Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing
The six pics that snagged the 10 nominations for sound (five each for mixing and editing) make up a bewilderingly diverse mix. The list comprises everything from the gigantic actioner “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” to the more indie-flavored “Drive.”
That shows what sound pros have always known: Great sound isn’t just about bigger and louder. It’s about choices, design and immersing the audience even deeper into the visuals on the screen.
Two elements of the central character’s life became crucial to the sound: waiting and concentration.
“We wanted you to feel how long it feels to wait for someone in Ryan Gosling’s situation,” says Victor Ray Ennis, supervising sound editor. “So we’d pull out almost everything except the sound of a clock ticking and there wouldn’t be any off-camera sounds.”
Even as Gosling’s character descends into a nightclub armed with a hammer, there’s very little off-screen sound. And the idea is to keep you in step with the character’s thoughts, Ennis says.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
The sound team for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” had to take the audience into sleek Swedish offices and homes and a serial killer’s hidden lair.
“Sometimes those spaces are the same thing, like in the case of Stellan Skarsgard’s home,” says Ren Klyce, sound designer, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer. “It’s this cold clinical environment on the main floor and below there’s a murderer’s torture chamber.”
Klyce tied the two together by focusing on sounds that would follow you everywhere. They spent time gathering the noises made by a frozen tree being blown around in the wind. Metallic noises also helped establish a sense of the freezing cold and isolation.
“In scenes where there were assaults we also were careful to choose sounds that supported the visuals and weren’t overwhelming because you’re taking people to the darkest places they can imagine,” says Klyce.
Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the origins of cinema challenged its sound department to live in two worlds.
“We were balancing the memories the boy had of his father and the tinkering he did in his workshop with the sounds you’d hear in a train station,” says Eugene Gearty, a supervising sound editor on the film. “You have to find a way to move between both things without it being jarring.”
Luckily, a kind of through line made itself obvious along the way. Mechanical sounds were also a big part of the film’s “real” world in the way the train station inspector moves and the noises made by trains. Clanking, machine-driven sounds brought both worlds together.
“Hugo’s interior and exterior worlds kind of reflected one another in terms of sound,” says Gearty. “He was trying to preserve his dreams in the real world.”
When it came time to create the soundscape of a baseball stadium during a key game for “Moneyball,” Deb Adair quickly found out that less was more.
All the pops and crackles in recordings from decades ago actually put the games in context for the film, so Adair resisted the impulse to clean up the old recordings too much. Additional crowd noises made by extras in the stadium during filming were layered into the mix.
“You’re going to these events with the characters and it’s a very particular time and place in professional sports,” says Adair, sound re-recording mixer. “Imperfections in a recording can work for you when capturing the past.”
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
The “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” sound team had to immerse the audience in the powerful moments, then ease back.
“You can’t just have this wall of sound coming at them the whole time so you’re careful to give them those breaks when there aren’t moments of full on battle,” says Erik Aadahl, supervising sound editor. “You also want moments of deep emotion to stand on their own.”
This also makes those moments where the sound supports the characters at war more powerful, explains Aadahl. You’re more likely to absorb the carefully layered sounds of the robots doing battle when you’ve actually had pause before those fights happen.
Sound designer Gary Rydstrom’s choices in “War Horse” were driven more by character and story structure than World War I weaponry.
Explains Rydstrom: “Steven (Spielberg) didn’t want to overwhelm the audience with the sounds of the fighting but instead wanted them to feel what the horse and the other actors were feeling while they were experiencing the war.” That meant using a lot of restraint, even while creating an immersive sonic landscape for the battles.
“These aren’t really the gritty noises you might hear in a movie about a very recent war,” says Rydstrom. “You’re definitely hearing the sounds of a war but you’re not always hearing bullets piercing flesh and that fits because it’s really the story of how this boy and his horse manage to reunite.”
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