By Jennifer Walden
It’s rare for a director to stop a shoot for the benefit of the sound team, but then again it’s not every day that you have a rare WWII Tiger 1 tank on the set… the only operable Tiger 1 tank still in existence. Bringing in the real tank shows just how important authenticity was to Fury director David Ayer, who had the actors’ uniforms made from cloth that WWII soldiers would have worn. Fury follows a WWII Sherman tank crew that undertakes a deadly mission behind enemy lines.
Fury’s Ayer didn’t just have an eye for detail — he had an ear for it too. He wanted a soundtrack that communicated the individual character of each tank, from the engines to the treads. “He asked everyone on set to be quiet as we recorded the Tiger 1 tank,” reveals Eilam Hoffman of Sound 24, a post sound studio based within Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. England. “I really appreciate a director who is so focused on sound. Instead of moving the mic for the sake of the shot, he stopped shooting for the sake of the sound. That was a real experience.”
Paul Ottosson, supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer at Sony Pictures Post in Culver City, California, and director Ayer came up with an extensive list of sounds for Hoffman and his assistant sound recordist Angel Perez Grandi to capture, in fine detail, for every vehicle shot for Fury in Oxfordshire and Dorset England. (Check out Fury Part 1 and our interview with Ottosson here.)
“Recording a vehicle is similar to recording a drum kit. Every microphone captures different elements and frequencies. When you combine the microphones together you get a full and detailed sound,” says Hoffman. To capture every possible sound a tank (or vehicle) made during a series of maneuvers, Hoffman and his team set up 20 channels for exterior sounds, such as placing stationary exterior mics in the muddy fields on-set for recording pass-bys, aways and approaches, and had an additional 16 to 20 channels for sounds happening on and inside the tank. “In that way, we can cover every perspective of the maneuver and get it all documented at once,” he explains.
Forty channels of sound, that’s a lot of coverage. To give you an idea, the onboard mic set-up alone included two directional mono mics aimed at the sprockets on both sides of the tank to capture a wide stereo image of the sprockets’ rhythmic mechanical sound in isolation from the engine and exhaust; two directional mono mics aimed at the tracks (treads) on both sides of the tank to capture a very wide stereo image of the metallic movement and scraping of tracks in isolation from the engine and exhaust; two binaural mics placed on the barrel facing the tank to capture a binaural image that mimics how a person would hear a tank if he/she was looking at it; and two omni mics placed on the sides of the tank to capture a wide stereo image of the tank and nearby reflections.
Inside the tank, a stereo pair captured the driver POV, and another stereo pair captured the transmission sounds. Three mono mics were trained on different sections of the engine compartment. There was one mono mic in the opening of the intake to capture the air suction of the engine, and two mono mics set at different angles and distances to capture the exhaust. A third mono mic on a long rod trailed behind the tank to capture a wide angle. Finally, one sub microphone placed near the exhaust picked up low frequency material, which Hoffman notes sounds tighter and more realistic than sub-harmonic processing.
Once both exterior and interior recording levels were set, Hoffman monitored the channels from inside the tank. Outside the tank, sound assistant Grandi walked alongside holding two mono mics, one aimed at the tracks and another aimed at the exhaust. “The art department did a fantastic job of camouflaging the external microphones. I got in and out of the tank during the filming to check the recorders,” says Hoffman.
Just as he did with the Sherman tanks, Hoffman recorded every part of the Tiger 1 tank from every possible angle. He recognized this as a great opportunity to record a rare tank. They had one day to record on-set, and another day at Bovington Camp, a British Army military base in Dorset, England. Director Ayer insisted on having the Tiger 1 recorded in the mud on-set because the tank’s tracks sound completely different then they do on the road.
During the Tiger 1 tank scene in the film, the Tiger tank goes up a hill, and then starts shooting. While recording the scene, Hoffman, riding on a truck a few feet away, stood in anticipation of the firing. “There was machine gun fire, and I was ready for it, but then the explosions started. Mud, and prosthetic legs, and all sorts of debris started flying at me. Being a sound recordist, I tried not to move the entire time. There’s a good photo of me smiling before the Tiger tank scene, and then an after-photo of me full of mud and not looking so happy,” laughs Hoffman.
When recording vehicles, Hoffman likes to push them to their limit to capture as much tonality and engine strain as possible. He may ask the driver to drive with the brake on, or make fast 180 degree maneuvers in reverse, or downshift gears by dropping from fourth gear to second. In the case of a bulldozer they recorded on-set, Hoffman asked the driver to put the blade into the ground and drive forward. “We pushed the tanks as hard as we could. At one point, there was a huge explosion of boiling oil that erupted out of the engine bay of one of the tanks due to excessive load on the engine. It sounded amazing but it covered my microphones with oil. It was a messy explosion,” notes Hoffman. He contacted Rycote, the makers of the fuzzy mic windscreens, and told them what happened. They generously sent him a huge bag full of new mic coats.
During filming, Ottosson and Hoffman discussed the sound effects recording over the phone. In addition to the sounds the vehicles make, Ottosson asked Hoffman to capture other details including all the mechanisms of the guns, such as the ammunition belts that feed cartridges into the .50/.30 caliber machine guns on the tanks, the sound of the turret movements, shells falling inside the tank, and the sound of the massive shells being ejected from the 76mm/75mm guns.
Hoffman and his team recorded the gears and levels without the engine on. They also recorded impacts, like shells and bricks hitting the tank. Hoffman notes, “I brought my favorite sledgehammer and slammed the tank’s hull in every possible location with mics set up inside and outside the tank. This way we got every possible perspective and resonance of the impacts.” He also recorded the impulse response inside the tank, allowing the space to be simulated in post for the actors’ ADR on scenes inside the tank.
Fury composer Steven Price, who previously worked with Hoffman on Gravity (which won three Oscars — sound mixing, sound editing and best original score), asked Hoffman to record impacts, metal scrapes, hinges, hatches and other tonal and rhythmical sounds to use as a part of the score.
Hoffman says he had huge coverage for the sound recording on Fury. They recorded all the vehicles on the set in the mud, and also on a nearby airplane tarmac, with and without the sound of the engine. “I asked the drivers to drive fast and then switch the engine off when they passed us so we could get just the detail of the mud without the engine,” he explains.
In the end, he had 400GB worth of trimmed edited audio files. “It was a huge library. I sent Paul [Ottosson] the raw tracks, named and with metadata. There were around 4,000 files in total.”
He used Aspera for high-speed transfers of the large files to Ottosson in California. He also delivered a drive with all the sounds to the film’s editor Dody Dorn. “Having the sound narrowly focused for each channel gives you a lot of control and detail in the mix,” concludes Hoffman.
Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer and audio engineer.