Tag Archives: Foley

Making audio pop for Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns

By Jennifer Walden

As the song says, “It’s a jolly holiday with Mary.” And just in time for the holidays, there’s a new Mary Poppins musical to make the season bright. In theaters now, Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns is directed by Rob Marshall, who with Chicago, Nine and Into the Woods on his resume, has become the master of modern musicals.

Renée Tondelli

In this sequel, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) comes back to help the now-grown up Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) by attending to Michael’s three children: Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). It’s a much-needed reunion for the family as Michael is struggling with the loss of his wife.

Mary Poppins Returns is another family reunion of sorts. According to Renée Tondelli, who along with Eugene Gearty, supervised and co-designed the sound, director Marshall likes to use the same crews on all his films. “Rob creates families in each phase of the film, so we all have a shorthand with each other. It’s really the most wonderful experience you can have in a filmmaking process,” says Tondelli, who has worked with Marshall on five films, three of which were his musicals. “In the many years of working in this business, I have never worked with a more collaborative, wonderful, creative team than I have on Mary Poppins Returns. That goes for everyone involved, from the picture editor down to all of our assistants.”

Sound editorial took place in New York at Sixteen 19, the facility where the picture was being edited. Sound mixing was also done in New York, at Warner Bros. Sound.

In his musicals, Marshall weaves songs into scenes in a way that feels organic. The songs are coaxed from the emotional quotient of the story. That’s not only true for how the dialogue transitions into the singing, but also for how the music is derived from what’s happening in the scene. “Everything with Rob is incredibly rhythmic,” she says. “He has an impeccable sense of timing. Every breath, every footstep, every movement has a rhythmic cadence to it that relates to and works within the song. He does this with every artform in the production — with choreography, production design and sound design.”

From a sound perspective, Tondelli and her team worked to integrate the songs by blending the pre-recorded vocals with the production dialogue and the ADR. “We combined all of those in a micro editing process, often syllable by syllable, to create a very seamless approach so that you can’t really tell where they stop talking and start singing,” she says.

The Conversation
For example, near the beginning of the film, Michael is looking through the attic of their home on Cherry Tree Lane as he speaks to the spirit of his deceased wife, telling her how much he misses her in a song called “The Conversation.” Tondelli explains, “It’s a very delicate scene, and it’s a song that Michael was speaking/singing. We constantly cut between his pre-records and his production dialogue. It was an amazing collaboration between me, the supervising music editor Jennifer Dunnington and re-recording mixer Mike Prestwood Smith. We all worked together to create this delicate balance so you really feel that he is singing his song in that scene in that moment.”

Since Michael is moving around the attic as he’s performing the song, the environment affects the quality of the production sound. As he gets closer to the window, the sound bounces off the glass. “Mike [Prestwood Smith] really had his work cut out for him on that song. We were taking impulse responses from the end of the slates and feeding them into Audio Ease’s Altiverb to get the right room reverb on the pre-records. We did a lot of impulse responses and reverbs, and EQs to make that scene all flow, but it was worth it. It was so beautiful.”

The Bowl
They also captured impulse responses for another sequence, which takes place inside a ceramic bowl. The sequence begins with the three Banks children arguing over their mother’s bowl. They accidentally drop it and it breaks. Mary and Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) notice the bowl’s painted scenery has changed. The horse-drawn carriage now has a broken wheel that must be fixed. Mary spins the bowl and a gust of wind pulls them into the ceramic bowl’s world, which is presented in 2D animation. According to Tondelli, the sequence was hand-drawn, frame by frame, as an homage to the original Mary Poppins. “They actually brought some animators out of retirement to work on this film,” she says.

Tondelli and co-supervising sound editor/co-sound designer Eugene Gearty placed mics inside porcelain bowls, in a porcelain sink, and near marble tiles, which they thumped with rubber mallets, broken pieces of ceramic and other materials. The resulting ring-out was used to create reverbs that were applied to every element in the ceramic bowl sequence, from the dialogue to the Foley. “Everything they said, every step they took had to have this ceramic feel to it, so as they are speaking and walking it sounds like it’s all happening inside a bowl,” Tondelli says.

She first started working on this hand-drawn animation sequence when it showed little more than the actors against a greenscreen with a few pencil drawings. “The fastest and easiest way to make a scene like that come alive is through sound. The horse, which was possibly the first thing that was drawn, is pullling the carriage. It dances in this syncopated rhythm with the music so it provides a rhythmic base. That was the first thing that we tackled.”

After the carriage is fixed, Mary and her troupe walk to the Royal Doulton Music Hall where, ultimately, Jack and Mary are going to perform. Traditionally, a music hall in London is very rowdy and boisterous. The audience is involved in the show and there’s an air of playfulness. “Rob said to me, ‘I want this to be an English music hall, Renée. You really have to make that happen.’ So I researched what music halls were like and how they sounded.”

Since the animation wasn’t complete, Tondelli consulted with the animators to find out who — or rather what — was going to be in the audience. “There were going to be giraffes dressed up in suits with hats and Indian elephants in beautiful saris, penguins on the stage dancing with Jack and Mary, flamingos, giant moose and rabbits, baby hippos and other animals. The only way I thought I could do this was to go to London and hire actors of all ages who could do animal voices.”

But there were some specific parameters that had to be met. Tondelli defines the world of Mary Poppins Returns as being “magical realism,” so the animals couldn’t sound too cartoony. They had to sound believably like animal versions of British citizens. Also, the actors had to be able to sing in their animal voices.

According to Tondelli, they recorded 15 actors at a time for a period of five days. “I would call out, ‘Who can do an orangutan?’ And then the actors would all do voices and we’d choose one. Then they would do the whole song and sing out and call out. We had all different accents — Cockney, Welsh and Scottish,” she says. “All the British Isles came together on this and, of course, they all loved Mary and knew all the songs so they sang along with her.”

On the Dolby Atmos mix, the music hall scene really comes alive. The audience’s voices are coming from the rafters and all around the walls and the music is reverberating into the space — which, by the way, no longer sounds like it’s in a ceramic bowl even though the music hall is in the ceramic bowl world. In addition to the animal voices, there are hooves and paws for the animals’ clapping. “We had to create the clapping in Foley because it wasn’t normal clapping,” explains Tondelli. “The music hall was possibly the most challenging, but also the funnest scene to do. We just loved it. All of us had a great time on it.”

The Foley
The Foley elements in Mary Poppins Returns often had to be performed in perfect sync with the music. On the big dance numbers, like “Trip the Light Fantastic,” the Foley was an essential musical element since the dances were reconstructed sonically in post. “Everything for this scene was wiped away, even the vocals. We ended up using a lot of the records for this one and a lot less production sound,” says Tondelli.

In “Trip the Light Fantastic,” Jack is bringing the kids back home through the park, and they emerge from a tunnel to see nearly 50 lamplighters on lampposts. Marshall and John DeLuca (choreographer/producer/screen story writer) arranged the dance to happen in multiple layers, with each layer doing something different. “The background dancers were doing hand slaps and leg swipes, and another layer was stepping on and off of these slate surfaces. Every time the dancers would jump up on the lampposts, they’d hit it and each would ring out in a different pitch,” explains Tondelli.

All those complex rhythms were performed in Foley in time to the music. It’s a pretty tall order to ask of any Foley artist but Tondelli has the perfect solution for that dilemma. “I hire the co-choreographers (for this film, Joey Pizzi and Tara Hughes) or dancers that actually worked on the film to do the Foley. It’s something that I always do for Rob’s films. There’s such a difference in the performance,” she says.

Tondelli worked with the Foley team of Marko Costanzo and George Lara at c5 Sound in New York, who helped to build custom surfaces — like a slate-on-sand surface for the lamplighter dance — and arrange multi-surface layouts to optimally suit the Foley performer’s needs.

For instance, in the music hall sequence, the dance on stage incorporates books, so they needed three different surfaces: wood, leather and a papery-sounding surface set up in a logical, easily accessible way. “I wanted the dancer performing the Foley to go through the entire number while jumping off and on these different surfaces so you felt like it was a complete dance and not pieced together,” she says.

For the lamplighter dance, they had a big, thick pig iron pipe next to the slate floor so that the dancer performing the Foley could hit it every time the dancers on-screen jumped up on the lampposts. “So the performer would dance on the slate floor, then hit the pipe and then jump over to the wood floor. It was an amazingly syncopated rhythmic soundtrack,” says Tondelli.

“It was an orchestration, a beautiful sound orchestra, a Foley orchestra that we created and it had to be impeccably in sync. If there was a step out of place you’d hear it,” she continues. “It was really a process to keep it in sync through all the edit conforms and the changes in the movie. We had to be very careful doing the conforms and making the adjustments because even one small mistake and you would hear it.”

