Sound editing: Always make dramatic sense

Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing - Sound Editing

Sound editors essentially choose the aural palette that create the soundscape of a film, often finding sounds make “dramatic sense” (as sound guru Randy Thom explains it) even if they don’t represent precisely what’s seen on screen.

In order to create emotionally resonant sounds for the chimp characters in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Chuck Michael and the sound team worked with recordings of noises made both by actors and by chimps. Ape sounds were recorded at Chimp Haven in Louisiana, then layered with actors’ vocals.

“There’s an emotional range that only an actor can convey, but there’s also an authenticity that comes from these being the real sounds made by chimps,” Michael says.

In “Cars 2” making dramatic sense meant not always using the exact sound made by the particular make or model of car seen in the film. Originally helmer John Lasseter wanted that kind of authenticity, but that changed.

Supervising sound editor Tom Myers says, “You need something that will resonate with the audience emotionally.”

“Fast Five” also needed car and crash sounds that would tell the action story in a way that put the audience in the center of the action. Even though the audience is looking at 1970 Dodge Charger for a large part of the movie, chances are they’re hearing a group of sounds developed by a crew over time, says the film’s supervising sound editor Peter Brown.

“These films are very creative in finding new ways to push or abuse the cars,” Brown says laughing. “So we have to find ways to articulate specific sounds that match with the action or the abuse so it makes it believable and fun for people watching.”

Such films as “Green Lantern” and “Transformers 3” also traffic in the kinds of crashing and booming noises you might find in these car-centric projects, but they’ve got a different challenge altogether — find sounds that make things that may not exist at all completely believable.

Though it might seem an easier task to match a sound to an imaginary being Optimus Prime or a to the sounds made when a character with superhuman powers tears apart a sidewalk or train, there’s still a kind of internal logic that must be followed. Auds’ ears can detect a fake just as quickly as the eye though they might not immediately be aware of what’s wrong.

Says Greg P. Russell, sound re-recording mixer on “Transformers 3”: “Even though (Optimus Prime) has never walked down the street, there’s a dramatic logic to what it would sound like if he did. His weight and size would make him sound a certain way and everyone in the audience has an internal sense of how that should sound to them. You have to follow that logic or there will be this sense that something is wrong.”

Karen Baker Landers, a supervising sound editor on “Green Lantern,” sums it up thusly: “People who go to movies, especially movies with superheroes, have heard a lot of great sound editing and mixing. And you’re also trying to get them to connect with the story, not just believe a character is a superhero.”

Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing
Thesps up f/x respect | Longtime teams keep work fresh | Randy’s Rules for top sound | Sound editing: Always make dramatic sense | Sound Mixing: Making it all feel real | Digital tools add quality, cut costs

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