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‘Dune’ Used ‘Crazy Recipe’ of Bugs and Cat Purrs to Create One of Villeneuve’s Proudest Sounds

Villeneuve loves how the sound of the film's Ornithopter is "powerful but it's not distracting."



Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

IndieWire lists Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” as a frontrunner to land an Oscar nomination for Best Sound this awards season, and it’s all thanks to the film’s lead sound team: Mark Mangini, Theo Green, and Ron Bartlett. The three gentlemen recently joined Villeneuve on Dolby’s “Sound + Image Lab” podcast to break down the soundscape of “Dune.” The hourlong conversation revealed one of the sounds in the film Villeneuve is most proud of: The Ornithopter. It took a “crazy recipe” of individual sounds mixed together to create the vehicle’s soundscape.

“I was terrified,” Mangini said when he learned creating the Ornithopter sound was his responsibility. “It’s an unknown method of transportation and it uses wings and we don’t even know what the propulsion is. We embarked on an extensive experimentation process of trying to find the individual elements. What could we make wings out of? What could we make propulsion sounds out of? We knew we didn’t want it to sound like a helicopter or anything we were familiar with terrestrially.”

Because the Ornithopter looks like a dragonfly, Mangini and Green started by recording the wings of beetles. Green wanted to go as far as shipping a specific bug from Poland to the studio to record its wings flapping. Villeneuve’s only order for the sound team was that every sound had to come from something natural.

“The wing flaps were made from Theo’s beetle wings process, plus cat purring…very close mic’d cat purring, so you get that fluttering sound cause that mimics what you’re seeing. And layered with a sound of a canvas strap from a tent strung in a 140mph storm so that you hear the rapid flapping of a very organic piece of material that you can envision as the sound of a wing. We layered those sounds.”

The group also recorded real engine sounds, turning to Mangini’s own Chevy Volt car engine, as well as recording the sounds of bees buzzing and of beehives.

“I wanted it to sound familiar in a way, not like a helicopter but something that feels natural,” Villeneuve said. “I love [the final product]. I’m very proud of the sound of the Ornithopter. It’s grounded, it’s the real sound of an Ornithopter. I felt it. That crazy recipe was a total success. It’s powerful but it’s not distracting.”

Watch the sound team’s entire “Dune” breakdown in the video below.

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