Oscar sound editors: Noises real and unreal

'Avatar,' 'Hurt Locker' nominees take different paths

Since Feb. 2, Chris Boyes and Paul Ottosson have had a lot in common.

On that day each was nominated for two Oscars: sound editing and sound mixing. Boyes drew the mentions for “Avatar,” Ottosson for “The Hurt Locker.” Plus, each has the same triple credit: sound designer, sound re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor.

Yet the work of these two seasoned film sound professionals on this season’s contenders couldn’t be more different.

Ottosson, whose oeuvre spans films like the second and third “Spider-Man” films and “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” strove for ultra-realism in reproducing the actual sounds of war and life in Iraq.

Boyes, whose work at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Sound extends across all “The Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lord of the Rings” movies, had to build from scratch the sounds and noises of the entirely imaginary world of Pandora.

“We absolutely invented sounds,” says Boyes, whose team created aural experiences that don’t exist on Earth, such as vocalizations for Pandoran creatures like the thanator land predator and the great flying leonopteryx.

To make up the sounds of the film’s aircraft, Boyes recorded helicopters fighting California forest fires and blended together elements from different craft to fashion the chop of the multi-rotor machines plying Pandora’s oxygen-deprived air.

Pandora’s rich, bioluminescent rain forest was another creative opportunity. Relying partly on recordings made in South American jungles, Boyes’ team strove to form sounds that were “beautiful, evocative and intoxicating,” he says.

Unlike Boyes, who invented new sounds, Ottosson’s mission was to re-create the gritty acoustics of the Iraq war as authentically as possible. “We didn’t want to have anything that sounds like it wasn’t real, like it didn’t come from there,” he says.

Ottosson relied on recordings made in Jordan by sound mixer Ray Beckett, who caught the aural ambience of cities, the desert, roaming goats — “whatever he could get his hands on to capture the texture of everything and give me as much to work with as possible.”

The result: an accurate, detailed rendition of noises ranging from the clatter of armaments to the urban din that varies from block to block. “(Director) Kathryn (Bigelow) made it clear how important sound was for this movie,” says Ottosson.

For Boyes, the hardest part of “Avatar” was “the final mix and getting the clarity that Jim (Cameron) wanted. He adds that “sometimes it was hard to find something that would get Jim to a place where he was happy, but once he’s happy, he says, ‘We’re done with that; we’re moving forward.’ For me, as a sound designer, that’s a wonderful place to be with a client.”

Bookings and Signings

Montana Artists bookings: producers Tom Luse on AMC pilot “The Walking Dead,” Armand Leo on Fox pilot “Breakout Kings” and Tom Karnowski on Larry Charles’ “Winter’s Discontent”; UPMs Cathy Gibson on NBC pilot “The Event,” Rick Allen on CBS pilot “The Odds” and Paul Cajero on an untitled Adam F. Goldberg pilot for Fox; d.p.’s Michael McMurray on Syfy’s “Warehouse 13,” Brian Reynolds on Fox’s “Code 58,” Jamie Barber on USA’s “Covert Affairs” and Lorenzo Senatore on Claudia Faeh’s “Sniper Reloaded.” Montana has also booked production designers Ruth Ammon on NBC pilot “The Event,” Steven Wolff on ABC pilot “Matadors,” and Aaron Osborne on ABC’s “The Gates.”

Gersh d.p. bookings: Don Burgess on Duncan Jones’ “Source Code,” Lula Carvalho on Jose Padilha’s “Elite Squad 2,” Vanja Cernjul on HBO’s “Bored to Death,” Caleb Deschanel on Jim Sheridan’s “Dream House,” and John Leonetti on Sean McNamara’s “Soul Surfer.”

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