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The introduction of the characters in Niels Gaup's "The Pathfinder"

by Sven E Carlsson



  A narrator begins and concludes the movie
This emphasizes the mythic and fairy character of the film.

When a motion picture starts and ends in a similar way it is called 'circular form'. The similarity between the beginning and the end makes the film feel more like an entirety.


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After the initial texts the main story opens with extreme close-ups of feet walking in snow while simultaneously a hissing murmur is heard [1]  
This type of sound is called "balloon-burner" as resembles the sound from a gas burner heating the air in a hot-air balloon.
The sounds of footsteps has a nasty quality and reminds you of the sound from a tarpaulin being folded. The asthmatic non-diegetic hissing sound together with the nasty character of the footsteps immediately inform the spectators that these are 'bad guys'.

A croaking raven lifts, telling in advance that something awful is going to happen.
Ravens and crows are often used as film symbols of warning.

A dog whimpers "nice-to-see-you", waving its tail to the approaching unknown people.  
The viewers get an extreme close-up of eyes. 

Then they see a threatening cross-bow made of the skull from an animal and see and hear the arrow leave the weapon.

Dog Whine
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The audience hear the whiz from the arrow, the thud when it hits and a whine from the dog. The picture shown is foggy and filled with action.
Here the ear is leading the eye. The audience believe they are watching the dog being shot, but what they see is a blurred picture of a dog falling.

It's a good example of how proficient film-makers by simple means can make us create our own pictures with the help of sounds. The sound has to be distinct for this cinematic device to succeed. This kind of sound-adding is similar to that of the radio theater.

The introduction of the 'bad' characters is completed in spite of the fact that the spectators have seen no more then feet, eyes and weapon. Here the film-maker has been working on the inner pictures of the audience. From the different parts is created, by the conjured-up imagination, a scaring whole.

The introduction of the antagonists.

The introduction of a character must be rapid and sharp, otherwise it easily feels heavy and slow. That's above all the case with action movies. Drama movies have a calmer way of narrating and can take more time to introducing the different film characters. 

"The Pathfinder" follows a rather common pattern when introducing 'bad characters':

  • Moving direction in picture --> (from left to right) )[2]
  • An unpleasant sound, dark bass note or discord is heard the first time the character is shown. The sound guides your perception in the direction of making the appearance and clothes of the character feel uncomfortable..
  • Unpleasant acts are being performed. [3]
  • Codes for clothes, appearance and color.
During the period of silent films you had to introduce the villains distinctly, using clothing codes, appearance codes and evil actions. The crooks were wearing black hats and looking villainous in general. They were equipped with scars and a swarthy southern appearance.

The "classic" introduction in the silent movie is the following scene, when…

  • A person wearing a white hat comes out from the saloon and pats the dog. 
  • White headdress + Good action = Hero.
  • Another person wearing a black hat comes out and kicks the dog. Dark headdress + Evil action = Villain.
In "The Pathfinder" they don't kick the dog, but shoot it. To make the viewers feel sympathy for the dog, a "pity-me-whimper" is added, for the viewer to react to instinctively with empathy with the dog. Had the dog reacted and angrily barked, the viewers hadn't been moved when the dog was shot.

Whining sounds reminding you of babies' whimpering, activate man's instinct to protect. In 10 seconds do we succeed in creating a sympathetic attitude from the viewers towards the dog, resulting in a very strong feeling when it dies.

In "The Star Wars" there is that little robot R2-D2 with a body language like a trash can. Why do the viewers like the cute robot? It sounds like a cross between baby babble and pup whine, electronically transformed. These mentally absorbing sounds make them not to care about that they are looking at a can, by way of the sounds they experience a little helpless being..[4] 
Read about the making of the sounds on my website Sound Design of Star Wars 

The silent flying raven later in the introduction has a foreboding function. In Hitchcock's films silence means power  [5].  

Squeaking sounds when the door of the cot is opened were probably used to creating a foreboding as well as disturbing undertone in the Soundscape. (The hinges are made of leather)


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If anyone in the audience would still be uncertain of what was to come, it ceased when the girl went out into the woods to look for the dog.. 
A dark bass note gives premonition and mood, then we hear the sound from a cymbal, reversed. The sound of asthmatic breathing is also heard.

A wind is heard when the girl sees the dark figures in the mountain birch woods.
The sound of winds is strikingly often used to emphasize the feeling of loneliness and being abandoned.

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When the audience hear the whizzing from an arrow - repeated like an echo - they realize that the girl is being shot
The only thing shown is the face of the girl and then a wide open mountain space, but the sound equipment makes the viewers see inner pictures and these pictures are so strong that most of them will remember having actually seen the girl being shot. [6]

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Sorry about the bad sound quality - When I got a better copy I will webpublish the sounds as MP3 and RealAudio

The introduction of the main character is completely different from that of the evil 'tjudrerna'. A solitary skier, slowly approaching with a light timbre in the music. Open mountain landscape in sunshine (instead of fragmentary close-ups of trampling feet).
The 'yoik', (improvised Laplandish chant) that is heard during the introduction has a rising melody movement. It's a brilliant variation of the code of film music for a hero. More absolute hero-music is to find for instance in "Indiana Jones" and "Superman".

The picture and the music help each other to tell that this is the hero.

The introduction of the hero can be interpreted as an allegory over the fact that he will mature and grow, and successfully handle the difficulties ahead of him.

© Sven E Carlsson 1998 
Translated to English by Torbjoern Nilsson

Niels Gaup: Ofelas aka Pathfinder (1987)

Sound Design Jan Lindvik 


1. A well-known hissing sound is Darth Vader's asthmatic respirator in "Star Wars".

2. 'Tjudrerna' - the evil characters in "The Pathfinder" - enter from the left.

3. In the introduction in "Star Wars" Darth Vader carried out an evil action. He lifted up a soldier and the 'crack' was heard when the soldier's larynx was squeezed together. Other traditional codes of introduction were also carried out, Darth Vader is wearing dark clothes, for instance. 

Another common thing is also that the name of characters can be associated with their role creation. 'Darth Vader' resembles 'Dark Invader'.

4.Take a look at my website 'Sound Design of Star Wars' to see how the sounds were made.

5. According to Elisabeth Weis in 'The Silent Scream, Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track' Farleigh Dickensson Press (1982). 

6. There seems to be a sense transformation from auditory to visual impression. See Chion's terms "Added Value" and "Rendering" on 
Diegetic sound
Sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film. For example: voices of characters or sounds made by objects in the story

Non-diegetic sound
Sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action. For example: narrator's commentary, sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect or mood music

The characteristic types of sound commonly heard in a given period or location. For example, the late nineteenth-century American soundscape was largely limited to unamplified, live sounds, while the soundscape of the mid twenties included radio, electrically recorded disks, and public address, as well as live music, theater, and an increasing number of unmuffled motors.

I wrote the first Swedish version of this article 1993 on a typerecorder. I rewrote and webpublished the article 1998. With the help of my friend Torbjoern Nilsson the article was translated to English 2004.

>> This article in Swedish

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