Tag Archives: The Legend of Tarzan

Call of the Wild —Tarzan’s iconic yell

By Jennifer Walden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The A-List: Director David Yates on the VFX-heavy ‘Tarzan’

By Iain Blair

Filmmaking is a notoriously slow, labor-intensive business, and most directors would be thrilled if they could get a major movie made and released every couple of years. And then there’s David Yates, who has two mega-productions — each featuring tons of moving parts and cutting-edge VFX — out in the next five months alone.

First up is the Warner Bros. action-adventure film The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgård as the Lord of the Apes, along with Margot Robbie as Jane. The cast also includes Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar-nominee Djimon Hounsou, Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent and two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Not a bad cast!

The film features an impressive behind-the-scenes creative team as well, including director of photography Henry Braham (The Golden Compass, the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), editor Mark Day (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 & 2) and Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Tim Burke (the Harry Potter franchise).

Yates, who previously directed the last four Harry Potter films, also recently helmed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a return to the wizarding world created by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who wrote the screenplay. The film, starring Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell, will open worldwide in November.

I spoke with Yates about making Tarzan, and why post still makes him nervous.

You have two big films coming out. Are you a workaholic?
(Laughs) You know, I was shooting something on Beasts two months ago, and after a long, grueling week, I said to one of the actors, “You’ll need a holiday after this.” And he looked at me and said, “David, every day’s a holiday being able to do this.’ That’s exactly how I feel. It’s a bit like playing rather than working, although after finishing the back-to-back Potter films I was really knackered — more than I realized. So I’m a bit more cautious now, and I take more breaks.

How big a leap was it after four Harry Potter films to do this?
It felt quite natural, as I was looking for another film with an epic feel, full of action and adventure, and it just grabbed me.

What’s the eternal appeal of doing a Tarzan movie?
There’s just something about the character that’s so appealing to everyone. He was probably our first superhero — with all these extraordinary abilities — who is somehow human and also “other,” and he’s kinetically connected to the wild part of all of us. We’re all fascinated by where we came from and what’s inside us when we are really tested, and that’s a very enduring aspect. I also think there’s something very sexy and sensual about it, especially the Tarzan-Jane thing. Even in the early silent Tarzan movies… there’s something quite thrilling about them going back to the wild, primal state. That love of nature and animals is so strong in most of us, and he can reach them in ways we can only dream of.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
We used the same process we established on Potter, where we would edit a sequence, let it sit for a bit, then after a few days or a couple of weeks we would go back in and fine-tune it. Then we’d turn it over to the VFX guys. They would do their initial blocking and we would fine-tune it again.

It’s a remarkably fluid system in the sense that six months later, when the picture’s done and it’s all shot, I go back again and do another fine-tune. That gave me an enormous amount of flexibility if I wanted to change my mind about anything, and we’d be swapping out shots and changing shots quite late into the process. The VFX vendors were always great and accommodating, even though I put them under pressure a lot. They were always very helpful when I changed my mind about something.

Did you do a lot of previs?
A little bit. I start with storyboards, then I previs the bigger sequences, and those previses are sometimes based on the boards I’ve done. Especially with a big movie like this where you’re focused on several big sequences, you tell the previs team to just do it and then you start editing and refining it all. So I use a mix of storyboard, previs and the good, old-fashioned way of making it up as you go. That’s often oddly more liberating, and I did that on Potter for some sequences — just go for it and shoot it without too much prep.

Where did you post?
At De Lane Lea in London. That was our base for all the editing and post. We did some pre-mixing at Pinewood.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love every aspect of filmmaking except the tech recces, which I try and avoid if I can. Post is one of the best parts of the whole process, but also one of the scariest, as it’s when it all comes home to roost and you have to really nail the movie. I don’t know a single director who doesn’t have that initial nervous feeling when you first see an assembly and go, ‘Oh my God. This is scary.’

Even after all the big Potter films, I get nervous because you have so much invested. But I would hate to lose those nerves. I like that sense of adrenaline. These are big bets everyone’s making, and you want it to work for the audience. You also have the experience to know that whatever isn’t working, you can always fix or salvage it in post in some way. That’s what post is — it’s all about being able to hit the right notes and make it better. I’ve always felt that way about post, since I made my very first short film. I still remember seeing it for the first time in assembly and going, “Bloody hell! How are we going to fix this?” So you always look for the faults, the wrong notes, and how you can improve it.

I heard you’ve tested a new way of working with your editor, Mark Day?
Yes. Usually I shoot, he assembles and we’re a well-oiled team by now, but we actually changed the way we work recently. On Tarzan, I would shoot, he would assemble it the next day, then I would watch it, give notes and he would tune it a bit. Then we would look at the scene again a couple of weeks later. So we would be constantly changing scenes during the shoot, and I’d rush over to the edit every time I had a spare 30-minutes on the floor because of a lighting change.

So every shooting day was about shooting and editing, but on Beasts I decided to experiment, and not see Mark every day. I just let him get on with it. So on Beasts, I spent all my time on the floor, or with my storyboard guys or previs team, focusing on conceiving stuff, and then I saw Mark every few weeks — and that proved to be far less schizophrenic than bouncing back and forth from shooting to editing. So that’s how we’re going to do it from now on.

Can you talk about working with VFX supervisor Tim Burke?
He and I go way back, as he did all the Potter films with me. We’re both from the north of England and have a very pragmatic approach. It’s so difficult working with big apes and big cats, and so on, and getting them to do what you want — but now you don’t have to with all the advances in VFX. Tim used a bunch of vendors, including Framestore, Rodeo and MPC, and in the end we had over 1,300 VFX shots. There was everything from the gorillas and lions to zebras, ostriches and hippos. We really raised the bar on the VFX, especially the scenes where Tarzan has to interact directly with an animal.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
The fight between Tarzan and his gorilla brother Akut was very tricky, as the choreography was very complex, and we had to use a guy in a suit as a stand-in for Akut so Alex had something to react to, but we didn’t use motion capture — it was more of a guide.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Pretty much. I really enjoyed making it. It was a very complex production. We shot in a lot of places, from the UK to Gabon and Italy. It has a huge amount of VFX, but I always enjoy a challenge.

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Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.