Mix of effects, music lends suspense to history

Disney’s “Secretariat,” set for Oct. 8 release, makes striking use of sound to bring the audience into the experience of horse racing.

In the racing scenes — which deftly balance music and sound effects — the sound helps viewers who’ve never sat in a saddle feel the intensity of a race and the subtle communication between animal and rider.

Supervising sound mixer Kevin O’Connell explains that helmer Randall Wallace spelled out early what he wanted. “He said, ‘We’re going to hear (Secretariat’s) hooves, then we’re going to hear the jockey in the saddle and then we’re going to hear (the horse’s) breath and hear his heart beating in there, too, because he had such a big heart.’?”

Wallace wanted auds to sense, just as a competing jockey would, when Secretariat was coming up from behind, when he was alongside and when he’d passed. “The only way to do that is to have Secretariat have a sound that the other horses didn’t,” O’Connell says.

Supervising sound editor Kami Asgar says marrying the music and sound was a special challenge.

“With a horse it’s all about rhythm,” he says. “The hooves’ rhythm, the breathing rhythm, the rider’s breathing, the rhythm of the music. … They all can’t be in unison, but they can’t be so separated from each other (that) it becomes a bombastic noise.

Among the team that contributed to that intricate mix were supervising sound editor Beau Borders, supervising sound editors Asgar and Sean McCormack, dialogue editor Erin Oakley, Foley artists Dan O’Connell and sound designer Benjamin Cook; composer Nick Glennie-Smith and music editor Mark Jan Wlodarkiewicz.

But the sound team’s bag of tricks didn’t stop with with equine sounds alone.

“At times we substituted percussion within instrumentation for the horse,” Asgar says, “And the horse became its own instrument.”

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