Sound designer and sound effects editor Frank Edward Warner, who won an Oscar for his sound editing work on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” died of natural causes in Sedona, Ariz., on Aug. 31. He was 85.
Born in Los Angeles, Warner originally planned to be an architect but WWII intervened. As a U.S. Marine, he was sent to China, where he worked for Armed Forces Radio. Later, in Los Angeles, he began his show business career by working at CBS Network Radio. He then moved on to television and film editing in 1952 at 20th Century Fox. In 1954, he went into independent television and feature films beginning with eight years at “Dragnet.”
Warner said that “sound is like music that gives us the emotion that the writer intended.” In 1966, while working with Stanley Kubrick on the film “Spartacus,” he realized that film was truly an art form and that sound effects made a definite contribution. “One of my best notes within my compositions was the absence of sound, which was very dramatic,” he said. “I accomplished more with silence than with actual sound. The greatest compliment I received about my work was when someone, after viewing a film, asked me what I did. It was so natural that the person was not even aware of the sound effects.”
In 1967 he drew his first credit as supervising sound editor on director John Boorman’s “Hell in the Pacific.” He went on to work on more than 60 films including “Little Big Man,” “Kotch,” “Harold and Maude,” “Save the Tiger,” “Shampoo,” “Paper Moon,” “Roxanne,” “Billy Jack,” “King of Comedy,” “Barbarosa,” “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” “Taxi Driver,” “Being There,” “Rocky II,” “Rocky III,” “Rocky IV,” “Breathless,” “Coming Home,” “Over the Top,” “Falling in Love,” “Raging Bull” and “Everybody’s All American.”
In 1978, Warner received an Academy Award for the sound effects on Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
He said, “For the Mother Ship sound, I made up 31 different sounds including haybalers (slowed and reversed), trucks, trains, mosquitoes, metal and wood twists, squadrons of planes, etc. All were treated to remove their source and to move this tremendous image of a big, heavy living but harmless mass.” Warner not only had to create the sound of the mother ship but also sounds appropriate for the emotions for the extraterrestrial creatures.
Hal Bartlett, director of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” said of Warner’s work, “We had no sound tracks at all. Starting with literally nothing, Warner created an unforgettable symphony of sound. The smallest water drop, the subtlest rustle of a leaf, were not too much. He built sounds no one has ever heard of before. A seagull diving at high speed. A seagull walking in the snow.”
Warner’s sound library consisted of a million and a half feet of sounds, catalogued and cross-indexed.
In 1988 he won a lifetime achievement award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors
He retired in 1989 and moved to Sedona, where he became involved with the Sedona Film Festival. He formed workshops for the festival and tapped his Hollywood contacts to present panel discussions with some top film industry talents. His hope was to reach out to student filmmakers.
He is survived by his wife, Theodosia Greene; a son, film editor Mark Warner, and a daughter, Leanne Warner Domnitz; and three grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Lann Warner.
Donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Assn. at alz.org. or to the Lewy Body Dementia Assn. at lbda.org.