineer) and several others. Mr. Sinoy Joseph (Re-Recording Engineer) helped me visit the YRF studio. After a three hour wait outside the gate, I got interviewed by Anuj Mathur & Sam K Paul (Re-Recording Engineer’s) but still couldn’t see any possibility of getting in!
Two months passed by, during which I attended fifty-four interviews. Even today I have that diary where I maintain that record! I was completely blank and hopeless. One day my RAFT mentor Mr. Hari told me to attend a Dolby Atmos Seminar which was conducted by Mr. Bhaskar Pal (Dolby Consultant). After the seminar I noticed several freshers waiting to meet him. I too got a chance to share my resume. That was also not fruitful.
I was literally stuck, I did whatever I could. I was losing support from my family. My girlfriend Ms. Indu Murali (now wife) who always stood by me as my backbone, had faith in me and asked me to have some more patience without losing hope. Finally, with a heavy heart I decided to go back to my hometown, and got my train tickets booked for 5th February 2014. Everything was packed, though with a broken heart and a hopeless future. Every second I thought about what’s next?! What is written in my destiny? I was deeply worried.
On February 4th evening, I got two interview calls, scheduled for the next day (when I was supposed to leave Mumbai). One was from Mr. Justin Jose for a Music Studio requirement and the other was from Mr. Thomas Binu Varghese for the Movies Now Hollywood Channel. But nothing excited me as I was tired of attending interviews. Knowing this my parents as well as my girlfriend suggested to attend the interview. I agreed and cancelled my tickets. On 5th Feb 2014 morning at 10:00 A.M I reached the Times Network office, filled with hope and enthusiasm. I cracked the interview and got an appointment as Associate Sound Editor in Movies Now (stepping stone towards my dream that could make my life interesting). My journey started from the very next day, I signed contract papers for three months, which got extended for a year, and again for three more months. They took me on payroll on 1st May 2015. I learned a lot of things regarding, how to be professional, how to be a good employee, interpersonal relationships, teamwork, strengths, weaknesses and much more. Gradually I gained confidence and started handling multiple channels (Romedy Now, MN+, MNX under Times Network).
I joined Movies Now as an Associate sound editor as a contact employee and then got into payroll as Sound Engineer. I was also fortunate enough to achieve the prestigious award for one of the top ten employees in Movies Now with unprecedented hard work. Working with experienced colleagues was a positive factor. I got to learn many things, like their approach towards work, handling of critical situations, commitment and systematic way of managing the workflow etc. Moreover, they helped and encouraged me to learn the process quickly. I did sound design and mixing for Hollywood film teasers (The Walk, The Dark Knight Rises, Transformers series promos). I worked with all types of audio assets using proprietary tools and systems and led sound design projects from concept to implementation to completion. It was a fast-paced and highly fluid environment with collaboration among teams. I also created high quality audio samples, contributed to the future of VR audio by working with new technologies, and applied music theory and concepts as part of audio designing. The “Transformers” film series inspired me a lot to become creative sound designer.
As time passed, my classmate (RAFT) Teja Asgk came to Mumbai looking for jobs. I guided him with my experience and within a month he kicked off his career with Legend Bishwadeep Dipak Chatterjee. Slowly I also started meeting people for a chance to work in the film industry (my ultimate goal). Finally, Mr.Tony Babu (Sound Designer), trusting my capabilities, gave me an opportunity to work as ‘sound editor’ for a Malayalam movie “One Second Please”, an Eros Production. I worked on weekends for web series, episodes, short films etc.
I would like to thank all those who stood by me in my difficult times and believed in my vision to follow my passion as my professional career.
How did you get your first break?
I would like to put it this way… each and every opportunity that came to me till date is a break for me! During RAFT college days itself, we classmates formed a special bond. We became buddies later. I am grateful to God for keeping me in the company of good people, that too in a different state. We shared ideas, tried to help others by encouraging them with the limited knowledge we had, shared work space, whatever we had.
We did documentaries, films and shared credits. Some of my works are
The Wise Walls of Saur – Sound Designer (Documentary Film: Hindi)
Operation Parindey – Sound Fx Editor (Hindi Film)
Masaba – Sound Editor (Netflix Web series: Hindi)
Raallallo Neeru – Premix Engineer (Telugu Film)
Masterpiece – Sound Editor (Malayalam Film)
Diamond Cross – Sound Editor (Kannada Film)
Commitment towards work, eagerness to learn, ability to adapt to new technologies, enthusiasm, willingness to work tirelessly and that fire in soul brings the best potential in you. Hope and patience, never leave these two factors…they also bring wonders to life. That’s what I learned through these years.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
When I began a career in the film industry there was a huge phase shift. I struggled a lot and had to face lots of challenges. Both film and television fields are like two sides of a coin. Maybe they have some similarity but technically they both cannot be compared. I had to compete with people who had more than 5-10 years of work experience in the field. It was difficult for me to learn huge library files/names as well as work faster to complete on time. I initially lacked self-confidence, and always had doubts about the work that I completed. I worked very hard to come up with benchmarks and tried to push myself all along. I do remember spending sleepless nights with determination which made me push myself to new frontiers of life.
I believe challenges are always part and parcel of life. One of the biggest challenges was the fear of not knowing things or how to do things sensibly. It is very difficult to get a mentor in this field. Some areas can be improved by constant practice but what about the rest?! I planned a way out by attending webinars on microphones, song mixing and mastering etc. and tried to learn new technologies. I also acquired various certifications and tried to reduce the gaps.