The Wind
Wind plays a prominent role in the story. Mary Poppins descends into London on a gust of wind. Later, they’re transported into the ceramic bowl world via a whirlwind. “It’s everywhere, from a tiny leaf blowing across the sidewalk to the huge gale in the park,” attests Tondelli. “Each one of those winds has a personality that Eugene [Gearty] spent a lot of time working on. He did amazing work.”

As far as the on-set fans and wind machines wreaking havoc on the production dialogue, Tondelli says there were two huge saving graces. First was production sound mixer Simon Hayes, who did a great job of capturing the dialogue despite the practical effects obstacles. Second was dialogue editor Alexa Zimmerman, who was a master at iZotope RX. All told, about 85% of the production dialogue made it into the film.

“My goal — and my unspoken order from Rob — was to not replace anything that we didn’t have to. He’s so performance-oriented. He arduously goes over every single take to make sure it’s perfect,” says Tondelli, who also points out that Marshall isn’t afraid of using ADR. “He will pick words from a take and he doesn’t care if it’s coming from a pre-record and then back to ADR and then back to production. Whichever has the best performance is what wins. Our job then is to make all of that happen for him.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter @audiojeny

Enhancing BlacKkKlansman’s tension with Foley

By Jennifer Walden

Director Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, has gotten rave reviews from both critics and audiences. The biographical dramedy is based on Ron Stallworth’s true story of infiltrating the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan back in the 1970s.

Stallworth (John David Washington) was a detective for the Colorado Springs police department who saw a recruitment advertisement for the KKK and decided to call the head of the local Klan chapter. He claimed he  was a racist white man wanting to join the Klan. Stallworth asks his co-worker Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to act as Stallworth when dealing with the Klan face-to-face. Together, they try to thwart a KKK attack on an upcoming civil rights rally.

Marko Costanzo

The Emmy-award winning team (The Night Of and Boardwalk Empire) of Foley artist Marko Costanzo and Foley engineer George Lara at c5 Sound in New York City were tasked with recreating the sound of the ‘70s — from electric typewriters and rotary phones at police headquarters to the creak of leather jackets that were so popular in that era. “There are cardboard files and evidence boxes being moved around, phones dialing, newspapers shuffling and applause. We even had a car explosion which meant a lot of car parts landing on the ground,” explains Costanzo. “If you could listen to the film before our Foley, you would notice just how many of the extraneous noises had been removed, so we replaced all of that. Pretty much everything you hear in that film was replaced or at least sweetened.”

One important role of Foley is using it to define a character through sound. For example, Stallworth typically wears a leather jacket, and his jacket has a signature sound. But many of the police officers, and some Klan members, wear leather jackets, too, and they couldn’t all sound the same. The challenge was to create a unique sound that would represent each character.

According to Costanzo, the trickiest ones to define were the police officers, since they all have similar gear but still needed to sound different. “For the racist police officer Andy Landers (Frederick Weller), we wanted to make him noisy so he sounds a little more overzealous or full of himself. He’s got more of a presence.” The kit they created for Landers has more equipment for his belt, like bullets and handcuffs that rattle as he walks, a radio and a nightstick clattering, and they used extra leather creaking as well. “We did the night stick for him because he’s always ready and quick to pull out his nightstick to harass someone. He was a pretty nasty character, so we made him sound nasty with all our Foley trimmings.”

The police officer Foley really shines during the scene in which Stallworth apprehends Connie (Ashlie Atkinson), who just planted a bomb outside the residence of Patrice (Laura Harrier), president of the black student union at Colorado College. Stallworth is undercover, and he’s being arrested by local uniformed police officers instead of Connie the criminal. “The trick there was to make the police officer sound intimidating, and we did that through the sound of their belts,” says Costanzo. “They’re frisking the undercover cop and putting the handcuffs on and we covered all of those actions with sound.”

That scene is followed by a huge car explosion, which the Foley team also covered. While they didn’t do the actual explosion sound, they did perform the sounds of the glass shattering and many different debris impacts. “Our work helps to identify the perspective of the camera, and adds detail like parts hitting the bushes or parts hitting other cars. We go and pick out all the little things that you see and add those to the track,” he says.

Sometimes the Foley adds to the storytelling in less overt ways. For instance, during the scene when Stallworth calls up the head of the local KKK. As he’s on the phone listing all the types of people he hates, the other police officers in the station stop what they’re doing. Zimmerman swivels his chair around slowly and you hear it squeaking the whole time. It’s this uncomfortable sound, like the sonic equivalent of an eyebrow raise. Costanzo says, “Uncomfortable sounds are what we specialize in. Those are moments we embellish wherever possible so that it does tell part of the story. We wanted that moment to feel uncomfortable. Once those sounds are heard, it becomes part of the story, but it also just falls into the soundtrack.”

Foley can be helpful in communicating what’s happening off-screen as well. The police station is filled with officers. In Foley, they covered telephone hang-ups and grabs, the sound of the cords clattering and the chairs creaking, filing cabinets being opened and closed. “We try to create the feeling that you are located in that room and so we embellish off-camera sounds as well as the sounds for things on camera,” says Lara. Sometimes those off-camera sounds are atmospheric, like the police station, and other times they’re very specific. The director or supervising sound editor may ask to hear the characters walk away and out onto the street, or they need to hear a big crowd on the other side of a wall.

Part of the art of Foley is getting it to sound like it’s coming from the scene, like it’s production sound even though it isn’t. When a character waves an arm, you hear a cloth rustle. If people are walking down a long hallway, you hear their footsteps, and the sound diminishes as they get farther away from the camera. “We embellish all those movements, and that makes what we’re seeing feel more real,” explains Costanzo. To get those sounds to sit right, to feel like they’re coming from the scene, the Foley team strives to match the quality of the room for each scene, for each camera angle. “We try to do our best to match what we hear in production so the Foley will match that and sound like it was recorded there, live, on-set that day.”

Tools & Collaboration
Lara uses a four-mic approach to capturing the Foley. For the main mic (closest to Costanzo), he uses a Neumann KMR 81 D shotgun mic, which is a common boom mic used on-set. He has three other KMR 81 Ds placed at different distances and angles to the sound source. Those are all fed into an 8-channel Millennia mic pre-amp. By changing the balance of the mics in the mix, Lara can change the perspective of the sound. Because how well the Foley fits into the track isn’t just about volume, it’s about perspective and tonal quality. “Although we can EQ the sound, we try not to because we want to give the supervising sound editor the best sound, the fullest and richest sounding Foley possible,” he says.

Lara and Costanzo have been creating Foley together for 26 years. Both got their start at Sound One’s Foley stage in New York. “We have a really good idea of what’s good Foley and what’s bad Foley. Because George and I both learned the same way, I often refer to George as having the same ear as myself — meaning we both know when something works and when something doesn’t work,” shares Costanzo.

This dynamic allows the team to record anywhere from 300 to 400 sounds per day. For BlacKkKlansman, they were able to turn the film around in eight days. “The way that we work together, and why we work so well together, is because we both know what we are looking for and we have recorded many, many hours and years of Foley together,” says Lara.

Costanzo concludes, “Foley is a collaborative art but since we’ve been working together for many years, there are a lot of things that go unsaid. We don’t need to explain to each other everything that goes on. We both have imaginations that flourish when it comes to sound and we know how to take ideas and transfer them into working sounds. That’s something you learn over time.”


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

The Meg: What does a giant shark sound like?

By Jennifer Walden

Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Meg has everything you’d want in a fun summer blockbuster. There are explosions, submarines, gargantuan prehistoric sharks and beaches full of unsuspecting swimmers. Along with the mayhem, there is comedy and suspense and jump-scares. Best of all, it sounds amazing in Dolby Atmos.

The team at E² Sound, led by supervising sound editors Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn and Jason Jennings, created a soundscape that wraps around the audience like a giant squid around a submersible. (By the way, that squid vs. submersible scene is so fun for sound!)

L-R: Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl.

We spoke to the E² Sound team about the details of their recording sessions for the film. They talk about how they approached the sound for the megalodons, how they used the Atmos surround field to put the audience underwater and much more.

Real sharks can’t make sounds, but Hollywood sharks do. How did director Jon Turteltaub want to approach the sound of the megalodon in his film?
Erik Aadahl: Before the film was even shot, we were chatting with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and he said the most important thing in terms of sound for the megalodon was to sell the speed and power. Sharks don’t have any organs for making sound, but they are very large and powerful and are able to displace water. We used some artistic sonic license to create the quick sound of them moving around and displacing water. Of course, when they breach the surface, they have this giant mouth cavity that you can have a lot of fun with in terms of surging water and creating terrifying, guttural sounds out of that.

Jason Jennings: At one point, director Turteltaub did ask the question, “Would it be appropriate for The Meg to make a growl or roar?”

That opened up the door for us to explore that avenue. The megalodon shouldn’t make a growling or roaring sound, but there’s a lot that you can do with the sound of water being forced through the mouth or gills, whether you are above or below the water. We explored sounds that the megalodon could be making with its body. We were able to play with sounds that aren’t animal sounds but could sound animalistic with the right amount of twisting. For example, if you have the sound of a rock being moved slowly through the mud, and you process that a certain way, you can get a sound that’s almost vocal but isn’t an animal. It’s another type of organic sound that can evoke that idea.

