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Sound editors trek in search of authenticity

Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing

Sound editors are famous for repurposing exotic or unlikely sounds — but this year the sound teams on several films went far afield searching for authenticity.

The “Skyfall” team recorded the sound of military helicopters. The “Django Unchained” group went trekking in western canyons, and those working on “Lincoln” headed to Kentucky to restore Honest Abe’s own pocket watch.

“I thought we should have the sounds that Lincoln may have actually heard because this film tried to be authentic in every way from the costumes to the way Daniel Day-Lewis created Lincoln’s voice,” says “Lincoln” sound designer Ben Burtt.

Burtt wanted the sound of Lincoln’s pocket watch for the film. Luckily, the Kentucky Historical Society had one — though it hadn’t been wound in years. Burtt coaxed the society to hire experts who could wind up the watch.

After a little work, the ancient mechanism ticked again.

“So it was used in a lot of the movie along with the White House Portico Clock ticking to give a sense of Lincoln working against time, and the pressure of that,” says Burtt.

On “Django Unchained,” helmer Quentin Tarantino insisted on keeping performances — and their sound — real.

Supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman went to the Four Corners area to capture the ambient sound. “I went to the sorts of canyons where this story would take place and used those recordings as a way to process other sounds through the canyon. And Quentin gets exactly what he wants from his actors on set so we don’t loop.”

“Skyfall” had supervising sound editors Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers travelling to several spots to record military helicopters, starting with a trip to England to record the British Merlin seen in the movie.

“We actually found the sound of one was not enough,” says Hallberg, so back in L.A. they recorded the American Blackhawk, which added power, and a French “Dauphin,” which had a satisfying whine. “We layered the sounds of a few of these helicopters so the audience would have that feeling of being in the action, and sometimes you can only get that from the sound of the real thing you see onscreen.”

Eye on the Oscars: VFX, Sound & Editing
Editors take auds into heroes’ minds | Vfx thrive on technical difficulties | CG animals make tasty filling for ‘Pi’ | Sound editors trek in search of authenticity | Sound mixers sell the realism of unreal worlds | Radio mics were secret of ‘Les Mis’ recording | Imax proved big challenge for ‘Dark Knight’ | ‘Les Mis’ editors took cues from music | Helmer wanted woman’s touch for ‘Sessions’ | Research, experience guided ‘Flight’ editor | Creatures shine in vfx bakeoff

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