When it comes to creating believable sound for film, the key is quality over quantity.
After all, say many of the Oscar-nominated sound editors and re-recording mixers, well-articulated and defined sounds give audiences a touchstone to reality, convey emotion and even help viewers follow the action in busy scenes.
For instance, when the dwarves, elves and orcs begin to fight outside the Lonely Mountain in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” it was crucial to give each army a unique sonic signature.
“It was one of the most important things we had to give definition to and it was a long process of finding the right sounds for each of the armies,” says supervising sound editor Brent Burge.
In the end, dwarf armor was given a sound like heavy iron, elvish weapons got a brighter steel noise and the orcs were made to sound dirty and rough.
On the out-of-this-world “Interstellar,” helmer Christopher Nolan wanted to get away from “the usual sci-fi movie tropes of the way ships and alien planets sound,” says supervising sound editor Richard King.
“The planets have an atmosphere of sorts and probably have more in common with Earth than not,” he says. “The water planet was water, so it would have been corny and out of character of the movie to bend that too much.”
Another benefit of recording well-defined sounds: Sound effects are more convincing, as supervising sound editor Alan Robert Murray found on “American Sniper.”
“(The filmmakers) decided the movie was going to be documentary style, so the action had to be as realistic as possible,” he says. To that end, Murray and his team recorded all the weapons fired in the film as well as all the vehicles, helicopters and drones.
In fact, Murray put 25 microphones around a Lapua sniper rifle to make sure he had the exact sounds the re-recording mixers needed on stage.
Becky Sullivan, supervising sound editor on “Unbroken,” had a similar experience. “We wanted the detail of the war to be there, but we didn’t want to overwhelm the audience with a bunch of noise,” she says.
So, Sullivan took a team up in a B-24 and put a microphone in “every nook and cranny. We wanted the sound to be authentic so that the audience was in Louis’ spot, feeling what he was feeling and experiencing what he was experiencing.”
“Birdman” director Alejandro G. Inarritu is a stickler for detailed sounds, says supervising sound editor Martin Hernandez.
“He wants to hear all of the little things,” he says. “The crash of a glass, falling dishes, a crowd reaction, the sound of a curtain falling. He uses (the sounds) to express his poetry.”