Aadahl: One of my favorite things about the original Jaws was that when you didn’t see or hear Jaws it was more terrifying. It’s the unknown that’s so scary. One of my favorite scenes in The Meg was when you do not see or hear it, but because of this tracking device that they shot into its fin, they are able to track it using sonar pings. In that scene, one of the main characters is in this unbreakable shark enclosure just waiting out in the water for The Meg to show up. All you hear are these little pings that slowly start to speed up. To me, that’s one of the scariest scenes because it’s really playing with the unknown. Sharks are these very swift, silent, deadly killers, and the megalodon is this silent killer on steroids. So it’s this wonderful, cinematic moment that plays on the tension of the unknown — where is this megalodon? It’s really gratifying.

Since sharks are like the ninjas of the ocean (physically, they’re built for stealth), how do you use sound to help express the threat of the megalodon? How were you able to build the tension of an impending attack, or to enhance an attack?
Ethan Van der Ryn: It’s important to feel the power of this creature, so there was a lot of work put into feeling the effect that The Meg had on whatever it’s coming into contact with. It’s not so much about the sounds that are emitting directly from it (like vocalizations) but more about what it’s doing to the environment around it. So, if it’s passing by, you feel the weight and power of it passing by. When it attacks — like when it bites down on the window — you feel the incredible strength of its jaws. Or when it attacks the shark cage, it feels incredibly shocking because that sound is so terrifying and powerful. It becomes more about feeling the strength and power and aggressiveness of this creature through its movements and attacks.

Jennings: In terms of building tension leading up to an attack, it’s all about paring back all the elements beforehand. Before the attack, you’ll find that things get quiet and calmer and a little sparse. Then, all of a sudden, there’s this huge explosion of power. It’s all about clearing a space for the attack so that it means something.

The attack on the window in the underwater research station, how did you build that sequence? What were some of the ways you were able to express the awesomeness of this shark?
Aadahl: That’s a fun scene because you have the young daughter of a scientist on board this marine research facility located in the South China Sea and she’s wandered onto this observation deck. It’s sort of under construction and no one else is there. The girl is playing with this little toy — an iPad-controlled gyroscopic ball that’s rolling across the floor. That’s the featured sound of the scene.

You just hear this little ball skittering and rolling across the floor. It kind of reminds me of Danny’s tricycle from The Shining. It’s just so simple and quiet. The rhythm creates this atmosphere and lulls you into a solitary mood. When the shark shows up, you’re coming out of this trance. It’s definitely one of the big shock-scares of the movie.

Jennings: We pared back the sounds there so that when the attack happened it was powerful. Before the attack, the rolling of the ball and the tickety-tick of it going over the seams in the floor really does lull you into a sense of calm. Then, when you do see the shark, there’s this cool moment where the shark and the girl are having a staring contest. You don’t know who’s going to make the first move.

There’s also a perfect handshake there between sound design and music. The music is very sparse, just a little bit of violins to give you that shiver up your spine. Then, WHAM!, the sound of the attack just shakes the whole facility.

What about the sub-bass sounds in that scene?
Aadahl: You have the mass of this multi-ton creature slamming into the window, and you want to feel that in your gut. It has to be this visceral body experience. By the way, effects re-recording mixer Doug Hemphill is a master at using the subwoofer. So during the attack, in addition to the glass cracking and these giant teeth chomping into this thick plexiglass, there’s this low-end “whoomph” that just shakes the theater. It’s one of those moments where you want everyone in the theater to just jump out of their seats and fling their popcorn around.

To create that sound, we used a number of elements, including some recordings that we had done awhile ago of glass breaking. My parents were replacing this 8’ x 12’ glass window in their house and before they demolished the old one, I told them to not throw it out because I wanted to record it first.

So I mic’d it up with my “hammer mic,” which I’m very willing to beat up. It’s an Audio-Technica AT825, which has a fixed stereo polar pattern of 110-degrees, and it has a large diaphragm so it captures a really nice low-end response. I did several bangs on the glass before finally smashing it with a sledgehammer. When you have a surface that big, you can get a super low-end response because the surface acts like a membrane. So that was one of the many elements that comprised that attack.

Jennings: Another custom-recorded element for that sound came from a recording session where we tried to simulate the sound of The Meg’s teeth on a plastic cylinder for the shark cage sequence later in the film. We found a good-sized plastic container that we filled with water and we put a hydrophone inside the container and put a contact mic on the outside. From that point, we proceeded to abuse that thing with handsaws and a hand rake — all sorts of objects that had sharp points, even sharp rocks. We got some great material from that session, sounds where you can feel the cracking nature of something sharp on plastic.

For another cool recording session, in the editorial building where we work, we set up all the sound systems to play the same material through all of the subwoofers at once. Then we placed microphones throughout the facility to record the response of the building to all of this low-end energy. So for that moment where the shark bites the window, we have this really great punching sound we recorded from the sound of all the subwoofers hitting the building at once. Then after the bite, the scene cuts to the rest of the crew who are up in a conference room. They start to hear these distant rumbling sounds of the facility as it’s shaking and rattling. We were able to generate a lot of material from that recording session to feel like it’s the actual sound of the building being shaken by extreme low-end.

L-R: Emma Present, Matt Cavanaugh and Jason (Jay) Jennings.

The film spends a fair amount of time underwater. How did you handle the sound of the underwater world?
Aadahl: Jay [Jennings] just put a new pool in his yard and that became the underwater Foley stage for the movie, so we had the hydrophones out there. In the film, there are these submersible vehicles that Jay did a lot of experimentation for, particularly for their underwater propeller swishes.

The thing about hydrophones is that you can’t just put them in water and expect there to be sound. Even if you are agitating the water, you often need air displacement underwater pushing over the mics to create that surge sound that we associate with being underwater. Over the years, we’ve done a lot of underwater sessions and we found that you need waves, or agitation, or you need to take a high-powered hose into the water and have it near the surface with the hydrophones to really get that classic, powerful water rush or water surge sound.

Jennings: We had six different hydrophones for this particular recording session. We had a pair of Aquarian Audio H2a hydrophones, a pair of JrF hydrophones and a pair of Ambient Recording ASF-1 hydrophones. These are all different quality mics — some are less expensive and some are extremely expensive, and you get a different frequency response from each pair.

Once we had the mics set up, we had several different props available to record. One of the most interesting was a high-powered drill that you would use to mix paint or sheetrock compound. Connected to the drill, we had a variety of paddle attachments because we were trying to create new source for all the underwater propellers for the submersibles, ships and jet skis — all of which we view from underneath the water. We recorded the sounds of these different attachments in the water churning back and forth. We recorded them above the water, below the water, close to the mic and further from the mic. We came up with an amazing palette of sounds that didn’t need any additional processing. We used them just as they were recorded.

We got a lot of use out of these recordings, particularly for the glider vehicles, which are these high-tech, electrically-propelled vehicles with two turbine cyclone propellers on the back. We had a lot of fun designing the sound of those vehicles using our custom recordings from the pool.

Aadahl: There was another hydrophone recording mission that the crew, including Jay, went on. They set out to capture the migration of humpback whales. One of our hydrophones got tangled up in the boat’s propeller because we had a captain who was overly enthusiastic to move to the next location. So there was one casualty in our artistic process.

Jennings: Actually, it was two hydrophones. But the best part is that we got the recording of that happening, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Aadahl: “Underwater” is a character in this movie. One of the early things that the director and the picture editor Steven Kemper mentioned was that they wanted to make a character out of the underwater environment. They really wanted to feel the difference between being underwater and above the water. There is a great scene with Jonas (Jason Statham) where he’s out in the water with a harpoon and he’s trying to shoot a tracking device into The Meg.

He’s floating on the water and it’s purely environmental sounds, with the gentle lap of water against his body. Then he ducks his head underwater to see what’s down there. We switch perspectives there and it’s really extreme. We have this deep underwater rumble, like a conch shell feeling. You really feel the contrast between above and below the water.

Van der Ryn: Whenever we go underwater in the movie, Turteltaub wanted the audience to feel extremely uncomfortable, like that was an alien place and you didn’t want to be down there. So anytime we are underwater the sound had to do that sonic shift to make the audience feel like something bad could happen at any time.

How did you make being underwater feel uncomfortable?
Aadahl: That’s an interesting question, because it’s very subjective. To me, the power of sound is that it can play with emotions in very subconscious and subliminal ways. In terms of underwater, we had many different flavors for what that underwater sound was.

In that scene with Jonas going above and below the water, it’s really about that frequency shift. You go into a deep rumble under the water, but it’s not loud. It’s quiet. But sometimes the scariest sounds are the quiet ones. We learned this from A Quiet Place recently and the same applies to The Meg for sure.

