Tag Archives: De Lane Lea Studios

Sound — Wonder Woman’s superpower

By Jennifer Walden

When director Patty Jenkins first met with supervising sound editor James Mather to discuss Warner Bros. Wonder Woman, they had a conversation about the physical effects of low-frequency sound energy on the human body, and how it could be used to manipulate an audience.

“The military spent a long time investigating sound cannons that could fire frequencies at groups of people and debilitate them,” explains Mather. “They found that the lower frequencies were far more effective than the very high frequencies. With the high frequencies, you can simply plug your ears and block the sound. The low-end frequencies, however, impact the fluid content of the human body. Frequencies around 5Hz-9Hz can’t be heard, but can have physiological, almost emotional effects on the human body. Patty was fascinated by all of that. So, we had a very good sound-nerd talk at our first meeting — before we even talked about the story of the film.”

Jenkins was fascinated by the idea of sound playing a physical role as well as a narrative one, and that direction informed all of Mather’s sound editorial choices for Wonder Woman. “I was amazed by Patty’s intent, from the very beginning, to veer away from very high-end sounds. She did not want to have those featured heavily in the film. She didn’t want too much top-end sonically,” says Mather, who handled sound editorial at his Soundbyte Studios in West London.

James Mather (far right) and crew take to the streets.

Soundbyte Studios offers creative supervision, sound design, Foley and dialog editing. The facility is equipped with Pro Tools 12 systems and Avid S6 and S3 consoles. Their client list includes top studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Fox, Paramount, DreamWorks, Aardman and Pathe. Mather’s team includes dialog supervisor Simon Chase, and sound effects editors Jed Loughran and Samir Fočo. When Mather begins a project, he likes to introduce his team to the director as soon as possible “so that they are recognized as contributors to the soundtrack,” he says. “It gives the team a better understanding of who they are working with and the kind of collaboration that is expected. I always find that if you can get everyone to work as a collaborative team and everyone has an emotional investment or personal investment in the project, then you get better work.”

Following Jenkins’s direction, Mather and his team designed a tranquil sound for the Amazonian paradise of Themyscira. They started with ambience tracks that the film’s sound recordist Chris Munro captured while they were on-location in Italy. Then Mather added Mediterranean ambiences that he and his team had personally collected over the years. Mather embellished the ambience with songbirds from Asia, Australasia and the Amazon. Since there are white peacocks roaming the island, he added in modified peacock sounds. Howler monkeys and domestic livestock, like sheep and goats, round out the track. Regarding the sheep and goats, Mather says, “We pitched them and manipulated them slightly so that they didn’t sound quite so ordinary, like a natural history film. It was very much a case of keeping the soundtrack relatively sparse. We did not use crickets or cicadas — although there were lots there while they were filming, because we wanted to stay away the high-frequency sounds.”

Waterfalls are another prominent feature of Themyscira, according to Mather, but thankfully they weren’t really on the island so the sound recordings were relatively clean. The post sound team had complete control over the volume, distance and frequency range of the waterfall sounds. “We very much wanted the low-end roar and rumble of the waterfalls rather than high-end hiss and white noise.”

The sound of paradise is serene in contrast to London and the front lines of World War I. Mather wanted to exaggerate that difference by overplaying the sound of boats, cars and crowds as Steve [Chris Pine] and Diana [Gal Gadot] arrived in London. “This was London at its busiest and most industria

l time. There were structures being built on a major scale so the environment was incredibly active. There were buses still being drawn by horses, but there were also cars. So, you have this whole mishmash of old and new. We wanted to see Diana’s reaction to being somewhere that she has never experienced before, with sounds that she has never heard and things she has never seen. The world is a complete barrage of sensory information.”

They recorded every vehicle they could in the film, from planes and boats to the motorcycle that Steve uses to chase after Diana later on in the film. “This motorcycle was like nothing we had ever seen before,” explains Mather. “We knew that we would have to go and record it because we didn’t have anything in our sound libraries for it.”

The studio spent days preparing the century-old motorcycle for the recording session. “We got about four minutes of recording with it before it fell apart,” admits Mather. “The chain fell off, the sprockets broke and then it went up in smoke. It was an antique and probably shouldn’t have been used! The funny thing is that it sounded like a lawnmower. We could have just recorded a lawnmower and it would’ve sounded the same!”

(Mather notes that the motorcycle Steve rides on-screen was a modern version of the century-old one they got to record.)

