Several of this year’s sound contenders explored battles and other action in a retro fashion very different from the usual superhero mayhem. They include the World War II arenas of “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Allied,” as well as the grittier “Star Wars” battles in “Rogue One”; the terrorist bombing of “Patriots Day”; the miracle on the Hudson in “Sully”; and the unique Indian presence of “The Jungle Book.”
To comply with director Gareth Edwards’ desire for a grittier “Star Wars” movie, sound editors Matthew Wood and Christopher Scarabosio created a new kind of soundscape. “We tried to make it more war-like than a classic ‘Star Wars’ battle,” Scarabosio told IndieWire. “Obviously there are lasers but we were going for impacts that were more realistic, more like you would hear when a bullet hits a tree or some kind of container, and of sand kicking up.”
The sound editors also noticed that the weaponry had more variation with different types of blasters. “The Rebels were hot-rodding their guns,” added Scarabosio.
As far as recreating sounds from “A New Hope” and leveraging what Ben Burtt created, Wood tried to balance taking sounds we know and love — such as lasers and TIE Fighters — and updating them. “But now they’re in new environments,” Wood told IndieWire. “There hasn’t been a Star Destroyer in the earth’s atmosphere.”
The Okinawa battle scenes for Mel Gibson’s World War II drama about pacifist Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) were divided into three sequences. But the first had no music and was propelled by sound effects.
“It was brutal, so the job of the sound team was to be as explicit as possible,” sound editor Robert Mackenzie told IndieWire. “The actual production sounds couldn’t be used because they sounded like pop guns and the explosions sounded like fire crackers.”
Therefore the entire soundtrack was replaced with authentic period weaponry. “It isn’t always as dramatic as you need, so obviously many of the guns and explosions had to be supplemented,” Mackenzie said. “And a lot of care and detail went into the whizzing of the bullets flying over the soldiers’ heads.” Dolby Atmos also enabled them to expand the field of battle and open up the perspective of the gunfire.
For Robert Zemeckis’ World War II spy thriller with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, sound editor Randy Thom stuck with a traditional design. He relied on the Royal War Museum in London for the Blitz and recorded the sounds of British Sten sub-machine guns.
And because there are no great recordings of World War II planes approaching from a distance, Thom’s team recorded vintage planes flying in a circle to get a continuous cruising sound.
But interior gunshots for a crucial shootout were a challenge. “In an interior space it doesn’t sound like you think it should,” Thom told IndieWire. “It typically creates a ringing sound, bouncing back and forth between the wall, the ceiling, and the floors. So that’s one of those instances where we created a movie reality by taking sounds created outdoors and modified them by putting some artificial reverb, and ricochet (with 22 caliber rifles).”
Karen Ballard/CBS Films
In recreating the tumultuous bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013, the sound team designed it as though you were behind the scenes with the runners, the crowd, the merchants, and law enforcement.
“As for the bombing, it was very low-tech, with the sounds of nails, razors, and BBs,” sound editor Dror Mohar told IndieWire. “So I wanted to make sure that the design would express the viciousness of that kind of sound.”
In terms of the exciting shootout between the cops and two terrorists in the suburb of Watertown, they had the recorded transmissions as their guide. “There were 220 rounds discharged, mostly handguns, and it was disorganized there was a lot of chaos,” Mohar said. “We did a number of iterations for the sounds of the weapons until they had the impact we wanted but also confined.
“But the cops were totally unprepared for this encounter with the terrorists, so we created negative space to allow a sense of not knowing what’s going on.”
In Clint Eastwood’s recreation of the “Miracle on the Hudson” crash landing (starring Tom Hanks as the eponymous hero), long-time sound editor Alan Robert Murray negotiated with American Airlines to get an identical A320 with the actual engines and set up mics all through it.
“It was then a challenge of telling the story from the cockpit, the passenger section, and the exterior of the plane,” Murray told IndieWire. “And because it was a historical event, I also traveled with the production to New York to record the Thomas Jefferson ferry during the rescue as well as the F4 planes.”
Murray also met with Sully, who described the experience in the cockpit sounding like a washing machine with bowling balls. “So we had to come up with the turbines being broken and banging around in the cowling of the engine,” Murray added. “And we didn’t realize how much chaos was going on until we got the cockpit recording transcripts, which allowed us to restructure the sounds.”
“The Jungle Book”
Jon Favreau’s re-imagining of the Disney animated classic as a new hybrid experience included a sound design for Dolby Atmos that recalled “Fantasia’s” early surround experiment called “Fantasound.”
“We had to be truthful to an Indian jungle, which is unique and to the right type of animal sounds like a tiger and a panther,” sound editor Chris Boyes told IndieWire. “But the sound also had to be synergistic with what’s happening on screen. If the audience gets distracted because of too much volume or too many different types of frequencies, then you really lose.”
But the King Louie temple sequence contained one of the best sonic examples. “You’re coming out of this teeming jungle of life into this rock temple, and it really gave us this feeling of coming up river into King Louie’s lair,” Boyes said. “And you had to be judicious with sounds that King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) would make and his audience of primates and how they react.”