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Sound ideas coming to Siggraph

Sound designer Randy Thom to speak

When Randy Thom advocates a greater voice in the pre-shooting process for sound pros in his keynoter at the Siggraph computer graphics conference in New Orleans, he won’t be alone.

His address will feature filmed interviews with Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Murch, respectively, talking about Oscar sound winner ‘Apocalypse Now’ and nominee “Wall-E.”

“Sound really needs to be in the DNA of the film from the beginning,” says Thom, one of the industry’s most respected and sought-after sound designers and re-recording mixers. “Both ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Wall-E’ are great case studies of how that happened.”

Never mind the 75 films under his belt, the trio of Oscars and dozens of industry honors, Thom knows he has a tough job ahead at Siggraph.

“Sound is a difficult thing to talk about, since it resists analysis,” he says. “One of the strengths of sound is, in a way, one of its curses: It’s malleable. You can record an elephant, modify it and make somebody believe it’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex. You can’t do that with a visual.”

That leads directors down the unfortunate path, he adds, of thinking sound can be fixed in post. “I think that’s a terrible mistake,” he says.

Thom jumped from producing plays on public radio to working alongside Murch during the filming of “Apocalypse Now” in the late ’70s. The art of sound for film was just dawning, and Thom received an education of a lifetime.

One of the most vocal advocates for his fellow sound pros — beating the drum for a host of issues — Thom has spent his entire career at what’s become Skywalker Sound, and will celebrate his 30th anniversary with the company next month. “Maybe I’ll get a gold R2D2,” he says with a laugh.

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