Top pros avoid conflicts between ear, eye

When first introduced, 5.1 surround sound was practically guaranteed to change the moviegoing experience. After all, with three extra speakers along with a subwoofer to carry a soundtrack’s low end, sound pros could envelope an audience with special effects and music.

The promise was revolutionary, and many sound pros took full advantage by placing noises like bullet whizzes, music and ambiances in the speakers located behind the audience.

Yet, a funny thing happened on the way to the surrounds — audiences became distracted by sounds behind them and were pulled out of the action on the screen. So, sound mixers and supervising sound editors had to refine how best to use the rear channels.

When sound re-recording mixer Chris David began to work on “The Road,” he faced the challenge of delivering a track that was void of almost all animal and insect sounds to match the starkness of the film. That didn’t mean, though, that he ignored the surrounds. “We wanted (the audience) to feel that they were in this unreal world,” he says. “So we continued to put ambiances back there.”

Under the direction of director John Hillcoat, David also used the surrounds to create movement during the earthquake scenes. “He wanted the earthquakes to move diagonally across the room,” he says, “and he wanted the subterranean rumblings to give the idea that this was an unsettled world.”

As a rule, “Inglourious Basterds” dialogue and music re-recording mixer Michael Minkler takes great care in what he puts in the back channels. “You can’t be overpowering back there,” he says. “Your brain doesn’t want to look at an image up front but hear the image in the back. That messes you all up. You’ve got to feel comfortable, and it’s got to be complementary.”

Unless, the goal is to put the audience on edge, like the final scene in “Inglourious Basterds.” “We wanted to place them in the burning theater,” explains supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman. “The intention is very much to drop (the audience) into the experience.”

However, Stateman is quick to say, “In cinema, the illusion is on the screen and the deeper it is into the screen the more satisfying and rich the experience. Cinema celebrates the visual, the audio is there to provide enough reality that the audience believes.”

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