By Jennifer Walden
The CW’s post-apocalyptic drama The 100 follows 100 juvenile convicts sent back to Earth 97 years after a nuclear war. They are sent back from a space station called The Ark, which is dying: resources are diminishing and life support systems are starting to fail.
Viewers get to see both very distinctive environments and the struggles the inhabitants face. The Ark represents a sense of decay, and the Earth represents the hope of rebirth for humanity.
It was up to sound effects editor Peter Lago and supervising sound editor Charlie Crutcher, MPSE, to come up with what decay and rebirth sound like. They work out of Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.
Crutcher has been working on The 100 since the pilot, which was months before work started on the series other 12 episodes. During the pilot, the creators didn’t want to reveal too quickly that life exists on Earth. Initially, there were no insects, animals or other sounds of life until after a deer is seen for the first time.
“One of our biggest challenges was deciding how to create the atmosphere on Earth, to get the movement of bushes, leaves and trees to give a sense of something without revealing that there was life there,” he explains. “We used elements like wind through trees and creaking redwoods, and then we found this otherworldly bug sound. We had to split the difference and put something in to give it character so it wasn’t just wind. That was tough.”
In addition to supervising the sound design, Crutcher handled the ADR and loop group on The 100. One scene in the pilot episode, where the characters Finn and Clarke share a drink of river water and afterwards look at an animal print had to be completely redone in ADR due to rain during the shoot in Canada. Plot-wise, the scene happens before it’s revealed that there is rain on the planet.
“It’s a really beautiful scene with all the colors, and light and music. It was really gorgeous, and it’s completely all ADR. The scene came out great,” says Crutcher. To clean up other scenes, he used iZotope plug-ins, like the RX3. “With iZotope, you can get in there and remove noise within the dialog. That is one of my go-to’s as far as dialogue editing goes. It’s basically like Photoshop for sound. It’s an awesome application.”
Another interesting ADR scene in the pilot episode was when Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) was attacked by a giant eel. Crutcher notes the direction for that scene was to make it sound almost like Jaws, a film that really resonated with him as a child. He downloaded the scene in Jaws where the girl is pulled underwater as she’s taking a breath. After playing the scene for Avgeropoulos she asked Crutcher if she could do some additional recording for the scene; she wanted to roll on the ground as if she was being attacked by an eel. “We had her fill her mouth with water, and then we’d go into a roll. She’d scream and flail around spitting out water while we held the boom mic above her and recorded her performance. It’s intense. When we put it in the mix it really sounded like she was being thrown around and ripped apart by this big CG eel. Getting that kind of reality and realism with ADR can be hard to do, bringing it back and making it sound like she was really getting attacked,” says Crutcher.
For the pilot, Crutcher worked with sound effects editor David Grimaldi, who handled the space elements, and sound effects editor Brian Bowen, who tackled the Earth elements. When the series was picked up Peter Lago joined for the remaining 12 episodes. He got to work using the sound library created during the pilot, fine-tuning those sounds to add more character, as well as creating his own sounds along the way.
Painting Environments With Sound
With each episode, something new is revealed on Earth, like different creatures, environmental threats like poisonous fog and terrifying weather. Each episode has its own sound, and the storyline moves quickly from one episode to the next. “You can create a certain sound for Episode 3 and it really works, but then for Episodes 4 through 8 it’s totally different environments. There’s a giant hurricane happening or they’re in caves or in other places, and we had to create all new environments for each episode,” notes Lago.
The overall direction for Earth was to make it sound familiar yet alien, creating a sense of uneasiness for the audience. “We hear these weird sounds, but we never really see what is creating them,” adds Lago, who used orangutans and pitched down howler monkeys and tropical birds from Belize and Costa Rica. In addition to pitch shifting, he would also add a bit of delay, or reverse certain sounds, or use plug-ins to flutter the delivery of the birds to make them sound strange/distinctive. In certain scenes, the executives would ask for specific birds, such as ravens or crows. Lago doubles the actual bird sound with modulated bird calls in the distance to make sure the environment sounds a bit alien.
In Episode 3, a poisonous fog sweeps through on Earth. Its arrival is signaled by a warning horn blast from The Grounders, a group of inhabitants who survived the nuclear war on Earth. The warning horn sound is a didgeridoo recorded/performed by fellow Warner Bros. supervising sound editor Michael Lawshe. Lago used Audio Ease’s Altiverb plug-in to add canyon-type reverb to the horn blasts. Altiverb has been one of Lago’s go-to plug-ins on the series. “It has amazing presets that I alter slightly to fit what I’m working on. It was really useful when creating some of the distant creatures. It gave the sound just the right amount of reverb and it puts it in the right spot… in the space that you need. If you grab a bunch of rat and bat squeaks and put them into the ‘dark ominous cave’ pre-set then voila, you’ve got some great stuff. You get a nice movement, and a nice slap on the walls.”
The sound of the fog itself was challenging because the audio team didn’t receive the visuals until the first day of the mix. Lago took a stab in the dark, not sure if the fog would be like a storm or tornado, or just a gassy fog. He made the fog using a combination of sound elements from sound designer Chris Aud, paired with both female screams pitched up and male screams pitched down. He also added in the steam hiss of a cappuccino machine.
“When you listen, there’s almost a vocal to it. I took the approach that it’s a ghost. I reverbed a bunch of those elements out and dopplered it, and then used the Air Frequency Shifter in Pro Tools to give it a choppy sound. So the sound is dopplering and spinning all around you. I also used some tornado winds just for the lower mid-range to add some bass to the audio,” explains Lago.
After seeing the visuals, he added electrical pops, grenade launchers, mortars and thunder to highlight the lightning burst effects. “It swirls and whirls and scares the hell out of you,” says Lago.
“And it makes a great cappuccino,” jokes Crutcher. “I’m using the mist sound as my alarm now. It gets me up and ready to go in the morning.”
To create the ambience on The Ark, Lago took ideas from the novel the series is based on. “I was able to read the book and take note of when the author mentioned sound specifically,” he says. “For example, on The Ark there are crisp clear hallways and sterile environments with buzzing lights.”
Lago captured recordings of freezers at a local grocery story to use for the sound of The Ark’s Council Chamber. “The motors in the freezer section of Fresh & Easy have a unique, almost musical, Zen-like hum. I stuck my digital recorder in there for about 45 seconds and recorded that sound. In post, I filtered, compressed and EQ’d the file. The result ended up being the main element in the design for The Ark’s Council Chamber.”
As the season progresses the decaying factor of The Ark gets worse. The systems start to fail, and the oxygen levels drop. All the pieces holding the station together are wearing down. As the ship starts to break apart, the air they have left is lost little by little.
Crutcher says that many of the sound design elements for the space station would not have been possible without Lago’s creativity. “Peter’s contribution to the sound design has an extraordinary character of its own. There are things happening with the ship — it’s dying and parts are going to break off — the sound design elements you’ll hear for that are super creative. As the air goes away, you wonder how are these people going to survive, which is the cliffhanger. It’s really intense,” notes Crutcher.
Jennifer Walden is an audio engineer and freelance writer based in New Jersey.