‘Unstoppable’s’ track trek

Recordists scoured the West for train sounds

One would expect that “Unstoppable,” with a runaway train as a central character, would require many hours of original recordings to capture the multiplicity of sounds emanating from every part of that hurtling juggernaut.

And it did: Soundelux supervising sound editor Mark Stoeckinger had a team of recordists, led by Ken Johnson, traveling to far-flung locales in central California and New Mexico to compile a massive library of recordings: everything from engine sounds to wheel and brake squeaks to the clickety-clack of now-rare bolted train tracks.

Even with all the sound effects material to work with, director Tony Scott insisted that as much of the live production track as possible be used throughout the film.

Says Stoeckinger, “On most films, the production track is the best dialogue possible, and whatever comes along with it, that’s great. But Tony wants some solid production for everything, so if a train is going by in the shot, he wants the production sound of the train. Now obviously you won’t find something that’s going to work from production to satisfy every visual in the film, but that’s Tony’s starting point.”

Stoeckinger adds that production sound mixer William Kaplan “was able to get great dialogue in part because he did all sorts of things to minimize the train sounds — he had them ‘true’ the wheels so they didn’t squeak or clack, and they welded gussets inside the engine so it didn’t squeak. Interestingly, when we started running dailies, Tony was disappointed he didn’t hear the clickety-clack. But there was very little ADR and we could put in the clickety-clack later.”

Adding to the depth of the train recordings was the sound team’s usage of DPA six-channel surround microphones. “Their imaging is awesome,” Stoeckinger notes. “and it was an important part of the movie’s sound, even if we didn’t use all six channels in a given place.”

“Unstoppable” was mixed at Todd AO’s Stage 1 by Beau Borders and Kevin O’Connell.

More from Eye on the Oscars: VFX, Sounds & Editing:
How to spot the vfx pro’s signature | Editors say the eyes have it | ‘Unstoppable’s’ track trek | Music shapes sound effects | Echoes of the Old West | Silent takes speak volumes