Van der Ryn: Whenever you go quiet, people get uneasy. It’s a cool shift because when you are above the water you see the ripples of the ocean all over the place. When working in 7.1 or the Dolby Atmos mix, you can take these little rolling waves and pan them from center to left or from the right front wall to the back speakers. You have all of this motion and it’s calming and peaceful. But as soon as you go under, all of that goes away and you don’t hear anything. It gets really quiet and that makes people uneasy. There’s this constant low-end tone and it sells pressure and it sells fear. It is very different from above the water.

Aadahl: Turteltaub described this feeling of pressure, so it’s something that’s almost below the threshold of hearing. It’s something you feel; this pressure pushing against you, and that’s something we can do with the subwoofer. In Atmos, all of the speakers around the theater are extended-frequency range so we can put those super-low frequencies into every speaker (including the overheads) and it translates in a way that it doesn’t in 7.1. In Atmos, you feel that pressure that Turteltaub talked a lot about.

The Meg is an action film, so there’s shootings, explosions, ships getting smashed up, and other mayhem. What was the most fun action scene for sound? Why?
Jennings: I like the scene in the submersible shark cage where Suyin (Bingbing Li) is waiting for the shark to arrive. This turns into a whole adventure of her getting thrashed around inside the cage. The boat that is holding the cable starts to get pulled along. That was fun to work on.

Also, I enjoyed the end of the film where Jonas and Suyin are in their underwater gliders and they are trying to lure The Meg to a place where they can trap and kill it. The gliders were very musical in nature. They had some great tonal qualities that made them fun to play with using Doppler shifts. The propeller sounds we recorded in the pool… we used those for when the gliders go by the camera. We hit them with these churning sounds, and there’s the sound of the bubbles shooting by the camera.

Aadahl: There’s a climactic scene in the film with hundreds of people on a beach and a megalodon in the water. What could go wrong? There’s one character inside a “zorb” ball — an inflatable hamster ball for humans that’s used for scrambling around on top of the water. At a certain point, this “zorb” ball pops and that was a sound that Turteltaub was obsessed with getting right.

We went through so many iterations of that sound. We wound up doing this extensive balloon popping session on Stage 10 at Warner Bros. where we had enough room to inflate a 16-foot weather balloon. We popped a bunch of different balloons there, and we accidentally popped the weather balloon, but fortunately we were rolling and we got it. So a combination of those sounds created the”‘zorb” ball pop.

That scene was one of my favorites in the film because that’s where the shit hits the fan.

Van der Ryn: That’s a great moment. I revisited that to do something else in the scene, and when the zorb popped it made me jump back because I forgot how powerful a moment that is. It was a really fun, and funny moment.

Aadahl: That’s what’s great about this movie. It has some serious action and really scary moments, but it’s also fun. There are some tongue-in-cheek moments that made it a pleasure to work on. We all had so much fun working on this film. Jon Turteltaub is also one of the funniest people that I’ve ever worked with. He’s totally obsessed with sound, and that made for an amazing sound design and sound mix experience. We’re so grateful to have worked on a movie that let us have so much fun.

What was the most challenging scene for sound? Was there one scene that evolved a lot?
Aadahl: There’s a rescue scene that takes place in the deepest part of the ocean, and the rescue is happening from this nuclear submarine. They’re trying to extract the survivors, and at one point there’s this sound from inside the submarine, and you don’t know what it is but it could be the teeth of a giant megalodon scraping against the hull. That sound, which takes place over this one long tracking shot, was one that the director focused on the most. We kept going back and forth and trying new things. Massaging this and swapping that out… it was a tricky sound.

Ultimately, it ended up being a combination of sounds. Jay and sound effects editor Matt Cavanaugh went out and recorded this huge, metal cargo crate container. They set up mics inside and took all sorts of different metal tools and did some scraping, stuttering, chittering and other friction sounds. We got all sorts of material from that session and that’s one of the main featured sounds there.

Jennings: Turteltaub at one point said he wanted it to sound like a shovel being dragged across the top of the submarine, and so we took him quite literally. We went to record that container on one of the hottest days of the year. We had to put Matt (Cavanaugh) inside and shut the door! So we did short takes.

I was on the roof dragging shovels, rakes, a garden hoe and other tools across the top. We generated a ton of great material from that.

As with every film we do, we don’t want to rely on stock sounds. Everything we put together for these movies is custom made for them.

What about the giant squid? How did you create its’ sounds?
Aadahl: I love the sound that Jay came up with for the suction cups on the squid’s tentacles as they’re popping on and off of the submersible.

Jennings: Yet another glorious recording session that we did for this movie. We parked a car in a quiet location here at WB, and we put microphones inside of the car — some stereo mics and some contact mics attached to the windshield. Then, we went outside the car with two or three different types of plungers and started plunging the windshield. Sometimes we used a dry plunger and sometimes we used a wet plunger. We had a wet plunger with dish soap on it to make it slippery and slurpie. We came up with some really cool material for the cups of this giant squid. So we would do a hard plunge onto the glass, and then pull it off. You can stutter the plunger across the glass to get a different flavor. Thankfully, we didn’t break any windows, although I wasn’t sure that we wouldn’t.

Aadahl: I didn’t donate my car for that recording session because I have broken my windshield recording water in the past!

Van der Ryn: In regards to perspective in that scene, when you’re outside the submersible, it’s a wide shot and you can see the arms of the squid flailing around. There we’re using the sound of water motion but when we go inside the submersible it’s like this sphere of plastic. In there, we used Atmos to make the audience really feel like those squid tentacles are wrapping around the theater. The little suction cup sounds are sticking and stuttering. When the squid pulls away, we could pinpoint each of those suction cups to a specific speaker in the theater and be very discrete about it.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share on the sound of The Meg?
Van der Ryn: I want to call out Ron Bartlett, the dialogue/music re-recording mixer and Doug Hemphill, the re-recording mixer on the effects. They did an amazing job of taking all the work done by all of the departments and forming it into this great-sounding track.

Aadahl: Our music composer, Harry Gregson-Williams, was pretty amazing too.

Sony creates sounds for Director X’s Superfly remake

Columbia Pictures’ Superfly is a reimagining of Gordon Parks Jr.’s classic 1972 blaxploitation film of the same name. Helmed by Director X and written by Alex Tse, this new version transports the story of Priest from Harlem to modern-day Atlanta.

Steven Ticknor

Superfly’s sound team from Sony Pictures Post Production Services — led by supervising sound editor Steven Ticknor, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Kevin O’Connell, re-recording mixer Greg Orloff and sound designer Tony Lamberti — was tasked with bringing the sonic elements of Priest’s world to life. That included everything from building soundscapes for Atlanta’s neighborhoods and nightclubs to supplying the sounds of fireworks, gun battles and car chases.

“Director X and Joel Silver — who produced the movie alongside hip-hop superstar Future, who also curated and produced the film’s soundtrack — wanted the film to have a big sound, as big and theatrical as possible,” says Ticknor. “The film is filled with fights and car chases, and we invested a lot of detail and creativity into each one to bring out their energy and emotion.”

One element that received special attention from the sound team was the Lexus LC500 that Priest (Trevor Jackson) drives in the film. As the sports car was brand new, no pre-recorded sounds were available, so Ticknor and Lamberti dispatched a recording crew and professional driver to the California desert to capture every aspect of its unique engine sounds, tire squeals, body mechanics and electronics. “Our job is to be authentic, so we couldn’t use a different Lexus,” Ticknor explains. “It had to be that car.”

In one of the film’s most thrilling scenes, Priest and the Lexus LC500 are involved in a high-speed chase with a Lamborghini and a Cadillac Escalade. Sound artists added to the excitement by preparing sounds for every screech, whine and gear shift made by the cars, as well as explosions and other events happening alongside them and movements made by the actors behind the wheels.

It’s all much larger than life, says Ticknor, but grounded in reality. “The richness of the sound is a result of all the elements that go into it, the way they are recorded, edited and mixed,” he explains. “We wanted to give each car its own identity, so when you cut from one car revving to another car revving, it sounds like they’re talking to each other. The audience may not be able to articulate it, but they feel the emotion.”

Fights received similarly detailed treatment. Lamberti points to an action sequence in a barber shop as one of several scenes rendered partially in extreme slow motion. “It starts off in realtime before gradually shifting to slo-mo through the finish,” he says. “We had fun slowing down sounds, and processing them in strange and interesting ways. In some instances, we used sounds that had no literal relation to what was happening on the screen but, when slowed down, added texture. Our aim was to support the visuals with the coolest possible sound.”

Re-recording mixing was accomplished in the 125-seat Anthony Quinn Theater on an Avid S6 console with O’Connell handling dialogue and music and Orloff tackling sound effects and Foley. Like its 1972 predecessor, which featured an iconic soundtrack from Curtis Mayfield, the new film employs music brilliantly. Atlanta-based rapper Future, who shares producer credit, assembled a soundtrack that features Young Thug, Lil Wayne, Miguel, H.E.R. and 21 Savage.

