Diegetic vs. non-diegetic sound in film.
Learn more about diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, and when to use each in your videos or short films.
Sound is a powerful tool when telling stories in film — it engages audiences, creates tension, evokes emotion, and delivers important information. Sound can flow from within the film’s universe, or be added later during the editing process. Let’s dive into two common sound elements to familiarize yourself with when editing: diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.
Sound: on and off the set.
Sound that originates from within the video or film’s world is termed diegetic sound. It can come either from on-screen or off-screen but it always happens at the same time that the action takes place. Because this diegetic sound occurs in real-time, it’s sometimes called “actual sound” and can include characters’ voices, music coming from instruments, or sounds made by objects in the story space.
Also known as “complementary sound,” non-diegetic refers to the sound that’s added in post-production, such as a narrator’s summary, musical scores, and custom sound effects. Editors employ non-diegetic sounds for a variety of uses — from making small tweaks to creating comedic touches.
Mix sounds for creative storytelling.
When you’re considering how to use sound in your videos or short films, know that you don’t have to choose between one or the other. In fact, the highest quality films use a mixture of both diegetic and non-diegetic sounds to drive the storytelling.
Sometimes diegetic sounds — like a character’s dialogue — need to be kicked up a notch in post-production so their voice comes across clearly. You can also blend both types of sounds in one transition. For example, try playing music in your opening credits (non-diegetic) and then transition into a character humming the same tune (diegetic). This technique gently eases your audience into your story.