×

Artisans Balance Sound Effects, Dialogue & Score to Create Engrossing Tracks

This year’s early contenders in the sound categories have found new ways to entertain eardrums.

Randy Thom, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer on “The Revenant,” discovered that adding environmental sounds to the bear mauling scene upped the dramatic impact.

“(Director) Alejandro (Inarritu) wanted to demonstrate that nature goes on despite what we humans do in it,” he says. “So during that scene, we hear birds up in the trees, chirping and singing. You might think that would fly in the face of the violence, but in a way it makes more horrific. Even as this violence is happening, the forest is ignoring it.”

On “Sicario,” sound designer and effects re-recording mixer Tom Ozanich played up the sounds from off-screen action to heighten the tension when Kate (Emily Blunt) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) enter the tunnel underneath the U.S.-Mexico border.

The audience is cued into the characters’ experience visually through night-vision goggles. Ozanich furthered that experience sonically by playing limited sound effects. “It’s like you’re one of the characters — you have the goggles on, you don’t have good peripheral vision, and you’re only getting pieces of what’s going on around you,” he explains. “The sounds (of unseen action) keep you in a state of tension and unrest.”

What makes scenes like that work, say sound designers and re-recording mixers, is an authentic sonic palette. That’s especially true for films that take place in environments that most humans will never experience — like the surface of Mars.

Paul Massey, dialogue and music re-recording mixer on “The Martian,” says that every line of dialogue spoken or heard in a space suit was re-recorded in a number of settings to make it believable. “(The audience) needs to believe what they’re hearing and seeing,” he says. “If they’re not thinking about the sound, that’s a sign of a success.”

To that end, Massey and his team recorded dialogue through a speaker in the astronaut’s helmets and over shortwave radio, used speakerphone plug-ins to manipulate the sound, and sent supervising sound editor Oliver Tarney to NASA to record through the console speakers at Mission Control.

Glenn Freemantle, sound designer and supervising sound editor on “Everest,” followed a similar path. “We wanted audiences to hear it and feel it,” he says, “so that they would feel the intensity.” The “Everest” sound team accomplished that with multiple tracks of Foley and recordings of wind.

On “Mad Max: Fury Road,” supervising sound editor Mark Mangini was inspired by the novel “Moby Dick” while working out the film’s final 13-minute scene: “I saw the War Rig as the great white whale and Immortan Joe as Ahab.”

To hammer the point home, the crew added whale sounds to the sound design. “We used humpback groans and growls (for the War Rig). We used lows when it was harpooned and when the milk burst out, we used the sound of whale blow holes to give it more resonance.”

A film’s delicate aural ecosystem is balanced in equal parts sound effects, dialogue and score. On “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” supervising sound editor and dialogue re-recording mixer Matthew Wood and sound effects and Foley re-recording mixer Christopher Scarabosio found that balance by paring back.

“One of the things we’ve been dealing with is too much sound,” says Scarabosio. “We don’t have a lack of content between John Williams’ score, all the ‘Star Wars’ sound effects, and voices. Our challenge is picking and choosing between all the pieces to find harmony.”

The team does have a leg up en route to building a connection, thanks to sound designer Ben Burtt’s legendary work. “If we play sounds that have the same patina from the original work of Ben Burtt, we can bring viewers back to feel what they felt when they watched the original films,” says Wood.

At the same time, the team had to figure out what best told the story in each scene. “Sometimes it was music, sometimes it was sound effects, and sometimes it was a combination of both,” Scarabosio adds. “Really, it’s whatever we can do to help tell the story and help with the emotion”

“Bridge of Spies” sound designer and effects re-recording mixer Gary Rydstrom had a different experience. “When I first talked to Steven Spielberg, he told me a scary thing for a sound editor to hear, but also an exciting thing. He said, ‘There’s not going to be much music in this movie.’”

That meant it was up to the sound team to create descriptive and evocative effects.

“Any sound has an emotional component,” he says. Rydstrom points to the apartment in Berlin where the American spies meet. “There are cracks in the windows, wind is whistling through those windows and they’re rattling. Those sounds are moody and give he right feeling for that part of the movie.”

“Inside Out” sound designer Ren Klyce echoes the sentiment, pointing to the scene where Riley returns home after realizing she shouldn’t have run away. “After she says she misses her home, it’s silence; all you hear is her breath. That’s all you need. Sometimes just having nothing but one human noise in the track can make you feel connected to the characters.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

  • Kristen Stewart

    French Director Olivier Assayas Pays Tribute to Kristen Stewart at Deauville

    French director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to Kristen Stewart, whom he directed in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper,” at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday evening. Stewart received a honorary award in Deauville before the French premiere of Benedict Andrews’s “Seberg” in which the actress stars as Jean Seberg, a French New [...]

  • Liam Gallagher: As It Was

    Film Review: 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was'

    Liam Gallagher is nearly as fascinating a rock ‘n’ roll figure as he thinks he is … which is saying a lot. After the breakup of Oasis, one of the most self-avowedly arrogant stars in pop culture found himself severely humbled, fighting to become relevant again without the help of Noel, his ex-bandmate and, for [...]

  • The Vast of Night

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Vast of Night'

    It’s the first high school basketball game of the season and all of Cayuga, N.M., population 492, is cheering on the Statesmen at the gym. Except for the town’s two brightest kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who are strolling through the empty darkness to their respective jobs as a radio DJ and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content