“We were fortunate to have in Kevin and Greg, a pair of Academy Award-winning mixers, who did a brilliant job in blending music, dialogue and sound effects,” says Ticknor. “The mix sessions were very collaborative, with a lot of experimentation to build intensity and make the movie feel bigger than life. Everyone was contributing ideas and challenging each other to make it better, and it all came together in the end.”

Capturing Foley for Epix’s Berlin Station

Now in its second season on Epix, the drama series Berlin Station centers on undercover agents, diplomats and whistleblowers inhabiting a shadow world inside the German capital.

Leslie Bloome

Working under the direction of series supervising sound editor Ruy Garcia, Westchester, New York-based Foley studio Alchemy Post Sound is providing Berlin Station with cinematic sound. Practical effects, like the clatter of weapons and clinking glass, are recorded on the facility’s main Foley stage. Certain environmental effects are captured on location at sites whose ambience is like the show’s settings. Interior footsteps, meanwhile, are recorded in the facility’s new “live” room, a 1,300-square-foot space with natural reverb that’s used to replicate the environment of rooms with concrete, linoleum and tile floors.

Garcia wants a soundtrack with a lot of detail and depth of field,” explains lead Foley artist and Alchemy Post founder Leslie Bloome. “So, it’s important to perform sounds in the proper perspective. Our entire team of editors, engineers and Foley artists need to be on point regarding the location and depth of field of sounds we’re recording. Our aim is to make every setting feel like a real place.”

A frequent task for the Foley team is to come up with sounds for high-tech cameras, surveillance equipment and other spy gadgetry. Foley artist Joanna Fang notes that sophisticated wall safes appear in several episodes, each one featuring differing combinations of electronic, latch and door sounds. She adds that in one episode a character has a microchip concealed in his suit jacket and the Foley team needed to invent the muffled crunch the chip makes when the man is frisked. “It’s one of those little ‘non-sounds’ that Foley specializes in,” she says. “Most people take it for granted, but it helps tell the story.”

The team is also called on to create Foley effects associated with specific exterior and interior locations. This can include everything from seedy safe houses and bars to modern office suites and upscale hotel rooms. When possible, Alchemy prefers to record such effects on location at sites closely resembling those pictured on-screen. Bloome says that recording things like creaky wood floors on location results in effects that sound more real. “The natural ambiance allows us to grab the essence of the moment,” he explains, “and keep viewers engaged with the scene.”

Footsteps are another regular Foley task. Fang points out that there is a lot of cat-and-mouse action with one character following another or being pursued, and the patter of footsteps adds to the tension. “The footsteps are kind of tough,” she says. “Many of the characters are either diplomats or spies and they all wear hard soled shoes. It’s hard to build contrast, so we end up creating a hierarchy, dark powerful heels for strong characters, lighter shoes for secondary roles.”

For interior footsteps, large theatrical curtains are used to adjust the ambiance in the live stage to fit the scene. “If it’s an office or a small room in a house, we draw the curtains to cut the room in half; if it’s a hotel lobby, we open them up,” Fang explains. “It’s amazing. We’re not only creating depth and contrast by using different types of shoes and walking surfaces, we’re doing it by adjusting the size of the recording space.”

Alchemy edits their Foley in-house and delivers pre-mixed and synced Foley that can be dropped right into the final mix seamlessly. “The things we’re doing with location Foley and perspective mixing are really cool,” says Foley editor and mixer Nicholas Seaman. “But it also means the responsibility for getting the sound right falls squarely on our shoulders. There is no ‘fix in the mix.’ From our point of view, the Foley should be able to stand on its own. You should be able to watch a scene and understand what’s going on without hearing a single line of dialogue.”

The studio used Neumann U87 and KMR81 microphones, a Millennia mic-pre and Apogee converter, all recorded into Avid Pro Tools on a C24 console. In addition to recording a lot of guns, Alchemy also borrowed a Doomsday prep kit for some of the sounds.

The challenge to deliver sound effects that can stand up to that level of scrutiny keeps the Foley team on its toes. “It’s a fascinating show,” says Fang. “One moment, we’re inside the station with the usual office sounds and in the next edit, we’re in the field in the middle of a machine gun battle. From one episode to the next, we never know what’s going to be thrown at us.”

Netflix’s The Last Kingdom puts Foley to good use

By Jennifer Walden

What is it about long-haired dudes strapped with leather, wielding swords and riding horses alongside equally fierce female warriors charging into bloody battles? There is a magic to this bygone era that has transfixed TV audiences, as evident by the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, History Channel’s Vikings series and one of my favorites, The Last Kingdom, now on Netflix.

The Last Kingdom, based on a series of historical fiction novels by Bernard Cornwell, is set in late 9th century England. It tells the tale of Saxon-born Uhtred of Bebbanburg who is captured as a child by Danish invaders and raised as one of their own. Uhtred gets tangled up in King Alfred of Wessex’s vision to unite the three separate kingdoms (Wessex, Northumbria and East Anglia) into one country called England. He helps King Alfred battle the invading Danish, but Uhtred’s real desire is to reclaim his rightful home of Bebbanburg from his duplicitous uncle.

Mahoney Audio Post
The sound of the series is gritty and rich with leather, iron and wood elements. The soundtrack’s tactile quality is the result of extensive Foley work by Mahoney Audio Post, who has been with the series since the first season. “That’s great for us because we were able to establish all the sound for each character, village, environment and more, right from the first episode,” says Foley recordist/editor/sound designer Arran Mahoney.

Mahoney Audio Post is a family-operated audio facility in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, UK. Arran Mahoney explains the studio’s family ties. “Clare Mahoney (mum) and Jason Swanscott (cousin) are our Foley artists, with over 30 years of experience working on high-end TV shows and feature films. My brother Billy Mahoney and I are the Foley recordists and editors/sound designers. Billy Mahoney, Sr. (dad) is the founder of the company and has been a dubbing mixer for over 40 years.”

Their facility, built in 2012, houses a mixing suite and two separate audio editing suites, each with Avid Pro Tools HD Native systems, Avid Artist mixing consoles and Genelec monitors. The facility also has a purpose-built soundproof Foley stage featuring 20 different surfaces including grass, gravel, marble, concrete, sand, pebbles and multiple variations of wood.

Foley artists Clare Mahoney and Jason Swanscott.

Their mic collection includes a Røde NT1-A cardioid condenser microphone and a Røde NTG3 supercardioid shotgun microphone, which they use individually for close-micing or in combination to create more distant perspectives when necessary. They also have two other studio staples: a Neumann U87 large-diaphragm condenser mic and a Sennheiser MKH-416 short shotgun mic.

Going Medieval
Over the years, the Mahoney Foley team has collected thousands of props. For The Last Kingdom specifically, they visited a medieval weapons maker and bought a whole armory of items: swords, shields, axes, daggers, spears, helmets, chainmail, armor, bridles and more. And it’s all put to good use on the series. Mahoney notes, “We cover every single thing that you see on-screen as well as everything you hear off of it.” That includes all the feet (human and horses), cloth, and practical effects like grabs, pick-ups/put downs, and touches. They also cover the battle sequences.

Mahoney says they use 20 to 30 tracks of Foley just to create the layers of detail that the battle scenes need. Starting with the cloth pass, they cover the Saxon chainmail and the Vikings leather and fur armor. Then they do basic cloth and leather movements to cover non-warrior characters and villagers. They record a general weapons track, played at low volume, to provide a base layer of sound.

Next they cover the horses from head to hoof, with bridles and saddles, and Foley for the horses’ feet. When asked what’s the best way to Foley horse hooves, Mahoney asserts that it is indeed with coconuts. “We’ve also purchased horseshoes to add to the stable atmospheres and spot FX when required,” he explains. “We record any abnormal horse movements, i.e. crossing a drawbridge or moving across multiple surfaces, and sound designers take care of the rest. Whenever muck or gravel is needed, we buy fresh material from the local DIY stores and work it into our grids/pits on the Foley stage.”

The battle scenes also require Foley for all the grabs, hits and bodyfalls. For the blood and gore, they use a variety of fruit and animal flesh.

Then there’s a multitude of feet to cover the storm of warriors rushing at each other. All the boots they used were wrapped in leather to create an authentic sound that’s true to the time. Mahoney notes that they didn’t want to capture “too much heel in the footsteps, while also trying to get a close match to the sync sound in the event of ADR.”

Surfaces include stone and marble for the Saxon castles of King Alfred and the other noble lords. For the wooden palisades and fort walls, Mahoney says they used a large wooden base accompanied by wooden crates, plinths, boxes and an added layer of controlled creaks to give an aged effect to everything. On each series, they used 20 rolls of fresh grass, lots of hay for the stables, leaves for the forest, and water for all the sea and river scenes. “There were many nights cleaning the studio after battle sequences,” he says.