Creating my own SFX library was another challenge, especially to bring out the uniqueness in my work. That idea made me work on recording sound effects and ambiences from our surroundings, household items, even while travelling, which is still a continuing process.
I believe “if you can dream it, you can do it” which makes me stronger each day. I dreamt of working with Sony Pictures Networks India. I’m happy to share that with God’s grace that also happened. Life is full of hardships which we should face with courage. If you can’t do it then nobody can do it!
Where do you work now?
I am currently working for a leading media network company Sony Pictures Networks India, Mumbai as an Audio Designer since December 2017. Till now I am satisfied with the kind of work, the work culture and our audio team. We have a culture based on mutual understanding.
I always had a strong interest in audio mixing and designing which led to technical achievements. According to the need of the hour my official duties may vary, and it can be consolidated to prepping Pro Tools sessions for television and film re-mastering: file management, session organization, expert level understanding of recording, mixing and mastering techniques, designing of sound effects, ambient sounds, and character sounds, establishes the style and approach to sound effects and music for assigned products and always ensures to maintain that consistency throughout the work to create high-quality original content.
One thing I love about this job is the kind of challenges we tackle on a daily basis. I’m very much particular about the project deliverables, it is important that audio adheres to our company-specific loudness standards.
As a company Sony is a good place to explore and work with the freedom that you should get. Creativity compliments freedom which is very much important in this field. There is always a space for improvement and nothing is perfect.
How does your work benefit the society?
Media as an industry is huge with ample amount of, and limitless creative space. People born with real talent are super heroes here.
Each and every entertainment feature like News, Films, Daily Soaps, Music, Sports etc., before coming to your television, requires the efforts and hard work of hundreds of people. I represent one amongst that community.
I would like to share a small instance. I was invited by one of my friends to a musical event.
When I was entering the open stadium, a sound check was happening. The show started, but because the sound mixing was not proper, the lead vocalist was not audible to the audience. As the reactions came by, “sound is not proper”, “please change the microphone”, “stop the program”, “can’t hear the vocals”, I realized how intelligent people are. I immediately had a word with the event team by introducing myself and saying, ‘should I check and rectify the issue?’. The singer called me on stage and briefed me exactly what he wanted! Then I started working with the help of the PA engineer, showing him how to get the proper mix. Then the program continued, the audience enjoyed, and the entire team was happy that everything went perfectly. By the end of the event I was called upon the stage and appreciation for what I did. I felt very happy to see them happy. Live events are full of bang on energy.
Audio engineers give life to a scene with the help of high-end technologies. It is a huge platform for creative minds!
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Actually, it is difficult for me to choose one project. My approach to each project is different and unique in its own way. I give 100% to everything I do and try to create the best feel which can challenge the original effect.
Some of my works got paid off in the form of awards.
For the sound designing and mixing done in Sony BBC Earth, Sony PIX & AXN promos.
PromaxBDA India Awards 2019 (1 Gold & 2 Silver)
Promax Asia Awards 2019 (2 Gold & 3 Silver)
Happiness and encouragement come with hard work. There is no shortcut for hard work. One day or the other you will be rewarded.
Sound designing deals with the selection of sound effects or elements for a specific purpose, the process of designing sound elements (like the hybrid laser sound from the Star Wars Series and jets in Dunkirk) that help in conveying a story through sound. The same applies to dialogue as well. Delivering a line in a certain way to emphasize emotions in the narrative is sound designing. Music composer and the sound designer work together in shaping the sound with the help of re-recording engineer.
Whereas Sound mixing is the process of balancing audio levels of all the sound in a film- from dialogue, foley, music, sound effects to ambience. A sound mixer must tweak every single audio file in the movie in order to make it sound clear, crisp, and seamless. It can be a complicated process, not to mention extraordinarily difficult when there are plenty of sounds happening at once.
An easier way to understand, the term sound engineering can be compared to the sky and the different aspects like sound design, music production, live sound etc being the different elements of nature. In a typical recording studio, it involves ways of recording sound, analysing the frequency bands of sounds involved, track layering, mixing and mastering. For live sound, analysing the reflectivity of surroundings, preparing for the live show, mounting the speakers, microphones, understanding the frequency response of the sounds on stage and operating the mixing console, balancing accordingly etc… are the activities of sound engineer. Sound engineering is how you prepare a final presentable content.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Just one mantra to succeed in life, ‘Follow your passion’. If you are following your passion you would never give up on the dreams you saw in daylight with open eyes. Life is all about living the moment and creating a path for yourself. We never forget self-taught lessons and self-made paths which lifted you to great heights. When you feel low, look back at those struggles which you solved with confidence. Research and learn new technologies, always try to update yourself with the flow. Prove yourself and say ‘Yes I can do it’.
No one can motivate you. But every one or the other can inspire you. Wishing you all the best and a fantastic future.
Each day is like a learning curve for me. There is a lot more to learn and it’s a never-ending process. Currently I’m focusing on learning Dolby Atmos mixing technologies and implementation.
I am also sharpening my skills to work in a versatile area to achieve my ultimate dream of working in ‘Hollywood Films’ as a Sound Designer.
A post-production studio in Mumbai is also an ambition. Let’s see what God has in store for me.