High notes from sound contenders

Nommed mixers and editors on memorable aural moments

Every pic requires thousands of choices by sound editors and mixers to create a soundtrack. Here are a few moments from this season’s nominated sound jobs that caught our ears.

‘The King’s Speech’
The discomfiting opening scene of “The King’s Speech” finds Prince Albert stammering over a booming stadium P.A. system. “We used extreme echo to emphasize his awkwardness,” says sound supervisor Lee Walpole. “We spent a fair bit of time layering up the voice with different delays and treating each stem differently so it’s surrounding you and coming from all directions. It’s disorienting him, and hopefully it does the same thing for a viewer as it does to ‘Bertie’ as the sound is washing back at him.”

In “Unstoppable,” the “antagonist” train was given its own sonic signature. Sound supe/editor Mark Stoeckinger notes, “Tony (Scott, director) wanted the ‘Triple-7’ to have its own menacing sound, so we took off from the production track — the sound of a dynamic brake, which is this piercing whine. Sound recordist Ken Johnson went out to Barstow and did a lot of side-by-side recording of trains going down a pass to get more of that sound, and then (sound effects editor) Alan Rankin took those and created these amazing pitch bends and gave this train this almost dive-bombing quality that was just right.”

‘The Social Network’
David Fincher, director of “The Social Network,” made the risky choice to have Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-nominated dialogue compete with very loud music and effects in a club scene. “David wanted to give the audience the realistic sensation that you’re in a loud place,” comments sound supervisor Ren Klyce, “and also use the sound to counter-balance the style of the prose. He wanted the make the audience work a little, too, maybe lean forward a bit. He didn’t want people to be able to not pay attention. You can still hear every word, but we walked a fine line.”

‘Toy Story 3’
The gripping scene in “Toy Story 3” where our heroes fall onto a conveyer belt headed towards a fiery doom “goes from great calamity and loud craziness to a quiet, reflective moment when they give themselves over to the idea that they’re going to die,” supervisor Tom Myers says. “We knew that as they got closer to the flames we’d let the music take over. The threat keeps going with shots of the flames, but sonically we let it become a more pure emotional moment with the music, and just some light fire sound elements.”

‘Tron: Legacy’
“Tron: Legacy” includes a spectacular battle with flying discs. “High frequencies were needed to create the lethal, hi-tech spinning blade,” comments sound supervisor Addison Teague, “while Daft Punk’s music kept the energy driving with their percussion and bass lines. In the first moment you see a disc power up, music took a back seat and gave us room to give it a low frequency element that made if feel more powerful. The fast flying discs also called for pitch bending, which is one of the more successful techniques when trying to make sounds cut through music.”

And for the scene from “Inception” where an entire Paris neighborhood seems to roll up on itself, supervisor Richard King combined “big metal groans and giant, heavy machinery moving, pivoting, clattering. I tried to create a sound suite that would progress as the city rises and folds over. Chris (Nolan’s) direction was that he wanted it to sound like massive machinery, like a huge watch mechanism — using a relatable sound for an image we’ve never seen. Imagine a machine that would be massive enough to move a city like that. It could be very frightening or awe-inspiring.”

‘True Grit’
The climactic snake-filled cave scene in “True Grit” was shot on a wooden set, so sound designers/editors/mixers Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey had to build their sound effects track from scratch. “With the gunshots, the key was to play with the sounds in the cave — the echoes and reverbs — and not worry so much about the bang. We had no snakes or gun production sound. In fact we didn’t even have the visuals of the snakes when we did the final mix, but Joel and Ethan (Coen) could tell us exactly where they wanted certain sounds to start and end.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing:
Editors watch for basics | High notes from sound contenders | ‘Salt’s’ Russell racks up noms | Vfx realism serves story | Wonderland of hybrid thesps