In addition to the aforementioned props of medieval weapons, grass, mud, bridles and leather, Mahoney says they used an unexpected prop: “The Viking cloth tracks were actually done with samurai suits. They gave us the weight needed to distinguish the larger size of a Danish man compared to a Saxon.”

Their favorite scenes to Foley, and by far the most challenging, were the battle scenes. “Those need so much detail and attention. It gives us a chance to shine on the soundtrack. The way that they are shot/edited can be very fast paced, which lends itself well to micro details. It’s all action, very precise and in your face,” he says. But if they had to pick one favorite scene, Mahoney says it would be “Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold.”

Another challenging-yet-rewarding opportunity for Foley was during the slave ship scenes. Uhtred and his friend are sold into slavery as rowers on a Viking ship, which holds a crew of nearly 30 men. The Mahoney team brought the slave ship to life by building up layers of detail. “There were small wood creaks with small variations of wood and big creaks with larger variations of wood. For the big creaks, we used leather and a broomstick to work into the wood, creating a deep creak sound by twisting the three elements against each other. Then we would pitch shift or EQ to create size and weight. When you put the two together it gives detail and depth. Throw in a few tracks of rigging and pulleys for good measure and you’re halfway there,” says Mahoney.

For the sails, they used a two-mic setup to record huge canvas sheets to create a stereo wrap-around feel. For the rowing effects, they used sticks, brooms and wood rubbing, bouncing, or knocking against large wooden floors and solid boxes. They also covered all the characters’ shackles and chains.

Foley is a very effective way to draw the audience in close to a character or to help the audience feel closer to the action on-screen. For example, near the end of Season 2’s finale, a loyal subject of King Alfred has fallen out of favor. He’s eventually imprisoned and prepares to take his own life. The sound of his fingers running down the blade and the handling of his knife make the gravity of his decision palpable.

Mahoney shares another example of using Foley to draw the audience in — during the scene when Sven is eaten by Thyra’s wolves (following Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold). “We used oranges and melons for Sven’s flesh being eaten and for the blood squirts. Then we created some tracks of cloth and leather being ripped. Specially manufactured claw props were used for the frantic, ravenous wolf feet,” he says. “All the action was off-screen so it was important for the audience to hear in detail what was going on, to give them a sense of what it would be like without actually seeing it. Also, Thyra’s reaction needed to reflect what was going on. Hopefully, we achieved that.”

Lime opens sound design division led by Michael Anastasi, Rohan Young

Santa Monica’s Lime Studios has launched a sound design division. LSD (Lime Sound Design), featuring newly signed sound designer Michael Anastasi and Lime sound designer/mixer Rohan Young has already created sound design for national commercial campaigns.

“Having worked with Michael since his early days at Stimmung and then at Barking Owl, he was always putting out some of the best sound design work, a lot of which we were fortunate to be final mixing here at Lime,” says executive producer Susie Boyajan, who collaborates closely with Lime and LSD owner Bruce Horwitz and the other company partners — mixers Mark Meyuhas and Loren Silber. “Having Michael here provides us with an opportunity to be involved earlier in the creative process, and provides our clients with a more streamlined experience for their audio needs. Rohan and Michael were often competing for some of the same work, and share a huge client base between them, so it made sense for Lime to expand and create a new division centered around them.”

Boyajan points out that “all of the mixers at Lime have enjoyed the sound design aspect of their jobs, and are really talented at it, but having a new division with LSD that operates differently than our current, hourly sound design structure makes sense for the way the industry is continuing to change. We see it as a real advantage that we can offer clients both models.”

“I have always considered myself a sound designer that mixes,” notes Young. “It’s a different experience to be involved early on and try various things that bring the spot to life. I’ve worked closely with Michael for a long time. It became more and more apparent to both of us that we should be working together. Starting LSD became a no-brainer. Our now-shared resources, with the addition of a Foley stage and location audio recordists only make things better for both of us and even more so for our clients.”

Young explains that setting up LSD as its own sound design division, as opposed to bringing in Michael to sound design at Lime, allows clients to separate the mix from the sound design on their production if they choose.

Anastasi joins LSD from Barking Owl, where he spent the last seven years creating sound design for high-profile projects and building long-term creative collaborations with clients. Michael recalls his fortunate experiences recording sounds with John Fasal, and Foley sessions with John Roesch and Alyson Dee Moore as having taught him a great deal of his craft. “Foley is actually what got me to become a sound designer,” he explains.

Projects that Anastasi has worked on include the PSA on human trafficking called Hide and Seek, which won an AICP Award for Sound Design. He also provided sound design to the feature film Casa De Mi Padre, starring Will Ferrell, and was sound supervisor as well. For Nike’s Together project, featuring Lebron James, a two-minute black-and-white piece, Anastasi traveled back to Lebron’s hometown of Cleveland to record 500+ extras.

Lime is currently building new studios for LSD, featuring a team of sound recordists and a stand-alone Foley room. The LSD team is currently in the midst of a series of projects launching this spring, including commercial campaigns for Nike, Samsung, StubHub and Adobe.

Main Image: Michael Anastasi and Rohan Young.

Skywalker’s Randy Thom helps keep it authentic for ‘Peanuts’

By Jennifer Walden

Snoopy, Woodstock, Charlie Brown, Lucy… all the classic Peanuts characters hit the big screen earlier this month thanks to the Blue Sky Studios production The Peanuts Movie (20th Century Fox).

For those of you who might have worried that the Peanuts gang would “go Hollywood,” there is no need for concern. These beloved characters look and sound like they did in the Charles M. Schulz TV specials — which started airing in the 1960s — but they have been updated to fit the theatrical expectations of 2015.

While the latest technology has given depth and texture to these 2D characters, director Steve Martino and the Schulz family made sure the film didn’t stray far from Charles Schulz’s original creations.

Randy Thom

Randy Thom

According to Skywalker Sound supervising sound editor/sound designer/re-recording mixer Randy Thom, “Steve Martino (from Blue Sky) spent most of the year hanging out in Santa Rosa, California, which is where the Schulz family still lives. He worked with them very closely to make sure that this film had the same feel and look as not only the cartoon strip, but also the TV specials. They did a wonderful job of staying true to all those visual and sonic tropes that we so much associate with Peanuts.”

Thom and the Skywalker sound team, based at the Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California, studied the style of sound effects used in the original Peanuts TV specials and aimed to evoke those sounds as closely as they could for The Peanuts Movie, while also adding a modern vibe. “Often, on animated films, the first thing the director tells us is that it shouldn’t sound like a cartoon — they don’t want it to be cartoony with sound effects,” explains Thom, who holds an Oscar for his sound design on the animated feature The Incredibles, and has two Oscar nominations for his sound editing on The Polar Express and Ratatouille. “In The Peanuts Movie, we were liberated to play around with boings and other classic cartoon type sounds. We even tried to invent some of our own.”

PEANUTS PEANUTS

The Red Baron and Subtle Sounds
The sound design is a mix of Foley effects, performed at Skywalker by Foley artists Sean England and Ronni Pittman, and cartoon classics like zips, boinks and zings. One challenge was creating a kid-friendly machine gun sound for Snoopy’s Red Baron air battles. “It couldn’t be scary, but it had to suggest the kinds of guns that were used on those planes in that era,” says Thom. The solution? Thom vocalized “ett-ett-ett-ett-ett” sounds, which they processed and combined with a “rat-tat-tat-tat-tat” rhythm that they banged out on pots and pans. The result is a faux machine gun that’s easy on little ears.

Another key element in the Red Baron sequences was the sound of the planes. Charles Schulz’s son, Craig, who was very involved with the film, owns a vintage WWI plane that, amazingly, still flies. “Craig [Schulz] flew the plane and a couple of people on our sound team rode in it. They were very brave and kept the recorder running the whole time,” says Thom, who completed the sound edit and premix in Avid Pro Tools 12

PEANUTS

They captured recordings on the plane, as well as from the ground as the plane performed a few acrobatic aerial maneuvers. During the final 7.1 mix in Mix G at Skywalker Sound, via the Neve DFC console, Thom says the challenge was to make the film sound exciting without being too dynamic. The final plane sounds were very mellow without any harsh upper frequencies or growly tones. “We had to be careful of the nature of the sounds,” he says. “If you make the airplanes too scary or intimidating, or sound to animalistic, little kids are going to be scared and cover their ears. We wanted to make sure it was fun without being scary.”

Many of the scenes in The Peanuts Movie have subtle sound design, with Foley being a big part of the track. There are a few places where sound gets to deliver the joke. One of Thom’s favorite scenes was when Charlie Brown visits the library to find the book “Leo’s Toy Store.”

“The library is supposed to be quiet and we had to be very playful with the sound of Charlie’s feet squeaking on the floor and making too much noise,” says Thom. “After he leaves the library, he slides down the hillside in the snow and ice and ends up running right through a house. That was a fun sequence also.”