Goosing Sounds
Mather and his sound team have had numerous opportunities to record authentic weapons, cars, tanks, planes and other specific war-era machines and gear for projects they’ve worked on. While they always start with those recordings as their sound design base, Mather says the audience’s expectation of a sound is typically different from the real thing. “The real sound is very often disappointing. We start with the real gun or real car that we recorded, but then we start to work on them, changing the texture to give them a little bit more punch or bite. We might find that we need to add some gun mechanisms to make a gun sound a bit snappier or a bit brighter and not so dull. It’s the same with the cars. You want the car to have character, but you also want it to be slightly faster or more detailed than it actually sounds. By the nature of filmmaking, you will always end up slightly embellishing the real sound.”

Take the gun battles in Wonder Woman, for instance. They have an obvious sequentiality. The gun fires, the bullet travels toward its target and then there is a noticeable impact. “This film has a lot of slow-motion bullets firing, so we had to amp up the sense of what was propelling that very slow-motion bullet. Recording the sound of a moving bullet is very hard. All of that had to be designed for the film,” says Mather.

In addition to the real era-appropriate vehicles, Wonder Woman has imaginary, souped-up creations too, like a massive bomber. For the bomber’s sound, Mather sought out artist Joe Rush who builds custom Mad Max-style vehicles. They recorded all of Rush’s vehicles, which had a variety of different V8, V12 and V6 engines. “They all sound very different because the engines are on solid metal with no suspension,” explains Mather. “The sound was really big and beefy, loud and clunky and it gave you a sense of a giant war monster. They had this growl and weight and threat that worked well for the German machines, which were supposed to feel threatening. In London, you had these quaint buses being drawn by horses, and the counterpoint to that were these military machines that the Germans had, which had to be daunting and a bit terrifying.

“One of the limitations of the WWI-era soundscapes is the lack of some very useful atmospheric sounds. We used tannoy (loudspeaker) effects on the German bomb factory to hint at the background activity, but had to be very sparing as these were only just invented in that era. (Same thing with the machine guns — a far more mechanical version than the ‘retatatat’ of the familiar WWII versions).”

One of Mather’s favorite scenes to design starts on the frontlines as Diana makes her big reveal as Wonder Woman. She crosses No Man’s Land and deflects the enemies’ fire with her bulletproof bracelets and shield. “We played with that in so many different ways because the music was such an important part of Patty’s vision for the film. She very much wanted the music to carry the narrative. Sound effects were there to be literal in many ways. We were not trying to overemphasize the machismo of it. The story is about the people and not necessarily the action they were in. So that became a very musical-based moment, which was not the way I would have normally done it. I learned a lot from Patty about the different ways of telling the story.”

The Powers
Following that scene, Wonder Woman recaptured the Belgian village they were fighting for by running ahead and storming into the German barracks. Mather describes it as a Guy Ritchie-style fight, with Wonder Woman taking on 25 German soldiers. “This is the first time that we really get to see her use all of her powers: the lasso, her bracelets, her shield, and even her shin guards. As she dances her way around the room, it goes from realtime into slow motion and back into realtime. She is repelling bullets, smashing guns with her back, using her shield as a sliding mat and doing slow-motion kicks. It is a wonderfully choreographed scene and it is her first real action scene.”

The scene required a fluid combination of realistic sounds and subdued, slow-motion sounds. “It was like pushing and pulling the soundtrack as things slowed down and then sped back up. That was a lot of fun.”

The Lasso
Where would Wonder Woman be without her signature lasso of truth? In the film, she often uses the lasso as a physical weapon, but there was an important scene where the lasso was called upon for its truth-finding power. Early in the film, Steve’s plane crashes and he’s washed onto Themyscira’s shore. The Amazonians bind Steve with the lasso and interrogate him. Eventually the lasso of truth overpowers him and he divulges his secrets. “There is quite a lot of acting on Chris Pine’s part to signify that he’s uncomfortable and is struggling,” says Mather. “We initially went by his performance, which gave the impression that he was being burned. He says, ‘This is really hot,’ so we started with sizzling and hissing sounds as if the rope was burning him. Again, Patty felt strongly about not going into the high-frequency realm because it distracts from the dialogue, so we wanted to keep the sound in a lower, more menacing register.”

