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Oscar Sound Contenders Could Sweep Again This Year

The contenders in both sound categories are the same, a first since the Academy expanded sound editing from three to five films in 2006.

Traditionally, neither has aligned with the big prize, the last being 2009’s “The Hurt Locker,” but the dual nominations of “Baby Driver,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Dunkirk,” “The Shape of Water” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” could lead to a sweep similar to past nominees “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), “Gravity” (2013), “Hugo” (2011) and the aforementioned Kathryn Bigelow film.

Mary H. Ellis, part of the sound mixing team for “Baby Driver,” is the sixth woman nominated for sound mixing and only the second female production sound mixer to ever be nominated. Along with re-recording mixers Tim Cavagin and Julian Slater, who were also nominated for its sound editing, the team polished crisp dialogue wrapped in a symphony of music and choreography for the Edgar Wright film. The entire sonic world was shaped around the perspective of Baby, a character that battles tinnitus by listening to tunes through headphones. Changes in pitch, timbre, tempo and mix were so detailed that when Baby removes an earbud to talk, the music is mixed to one side to reflect the viewpoint.

In “Blade Runner 2049,” the soundscape was completely reimagined with sound supervising editor Mark Mangini and sound designer Theo Green creating nearly 2,600 atmospheric cues that blurred mood, tone and music to aurally contextualize the stunning Roger Deakin visuals. Sounds stressed the importance of nature as an element, designing organic acoustics over synthetic ones that allowed re-recording mixers Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill to deliver a melting pot of futuristic Los Angeles sounds. Mac Ruth recorded dialogue that focused on the story’s emotional dynamic range. The track’s texture was stripped down to its essence, letting the language of each scene breathe to draw in the audience.

For “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan tasked supervising sound editors Richard King and Alex Gibson to emphasize the realism of the battle with immediate and visceral sounds. Period munitions, planes and boats were recorded to depict the three-legged narrative that played out over land, air and water. Production mixer Mark Weingarten worked on and with windy beaches and hid in the lower decks of ships to record dialogue that re-recording mixers Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo acutely tuned. Scenes were established with historically accurate sounds and then were embillished for an immersive experience to make audiences feel like they were on the French beach or piloting Spitfires or sailing on the English Channel.

The fairytale “The Shape of Water” intertwined a colorful love story between an amphibious creature and a mute woman where art direction, cinematography and editing influenced supervising sound editors Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira. Breaths and exertions propelled Sally Hawkins’ performance, and creature dialogue was spun from vocalizations by Robitaille and director Guillermo del Toro. A gliding camera explored scenes propelling an imitative sonic palette rich in detail that complemented life and love through literal soundscapes of water. Production mixer Glen Gauthier and re-recording mixers Christian Cooke and Brade Zoern detailed off-screen dynamics with an expressive woman and a mellifluous creature to extend sound beyond the frame.

Silence was one of the many new aural themes in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” created by sound designers Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce. Dialogue was reversed and ran through different reverbs and delays then panned to establish the Force Connection between Kylo Ren and Rey with production mixer Stuart Wilson even requesting to swap out noisy cameras in order to record the intimacy.

Audio elements were completely removed to neatly enhance Luke’s Force Projection fight with Kylo. Re-recording mixers David Parker and Michael Semanick texturized environments, creatures, weapons and spaceships to stylize the emotional space saga without drifting too far from the original universe.

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