You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sound Mixers and Editors Stretch Their Skills to Create Believable Worlds

With giant interstellar battles, historic car races and intimate moments with iconic performers on the line, the sound teams behind many of the year’s best films stretched to design next-level soundscapes.

Live performances just about always prove tricky, but Adrian Bell, production sound mixer for “Judy,” was able to find things in them that became essential to telling the story of fading icon Judy Garland.

“The aim is to make the performance look completely believable, that the music and vocals are being performed right there in the location,” Bell says. “Some of the challenges here included mixing some of our work with the pre-recorded music and vocals that had been laid down before we started filming. There are also various nuances within a performance, which makes the song come alive, such as breaths, footsteps, pauses in the song, microphone-handling noise and crying. These are all added on to the final mix in very subtle ways to help the belief that the performance is genuine.”

Songs and singers were crucial for “Rocketman,” a modern musical that follows the life and often hard times of Elton John. “The words and music and songs are doing a lot of the narrative work and those words are sewn into the movie, so you’ll go from singing a song back into dialogue and then back into singing again,” says Mike Prestwood Smith, re-recording mixer on “Rocketman.” “All the time, these things have to feel coherent and they belong in one space.”

Popular on Variety

Stuart Wilson, production mixer on “1917,” also found himself looking for ways to preserve essential sounds that often only happen on set.

“It’s complicated mixing dialogue, along with the sounds of them moving along and breathing, so that you know what they’re saying,” Wilson says. “The sounds of the breathing became very important because it conveyed the state of being terrified with what they were going through. It’s not really something you can get later, because the actors are running in character on the set, and if we did it later you’d have someone in a small booth trying to recreate that feeling, which would be very difficult.”

“Ford v Ferrari” had the sound of car engines competing with dialogue. Sound mixers Paul Massey and David Giammarco wanted the emotion that only these cars could bring to the story.

“The key was getting realistic sound from period correct vehicles,” says Giammarco. “The sounds of that low end power and those exhaust systems at the time, there’s just nothing like it.”

Massey, who won an Academy Award for sound mixing on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” agrees: “For us, it’s more about what you’re taking out than adding into the mix in order to highlight those emotional moments.”

Similar to every part of the production, sound must serve the story. And sound designers think through the sounds they add, take away or create in terms of their role in the narrative.

“We try to design things around the emotions of the characters,” says Shannon Mills, supervising sound editor for “Avengers: Endgame.” “When Ant-Man — Paul Rudd — first meets his daughter, we tried to lead up to that in the post-snap world with how quiet and ominous and sad that was. In contrast to that, we have the final battle, where there’s so much going on that our job is to try to focus your attention on who and what needs your attention at that moment because there are literally hundreds of people onscreen doing stuff.”

More Artisans

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    'The Irishman,' 'Once Upon a Time,' 'The Mandalorian' Among Art Directors Guild Nominations

    The Art Directors Guild (ADG, IATSE Local 800) has announced its nominations for the 24th Annual Excellence in Production Design Awards in theatrical motion pictures, television, commercials, music videos and animation features. Among the films recognized for outstanding production design are James Mangold’s “Ford V Ferrari,” Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon [...]

  • Christian Bale, Matt Damon. Christian Bale,

    ‘Ford vs. Ferrari’ Director James Mangold to Receive AIS Harold Lloyd Award

    The Advanced Imaging Society has announced that Academy Award-nominated director, producer and writer James Mangold will be presented with its annual Harold Lloyd Award for filmmaking. The director and producer of 20th Century Fox’s “Ford v Ferrari” will be honored during the Society’s 11th annual awards ceremony January 22 at Warner Bros. Studios. “Ford v. [...]

  • chadwick boseman 21 Bridges

    '21 Bridges' DP Seeks New York-Style 'Street' Cred in Philadelphia

    In director Brian Kirk’s “21 Bridges,” Chadwick Boseman plays a very different kind of hero than T’Challa in “Black Panther”: He’s an intense New York cop tracking a pair of killers throughout the city one fateful night, trying to box them in by closing the titular connections between Manhattan and the mainland. Along with Kirk, [...]

  • Two Popes Production

    How 'Two Popes' Production Team Re-Created the Sistine Chapel, Frescoes and All

    When Mark Tildesley read Anthony McCarten’s script for “The Two Popes,” he saw how integral the Sistine Chapel was to the narrative. As the film’s production designer, he knew he couldn’t film inside the Vatican, which meant he’d have to reproduce the location. “We did visit it with a leading expert — [producer] Enzo Sisti. His [...]

  • The Aeronauts Movie

    'The Aeronauts' Production Team Helps Hot-Air Balloon Saga Soar

    For cinematographer George Steel, the key to “The Aeronauts,” director Tom Harper’s $80 million film starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne as balloonist-scientists who soar to 35,000 feet to break records in 1862, was to take the viewer along for the ride. When Variety visited the cast and crew on set in London, Steel was crouched [...]

  • Al Ghouta, Syria - Dr Amani

    Capturing the Sounds of War in National Geographic's 'The Cave'

    When director Feras Fayyad and sound designer Peter Albrechtsen spoke about “The Cave,” Fayyad knew sound was going to be an important element in the documentary. “The Cave” depicts the harrowing and true story of the Syrian War. As bombs rattle the walls of a Syrian hospital and planes fly overhead, Dr. Amani Ballour and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content