Sound Editors and Mixers Enhance the Audio Experience

Clashing metal, whizzing artillery shells and the orchestrated noises of a murder are among this year's notable film soundscapes

Casting a quick glance at some major contenders for sound awards this season, one finds a war film, an entry in a sci-fi franchise, a murder mystery and a musical fairy tale. The pros behind these pics say the challenge was making each soundscape believable, dynamic and — most important — understandable.

Obvious? Perhaps. Tricky nonetheless, especially for “Transformers: Age of Extinction” re-recording mixer Greg P. Russell, who was tasked with bringing clarity to a frenetic film.

The key is picking the right sounds to play on each shot, he says. “Otherwise it would be a bunch of noise.”

As a prime example, he points to the scene when Lockdown is searching for a bomb held by the Autobots by sucking up everything metal.

In the midst of sonic bedlam, the team focused on a huge ship that crushed a building after being dropped from a height of 2,000 feet. “Yeah, that’s going to be a loud moment,” he says with a laugh, “but it was what we call dynamically appropriate for the moment.”

When sound designer/re-recording mixer/supervising sound editor Paul N.J. Ottosson was working on “Fury” (pictured), he knew he had to help audiences understand that Brad Pitt’s Wardaddy character could identify the shells fired by a German Tiger II tank by ear.

To do that, he had to bring something unique to the sound. “I taped four kid’s whistles to a Frisbee and threw it by a microphone,” he says. “I thought it was a little crazy, but I knew it was going to work. It became the most deadly sound in the whole movie.”

Ottosson came to the idea after reading several firsthand accounts of the war. “The guys said (the shells) sounded like a screaming freight train that whistled by,” he recalls.

“Into the Woods” re-recording mixer Mike Prestwood Smith had his own make-it-sound-natural challenge while working on the Rob Marshall-helmed, Stephen Sondheim musical.

“An (important) part of my task was to make all of the characters’ performances feel absolutely integrated,” he says. “The music is literally woven throughout the film and at any moment a character can break into song and then back into talking and then back into song. Keeping that consistent and believable and integrated was probably the biggest challenge.”

Marshall ultimately delivered the solution. “Rob was very keen for it to feel as though it was fluid,” Prestwood Smith says. So, music was a constant throughout the story, rising from behind dialogue to support a performance and then dipping down again.

Blending a musical soundtrack with an effects soundtrack was key to the sonic success of “Gone Girl,” says re-recording mixer/sound designer Ren Klyce.

“David (Fincher, the director) wants what he calls a tapestry of sound,” Klyce says. Perhaps the most poignant example of that occurs during the scene when Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) is murdered by Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike).

“It’s a very dramatic sound sequence that’s primarily music,” he says. “We experimented with not even having the sound of the blood, choking, gurgling and body slaps. Whenever we’ve done bloody sequences in the past, David has shied away from the sound of the reality.

“This time, David came in and said, ‘No, I want to get a sense of her power.’ It worked really well just being music. It was horrific, because it was more of an omniscient viewpoint. But when we put the sound in, what you got was the sense of Amy being a monster. It was all about her power and being frightened by her.”

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