PEANUTS PEANUTS

One surprising piece of the soundtrack was the music. The name Vince Guaraldi is practically synonymous with Peanuts. His jazzy compositions are part of the Peanuts cultural lexicon. If someone says Peanuts, it instantly recalls to mind the melody of Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” tune. And while “Linus and Lucy” is part of the film’s soundtrack, the majority of the score is orchestral compositions by Christophe Beck. “The music is mostly orchestral but even that has a Peanuts feel somehow,” concludes Thom.

Setting the audio tone of ‘Everest’

Glenn Freemantle sounds off on making this film’s audio authentic

By Jennifer Walden

Immovable, but not insurmountable, Mount Everest has always loomed large in the minds of ambitious adventurers who seek to test their mettle against nature’s most imposing obstacle course, with unpredictable weather.

Reaching the summit takes more than just determination, it requires training, teamwork and a bit of stubborn resolve not to die. Even then, there’s no guarantee that what, or who, goes up will come down. Director Baltasar Kormákur’s film Everest, from Universal Studios, is based on the tragic true story of two separate expeditions who sought to reach the summit on the same day, May 10th 1996, only to be bested by a frigid tempest.

Glenn Freemantle

Glenn Freemantle

Supervising sound editor/sound designer Glenn Freemantle at Sound24, based at Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, UK, was in charge of building Everest’s blustery sound personality. All the wind, snow and ice sounds that lash the film’s characters were carefully crafted in post and designed to take the viewer on a journey up the mountain.

“Starting at the bottom and going right to the top, you feel like you are moving through the different camps,” explains Freemantle. “We tried to make each location as interesting as possible. The film is all about nature; it’s all about how the viewer would feel on that mountain. We always wanted the viewer to feel that journey that they were on.”

In addition to Freemantle, Sound24’s crew includes sound design editors Eilam Hoffman, Niv Adiri, Ben Barker, Tom Sayers and sound effects editors Danny Freemantle and Dillon Bennett.

Capturing Wind
Glenn Freemantle and his sound team collected thousands of wind sounds, like strong winter winds from along the shores of western England, Ireland and Scotland. They recorded wide canyon winds and sand storms in the deserts of Israel, and on Santorini, they recorded strong tonal mountain winds. At the base camp on Mount Everest, they set out recorders day and night to capture what it sounded like there at different times. “At the base camp on Everest, even if we didn’t use all the recordings from there, we got the sense of the real environment, exactly what it was like. From a cinematic point of view, we used that as a basis, but obviously we were also trying to tell a story with the sound,” he says.

To capture ambience from various altitudes on Everest, Freemantle sent two small recording set-ups with the camera crew who filmed at the top of Everest. “The equipment had to be small, portable and resistant to the extreme conditions,” he explains. For these set-ups, owner of Telinga Microphones, Klas Strandberg, created a small, custom-made omnidirectional mic for an A/B set-up, as well as a pair of cardioid mics in XY configuration that were connected to two Sony D100 recorders.

The best way to record wind is to have it sing through something, so on their wind capturing outings, Freemantle and crew brought along an assortment of items — sieves, coat hangers, bits of metal, pans, all sorts of oddities that would produce different tones as the wind moved through and around them. They also set up tents, like those used in the film, to capture the tent movements in the wind. “We used a multi-mic set-up to record the sound so you felt like you were in the middle of all of these situations. We put the mics in the corners and in the center of the tent, and then we shook it. We also left them up for the night,” he says.

They used Sennheiser MKH8020s, MKH8050s and MKH8040s paired with multiple Sound Devices 744T and 722 recorders set at 192k/24-bit. For high-frequency winds, they chose the Sanken COS-100k, which can capture sounds up to 100kHz. “This allowed us to pitch down the inaudible wind to audible frequencies (between 20Hz – 20kHz) and create the bass for powerful tonal winds.”

With wind being a main player in the sound, Freemantle’s design focused on its dynamics. Changing the speed of the wind, the harshness of the wind and also the weight of the wind kept it interesting. “We were moving the sound all the time, and that was really effective. There was a 20-minute section of storm in there, which wasn’t easy to build,” explains Freemantle. “We would mix a scene for a day and then walk away. You can exhaust your ears mixing a film like this.”

Having the opportunity to revisit the stormy sequences allowed the sound team to compare the different storms and wind-swept scenes, and make adjustments. One of their biggest challenges was making sure each storm didn’t feel too big, or lack dynamics. “We wanted to have something different happening for each storm or camp so the audience could feel the journey of these people. It had to build up to the big storm at the end. We’d have to look at the whole film to make sure we weren’t going wrong. The sound needed to progress.”

In addition to wind, Freemantle and his team recorded sounds of snow and ice. They purchased a few square meters of snow and froze big chunks of ice for their recording sessions. “We got all the gear the actors were wearing and we put the jackets and things into the freezer overnight, so they would have that feeling, that frozen texture, that they would have out there in the weather,” he says. “We tried to do everything we could to make it sound as real as possible. It’s exhausting how that weather makes you feel, and it was all from a human point of view that we tried to create the weather that was around them.”

ADR
The weather sounds weren’t the only thing to be recreated for Everest. The soundtrack also hosts a sizable amount of ADR thanks to massive wind machines that were constantly blowing on set, and the actors having to wear masks didn’t help the dialogue intelligibility either. “That’s why the film is 90 percent re-recorded dialogue,” shares Freemantle. “Sound mixer Adrian Bell did a hell of a job in those conditions, but they are wearing all of these masks so you can hardly hear them. Everything had to be redone.”

The dialogue was so muffled at times that it was difficult for the picture-editing department to cut Everest. Director Kormákur asked for a quick ADR track of the whole film, using sound-alike actors when the real ones weren’t available. In addition, he also asked for a rough sound design and Foley pass, giving Freemantle about a week to mock it up. “You couldn’t follow the film. They couldn’t run it for the producers to get a sense of the story because you couldn’t hear what the actors were saying,” he says. “So we recreated the whole dialogue sequence for the film, and we quickly cut — from our sound libraries — all the footsteps and we did a quick cloth pass so they had a complete soundtrack in a very short period of time.”

During the ADR session for the final tracks, Freemantle notes the actors wore weight vests and straps around their chests to make it difficult for them to breathe and talk, all in an effort to recreate the experience of what is happening to them on screen. As CG was being added to the picture, with more sprays of snow and ice, the actors could react to the environment even more.

“Having to re-create their performances was a curse in one way, but it was a blessing because then we had control over every single sound in the soundtrack. We had control of every part of their breathing, every noise from their gear and outfits. We have everything so we could pull the perspective in the sound at any given moment and not bring along a lot of muck with it.”

Everest was mixed in three immersive formats: Dolby Atmos, Barco Auro-3D and IMAX 12.0. “Each one of the formats works really well and you really feel like you are in the film,” reports Freemantle. “The weight of the sound hits you in the theater. There is a lot of bass in there. With sound, you are moving the air around, so you are feeling it when the storm hits. The presence of the bass hits you in the chest.”

But it’s not a continuous aural onslaught —there are highs and lows, with rumbly wind fighting against the side of the mountain on Hillary Step and hissing wind higher up towards the summit. “You have to have detail and the sounds should be helping to tell the story,” he says. “It’s not about how much you put in — in the end, it’s about what you take out when you finish. That’s very important. You don’t want the film to be just a massive noise.”

The Mix
Everest was mixed natively in the Dolby Atmos theatre at Pinewood Studios by Freemantle and re-recording mixers Niv Adiri, CAS, and Ian Tapp, CAS. Sound24’s tried and tested Avid set-up helped bring the sounds of Everest to life, working on the powerful Avid System 5 large-format console, using Pro Tools 11 with EUCON control. Their goal was to put the audience on the mountain with the climbers without overwhelming them with a constant barrage of sound. “The journey the characters are going through is both mental and physical, and mixing in Atmos helped us bring these emotions to the audience,” says Adiri. Since director Kormákur’s focus was on the human tragedy, the dialogue scenes were intimately shot. This enabled the mixers to shift the bala

nce towards dialogue in these sequences and maintain the emotional contact with the characters. In the Atmos format they could position sounds around the audience to immerse them in the scene without having the sounds sit on top of the dialogue. “The sheer weight and power of the sound that the Atmos system produces was perfect for this film, particularly in the storm sequence, where we were able to make the sound an almost physical experience for the audience, yet still maintain the clarity of the dialogue and not make the whole thing unbearable to watch,” says Tapp.

Once the final Atmos mix was approved by director Kormákur, the tracks were taken to Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium, for the Barco 3D-Auro mix, and then it was on to Toronto’s Technicolor for the 12.0 IMAX mix. Despite the change in format, the integrity of the film was kept the same. The mix they defined in Atmos was the blueprint for the other formats.

For Freemantle, the best part of making Everest was being able to capture the journey. To make the audience feel like they are moving up the mountain, and make them feel cold and distressed. “You want to feel that contact, that physical contact like you are in it, like the snow is hitting your face and the jacket around you. When people watch it you want them to experience it because it’s a true story and you want them to feel it. If they are feeling it, then they are feeling the emotion of it.”

