×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Crew Helped Marry Wildlife, Wartime Sounds in ‘Zookeeper’s Wife’

Sound is crucial to the film “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” a period drama based on the real-life story of Warsaw Zoological Garden owners Antonina and Jan Zabinski (played by Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh), who rescued hundreds of Jewish citizens by smuggling them through an underground system on their property in WWII Poland, right under the noses of the Nazis.

Yet most of what’s heard by the audience remains off screen: the screams of animals, aircraft bombers flying overhead, piano music drifting through a basement chasm. Crafting authentic and accurate sounds for these cues fell to supervising sound editor Becky Sullivan, re-recording mixers Terry Porter and Anna Behlmer, and the members of the film’s sound department.

The challenge was to authentically portray the changing mix of nature, warfare, domestic life, and life in the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as the perilous scheme going on underground at the zoo over the six-year period covered in the movie.

Sullivan, a WWII buff, turned to her personal library of recordings for the fighter planes, gunfire, and other battle elements. The list of zoo sounds that open the story proved more challenging to nail down.

“We had to show the love for these animals,” Sullivan says. “They had to sound authentic, but not get cartoony. We had to create a personality for them.”

The crew recorded a catalog of sounds for featured animals, including Antonia’s purring lion cubs and a baby camel that frequently followed her around. After spot-testing sound levels, a few short moments of vocals were included.

To create the soundscape for a scene in which Antonia saves a baby elephant from suffocating, the team used recordings of a baby sea lion whose breathing patterns worked best for the injured mammal, and added heavy footsteps and anxious trumpeting to indicate the pachyderm’s parents.

For the scenes that depict the refugees in the Zabinski’s basement, Sullivan and her team were looking for ways to extend a sense of dread. Working with foley artists, they captured the sound of creaks on different types of wood. Adding these to the track, the re-recording mixers worked with reverb and delay to differentiate the presence and distance of individuals on the floor above. Porter also used compressed or expanded piano music to indicate the way it leaked into the basement space.

In addition to creating location-based sounds, the team ensured that what viewers hear corresponds to visual cues, including the reactions of actors.

During the pre-mix and dubbing stage, director Niki Caro and film editor David Coulson collaborated with the sound crew, discussing how to adjust the effects to make sure they captured the emotional landscape Caro envisioned. This included finessing the layout of an explosion — from a plane’s overhead flight to the scattering of debris.

“Niki did a great job of shooting directional cues,” Behlmer says. “If something drew our attention, we watched the action and figured out how to orchestrate it.”

More Artisans

  • Ophelia Movie Disney

    Czech Republic Lures Productions With Ideal Locations and a 20% Rebate

    For producers seeking a location that possesses both natural beauty and a bustling urban landscape, the Czech Republic fits the bill. The country has a long and illustrious film industry (think Milos Forman) and is the site of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival every summer, which gathers indie filmmakers and studios alike in an [...]

  • Frank Masi and Dwayne Johnson Movie

    Still Photographers on Movie Sets Adapt to New Technology

    Some movie fans, and even other crew members, might assume that all those promotional images that appear in publications are captured by the lens of the camera shooting the movie. Not true. Those pictures are snapped on set by still photography pros who are members of the Intl. Cinematographers Guild Local 600, also known as [...]

  • ICG Publicists Honor Jamie Lee Curtis,

    ICG Publicists Awards Honor Jamie Lee Curtis, Jon M. Chu and Greg Berlanti

    The ICG Publicists Awards, held at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Feb. 22, are honoring a trio of creative individuals, including an actor and two behind-the-scenes players. Jamie Lee Curtis, Life Achievement The versatile star, who made her film debut in 1978 in the horror classic “Halloween,” has since appeared in a wide range of [...]

  • Tim Menke Henri Bollinger Publicist Guild

    Publicists Gather for Awards as Shifting Showbiz Landscape Changes Their Trade

    As Hollywood’s entertainment industry is changing by the hour, publicists are gathering for their annual ICG Publicists Awards Lunch, a low-key celebration two days before the Oscars taking place at the Beverly Hilton hotel. Now in its 56th year, the event will feature the presentation of the awards for the best feature film and television [...]

  • Ready Player One

    'Ready Player One' Juxtaposes Real, Virtual Via VFX From Three Shops

    Director Steven Spielberg set an ambitious goal for himself and his “Ready Player One” VFX team: weaving viewers in and out of a virtual world within the storytelling parameters of a traditional film. The movie, released by Warner Bros. in March, is one of five up for a visual effects Oscar this year. To adapt Ernest [...]

  • Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B.

    Armani, Variety Salute Beauty Innovators in Makeup Styling

    On Feb. 20, Variety and Armani Beauty will team up for the 2019 Make-Up Artistry Dinner to toast four of the most sought-after celebrity make-up artists in Hollywood: Nick Barose, Molly Greenwald, Beau Nelson and Patrick Ta. Held at Sunset Tower Restaurant Terrace, this A-list-studded event, featuring such dazzling stars as Olivia Munn and Constance [...]

  • Black Panther

    'Black Panther,' 'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Westworld' Among Costume Designers Guild Winners

    “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” walked away with top honors at the 21st annual Costume Designers Guild Awards Tuesday night, the final industry guild show before the Oscars on Feb. 24. “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” are up for the Oscar this year, along with “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “Mary Poppins [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content