Sound maestros evoke aural history

"Star Trek," "Transformers" teams draw on past cues

A generation ago, a brand new sound could be heard on playgrounds around the globe, as kids swung imaginary light sabers during mock battles between the Empire and the Rebels.

That sound became one of the most memorable aural cues from a film that set the world of audio post-production, well, on its ear — and ever since, sound pros have been working hard to develop signature sounds that cue audiences into an imminent event, be it emotional or action-oriented.

Or, as in the case of last year’s “Star Trek,” remind them that while space may be the final frontier, they’ve been there before.

“This film is laced with iconic sounds that are derivative of the original TV series,” remarks supervising sound editor Mark Stoeckinger. “We never included the exact same sound, but we were given inspiration from (the series) or got ideas from it.”

In fact, the “Star Trek” sound team went back and listened to the sounds from the 1960s TV series (the library is available on CD) and the franchise’s previous films to closely mimic door and background aural ambiances in the Enterprise as well as other beep and button sounds.

Then Ben Burtt was brought in. “He was tasked with getting us a little more iconic in our sound and be even more exacting,” Stoeckinger explains. “We had modernized some sounds that sounded great, but we wanted to make sure they made sense for the people that knew the series.”

Where the “Star Trek” crew had to worry about generations of fans, re-recording mixer Greg P. Russell and supervising sound editor Erik Aadahl had to be concerned about rabid fans when they started to work on “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

Supervising sound editor Aadahl wasn’t intimidated. “It was fun for me,” he says. “I was a fan of ‘Transformers’ growing up and I didn’t want to throw all that history and lore out the window. We needed to pay homage to (the classic Transformers” sound) and reference that, but beyond that, we kind of felt we had complete creative freedom.”

To that end, the Transformers 2 sound team created unique sounds for all of the “characters” that provided critical information while telling the story. “We tried to create the soul of these robots, their personalities,” Aadahl says. “When you hear the Fallen, you should, just on a subconscious level, feel danger. That’s part of the challenge, finding a sound that conjures up those emotions.”

For a character like Max Records in “Where the Wild Things Are,” supervising sound editor Ren Klyce explains that “We had to create the isolation of his world and the feeling of being alone and lonely. At the very beginning there are a lot of sounds of happiness happening elsewhere, and then we hear the isolation of the wind as he’s building his igloo. That is the sound that sets Max apart from everyone else.”

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