Finding a voice

This year's sound editing contenders turn it down

Traditionally a category filled with big action movies, this year’s shortlist of sound-editing candidates includes the likes of “The Aviator,” “Collateral” and the music-filled “Ray.”

“There are a few less big, loud action films so we may see a few surprises at the bakeoff,” says Paul Huntsman, governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ sound branch. “It’s easy to make a film big and easy to make a film loud, but it’s much more difficult to make it articulate.”

The Aviator

Supervising sound editors: Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton

Sound editor Eugene Gearty went for authenticity in creating sound effects for Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic. That meant hauling out vintage aircraft to the Mojave Desert to record them for the CGI flying sequences. “When you have something that’s entirely CGI, it’s entirely critical to sell it with sound,” says Gearty.

Gearty’s finest moment was the crash scene, which plays out entirely without music. “There was a tremendous amount of Foley in the crash itself,” which he sought to make documentary like, he says.

Challenging crowd scenes are marked by the dull pops of vintage flashbulbs and glass crunching underfoot.


Supervising sound editor: Elliott Koretz

Bowing to director Michael Mann’s wishes, supervising sound editor Elliott Koretz created a sound effects track of entirely new sounds for the film. “I spent nights traveling through downtown L.A. in the wee hours of the morning, recording things I heard,” he says.

Koretz also created a detailed palette of gunshots, tumbling bodies and taxi recordings with mikes set in the front, back and engine compartment.

Sound was crucial to the finale, when Tom Cruise stalks Jada Pinkett in a silent office and she’s given away by the sound of her nylons as she crawls on the floor. “The cat-and-mouse scene was very fun to do,” says Koretz.

The Day After Tomorrow

Supervising sound editors: Larry Kemp, Mark P. Stoeckinger

Supervising sound editors Larry Kemp and Mark P. Stoeckinger’s soundscape for “The Day After Tomorrow” subtly builds up to the story’s superfreeze. “I wanted to create an arc, so you’re not just simply piling on the sound effects,” says Stoeckinger.

Generating sounds and refining old ones to create thunder that didn’t sound cheesy was a big challenge, he says, as was doing the bulk of the work before the heavily CGI’d pic was completed.

The sounds of the superfreeze were created with backing being peeled off self-adhesive floor tile, and sand stood in for snow and ice. “Everything had to be different and unique,” notes Stoeckinger.

The Incredibles

Supervising sound editor: Michael Silvers; sound designer: Randy Thom

Randy Thom of Skywalker Sound has become the go-to guy for animation since he teamed up with Michael Silvers, who supervised the only two previous animated films — “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters Inc.” — to make the sound editing bakeoff.

His biggest challenge on “The Incredibles” was figuring out what things would sound like based on minimal line drawings. But director Brad Bird knows what he wants to hear and can describe it in visceral terms, Thom says.

“Brad wanted it to be bold in every way, very stylized, attention grabbing, yet still in the real world as much as possible,” says Thom.

The Polar Express

Supervising sound editor: Dennis Leonard; sound designer: Randy Thom

“The Polar Express” was all about the train, says sound designer Randy Thom, who went for musical sounds such as violin bows scraping against sheet metal.

“When the train arrives there is a huge amount of dynamics: quiet moments when the boy is desperately listening for the Santa’s sleigh bell and then the thunderous sound of when the train arrives,” says Thom. The sequence plays without music, which leaves the quieter moments extremely exposed.


Supervising sound editors: Karen Baker Landers, Per Hallberg

Making a film about blind musician Ray Charles was an opportunity to discover a new level of depth and detail to sound, says Karen Baker Landers, whose credits include “Blackhawk Down” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

“Creating a lush and pretty sound job was the goal,” says Baker Landers, who worked with sound editor Per Hallberg at Todd AO. “It wasn’t about loud effects; it was about detail and feel more than anything.”

Working on such a music-heavy pic required being reverent of the music in the editorial and in the mix, she says. “When we did bring sound effects in, it was in a graceful manner.”

Spider-Man 2

Supervising sound editor: Paul N.J. Ottosson

Sweden-born sound editor Paul Ottosson’s first challenge on “Spider-Man 2” was picking up where “Spider-Man” left off. Not having worked on the original, he brought a new approach to the film and fostered collaboration between director Sam Raimi and the sound team.

Ottosson focused on Doc Ock and his CGI tentacles, using motorcycle chains and pig squeals to human voices and bass piano strings to create the sound.

Ottosson says the key is telling the story simply. “I like to pick what’s most important in each scene and make it very special. People can’t focus on 10 different things.”