For more on Everest, read out interview with editor Mick Audsley.

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

Creating the sonic world of ‘Macbeth’

By Jennifer Walden

On December 4, we will all have the opportunity to hail Michael Fassbender as he plays Macbeth in director Justin Kurzel’s film adaption of the classic Shakespeare play. And while Macbeth is considered to be the Bard’s darkest tragedy, audiences at the Cannes Film Festival premiere felt there was nothing tragic about Kurzel’s fresh take on it.

As evidenced in his debut film, The Snowton Murders, Kurzel’s passion for dark imagery fits The Weinstein Co’s Macbeth like a custom-fitted suit of armor. “The Snowtown Murders was brutal, beautiful, uncompromising and original, and I felt sure Justin would approach Macbeth with the same vision,” says freelance supervising sound editor Steve Single. “He’s a great motivator and demanded more of the team than almost any director I’ve worked with, but we always felt that we were an important part of the process. We all put more of ourselves into this film, not only for professional pride, but to make sure we were true to Justin’s expectations and vision.”

Single, who was also the re-recording mixer on the dialogue/music, worked with London-based sound designers Markus Stemler and Alastair Sirkett to translate Kurzel’s abstract and esoteric ideas — like imagining the sound of mist — and place them in the reality of Macbeth’s world. Whether it was the sound of sword clashes or chimes for the witches, Kurzel looked beyond traditional sound devices. “He wanted the design team to continually look at what elements they were adding from a very different perspective,” explains Single.

L-R: Gilbert Lake, Steve Single and Alastair Sirkett.

L-R: Gilbert Lake, Steve Single and Alastair Sirkett.

Sirkett notes that Kurzel’s bold cinematic style — immediately apparent by the slow-motion-laced battle sequence in the opening — led him and Stemler to make equally bold choices in sound. Adds Stemler, “I love it when films have a strong aesthetic, and it was the same with the sound design. Justin certainly pushed all of us to go for the rather unconventional route here and there.  In terms of the creative process, I think that’s a truly wonderful situation.”

Gathering, Creating Sounds
Stemler and Sirkett split up the sound design work by different worlds, as Kurzel referred to them, to ensure that each world sounded distinctly different, with its own, unique sonic fingerprint. Stemler focused on the world of the battles, the witches and the village of Inverness. “The theme of the world of the witches was certainly a challenge. Chimes had always been a key element in Justin’s vision,” says Stemler, whose approach to sound design often begins with a Schoeps mic and a Sound Devices recorder.

As he started to collect and record a variety of chimes, rainmakers and tiny bells, Stemler realized that just shaking them wasn’t going to give him the atmospheric layer he was looking for. “It needed to be way softer and smoother. In the process I found some nacre chimes (think mother-of-pearl shells) that had a really nice resonance, but the ‘clonk’ sound just didn’t fit. So I spent ages trying to kind of pet the chimes so I would only get their special resonance. That was quite a patience game.”

By having distinct sonic themes for each “world,” re-recording mixers Single and Gilbert Lake (who handled the effects/Foley/backgrounds) were able to transition back and forth between those sonic themes, diving into the next ‘world’ without fully leaving the previous one.

There’s the “gritty reality of the situation Macbeth appears to be forging, the supernatural world of the witches whose prophecy has set out his path for him, the deterioration of Macbeth’s mental state, and how Macbeth’s actions resonate with the landscape,” says Lake, explaining the contrast between the different worlds. “It was a case of us finding those worlds together and then being conscious about how they relate to one another, sometimes contrasting and sometimes blending.”

Skirett notes that the sonic themes were particularly important when crafting Macbeth’s craziness. “Justin wanted to use sound to help with Macbeth’s deterioration into paranoia and madness, whether it be using the sound of the witches, harking back to the prophecy or the initial battle and the violence that had occurred there. Weaving that into the scenes as we moved forward was alMACBETHways going to be a tricky balancing act, but I think with the sounds that we created, the fantastic music from composer Jed Kurzel, and with Steve [Single] and Gilly [Lake] mixing, we’ve achieved something quite amazing.”

Sirkett details a moment of Macbeth’s madness in which he recalls the memory of war. “I spent a lot of time finding elements from the opening battle — whether it be swords, clashes or screams — that worked well once they were processed to feel as though they were drifting in and out of his mind without the audience being able to quite grasp what they were hearing, but hopefully sensing what they were and the implication of the violence that had occurred.”

Sirkett used Audio Ease’s Altiverb 7 XL in conjunction with a surround panning tool called Spanner by The Cargo Cult “to get some great sounds and move them accurately around the theatre to help give a sense of unease for those moments that Justin wanted to heighten Macbeth’s state of mind.”

The Foley, Score, Mix
The Foley team on Macbeth included Foley mixer Adam Mendez and Foley artist Ricky Butt from London’s Twickenham Studios. Additional Foley for the armies and special sounds for the witches was provided by Foley artist Carsten Richter and Foley mixer Marcus Sujata at Tonstudio Hanse Warns in Berlin, Germany. Sirkett points out that the sonic details related to the costumes that Macbeth and Banquo (Paddy Considine) wore for the opening battle. “Their costumes look huge, heavy and bloodied by the end of the opening battle. When they were moving about or removing items, you felt the weight, blood and sweat that was in them and how it was almost sticking to their bodies,” he says.

Composer Jed Kurzel’s score often interweaves with the sound design, at times melting into the soundscape and at other times taking the lead. Stemler notes the quiet church scene in which Lady Macbeth sits in the chapel of an abandoned village. Dust particles gently descend to the sound of delicate bells twinkling in the background. “They prepare for the moment where the score is sneaking in almost like an element of the wind.  It took us some time in the mix to find that perfect balance between the score and our sound elements. We had great fun with that kind of dance between the elements.”

MACBETHDuring the funeral of Macbeth’s child in the opening of the film, Jed Kurzel’s score (the director’s brother) emotes a gentle mournfulness as it blends with the lashing wind and rain sound effects. Single feels the score is almost like another character. “Bold and unexpected, it was an absolute pleasure to bring each cue into the mix. From the rolling reverse percussion of the opening credits to the sublime theme for Lady Macbeth’s decline into madness, he crafted a score that is really very special.”

Single and Lake mixed Macbeth in 5.1 at Warner Bros.’ De Lane Lea studio in London, using an AMS Neve DFC console. On Lake’s side of the board, he loved mixing the final showdown between Macbeth and Macduff — a beautifully edited sequence where the rhythm of the fighting perfectly plays against Jed Kurzel’s score.

“We wanted the action to feel like Macbeth and Macduff were wrenching their weapons from the earth and bringing the full weight of their ambitions down on one another,” says Lake. “Markus [Stemler] steered clear of traditional sword hits and shings and I tried to be as dynamic as possible and to accentuate the weight and movement of their actions.”

To create original sword sounds, Stemler took the biggest screw wrench he could find and recorded himself banging on every big piece of metal available in their studio’s warehouse. “I hit old heaters, metal staircases, stands and pipes. I definitely left a lot of damage,” he jokes. After a bit of processing, those sounds became major elements in the sword sounds.

Director Kurzel wanted the battle sequences to immerse the audience in the reality of war, and to show how deeply it affects Macbeth to be in the middle of all that violence. “I think the balance between “real” action and the slo-mo gives you a chance to take in the horror unfolding,” says Lake. “Jed’s music is very textural and it was about finding the right sounds to work with it and knowing when to back off with the effects and let it become more about the score. It was one of those rare and fortunate events where everyone is pulling in the same direction without stepping on each other’s toes!”

L-R Alastair Sirkett, Steve Single and Gilbert Lake.

L-R Alastair Sirkett, Steve Single and Gilbert Lake.

To paraphrase the famous quote, “Copy is King” holds true for any project, in a Shakespeare adaptation, the copy is as untouchable as Vito Corleone in The Godfather. “You have in Macbeth some of the most beautiful and insightful language ever written and you have to respect that,” says Single. His challenge was to make every piece of poetic verse intelligible while still keeping the intimacy that director Kurzel and the actors had worked for on-set, which Single notes, was not an easy task. “The film was shot entirely on location, during the worst storms in the UK for the past 100 years. Add to this an abundance of smoke machines and heavy Scottish accents and it soon became apparent that no matter how good production sound mixer Stuart Wilson’s recordings were — he did a great job under very tough conditions — there was going to be a lot of cleaning to do and some difficult decisions about ADR.”

Even though there was a good bit of ADR recorded, in the end Single found he was able to restore and polish much of the original recordings, always making sure that in the process of achieving clarity the actors’ performances were maintained. In the mix, Single says it was about placing the verse in each scene first and then building up the soundtrack around that. “This was made especially easy by having such a good effects mixer in Gilly Lake,” he concludes.

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