The sound category this awards season is highlighted by different war zones (“Fury,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Godzilla”), a gut-wrenching space adventure (“Interstellar”), and a bizarre fairy tale musical mash-up (“Into the Woods”). What they have in common is a sense of the natural and a sonic intensity.
1. The sound of World War II tank warfare has never been as real or as intense as in David Ayer’s “Fury.” Sound designer Paul Ottosson (“Zero Dark Thirty”) was totally in his element, recording sounds of the Nazi Tiger tank for the first time onscreen and getting the low-end of the shockwaves as well as the ricochets and shell hits just right. But the recording details extended to the interior machinery of the tanks and the authentic radio transmissions.
Yet the sound designer was amazed at the high-tech Tiger — it was almost like a tricked out sports car. You can hear all of the valves clicking and ticking, and it has cool metal treads. They weren’t able to actually fire the Tiger, but it possessed such power and velocity when it shot a tank that it made the Sherman ring when hit. Ottosson had fun recreating that sound.
2. Although Matt Reeves decided to hold off on the final battle to let us savor the evolution of the apes, “Dawn” has plenty of gunfire and explosions developed from a mixture of library cuts and location recordings, working in native Atmos. But co-supervising sound editor/sound designer/effects re-recording mixer Will Files and co-supervising sound editor/sound designer Douglas Murray developed distinctive voices for the six principal apes (including Andy Serkis’ remarkable Caesar) through a combination of the actor’s voices and real ape sound effects. The result is as realistic as the imagery, with a lot of ambient sounds from the world along with creative, custom sounds for the apes.
And there was a big advantage working in native Atmos, placing the sounds spatially throughout the theater, including a shimmering leaf falling from the ceiling speakers. Reeves even made minor adjustments at the last moment to enhance the immersion of falling rain.
3. Gareth Edwards dramatically extends the sonic universe of “Godzilla” beyond its Toho origins. The most important part was developing the creature’s iconic roar with the help of co-supervising sound editor/sound designer Erik Aadahl, co- supervising sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn, and re-recording mixer Gregg Landaker. The original vocals were produced by composer Alexandre Desplat using a stretched sound with heavy bass.
The sound team recorded double-bass strings being stroked by a leather glove covered in pine-tar rosin using a Sanken CO-100K mic. The key was then slowing down and processing the sound to get the roar that Edwards liked. The sound team also created a number of worldized sounds, which they replayed on the Warner Bros. backlot and then re-recorded to develop cavernous creature voices using strategically-placed mics on the roof, behind glass doors, and inside rooms.
4. Christopher Nolan’s first space adventure, “Interstellar,” is an experiment in sonic discord and visceral thrills, thanks to the unique sound design of multiple Oscar winner Richard King and the mix overseen by multiple Oscar winner Gregg Landaker. The dynamic range is powerful in IMAX and you can feel the extreme low-end frequency in the pit of your stomach when the interior of the Ranger rattles and bangs in space and travels through the wormhole and black hole.
However, the extreme dynamic range also caused a minor controversy. You can’t hear all of the dialogue when Hans Zimmer’s organ-laden score swells or when we’re shaken to the point of near nausea by other sonic pressure levels. Then again, Nolan didn’t mind stepping on some dialogue every now and then in taking us to infinity and beyond as a roller coaster ride.
While the soundtrack was manipulated down a quarter db, they did some cool tricks and played with some new ideas, especially when the spacecraft shakes and vibrates. King made inspired use of sand groans deep within dunes to achieve a guttural effect that literally takes our breath away.
5. Rob Marshall treats “Into the Woods” as a choreographed big dance. The director blocked it all out with cinematographer Dion Beebe, then rehearsed for a month in London with the cast on set using pre-recorded playback. This enabled the actors to get into the physicality of their characters as they’re singing. When they started shooting, the recorded songs were played back on set loudly without the use of ear buds to keep it natural. And they sang live to their recorded songs using lav mics. The sound team was led by sound editors Renee Tondelli and Blake Leyh, and sound mixers Mike Preswood Smith, Michael Keller, and John Casali.
There is no better example of intercutting and overlapping between scenes and locations than in the brilliant 15-minute opening sequence, which introduces the characters and their wishes and foreshadows how they will dangerously intersect in the mysterious Woods. The idea was to make it flow as an integrated piece — the ultimate in Stephen Sondheim theatrics, yet very cinematic. And to think that screenwriter James Lapine, who wrote the original stage play with Sondheim, wanted to toss it out. But Marshal would have none of that in making “Into the Woods” the first post-9/11 musical about loss and taking comfort in knowing that “no one is alone.”
Interstellar from Michael Coleman on