Mather and his team experimented with adding a multitude of different elements, including low whispering voices, to see if they added a sense of personality to the lasso. “We kept the sizzling, but we pitched it down to make it more watery and less high-end. Then we tried a dozen or so variations of themes. Eventually we stayed with this blood-flow sound, which is like an arterial blood flow. It has a slight rhythm to it and if you roll off the top end and keep it fairly muted then it’s quite an intriguing sound. It feels very visceral.”

The last elements Mather added to the lasso were recordings he captured of two stone slabs grinding against each other in a circular motion, like a mill. “It created this rotating, undulating sound that almost has a voice. So that created this identity, this personality. It was very challenging. We also struggled with this when we did the Harry Potter films, to make an inert object have a character without making it sound a bit goofy and a bit sci-fi. All of those last elements we put together, we kept that very low. We literally raised the volume as you see Steve’s discomfort and then let it peel away every time he revealed the truth. As he was fighting it, the sound would rise and build up. It became a very subtle, but very meaningful, vehicle to show that the rope was actually doing something. It wasn’t burning him but it was doing something that was making him uncomfortable.”

The Mix
Wonder Woman was mixed at De Lane Lea (Warner Bros. London) by re-recording mixers Chris Burdon and Gilbert Lake. Mather reveals that the mixing process was exhausting, but not because of the people involved. “Patty is a joy to work with,” he explains. “What I mean is that working with frequencies that are so low and so loud is exhausting. It wasn’t even the volume; it was being exposed to those low frequencies all day, every day for nine weeks or so. It was exhausting, and it really took its toll on everybody.”

In the mix, Jenkins chose to have Rupert Gregson-Williams’s score lead nearly all of the action sequences. “Patty’s sensitivity and vision for the soundtrack was very much about the music and the emotion of the characters,” says Mather. “She was very aware of the emotional narrative that the music would bring. She did not want to lean too heavily on the sound effects. She knew there would be scenes where there would be action and there would be opportunities to have sound design, but I found that we were not pushing those moments as hard as you would expect. The sound design highs weren’t so high that you felt bereft of momentum and pace when those sound design heavy scenes were finished. We ended up maintaining a far more interesting soundtrack that way.”

With DC films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Spider-Man, the audience expects a sound design-heavy track, but Jenkins’s music-led approach to Wonder Woman provides a refreshing spin on superhero film soundtracks. “The soundtrack is less supernatural and more down to earth,” says Mather. “I don’t think it could’ve been any other way. It’s not a predictable soundtrack and I really enjoyed that.”

Mather really enjoys collaborating with people who have different ideas and different approaches. “What was exciting about doing this film was that I was able to work with someone who had an incredibly strong idea about the soundtrack and yet was very happy to let us try different routes and options. Patty was very open to listening to different ideas, and willing to take the best from those ideas while still retaining a very strong vision of how the soundtrack was going to play for the audience. This is Patty’s DC story, her opportunity to open up the DC universe and give the audience a new look at a character. She was an extraordinary person to work with and for me that was the best part of the process. In the time of remakes, it’s nice to have a film that is fresh and takes a different approach.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter at @AudioJeney

Call of the Wild —Tarzan’s iconic yell

By Jennifer Walden

For many sound enthusiasts, Tarzan’s iconic yell is the true legend of that story. Was it actually actor Johnny Weissmuller performing the yell? Or was it a product of post sound magic involving an opera singer, a dog, a violin and a hyena played backwards as MGM Studios claims? Whatever the origin, it doesn’t impact how recognizable that yell is, and this fact wasn’t lost on the filmmakers behind the new Warner Bros. movie The Legend of Tarzan.

The updated version is not a far cry from the original, but it is more guttural and throaty, and less like a yodel. It has an unmistakable animalistic quality. While we may never know the true story behind the original Tarzan yell, postPerspective went behind the scenes to learn how the new one was created.

Supervising sound editor/sound designer Glenn Freemantle and sound designer/re-recording mixer Niv Adiri at Sound24, a multi-award winning audio post company located on the lot of Pinewood Film Studios in Buckinghamshire, UK, reveal that they went through numerous iterations of the new Tarzan yell. “We had quite a few tries on that but in the end it’s quite a simple sound. It’s actor Alexander Skarsgård’s voice and there are some human and animal elements, like gorillas, all blended together in it,” explains Freemantle.

Since the new yell always plays in the distance, it needed to feel powerful and raw, as though Tarzan is waking up the jungle. To emphasize this, Freemantle says, “We have animal sounds rushing around the jungle after the Tarzan yell, as if he is taking control of it.”

