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Oscar-Nominated Sound Artists Immerse Audiences in Aural Landscapes

Four of the year’s oscar sound contenders — “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “First Man” and “Roma” — share sound editing and mixing nominations, whereas “A Star Is Born” lands in mixing and “A Quiet Place” in sound editing.

In “Black Panther,” production sound mixer Peter Devlin saw the film’s intricate wardrobe as the biggest challenge. “Costume designer Ruth Carter was a participant all the way through pre-production,” says Devlin. The two collaborated so that wireless transmitters could be built seamlessly into the vibranium-laced superhero suit and costumes worn by Okoye (Danai Gurira) and other characters. That way re-recording mixers Brandon Proctor and Steve Boeddeker, who also served as a sound editor with Benjamin Burtt, were able to intertwine crystalline dialogue with organic high-tech effects to shape the aural language of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda. Its streets hummed with African culture and history. The score, ADR and Foley work viscerally connected the audience to the continent.

To create the sonic universe of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” mixers Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali had access to all the original 24-track material of Queen, including Live Aid and other non-live performances from the iconic band. “Everything was a remix, which was a huge privilege and honor,” says Massey. “We tried to make film evolve sound-wise as the band did to their most polished days.”

Early material was mixed slightly out of balance then refined as the band found its legs. Sound also caught Queen on tour where they recorded all the music appearing in the film through the touring PA at O2 Arena in London. Sound editors got in the act by manipulating more than 600 audio files sent in by individuals singing along to the song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which can be heard during the Live Aid sequence.

For the historic Apollo 11 flight in “First Man” production sound mixer Mary H. Ellis recorded 23 different actors to encapsulate the realism inside mission control. The vibrations of the launch were layered with low frequency soundscapes and amped up by morphing an elephant roar, lion growl or animal stampede into an explosion of metal groans, while the powerful Saturn V rocket was boosted by live recordings of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launching and reentering our atmosphere. “We used sound to show not just what you see but what we want you to feel. [Director Damien Chazelle] also wanted space to have a lonely, chilling effect, so we used shades of quiet, or even extended periods of pure silence,” says sound editor/mixer Ai-Ling Lee, who worked alongside sound editor Mildred Iatrou Morgan and mixers Jon Taylor and Frank Montaño.

Roma’s” sound design started in Mexico City, where sound editor Sergio Diaz recorded neighboring cities, specific birds and period cars over an 18-month period. To capture the tranquil parts, Diaz recorded on Christmas morning. “We had four different sound crews covering the north, south, east and west sections of Mexico City,” he says. “It was the only way to capture the big city on a quiet day.”

Production mixer José Antonio García recorded its rich dialogue, and together with the effects and score, embellished by mixers Craig Henighan and Skip Leivsay, who also served as sound editor, they were able to give attention to every detail, which extended into the background sounds. Dolby Atmos was then used to add spatial proximity to the soundscape.

Director Bradley Cooper wanted “A Star Is Born” to sound like the audience was on stage with the stars. It meant that production mixer Steven Morrow would record every single vocal and instrument live on set using multiple mixing boards and recording up to 61 different audio tracks. “It was a technical challenge for everyone, but it gave a sense of authenticity to the performances you can’t find in a traditional studio setting,” he says. In post, mixers Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Jason Ruder started out in a standard 7.1 mix then opened it up to Dolby Atmos to add subtle life to the vocal performances from actors Lady Gaga and Cooper.

The auditory landscape in “A Quiet Place” was all about perspective or “sonic envelopes” as put by sound editing nominees Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn. Rules defined what sounds were too loud or below the threshold of danger. The eerie clicking noise that the bloodthirsty monsters used to hunt prey was based on real world animals that use echolocation to identify the shape, size and place. To create the sound, a stun gun was shot into a pile of grapes then manipulated further. “Acoustically, the entire project was an exercise in contrast and dynamics,” says Aadahl. “We were able to pull out so much sound in the beginning of the film that little sounds became big critical ones. The effect opens the audience’s ears up and forces them to use their auditory perception to hang on to every little detail.”

(Pictured above: Bradley Cooper in “A Star Is Born”)

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