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Sound mixers find balance between effects and music

Eye on the Oscars 2013: Vfx, Sound & Editing

This year’s sound mixing nominees tackled a diverse collection of films but share one thing in common: All pulled strong — even downright iconic — scores into the aural palette they created.

Greg P. Russell found himself working with what is easily one of the most recognizable themes in film history when he took on “Skyfall,” the latest installment in the James Bond franchise.

Thomas Newman really should be given credit for creating a score that was fresh but also clearly for a James Bond film,” Russell says. “We intended to let those notes stay clear but there were moments where the sound effects take over, when Bond is at Skyfall, because Sam (Mendes) wants your attention (on the effects).”

A vast swath of the filmgoing audience was already familiar with the beloved music for “Les Miserables,” too, making expectations for the film’s sound tricky to handle.

According to Simon Hayes, nommed for mixing the film, helmer Tom Hooper decided early he would focus on the emotion in the actors’ performances and adjust the score to them, making the music a supporting player.

The musical wasn’t the only sweeping epic to be nommed for sound mixing; “Life of Pi” also took audiences on a long perilous journey.

“The score is the heart and soul of ‘Life of Pi,’ especially in the storm sequence,” says Ron Bartlett, nommed for sound mixing for the film. “During that scene we chose to rack focus on the score (i.e., make it more prominent in the mix) and allow it to take the lead.”

Though “Argo” and “Lincoln” lean more toward historical storytelling, they each also had to handle their scores, both also Oscar-nommed, with care.

“The music really drives through the montage of scenes when Washington decides to abandon the ‘house guests'” i.e., the American fugitives hiding in the Canadian Ambassador’s residence in Tehran, says Greg Rudloff, nommed for sound mixing for “Argo.” “You see the house guests celebrating and Ben (Affleck) struggling with the idea of leaving them there and then there’s the moment when Ben decides he’s going forward with the mission.”

And sometimes authentic sounds, even the sounds of the 1865 White House, can only take you so far.

“Lincoln lived an extraordinary life,” says Andy Nelson, nommed for mixing “Lincoln.” “You need the realism of his pocket watch but you also want the sweeping emotion that only music brings.”

Eye on the Oscars 2013: Vfx, Sound & Editing
Want better Oscar ratings? Play up visual effects. | Sound editors added true grit to contenders | Sound mixers find balance between effects and music | ‘Lincoln’ editor Kahn had to juggle massive ensemble | ‘Playbook’ editor Cassiy followed winding road | Editing ‘Pi’ was no piece of cake | Double-nominee Goldenberg serves up fine cuts | Double-nominee Andy Nelson likes subtle sounds

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