The jungle itself is a marvel of sight and sound. Freemantle notes that everything in the film, apart from the actors on screen, was generated afterward — the Congo, the animals, even the villages and people, a harbor with ships and an action sequence involving a train. Everything.

LEGEND OF TARZANThe film was shot on a back lot of Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, UK, so making the CGI-created Congo feel like the real deal was essential. They wanted the Congo to feel alive, and have the sound change as the characters moved through the space. Another challenge was grounding all the CG animals — the apes, wildebeests, ostriches, elephants, lions, tigers, and other animals — in that world.

When Sound24 first started on the film, a year and a half before its theatrical release, Freemantle says there was very little to work with visually. “Basically it was right from the nuts and bolts up. There was nothing there, nothing to see in the beginning apart from still pictures and previz. Then all the apes, animals and jungles were put in and gradually the visuals were built up. We were building temp mixes for the editors to use in their cut, so it was like a progression of sound over time,” he says.

Sound24’s sound design got increasingly detailed as the visuals presented more details. They went from building ambient background for different parts of Africa — from the deep jungle to the open plains — at different times of the day and night to covering footsteps for the CG gorillas. The sound design team included Ben Barker, Tom Sayers, and Eilam Hoffman, with sound effects editing by Dan Freemantle and Robert Malone. Editing dialogue and ADR was Gillian Dodders. Foley was recorded at Shepperton Studios by Foley mixer Glen Gathard.

Capturing Sounds
Since capturing their own field recordings in the Congo would have proved too challenging, Sound 24 opted to source sound recordings authentic to that area. They also researched and collected the best animal sounds they could find, which were particularly useful for the gorilla design.

Sound24’s sound design team designed the gorillas to have a range of reactions, from massive roars and growls to smaller grunts and snorts. They cut and layered different animal sounds, including processed human vocalizations, to create a wide range of gorilla sounds.

There were three main gorillas, and each sounds a bit different, but the most domineering of all was Akut. During a fight between Akut and Tarzan, Adiri notes that in the mix, they wanted to communicate Akut’s presence and power through sound. “We tried to create dynamics within Akut’s voice so that you feel that he is putting in a lot of effort into the fight. You see him breathing hard and moving, so his voice had to have his movement in it. We had to make it dynamic and make sure that there was space for the hits, and the falls, and whatever is happening visually. We had to make sure that all of the sounds are really tied to the animal and you feel that he’s not some super ape, but he’s real,” Adiri says. They also designed sounds for the gang of gorillas that came to egg on Akut in his fight.

The Mix
All the effects, Foley and backgrounds were edited and premixed in Avid Pro Tools 11. Since Sound24 had been working on The Legend of Tarzan for over a year, keeping everything in the box allowed them to update their session over time and still have access to previous elements and temp mixes. “The mix was evolving throughout the sound editorial process. Once we had that first temp mix we just kept working with that, remixing sounds and reworking scenes but it was all done in the box up until the final mix. We never started the mix from scratch on the dub stage,” says Adiri.

For the final Dolby Atmos mix at Warner Bros. De Lane Lea Studios in London, Adiri and Freemantle brought in their Avid S6 console to studio. “That surface was brilliant for us,” says Adiri, who mixed the effects/Foley/backgrounds. He shared the board with re-recording mixer Ian Tapp, on dialogue/music.

Adiri feels the Atmos surround field worked best for quiet moments, like during a wide aerial shot of the jungle where the camera moves down through the canopy to the jungle floor. There he was able to move through layers of sounds, from the top speakers down, and have the ambience change as the camera’s position changed. Throughout the jungle scenes, he used the Atmos surrounds to place birds and distant animal cries, slowly panning them around the theater to make the audience feel as though they are surrounded by a living jungle.

He also likes to use the overhead speakers for rain ambience. “It’s nice to use them in quieter scenes when you can really feel the space, moving sounds around in a more subliminal way, rather than using them to be in-your-face. Rain is always good because it’s a bright sound. You know that it is coming from above you. It’s good for that very directional sort of sound.”

Ambience wasn’t the only sound that Adiri worked with in Atmos. He also used it to pan the sounds of monkeys swinging through the trees and soaring overhead, and for Tarzan’s swinging. “We used it for these dynamic moments in the storytelling rather than filling up those speakers all the time. For the moments when we do use the Atmos field, it’s striking and that becomes a moment to remember, rather than just sound all the time,” concludes Freemantle.

Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer and audio engineer.